Lessons in Defeat

 Defeat in Christian warfare is often the result of absence of care in the hour of success. In Joshua 7, practical considerations essential to Christian warfare open up to us. The conduct of Israel before Jericho teaches what the behavior of the soldiers of Jesus Christ should be in the world, while the lessons of Ai show what Christian conflict too frequently is, in its actual workings. Before victory, among God’s people there is invariably dependence on God and prayerful following of His Word. But such are our hearts that, in the very victory God gives us, we are apt to begin to trust in self. This absence of care in the hour of success leads to defeats.
The Defeat at Ai
In God’s history of events before Ai, God points out the evil hidden in the midst of Israel long before they discovered its presence. Had they been walking humbly, they would have sought God before the battle, and He would have indicated that evil was among them. But their pride prevented dependence on God. No evil can be hidden in our individual hearts or among a company of God’s people of which He is ignorant. No deception, no lie, is compatible with God’s presence or with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and if we do not feel the evil among us, we are not in communion with God. In the absence of this godly state of soul, God allows the evil to develop, for He never alters His principles of government because of His grace. Eventually, in their misery, His people at length are so humiliated that they are forced to humble themselves. Then, once more, the watchful and prayerful spirit is found, and God again allows victory.
Israel looked at Ai as contemptible and went ahead, not knowing that their sin had separated them from God. In defeat their courage, built on self-confidence, broke down completely: “The hearts of the people melted and became as water.”
Despair in Defeat
Self-confidence in battle leads to despair after defeat, while those who draw upon divine resources strengthen themselves in God in the day of trouble. Adversity and anguish in natural things bring out real moral greatness in men; so in divine things the really great spirit is manifest when everything seems to be adverse. David, in his dark hour, encouraged himself in the Lord his God. Joshua seems almost to blame God for the defeat, for usually the last place we are apt to search for the cause of our defeat is the state of our own souls.
When Joshua had reached the very depth of his lamentation, he addressed the name of Jehovah, saying, “What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” This question called forth the answer of Jehovah as to the cause of Israel’s trouble. To all appearances the defeat denied the greatness of the name of their God, but to spiritual understanding the truth is evident that the honor of the name of the Lord demands purity in His people.
The spirit which chafes under defeat will not recognize the cause of defeat — “Israel hath sinned.” God allows the Amorite, against whom we contend, to smite us when we trifle with sin, and in this way He allows Satan to sift His saints. If evil is allowed among God’s people and pride in their hearts, we need not be surprised that, when striving with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, Satan becomes God’s sword against His own people.
Corporate Responsibility
The corporate responsibility of the nation is here shown unmistakably. Likewise, Christian corporate responsibility cannot be ignored, for we are not isolated units in the army of God. The acts of one affect others. In Achan they had not only sinned; they had transgressed a plain command. Achan was a prince in Israel, and it is often through the leaders, and not through the rank and file of God’s army, that sin and sorrow are introduced. He coveted the garment of Shinar, the silver, and the wedge of gold, and he hid them in his tent; thus were found in the midst of Israel the very things God commanded not to be touched.
Longings after the goodly Babylonish garment, after self-glorification, and thereby robbing God of His glory, are all too common. Too many soldiers of the Lord in heaven have this buried in their tents, but God sees us as we really are. The greater the profession of holiness and separation to God a Christian makes, the more urgent upon him is God’s demand for practical resemblance to Jesus our Lord. If we recognize our blessings in the heavenly places in Christ and if we assert that we are dead and risen with Christ as to the world, all the more terrible will be our reaping day, should we do the very things our doctrines deny. God acted in a similar way in the early days of Christianity, in bringing to light the secret sin of Ananias and Sapphira.
Sanctify Yourselves
In the solemn lessons to be gathered from this scene, let us not neglect these words of the Lord to defeated Israel: “Sanctify yourselves.” Their own hands were to cast out the sin from their midst, before they could again wield the sword. The casting out of the evil was the only way whereby God would again be among them. Most Christians who have lived to mid-life have seen men, once valiant for God and used by Him, lying under His stern hand of government, unused and disowned, because they have not heeded His word, “Sanctify yourselves.”
In his energy, “Joshua rose up early in the morning,” and the transgressor was in due course manifested. Where men are honest in their desire to clear themselves from iniquity, God will enable them to discover the sin, and, more than this, the force of God’s presence draws out from man the confession of sin. If the root is not discovered, the reason is that God is staying His hand because of the carnal state of His people. It is impossible to be before God and not to be absolutely truthful. Where the saints of God are truly before His face, hidden evils among God’s people are exposed, confessed and cast out.
As all Israel was involved in the dishonor done to Jehovah by Achan, so all Israel joined hands in clearing their camp. Then we read, “Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor [trouble], unto this day” (Josh. 7:2626And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day. (Joshua 7:26)). But this same valley is mentioned in Hosea 2:1515And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:15), “I will give her  ...  the valley of Achor for a door of hope,” and the valley of Achor is the door of hope for God’s people still. Through that valley, where stands the witness of iniquity cast out and the memory of our shame, remains to this day the pathway to blessing. Weeping over our pride and putting away from us our sins always lead to renewed victories. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:99That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9)).
H. F. Witherby, adapted