Joshua 6 ends with a wonderfully optimistic tone.
- Joshua 6:27 (ESV) — 27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.
- No doubt this is a reflection on and implication of the unorthodox defeat of Jericho that preceded it.
- How so?
Yahweh through the presence of the Ark and the Divine Warrior took the lead in victory.
- One reason is because of Joshua’s own covenant faithfulness up to this point.
- Joshua 1:7 (ESV) — 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.
- As we discussed at that time, the conditional formula for a successful Conquest was simply – Obedience = Success.
So things are looking good.
- However, this all changes with a “but”.
Joshua 7:1 (ESV) — 1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.
This “but”, pivotal to the coming battle, is something that Joshua does not yet know.
- Unbeknownst to Joshua, at some point between Jericho and 7:1, Yahweh removed His “Conquest Favor” from the nation of Israel.
How do we know this?
- There are at least two reasons.
(1) The first reason is obvious and found in verse 4 and 5 – Israel loses the first battle of Ai.
(2) The second reason is found in verse 1.
- The text makes clear that Achan acted in disobedience to God.
- He broke the covenant with God.
- One would think, then, that Achan would be an isolated problem for God to deal with.
- However, look carefully at the text.
- By God’s reckoning, “Israel broke faith”.
- And God’s reaction to this is that – “the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel”.
- Not just against Achan, but against Israel!
Anger of the Lord:
Being the object of the anger of the Lord is not something one wants to be.
- In virtually every case where Israel was the object of this anger, two things were sure to come.
- God’s wrath
- God’s judgment
Some other Biblical examples make this clear.
- Judges 2:14 (ESV) — 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.
- Psalm 106:40–42 (ESV) — 40 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; 41 he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them. 42 Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their power.
- Isaiah 5:25 (ESV) — 25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.
We need to dig much deeper into why an individual’s sin would bring God’s judgment and wrath upon Israel.
- And in my next lesson we will do so.
- Now, I want to deal with the rest of our text.
Joshua 7:2–5 (ESV) — 2 Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” 4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, 5 and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.
This scene takes place in ignorance of Achan’s actions and Israel’s guilt.
- Joshua and the spies do not yet know that Yahweh’s anger burns against Israel.
- We learn later that what Achan did, he did in secret.
- He hid the treasure.
Joshua’s ignorance of God’s anger raises a question about Joshua’s actions.
- Do these verses show that Joshua went ahead of the Lord?
- Surely, God would have wanted Joshua to not assault Ai given these circumstances?
Two of the most well known commentators on Joshua – Hess, Howard – answer this question in the affirmative.
- They think Joshua went ahead of the Lord.
- David Howard says that in this first battle of Ai, “God was not part of the equation at all”.
- Richard Hess says that this text shows Israel “lacked faith” and put too much stock in its own power.
- Essentially, they suggest that Joshua’s problem was lack of prayer and overconfidence.
They rule out that God might have withheld the info in verse 1 on purpose.
- However, Woudstra, Dale Davis and James Boice have a different take.
Woudstra puts it like this:
- “Possibly Joshua himself should have consulted the divine will more explicitly, but the account does not say” – Woudstra.
- In other words, we don’t know if he did or not.
What the text does says is that, “Joshua’s first serious attempt to master the country which the Lord said had been give to Israel is doomed to fail…by God’s righteous anger, caused by the people’s concrete sin. God’s promise was based on covenant obedience, and this obedience had been withheld” – Woudstra.
Dale puts it as follows:
“While the peril of overconfidence and the neglect of prayer are very preachable, they cannot be preached with authority from this text. The text says that God’s people failed because they were under God’s wrath” – Dale Davis.
So, Israel was defeated at Ai not because of Joshua’s getting ahead of God or his flawed military strategy, but because of God’s anger and its concomitant judgment and wrath.
- Because of sin God removed His “Conquest Favor” from Israel and they lost.
This fact forces us to take a hard look at a very important point.
- The right focus of the text is the seriousness of man’s sin and the extent of God’s wrath that this sin incurs, not Joshua’s going ahead of God.
- This is incredibly important to grasp.
- Israel was unfaithful and God judged them.
- And profoundly, His judgment was an act of covenant faithfulness on His part.
James Boice quotes Francis Schaeffer at length to make this point.
This simple yet profound process explains all the rest of the Old Testament. It explains the period of the judges, the period of kings, the captivities under Assyria and Babylon, the Jews’ return from Babylon and the Jews’ dispersion in a.d. 70 under Titus. It explains Romans 9–11, which speaks of the Jews turning away from God and yet at the future day coming back to God and once more, as a nation, being the people of God. First comes blessing, then sin enters, then comes judgment. If the people of God return to him after the judgment, the blessing begins again and flows on.
This process is as much a universal as any continuity we have studied so far. [Here comes the answer to our why question] It is the principle of God’s judgment of his people. It is unchanging throughout Scripture because God really is there. God is a holy God, God loves his people, and God deals with his people consistently.
The defeat at Ai and the revelation that God, in anger, foiled the efforts of his chosen leader and people are quite different from other ANE war literature.
John Walton puts it this way:
For Israel’s neighbors, “The intention of the preserved records is not to serve the reader, but to serve the king. The recorder is trying to provide answers to the question: “Why should you consider this king to be a good and successful king?” In most cases it cannot be determined whether concealment and/ or disinformation are part of the strategy, but negative information is uniformly lacking. We do receive negative assessments of some kings, but, as we might expect, they come from later dynasties seeking to enhance their own reputations. Royal inscriptions are therefore working from a predetermined outcome: that the gods favor the king. Therefore all events are presented in a way that will support that predetermined outcome” – John Walton.
Remember, Joshua 6 ended by saying “the Lord was with Joshua”.
- Joshua 7 sure has a funny way of showing this.
- What does this tell us about the OT as literature?
Joshua 7:6–9 (ESV) — 6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”
Joshua is still unaware of the sin of Achan.
- And, btw, there is no hint here that he sees the defeat as symptomatic of his going ahead of God.
- In fact, he demonstrates quite an opposite grasp of the situation.
- He recognizes that God’s will was just done.
- “why have you…to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us?”
- In part, the answer is yes.
- He just doesn’t know why, yet.
In fact, Joshua goes on to rightly extol the “great name” of the Lord.
- He asks God, if it would not have been better for Israel to have stayed across the Jordan.
- The fact that Israel was defeated and “turned their backs before the enemies” will embolden the Canaanites.
- And “turned” here is a vivid expression of being shamed (Howard).
- He fears that they will be overrun and that they will “cut off our name from the earth”.
- An allusion to being “cut off” from covenant with God.
- The end result being that God’s “great name” is offended.
There is debate about how this prayer reflects on Joshua.
- Did he forget that God had already “given” them the Promised Land?
- Did he forget that God asked him to “be strong and courageous”?
- Was his concern really more for himself?
Dales Davis takes the optimistic approach.
“These are words of despair, not unbelief. Joshua complains to God in prayer; complaining to God is not the same as complaining about God (Israel’s wilderness practice)…If Israel perishes it will reflect on Yahweh’s reputation.” – Dale Davis.
Richard Hess agrees:
- Joshua’s concern for God’s “great name” “transforms the complaint from a self-serving whine, such as occurred in Numbers, to a concern for the honour of God”.
And to get a flavor for just how significant the name of God is, Jesus also spoke highly of it.
- John 17:6 (ESV) — 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
- John 17:11–12 (ESV) — 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
So what is the name that Joshua and Jesus were so in awe of?
Most commentators argue that Jesus is using “name” as a reference to God’s attributes.
- “What Jesus reveals to them is God’s ‘name,’ which enshrines who God is in his character, his essential nature; because his name is glorious, God wants it to be made known” – Andreas Kostenberger.
- “…Jesus revealed God’s ‘name,’ i.e., his nature, his character” – Beasley-Murray.
- “The concept of God’s ‘name’ encompasses all that He is: His character, nature, and attributes” – John MacArthur.
- “‘The name of God’ is a Semitic phrase for speaking about God’s attributes. To make the name known is to reveal the God who possesses those attributes” – James Boice.
And this leads us back to Achan’s sin.
- The reason for the defeat that has put Joshua in this state of mourning and grief.
- What are we to make of the fact that because of Achan’s sin all of Israel was guilty?
- What are the implications of this principal?
- I will cover this in my next lesson.