Joshua 7:2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai . . . and told them, Go up and spy out the region.
After the fall of Jericho, Joshua turned his attention to the little town of Ai. If God’s army advanced quickly, the whole Promised Land could be theirs in a very short time. Like a train gathering speed, they were quickly gaining momentum.
The spies who returned from Ai were so confident it could be conquered, they only recommended two or three thousand soldiers be sent to overthrow it. But to everyone’s surprise, Ai scattered Israel’s army, and killed thirty-six of their soldiers. This was a catastrophic setback since it was now clear to everyone that Israel could be defeated. All their enemies would be emboldened to fight, and all Israel’s momentum was lost.
Joshua 7:6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening.
As Joshua lay facedown before the ark of the covenant, God revealed the reason for Israel’s defeat. Israel has sinned . . . . They have taken some of the devoted things [and] put them with their own possessions (Joshua 7:11), he said.
The previous attack on Jericho came with clear instructions. All the silver and gold . . . are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury (Joshua 6:19). But a soldier found some precious things and kept them for himself. God was withholding his support until this man was put to death.
The soldier’s name was Achan, and God exposed him through a process of elimination. All the tribes of Israel came forward, and the tribe of Judah was chosen. That was Achan’s tribe. Then the clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. That was Achan’s clan. Then the Zerahite families came forward, and the family of Zimri was chosen. That was Achan’s family. Then the men of Zimri came forward, and Achan himself was chosen (Joshua 7:16-18). Now his fate was sealed.
At any point in the process Achan could have confessed and begged for mercy. We can imagine his heart pounding faster and faster as the circle of suspects got smaller and smaller. Should he admit his sin, or hope to get away with it? He would never outlive the shame, but perhaps he could save his life. The tension nearly killed him, but Achan refused to confess until it was too late.
Joshua 7:19-21 Then Joshua said to Achan, My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me. Achan replied, It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.
Imagine Achan’s temptation when he saw the precious things. It was a life-changing amount of wealth that could have established his family for years. Perhaps he never stole a thing before, but when the opportunity came, he took it. He hoped for the best, but got the worst.
Joshua 7:24-25 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today. Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them.
From Achan we learn the importance of not concealing our sins. Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Proverbs 28:13), says Proverbs. When we conceal our sins, we put God to the test, and dare him to expose us. But, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9), wrote John. If Achan could speak from the grave, he would say the best time to confess our sins is before it is too late.
Joshua 8:1 Then the Lord said to Joshua . . . . go up and attack Ai.
At God’s direction, Israel positioned troops behind the city to wait in secret. Then Joshua led other troops in front of the city to lure their soldiers out. When Ai’s solders saw Israel’s troops, they ran out to fight them. Then Joshua gave the signal, and the troops behind the city ran in and set it on fire. When Ai’s solders saw their city burning, they knew they had lost the battle. Then Israel’s troops attacked and slaughtered them. Ai’s king was brought to Joshua, and his body was hung on a pole as warning to other kings.
God’s strategy made perfect sense this time, and was completely effective. God’s ways don’t always make sense, but often they do. As the church endeavors to spread the gospel, it should consider what strategies God may be pleased to use. Some strategies have worked well in the past, and others are working well today. God often works strategically to accomplish his mission on earth.
Reflection and Review
Why was the defeat at Ai a catastrophic setback?
Why did God use a process of elimination to identify Achan?
What strategies are being used to spread the gospel today?