Thus saith the whole congregation of the LORD, What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the LORD?
~ Joshua 22:16
If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant,
~ Deuteronomy 17:2
Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.
~ Deuteronomy 7:26
And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter; which thing ought not to be done.
~ Genesis 34:7
He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not;
~ Job 33:27
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
~ Genesis 3:6
He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.
~ Proverbs 15:27
And there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing to thine hand: that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers;
~ Deuteronomy 13:17
Sin and Judgment, by A.W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from this work, “Gleanings in Joshua”.
Joshua 7:1-26 Sin, Defeat, Judgment
The seventh chapter of Joshua presents to us a drastically different scene from those which have engaged our attention in the previous chapters, yea, so startling is the contrast that we are reminded of that old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Up to this point everything had gone smoothly and blessedly for Israel, but now their progress is suddenly halted. Hitherto we have witnessed them, under God, going from strength to strength and glory to glory. Strict obedience to the Divine commands had marked their every movement; here, the very reverse obtained. They had duly attended to the essential matter of circumcision and had kept the appointed Passover feast. On His part, the Lord had wrought wondrously for them, bringing them through the Jordan dry-shod and overthrowing the principal fortress of the enemy without a blow having to be struck by Israel. But a startling contrast now confronts us: immediately following the memorable victory at the formidable Jericho, Israel suffer humiliating defeat at the much weaker town of Ai. A member of the tribe of Judah had committed a grievous crime, and the whole nation suffer in consequence. As there was a serpent in Eden and a Judas among the apostles, so there was an Achan in the midst of an obedient Israel.
A series of sad failures are set before us in the passage we are about to consider. The whole nation is thus depicted, “The hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Josh. 7:5). That dejection of God’s people was occasioned by the cowardice shown by three thousand of their armed men, who had “fled before the men of Ai,” thirty-six of them being slain as the enemy chased them (v. 5). That had been preceded by the remiss conduct of Joshua himself, who, instead of seeking counsel from the Lord, had acted upon the carnal advice of his spies (v. 4). The men whom Joshua had sent out to reconnoiter Ai so far forgot their place that, upon their return, instead of making a simple report, they presumed to inform their commander-in-chief of the policy which they deemed it best for Israel to follow on this occasion (v. 3). But before all this, the anger of the Lord had been kindled against Israel by the sin of Achan at Jericho (v. 1). That was what explained all which followed: the cause of which they were the consequences. One decayed apple will soon infect a whole box of sound ones; or, to change the figure for a more Scriptural one,” A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” (1 Cor. 5:6).
In the light of history there is nothing at all unusual in the sad failures mentioned above, for poor human nature is “as unstable as water” (Gen. 49:4). Yet in view of the fact that this generation was far and away the best which Israel ever had, and that Jehovah Himself was their Captain (Josh. 5:15) in the conquest of Canaan, it does seem strange that such a deplorable lapse now occurred. How are we to account for the Divine permission, yea, fore-ordination of the same? From the general teaching of Scripture, may we not say that the Lord suffered this grievous defection for such reasons as these? First, to teach all succeeding generations of His people that they are never in greater danger of yielding to the pride of their hearts than when the Lord’s power has been most signally displayed on their behalf. Second, to exemplify the basic truth that, if we are to enjoy a continuation of God’s governmental blessing, we must remain steadfast in our subjection to His holy will. Third, to set before His saints a lasting warning that the Holy One is jealous of His glory, and will not condone sin in His own people. Fourth, to emphasize that nothing can be concealed from Him: that the most secret actions of an individual fall beneath His observation (Prov. 15:3).
How ominous is the initial “But” of Joshua 7:1—the first chapter of our book opening thus: sad intimater of what follows, and well suited to point the contrast with the closing verse of chapter 6. There we read, “So the Lord was with Joshua and his fame was noised throughout all the country”; now we are told, “But the children of Israel committed a trespass . . . for Achan . . . took of the accursed thing, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel.” The contrast is a double one: the Lord was with Joshua, but here His anger was kindled against Israel. The consequence of the former was that Joshua’s fame was proclaimed abroad; the sequel of the latter is that he was humiliated and lies on his face before the ark (Josh. 7:5). How often are the brightest prospects dimmed and the most promising projects hindered by sin! It was so with king Saul, and later with Solomon. Thus with Israel’s progress in the conquest of Canaan: victory at Jericho gives place to defeat before Ai. How this shows us that a time of success is when we most need to be on our guard, and “rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11). The moon never suffers an eclipse except at a time when it is at the full! Grace is needed by us to use the grace God gives us and to save us from turning His blessings into curses.
Here, then, is another most important practical lesson for us to lay to heart in connection with the possessing of our possessions and the present enjoyment of our spiritual heritage. When God has vouchsafed light from His Word and opened up to us some passage, beware lest we become conceited and attribute the same to our own perspicuity. When victory is granted over some lust or deliverance from a powerful temptation, boast not, but rather endeavor to become more watchful. When God gives the pastor souls for his hire and prospers his labors, humbling grace must be diligently sought that he may not cherish the spirit of Nebuchadnezzar and say, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power!” (Dan. 4:30). Remember that solemn warning, “But Jeshurun [Israel] waxed fat and wicked: thou art waxed fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness: then he forsook God” (Deut. 32:15). We need to be much on our guard and fight against the Laodicean self-sufficiency and self-glorying of this evil day. Unless we be kept “little in our own sight” (1 Sam. 15:17) and “poor in spirit,” the overthrow of some Jericho in our experience will be followed by an ignominious defeat before an Ai!
“But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing.” This awful trespass was committed within the very environs of Jericho, immediately after God had miraculously caused its walls to fall down flat. In connection with the destruction and sacking of that city, specific instructions had been given to Israel that they must neither spare any lives nor take any of the spoils unto themselves (Josh. 6:17-19). The spiritual lesson for us therein is that “the good fight of faith” in which the Christian is called to engage consists of a mortifying of the flesh, the denying of self, and the renouncing of this world in our affections. It was far more than a bare theft of which Achan was guilty, namely, the heinous act of sacrilege, a taking of that which was “consecrated to the Lord”! It is to be carefully noted that the Holy Spirit has furnished us with the genealogy of the offender, and since there is nothing meaningless or unimportant in the Word of Truth, it behooves us to attend to this detail. Achan was the immediate descendant of “Zerah,” and he was the son of Judah’s whoredom (Gen. 38:15-30). What a solemn example of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children I
Significant indeed is the name of this disturber of the nation’s peace and prosperity, for Achan means “Trouble.” It is both solemn and striking to note how the Holy Spirit has phrased His allusion to Achan’s sin: He does not say “one of,” but rather “the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing.” God regarded them as a unit, and hence what one individual is considered the sin of the nation. This is borne out by what follows, for the whole congregation was affected thereby; “and the anger of the Lord was kindled against [not simply “Achan” but] the children of Israel.” We have a parallel in the local church of the New Testament: “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it (1 Cor. 12:26), an example of which is furnished in Joshua 5:17, of the same epistle. Israel had been plainly warned that if any one of them took of the accursed thing, they would “make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it” (Josh. 6:18), yet that solemn warning deterred not the selfish and rebellious Achan. Until the walls of Jericho fell, all kept strictly, to rank, but upon their fall they went “every man straight before him (Josh. 6:20). Thus the moment discipline was relaxed this reprobate cared only for himself.
“And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them saying, Go up and view the country” (v. 4). Joshua did not rest on his oars, but proceeded to the task which lay before him, sending out scouts to examine the next place to be captured. After such a notable victory, he did not deem himself entitled to sit down and take things easy, or give himself to feasting; but believed in the policy of striking while the iron is hot. The best time to hoist sail is when the wind is blowing, so that advantage may be taken of the same. Thus it is spiritually. When favored with a breeze from Heaven (John 3:8), it is a propitious season for religious enterprise. Yet observe that the zeal of Joshua was tempered with prudence: he did not rush blindly ahead, but wisely took a preview of what was next to be done. It is the feverish energy of the flesh which impels professing Christians to act hurriedly and rashly, instead of “sitting down first and “consulting” whether they be sufficiently equipped for the task which they assay (Luke 14:31). There is a happy mean between recklessness and a caution which degenerates into apathy.
Ai was a place of sacred memories, for in Genesis 12:8, we are told of Abraham that he removed “unto a mountain on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent [emblem of being a “stranger and pilgrim” there], having Bethel on the west and Hai [same as “Ai” in Joshua 7] on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord [symbol of his being a worshipper] and called upon the name of the Lord.” But now this territory was occupied by the wicked and marked out for destruction. It was because of their abominable idolatry and immorality that the Lord used Israel as His instrument of judgment upon the Canaanites (Lev. 18:24, 25; Deuteronomy 18:10-l2). Evidence of this is found in the names mentioned in Joshua 7:2, for “Beth-aven” signifies “House of vanity” or “iniquity.” Incidentally we may note an example of the minute accuracy of Scripture in the topographical reference there: “Go up and view the country,” said Joshua, while the Holy Spirit informs us in Genesis 12:8, that Abraham “removed unto a mountain on the east of Bethel”—which means “The House of God.” Ah, my reader, there are no “contradictions” in Holy Writ, but, instead, the most perfect harmony ‘throughout; but only the reverent and diligent student perceives that.
“But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing, for Achan . . . took of the accursed thing, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai . . . saying, Go up and view the country. The two verses are linked together, and thereby a solemn lesson is pointed. It is evident that Joshua was ignorant of the perfidy of Achan, and therefore was quite unaware that the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Israel. It is a very serious thing to provoke the Lord, and thereby forfeit His providential smile. Yet how few of the “churches” today are conscious that the anger of the Lord is kindled against them! Kindled against them for the self-same reason that it was here against Israel, namely, for having trafficked in “the accursed thing.” Dispensationalists may deny it, and say that occurred under the Dispensation of Law, but there is no parallel in this “Dispensation of Grace.” Therein they betray their crass ignorance, and, it is much to be feared, their unregeneracy—hearts which know not the Holy One. The case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5; Revelation 2:14-16 and 20-23) and a quenched Spirit in our midst clearly give the lie to their assertions.
“And the men went up and viewed Ai. And they returned unto Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go out, but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; make not all the people to, labor thither, for they are but few (v. 3). In carrying out Joshua orders those men acted commendably, but in taking it upon them to advise their general, their conduct was most reprehensible. It was nothing but downright impudence for those subordinates to tell Joshua what he should do. Had he asked for their suggestions it had been a different matter, but to proffer them unsought was a piece of impertinence. It appeared to be the language of kindness, prompted by consideration of others—to save the great bulk of the nation from a needless waste of energy. Yet, plausible as were their words, it was carnal counsel they gave: as much so as Peter’s “Pity Thyself, Lord,” which seemed to emanate from deep solicitude for Him, when in reality it issued from Satan (Matthew 16:22, 23). The same answer which, the Redeemer returned unto the apostle was due these spies: “thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” They were leaning on the arm of flesh, filled with a sense of self-sufficiency.
These men who returned from their reconnoitering were inflated with pride. Their language was that of presumption, engendered by previous success. They began to entertain the idea that they belonged to a great nation, and none could stand before them. They contemptuously regarded Ai as an easy prey, as their “for they are few” indicated. What need for the whole of the army to journey thither: a small company of our men will suffice. There was no dependency upon the One who had wrought wonders for them. Instead, they felt that a couple of battalions could do wonders, and that there was no need for Israel to put forth all their strength. Alas, how like unto them God’s servants and people often are today. When the Lord is pleased to exercise His power in the saving of souls, preaching appears to be an easy matter, and the minister is tempted to spend less time and labor in the preparation of his sermons. And when God grants a saint victory over some powerful lust, he is apt to feel there is less need to pray so earnestly. But such a spirit is disastrous. Only as we continue sensible of our weakness shall we seek strength from Above. Take warning from this incident and strive against pride and presumption, especially when God has granted some success.
“Let not all the people go up: but let about two or three thousand go up and smite Ai; make not all the people to labor thither, for they are few” (v. 3). How different was that conceited boast from me language or the first spies: “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land” (Josh. 2:24)! Let not victory lead to negligence. We have no right to count upon the Lord’s doing all for us unless we make full use of the means that He has appointed. All of Israel were required to assemble at Jericho: none was left behind in his tent, none suffered to remain at a distance as a mere spectator. It might appear to them as a needless waste of “man-power,” but God required it; and gave success to their obedience. There was the precedent for them to follow. But the dictate of carnal wisdom intervened. Ai appeared to be an inconsiderable place and no great force required to reduce it. Self-confidence promised an easy conquest, so the greater part of the army might be spared. Instead of regarding it as a blessed privilege for the whole nation to behold the Lord showing Himself strong in their behalf, these men said, “make not all the people to labor thither” or to be a “weariness,” as the word is eight times rendered elsewhere—just as at the close of the Old Testament a degenerate Israel said of God’s worship “what a weariness is it!” (Mal. 1:13).
“So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men” (v. 4).
Very solemn indeed is that, for it shows us what the most honored of God’s servants are when left to themselves. We say riot “the most eminent,” for that savors far too much of the flesh; but rather the “most favored.” Whatever privileges we have enjoyed, or nearness to God has been granted us, we are still entirely dependent upon Him for a continuance of preserving grace. If that be withheld from any one of us for a single hour, we shall miserably fail and sin. The upholding Spirit was now withdrawn from Joshua for a season (why so, will be pointed out later), and therefore he acted as a natural man would and followed the carnal policy advanced by his underlings. Instead of rebuking their pride with “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off” (1 Kings 20:11), he adopted their fleshly policy, This was the more lamentable and excuseless because express instructions had been given him, “he shall stand before Eleazer the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at His word shall they go out and at his word shall they come in” (Num. 27:18-21).
Alas, the evil leaven of Achan’s trespass was at work “leavening the whole lump,” secretly yet surely defiling all his fellows. Failing to ask counsel of the Lord, Joshua was now deprived of spiritual perception, and so discerned not the carnality and evil of the plan set before him. He should have realized at once that it was at direct variance with the Divine pattern given him at Jericho. There everything was done in complete obedience to the revealed will of God, in full dependence upon Him, and yet without the slightest neglect of means or human instrumentality—the entire congregation took their assigned places and parts. But here there was no inquiring of God’s mind, no reliance on His intervention, and a small part only of the “armed men” were deemed sufficient to perform the work of the whole. Thus the greater part would be idle and the congregation itself deprived of the grand privilege of witnessing the mighty works of their God. When Jericho fell, the whole nation saw by whose Hand its powerful walls were demolished, and could give Him the glory. Thus, the plan adopted now by Joshua was a breaking in upon the Divine design.
How solemnly does that point the injunction “Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isa. 2:22). What a warning is there here for the pastor to give no heed to the carnal advice of his church officers, and to say with David “My soul, wait thou only upon God” (Ps. 62:5). Emulate the apostle who “conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:16). It matters nothing what others think and say of you so long as you have the Divine approbation. No matter how plausible may be the suggestions proffered, take orders from none save your Master. At the beginning of the campaign Joshua had given commandment that the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manassah should “remain in the land” and not enter into possession of their inheritance on the other side of Jordan “until the Lord have given your brethren rest” (Josh. 1:12-15), thereby insisting that the whole of the twelve tribes should present a united front before the enemy until victory was complete. But the plan now followed introduced disunity. It is the following of fleshly methods which generally brings divisions among the people of God. Later, the Lord said to Joshua “Take all the people of war with thee” (Josh. 8:1). He had to return to the Divine plan before there could be any success!
The sad failure of Israel before Ai is one which calls for the most careful and prayerful study. Not only because it points, in a general way, a warning which needs to be taken to heart by all of God’s people, especially so by His servants, but more particularly because of the book in which it is recorded and the grand truth which is there illustrated. As we proceed from chapter to chapter it needs to be definitely borne in mind that the theme of Joshua is Israel’s entry into and conquest of Canaan, and that this typified the Christian’s occupation by faith of his heavenly heritage. In the earlier articles of this series we emphasized that fact considerably, frequently pointing out the principles which must regulate the saints if they are to actually “possess their possessions” (Obad. 17) in this life. Alas that so few of them do enjoy their inheritance—because of their failure to act by the same. We need not now enumerate and describe these principles suffice it to say that they are all summed up in, unremitting submission to the revealed will of God. While Israel followed that course, all went well for them; but as soon as they departed therefrom, disastrous was the consequence. And that is written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). O that a teachable spirit may be granted both writer and reader.
“The upright shall have good things in possession” (Prov. 28:10). The upright are they who walk with their eyes fixed on God, in subjection to His authority, and in dependence on His grace. While they maintain that character they have the “good things” purchased by Christ not merely in promise and prospect, but in present “possession,” enjoying real and blessed foretastes of their eternal portion. But when self-will and self-pleasing obtrude, they are made to eat the bitter fruits of their folly. And hence it is that in the book we are now studying we are shown, both in the crossing of the Jordan and the capture of Jericho, the blessed effects of Israel’s obedience unto the Lord; and on the other hand, we have faithfully set before us—in the shameful defeat at Ai—the evil results which inevitably followed Israel’s disobedience. In the one we are taught some of the secrets of success, or the things which must be attended to by us if we are to have the mighty power of God working in our behalf; while in the other is made known what are the certain precursors of the Lord’s displeasure and of our being overcome by our enemies. The one is as necessary for our instruction as is the other.
It would be stating the same thing in a slightly different form and from another angle if we said, The principal subject developed in the book of Joshua is a showing unto God’s people how their enemies are to be conquered, for Israel had to vanquish and dispossess the Canaanites before they could occupy their land. In like manner the Christian must overcome the Devil, the world, and the flesh before he can experimentally enjoy his heavenly heritage. Israel’s warfare against the seven nations of the land was a figure of the believer’s conflict with his spiritual foes. The grand lesson which is set before us in the type is that our foes can be subdued by none but the Lord, and that He will fight for us only so long as we are in complete subjection to Him and maintain entire dependence upon Him. “For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave unto Him. Then will the Lord drive out all these nations from before thee” (Deut. 11:22, 23). Blessedly was that exemplified at Jericho; but the converse was demonstrated at Ai: the former is chronicled for our encouragement; the latter is narrated as a solemn warning for us to take to heart.
The first thing for us to heed—as we observe that the defeat of Ai followed immediately after the victory at Jericho—is the startling fact that the people of God are never in greater danger of giving place to pride and presumption than when God has signally blessed and prospered them. Never does a believer need to act more warily and in full dependence upon the Lord than when his graces are in lively exercise and his heart in an exhilarated frame. Unless he does so, self-confidence will creep in, and more reliance will be placed upon inherent grace than upon the One from whose fullness we need to be continually receiving grace for grace. No matter how strong be our faith, joyful our heart, energetic our grace, we must still look up for fresh supplies and renewings in the inner man, for without such our graces will no longer act, no, not for a single hour. Only as we remain in the place of conscious weakness are we really strong. Only as the empty hand of a beggar continues to be extended, shall we receive “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). Alas, how often do we give the Lord occasion to complain, “I spoke unto thee in thy prosperity, but thou sadist [by thy self-sufficient attitude] I will not hear” (Jer. 22:21).
The hidden cause of Israel’s defeat at Ai was the sin of Achan, who had secretly committed a grievous trespass against the Lord (Josh. 7:1), and as the sequel shows, it is a very solemn and serious matter to provoke Him. In this case His displeasure was evinced by his leaving Israel to act in their own wisdom and strength, and that could issue in naught but disaster. Here we have illustrated the important truth that so long as there be an ungrieved Spirit in the midst of an assembly, He directs its counsels and moves its officers and members to work in a wise and becoming manner; but when He is slighted, then His gracious operations are suspended, and they are left to act in the energy of the flesh—to the dishonor of the Lord, and to their own undoing and sorrow. Thus it was here. Out of the hidden root of Achan’s offense grew the more obvious causes of the Ai defeat. Pride and presumption were at work. Ai was regarded with contempt, as an easy prey (v. 3); but to their own overthrow. Learn from this, my reader, that it is a fatal mistake to underestimate the strength of our enemies! It is only as we truly realize that our spiritual foes are too powerful for us to vanquish that we shall really seek help and strength from the Lord.
Alas, Joshua accepted the counsel of those who belittled Ai: “So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men” (Josh. 7:4). And what was the inevitable outcome of such carnal self-confidence? This: “they fled before the men of Ai.” What a spectacle! Behold attentively the consequence of leaving the place of humble dependency! Mark well what happens when we follow our own devices. Left to themselves, the courage of these men of war wholly deserted them. It is only as we take unto us “the whole armor of God” that we are “able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand” (Eph. 6:13). If instead we lean upon the arm of flesh, it is certain to fail us. Sad it is to see those three thousand Israelites panic-stricken before the heathen, especially as the record of the same follows right after the final statement of chapter 6: “So the Lord was with Joshua and his fame was noised throughout all the country.” How the ignominious defeat of his soldiers would reflect upon the name and fame of Israel’s commander! Sadder still is it to know that our sinful failures not only injure ourselves and those people of God with whom we are connected, but that they also bring dishonor upon our Redeemer. Should not the realization of that make us work out our salvation “with fear and trembling”?
“And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men, for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down” (v. 5). How forcibly does this incident illustrate what was repeatedly pointed out in the earlier articles. Israel’s success in conquering Canaan depended entirely upon the Lord’s showing Himself strong in their behalf, and that turned upon their unqualified obedience to Him. As Matthew Henry rightly pointed out, the check which they here received “served to let them know they were still upon their good behavior.” Success was to come from God and not their own valor, yet that success was bestowed only so long as they adhered to the pattern which He had given them. One essential feature in that pattern was that the unity of Israel must be preserved—a united front was to be presented to the enemy; consequently “all the men of war” and “all the people” of Israel were bidden to march against Jericho (Josh. 6:3, 5). But in connection with Ai the spies counseled Joshua, quite otherwise: make not all to labor thither” (Josh. 7:3). He acceded: “there went up thither about three thousand”; and now we see them in flight, some of them slain, and the remainder chased to “Shebarim,” which most significantly means “breaches”!
Next we are shown the effects which this disgrace had upon the congregation. When they learned of the retreat and heard that some of their brethren had been slain, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” And well they might. Had not Joshua previously assured the nation, “Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites” (Josh. 3:10)? Now that He was no longer leading them to victory, but suffering them to be overcome by their foes, they had reason to be thoroughly dejected. As Matthew Henry well remarked, “True Israelites tremble when God is angry.” Here again we may note yet another striking contrast. When Jehovah had put forth His mighty power on Israel’s behalf in the drying up of the Jordan, we are told that “all the kings of Canaan,” when they heard of it, “their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more” (v. 1). But here the hearts of Israel melted and became as water (Josh. 7:5)! Nevertheless, even then, God was working in mercy unto Israel. By that painful and humiliating providence He was about to bring to light the hidden things of darkness, give His people an opportunity to dissociate themselves from the trespass of Achan and punish the culprit.
“And Joshua rent his clothes and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads” (v. 6). It is to be duly noted that nothing is here said of Joshua berating the soldiers for their cowardice, or of his expostulating with the people for their faint- heartedness. He did not prate about “the fortunes of war” and tell them there was no need to be dismayed, nor did he make any effort to raise their spirits. Rather did he realize the exceeding gravity of the situation and refuse to say “Peace, peace” when he knew that something was radically wrong. The “elders”—the responsible heads of the nation—also recognized that the defeat was owing to the Lord’s being provoked, and they too abased themselves before Him. The rending of their clothes was a symbol of perturbation and lamentation (Gen. 37:24; 2 Samuel 1:11), the putting of dust on their heads betokened distress and grief (1 Sam. 4:12; Job 2:12). How very different was their conduct from the foolish and fatal “optimism” that is now so rife, and which is nothing else than a declining to face realities, a refusing to recognize the fact that the Lord is displeased and is withholding His blessing.
When things go seriously wrong, either with the individual
Christian or with the local church, diligent and solemn examination is called for. When the providential frown of God be upon us, and we ignore the same or “seek to make the best of a bad job,” we are only inviting still heavier chastisements. We are bidden to “hear the rod” (Mic. 6:9, and not to disregard or steel our hearts against it; and the first thing required of us in order to ascertain its message is to humble ourselves before the One who wields it, for “the meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way” (Ps. 25:9). When God afflicts us we ought to afflict ourselves. “The day of the Lord [any season when He displays His displeasure and acts in judgment] is great and terrible, and who can abide it? Wherefore also now saith the Lord, turn ye even to Me with all you heart, and with fasting and with weeping . . . for He is merciful and gracious” (Joel 2:12, 13). For thirty years past that is what God has been saying—by His providences—to the whole of Christendom, and particularly to our nation. But alas, it has to be said of us, as of Israel of old, “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved . . . they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than rock” (Jer. 5:3).
“And Joshua rent his clothes and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord.” It is to be carefully observed that not only did he now humbly take his place in the dust, but he did so before that sacred coffer which was the symbol of the Lord’s throne and presence in Israel. Most suitably was that posture and position selected, for the holy ark had been grievously slighted! Both in the crossing of the Jordan and the march around Jericho, the ark had, by Divine orders, been accorded the place of honor, as it was borne aloft by the priests, signifying unto Israel thereby that victory for them depended upon their covenant God being duly magnified and counted upon. His glory shone forth unmistakably as, by His almighty power, He had made a way for Himself and His people. It was Joshua’s sad failure in not giving the ark its proper place, which was the immediate cause of Israel’s humiliation at Ai. Not only had Israel’s unity been broken by his heeding the boastful suggestion of the spies, but the guidance and help of the ark was dispensed with, and thereby Jehovah had been affronted! It was, we believe, in the conscious realization of this, that Joshua now lay on his face before it.
Once before, and only once, had Israel suffered defeat at the hands of the heathen, and it is by comparing the two together, that fuller light is obtained upon the incident now before us. Both that reverse in the wilderness and this one in the land issued from the same cause: the pride of self-confidence. The earlier defeat occurred just after the crisis at Kadeh-barnea, when the nation succumbed to unbelief, refusing to follow the counsel of Caleb and Joshua, and listening to the God-dishonoring report of the ten spies. After hearing the Divine sentence that all of them should perish in the wilderness, mourning and confessing their sin, they went to the opposite extreme, and in blatant self-sufficiency declared “We will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised.” Moses at once rebuked them: “Wherefore do ye now transgress the commandment of the Lord; but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you, that ye be not smitten before your enemies. But they presumed to go up to the hill-top; nevertheless the ark’ of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. Then the Amalekites came down . . . and smote them” (Num. 14:44- 45). Thus history repeated itself: in their mad assurance, the three thousand went to Ai without the ark and suffered defeat.
“And Joshua rent his clothes and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord.” That act and attitude of his not only expressed an humbling of himself beneath the mighty hand of God, an unsparing self-judgment for his failure, but it also betokened a spirit of hope. Does the reader ask, How so? Because that which formed the lid of the ark was the “mercy-seat,” where forgiveness could be obtained on the ground of propitiation. Nor do we regard it as a straining of the verse to introduce this idea here: rather does it appear to us to be required by the Spirit’s having informed us that Joshua continued thus “until the eventide.” Very blessed indeed is that if it be remembered that the God of Israel had appointed, “thou shalt offer upon the altar two lambs of the first year, day by day continually: the one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning, and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even” (Ex. 29:38, 39). Then does not Joshua’s remaining before the ark until the time of the evening sacrifice confirm the thought that he did so in the expectation of receiving an answer of peace,” of obtaining mercy through the Lamb! Let the reader compare 1 Kings 18:36; Ezra 9:4, 5; Daniel 9:21!
Ere passing from this verse its central figure needs to be contemplated from yet another angle. Does not Joshua’s “falling to the earth upon his face” foreshadow once more the Divine Savior! When we remember that the root cause of the Ai calamity, which Joshua was here lamenting, was the trespass of Achan in “the accursed thing,” must we not recognize in Joshua’s humiliation thereat a striking and solemn prefiguration of the Redeemer’s anguish in Gethsemane? When entering upon the climax of His sufferings and the Surety of His people was about to be “made a curse” for them before God, we are told that He “fell on His face, and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). And the very next thing which Joshua here did was to pray (v. 7). If it be objected that Joshua was acknowledging his own sad failure, we answer, That only brings out more pointedly the type, for in Gethsemane the Holy One is seen as the Sin-bearer, the iniquities of His people being laid upon Him. Yet in all things He has the pre-eminence: very different indeed was His prayer in the Garden from that of Joshua’s on this occasion, for the types instruct us not only by comparison but also by way of contrast —as in Israel’s eating of the manna, and later dying; not so with those who eat the Bread of Life (John 6:49, 50).