Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Spirit: Defeat at Ai and the Sin of Achan (Joshua 7:1-26)

After such a wonderful experience at Jericho, chapter 7 is surprising to say the least. Suddenly we are presented with a series of failures that stand in striking contrast to the victories of the past six chapters. But how instructive this is if we only have the ears to listen to the message of this chapter. The thrill of victory was so quickly replaced with the agony of defeat. Here is the story of life and one we must learn to deal with in our daily walk because this passage is so typical of most of us. One minute we can be living in victory—the next in defeat.
The distance between a great victory and a great defeat is only one step, and often only a short one at that. One sad truth of reality in a fallen world is that we can be riding high on the cloud of some great spiritual success and the very next moment find ourselves in a valley of spiritual failure and despair. One moment we can be like Elijah standing victoriously on Mount Carmel and the next shriveled up under a juniper tree or hiding in a cave in deep despair complaining to God: “… I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10).
Because of its strategic location, Ai was the next objective in the path of conquest. As with Jericho, its defeat was vital to the conquest of the entire land. Ai was smaller than Jericho, but its conquest was essential because it would give Israel control of the main route that ran along the highlands from north to south in the central portion of the land.
Jericho had been placed under the ban, a phrase which comes from the Hebrew word, herem, “a devoted thing, a ban.” The verb form, haram, means “to ban, devote, or destroy utterly.” Basically, this word refers to the exclusion of an object from use or abuse by man along with its irreversible surrender to God. It is related to an Arabic root meaning “to prohibit, especially to ordinary use.” The “harem,” meaning the special quarters for Muslim wives, comes from this word. So, to surrender something to God meant devoting it to the service of God or putting it under a ban for utter destruction.32
For something to be under the ban meant one of two things. First, everything living was to be completely destroyed. This has been called barbaric and primitive and nothing less than the murder of innocent lives. The Canaanites, however, were by no means innocent. They were a vile people who practiced the basest forms of immorality including child sacrifice. God had given them over four hundred years to repent, but now their iniquity had become full (see Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:24-28). The few who did turn to the Lord (Rahab and her family) were spared. As with Sodom and Gomorrah, if there had been even ten righteous, God would have spared the city (Gen. 18), but since He could not find even ten, God removed Lot and his family (Gen. 19). Further, if any city had repented as did Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah, He would have spared that city, but in spite of all the miraculous works of God which they had heard about, there was no repentance, they remained steadfast in their depravity.
… the battle confronting Israel was not simply a religious war; it was a theocratic war. Israel was directly ruled by God and the extermination was God’s direct command (cf. Exod. 23:27-30; Deut. 7:3-6; Josh. 8:24-26). No other nation either before or after Israel has been a theocracy. Thus, those commands were unique. Israel as a theocracy was an instrument of judgment in the hands of God.33
Second, all the valuable objects like gold and silver were to be dedicated to the Lord’s treasury. This was evidently to be done as a kind of first fruits of the land, and as an evidence of the people’s trust in the Lord’s supply for the future (cf. Lev. 27:28-29).

The Disobedience of Israel Defined (7:1)

1 But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the LORD burned against the sons of Israel.
Chapter 7 opens with the little but ominous word, “but.” This word contrasts this chapter with the preceding, but particularly 6:27. First, there was the thrill of victory, but now there is the agony of defeat. This little conjunction of contrast is designed to drive home an important truth—the reality of the ever present threat and contrasts of life—victory is always followed by at least the threat of defeat.
Never is the believer in greater danger of a fall than after a victory. We are so prone to drop our guard and begin trusting in ourselves or in our past victories rather than the Lord. One victory never guarantees the next. Only as it builds our confidence in the Lord and develops our wisdom in appropriating God’s Word do our victories aid us for the next battle. Always, the basis of victory is the Lord Himself and our faith/dependence on Him. A New Testament chapter that deserves consideration here is 1 Corinthians 10, especially verse 12. The problem is clearly stated in the words, “The sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard …” Let’s note several things about this problem facing the Israelites as a nation.
(1) The word “unfaithfully” represents a Hebrew word that means “to act underhandedly.” It was used of marital infidelity, of a woman who was unfaithful to her husband. The sin here was both an act of spiritual infidelity, being a friend of the world rather than a friend to the Lord (Jam. 4:4), and a faithless act, seeking happiness and security from things rather than from God (1 Tim. 6:6f).
(2) We see that the Lord held the whole camp of Israel accountable for the act of one man and withheld His blessing until the matter was corrected. There was sin in the camp and God would not continue blessing the nation as long as this was so. This does not mean this was the only sin and the rest of the nation was sinless, but this sin was of such a nature (direct disobedience and rebellion) that God used it to teach Israel and us a couple of important lessons.
God viewed the nation of Israel as a unit. What one did was viewed as a sin for the whole nation because Israel’s corporate life illustrates truth and warnings for us as individuals (1 Cor. 10). As a warning for the church, it shows us we cannot progress and move ahead for the Lord with known sin in our lives because that constitutes rebellion against the Lord’s direction and control (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). It is a matter of loving the world—and to do so is to make one behave as though he or she was an enemy of God (Jam. 4).
Achan’s behavior also illustrates how one or a few believers out of fellowship, when pursuing their own selfish desires and agendas, can negatively impact an entire group. Such behavior can create trouble for the rest. Achan’s name, the Hebrew, akan, is a play on the word akor, which means “trouble.” So Joshua would declare that the Lord would bring trouble (akor) on Achan who had become a “troubler” to the nation because of his sin (cf. 7:24-25). Thus, the site of Achan’s death and grave was called, “the valley of Achor” (Hebrew, akor, “disturbance, trouble”). Though the crime was committed by one person, the whole nation was considered guilty. The nation was responsible for the obedience of every citizen and was charged with the punishment of every offender.
This should call to mind the following verses:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal (Hebrews 12:15-16).
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).
The apostle Paul saw the same principle of solidarity at work in the church (1 Cor 5:6-13). Unjudged sin contaminated the whole assembly—”Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” (v. 6).34
(3) We also are reminded how nothing escapes the omniscience of God (Psa. 139:1f). Sin never escapes His watchful eye. We can fool ourselves and others, but never the Lord. God sees the sin in our lives and desires us to deal with it, not hide it. Hiding it only hinders our progress in God’s will and plan (Prov. 28:13) and creates trouble for others. Numbers 32:23 reminds us, “be sure your sin will find you out.” This is similar to the idea of reaping what we sow because of the natural consequences of God’s spiritual and moral laws and because of God’s personal involvement. The Numbers text, however, does not just teach that sin will be discovered but that the consequences of our sin become active agents in discovering us (see Gal. 6:7-8).
(4) The words, “therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel,” dramatically call our attention to the holiness of God. Sin is no small matter with God because sin is rebellion and rebellion is as the sin of divination (1 Sam. 15:23). Even though Christ died for our sins and stands at God’s right hand as our Advocate and Intercessor, God does not and cannot treat sin in our lives lightly. It is against His holy character (His holiness, righteousness, love, etc.) and against His holy purposes for us because it hinders His control and ability to lead us.
Or do you think the scripture means nothing when it says, “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning?” But he gives greater grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:5-6, the NET Bible, emphasis mine).
Thus, God must deal with us and the sin in our lives; He deals with us as a Father and as the Vine Dresser, but He nevertheless deals with us (John 15:1f; Heb. 12:5).

The Defeat at Ai Described

2 Now 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.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few.” 4 So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water.
The defeat of Israel’s army at Ai described here is the only defeat recorded in Joshua and the only report of Jews slain in battle. Ai was smaller than Jericho! How could such a defeat occur so quickly? The root cause, as summarized in verse one, was the sin of Achan. There are other issues involved, however, which led Joshua to go up against Ai when he should not have.
In these verses we see some of the varying consequences of sin in the life of God’s people or in the life of the individual. Sin has many consequences, none of them good.
No doubt Joshua was eager to move forward for the Lord and to take more territory in keeping with God’s directions and His purpose for Israel. But being a little self-confident and resting too much on the victory at Jericho, Joshua evidently failed to take time to get alone with the Lord to inquire of Him and seek His strength. If he had, he would not have remained ignorant of the sin of Achan and could have dealt with it first. Four deadly errors were the result: (a) They remained ignorant of the sin of Achan. (b) They underestimated the strength of the enemy. (c) They over-estimated the strength of their own army. (d) They presumed on the Lord—they took Him for granted.
Later, when God gave the orders for them to go up against the enemy, perhaps because of their previous self-confident attitude and their presumption, He commanded them to take “all the people of war” (8:1). With Gideon, however, the Lord had him reduce his forces lest they boast in their own power as the source of their victory (Judges 7:1f).
How often are we not just like Joshua here in chapter 7? Because of a workaholic mentality or an activity-oriented bent or a desire to get things done and to be successful, there is the tendency to rush off without taking time to draw near to the Lord, draw on His resources, and to put on the full armor of God. Such is not only unwise, but it often causes us to be insensitive to serious failures in our own lives and ministries which grieve and quench the Spirit and leave us defenseless against the enemy because we are operating in our own strength and wisdom. Ultimately, then, these failures stand in the way of our progress and ability to handle the various challenges in life.
The last part of verse 5 reads, “so the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” The defeat at Ai demoralized the people. This is perhaps even more significant than the defeat itself because it created misgivings and a lack of confidence in the Lord. Rather than examine their own lives as the source of their defeat, they began to doubt the Lord and wonder if He had changed His mind or if they had misread His directions. Should we have crossed the Jordan? Should we have stayed on the other side? (cf. 7:7).
In our sinful human nature, we are typically just like that. We are so quick to become depressed, discouraged, and disoriented. We look in every direction for a reason for defeat—except to ourselves. We blame, we make excuses, we hide and hurl, but we so often fail to honestly examine our own lives. We assume the problem could not possibly be us … could it?

The Dismay of Joshua Depicted

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why didst Thou ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what wilt Thou do for Thy great name?”

The Consternation Before the Ark (vs. 6)

In this description of Joshua we see one of the great evidences of the inspiration of Scripture. God’s people, including the great heroes of the faith, are pictured with blemishes, warts and all. God does not touch up the photo. Rather, He shows us their humanness to comfort us in our own failures and to challenge us to realize He can use us greatly if we will but trust Him. Failure is unique to none of us … and it is not the end. In fact, it can be the beginning depending on how we respond. Of course, it is always better to make a few new mistakes and learn from them than to repeat old ones. When we keep making the same mistakes our defeats have no life-changing value. In the defeat at Ai we see a real test of Joshua’s leadership. As Sanders remarks, “There are tests to leadership as well as tests of leadership,”35 and one of those tests is the test of failure. Failure is unique to no one. Failure, like all testings, are common to all men (1 Cor. 10:13) and thus, the manner in which a leader handles failure, his own and others, will have a powerful impact on his growth and future leadership.

A study of Bible characters reveals that most of those who made history were men who failed at some point, and some of them drastically, but who refused to continue lying in the dust. Their very failure and repentance secured for them a more ample conception of the grace of God. They learned to know Him as the God of the second chance to His children who had failed Him—and the third chance, too …
The successful leader is a man who has learned that no failure need to be final and acts on that belief, whether the failure is his own or that of another. He must learn to be realistic and prepared to realize that he cannot be right all the time. There is no such thing as a perfect or infallible leader.36
Joshua, of course, was stunned by the defeat and catastrophe at Ai, and his actions and those of the elders were in keeping with the Hebrew practices of mourning and despair. Prostrating himself before the Ark of the Lord certainly suggests that he and the elders were humbling themselves before the Lord. Joshua and the elders were not guilty of callused indifference. They were showing a deep concern and their need of God’s hand; they needed His intervention and wisdom. However, from the words that follow, intermingled with these feelings, there is also evidence of some self-pity and doubt.

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More Info
Verse 27. - The children of Ezer are these; Bilhan, - "Modest" (Gesenius), "Tender" (Furst) - and Zaavan, - "Disturbed "(Gesenius) - and Akan - Jakan (1 Chronicles 1:42); "Twisting" (Gesenius, Murphy).

Meaning and etymology of the name Akan
Akan is a grandson of Seir, through Ezer (Genesis 36:27), and is also known as Jaakan (1 Chronicles 1:42). Eventually, his name became part of a location: Bene-Jaakan, meaning 'sons of Jakan' (Numbers 33:31).

Very few sources dare propose an interpretation of this name. NOBS Study Bible Name List, HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament and BDB Theological Dictionary are all silent. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, bold as ever, follows the brilliant scholar Gesenius, who determined that the unused root 'kn ('kn) is perhaps related to hql (hql). Unfortunately, this root is also unused and brings us no further.

But, says Gesenius, it might also have something to do with the Aramaic root aqm ('qm), meaning to twist, to wrest. The good old Easton's Bible Dictionary agrees and reads He Twists for Jaakan and Twisted for Akan.

In the sense of its meaning, the name Akan is somewhat similar to the names Levi and Naphtali.

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