For the Christian, the Bible indicates that our sins, our failures, and our weaknesses are not the final word. Yet, what we feel at any given time, what we might be experiencing, or what our circumstances indicate often present a different narrative.
How do we work through this challenge? We do so as we respond to any other challenge – we return to the Word of God.
As the people of Israel were engaging in their mission to conquer the land of Canaan, they experienced a miraculous victory at Jericho (Joshua 6). However, subsequent disobedience and pride led to defeat at Ai (Joshua 7).
Israel responded properly to their sinful conduct: humility followed by repentance and cleansing got the people back on track. But they could go no further into Canaan until they had gone back to Ai and obtained victory at the place of defeat.
The past in our path
Of course, in the course of human endeavors, some mistakes cannot be undone. Sex before marriage, for example, can lead to an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy. A woman can ask God for forgiveness, but she is still pregnant. If she compounds her sin by aborting the child, that might appear to undo the first mistake, but the murdered child will always be dead.
But in spiritual warfare, it is also true that God will frequently bring us back to the initial failure and call us to deal with it. In the example above, the process of sanctification demands that the man and the woman who fornicated – if they are Christians – deal with the root causes of that sinful conduct.
The principle is this: the giants that are directly in our path must be overcome. God will not allow you to ignore the trouble spot. We cannot leave the enemy in control of an area in our lives, because he will continue to plague us from that stronghold.
Our God is a God of victory – and He will take us right back to the place of defeat so we can retake the ground that was lost.
Delivered from the trapper
The Lord is fully aware of the power of deception and how our enemy uses it to confound us and trip us up.
Psalm 91:2-3 speaks of “the snare of the trapper.” A snare is a device of craftiness and cunning. It is a trap that is set to capture prey by trickery, and in terms of spiritual warfare, we are talking about the schemes of the Devil.
Satan used such a snare to entrap Israel at Ai. He wanted to keep Israel from succeeding in her God-ordained tasks. No doubt the Devil tempted Achan to covet and disobey the Lord’s command not to keep the wealth of Jericho; no doubt Satan whispered into the ears of Israel’s leaders and encouraged overconfidence in their hearts.
The snare was triggered and Israel was caught. The men of Ai chased Israel’s men of war, inflicting damage and defeat.
But the psalmist also says that God will rescue His people from such devices: “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper.”
Such a rescue plays out in Joshua 8 as the Lord takes defeat and turns it around to the advantage of His people. In fact, God uses the snare of the enemy against him. Here are the ways by which this deliverance occurred:
- Do not be afraid.
Fear is a poison that can spread from person to person until an entire group is afflicted with it. In other words, fear is contagious.
After the children of Israel were set free from Egypt, God began to prepare them for the military conflicts to come. The Lord understood the power of fear to undermine the hearts of even the stoutest of warriors and instructed Israel thusly:
Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, "Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart” (Deuteronomy 20:8).
On the other hand, Joshua understood that when Israel’s enemies were victorious, then that would encourage them to press their advantage against God’s people. Following Israel’s catastrophe at Ai, this is what Joshua prayed:
O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? 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 will You do for Your great name? (Joshua 7:8-9)
Thus, it isn’t surprising that, in preparing His people to regain the ground that had been lost, God exhorts the people against fear: “Now the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed’” (Joshua 8:1).
- Do not be overconfident.
This exhortation against fear wasn’t simply a command to Joshua to “get a hold of yourself and act like a man!” Instead, God refocuses the man’s attention on the original promise of God to give them the land and the application of that promise to the present moment.
In other words, while we are frequently exhorted in Scripture to be unafraid, we don’t overcome fear through determination. You can’t simply “try harder.” But by taking our attention off our own weaknesses, our enemies, our circumstances, etc., and instead focusing on God and His word, we can become victorious.
While Israel originally failed at Ai due to overconfidence – or confidence in human abilities – what is encouraged here is God confidence. It was the Lord Almighty who would give victory to His people: “see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its king.”
Before their defeat at Ai, Joshua and his leaders were overconfident, taking only two or three thousand soldiers. This time around, they were not going to make the same mistake. They took nothing for granted. They did not underestimate the enemy. They took care of business:
So Joshua rose with all the people of war to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose 30,000 men, valiant warriors, and sent them out at night (Joshua 8:3).
That number is ten times what they’d sent the first time – and it’s not even the entire army!
- Obey the Word of the Lord.
God counsels Joshua to set up an ambush, and Joshua obeys Him. In the New Testament age, we would say this is using the godly wisdom of Scripture, which doesn’t always make sense from a worldly perspective.
This ambush would rely on the circumstances of the earlier defeat in order to ensnare the enemy. The 30,000 valiant warriors went out at night and set up behind the city. Joshua and the rest of the people approached from the front, and these would flee in pretended fear when the men of Ai exited for battle.
Now it was the enemy’s turn to be overconfident! Now the very snare that led to the defeat of God’s people would lead to the defeat of their enemies. As the soldiers of Ai pursued Joshua, the 30,000 warriors of Israel behind the city took it and burned it with fire.
This time, Israel was obedient to the specific commands of the Lord regarding the city and what was in it (vv. 30-35). Joshua honored the Lord with an altar of worship and remembrance; Joshua honored the Word of God by declaring it before the people.
No, we cannot always change the mistakes of the past. But we can be forgiven. We can repair what can be fixed. We can restore what we’ve neglected. And if we are given the opportunity, we can defeat the giants that have long haunted our sleepless nights.
That requires humility, repentance, and holiness. Above all, it requires obedience to the Word of the Lord.