Joshua Message #18 by Ed Miller
When we come to the study of God’s word I remind you of that principle of Bible study that is indispensable, and that is total reliance on God’s Holy Spirit. The Bible was written by the Lord and it must be interpreted by the Lord. It’s a spiritual book communicated to spiritual people and we need to have the heart to listen to the Lord. He has promised that He would meet with us.
Let me give you a couple of verses from Psalm 36. They are just expressions lifted from verse 5 & 6 & 9 but putting them together, here’s what it says, “Thy faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Alright, get that picture in your mind. And then it says, “Thy judgments are a great deep.” So, you’ve got His faithfulness reaching to the skies and what the Lord allows and does is a great mystery and that is a great deep. So, you’ve got His faithfulness and His judgments and they are both beyond human understanding. Verse 9 says, “With Thee is the fountain of life. In Thy light we see light.” So, He gives us light in order that we might have more light. I’ll pick that up in another connection toward the end of the study.
Let’s pray together and give our time to the Lord. Heavenly Father, thank You again for gathering us. Thank You for the truth that in Your light we see light. So, we pray that You might work in us, that we might be walking in the light and that we might give You an unhindered right of way in everything. We give this little meditation to Thee and ask You to guide us and protect Your people from anything I might say that is not from You. We thank You for that and we trust You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We’re looking together at Joshua 7 & 8 and we’ve been doing that now for three or four weeks. For the past couple of sessions we’ve been focusing on the loss at Ai. 7 & 8 deal with the loss and subsequent victory at Ai. We’ve been looking at the loss and the result of that loss. The result of their loss, there are human things, but the big reason they lost is Joshua 7:12, “Therefore, the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turned their backs before their enemies. They’ve become a curse. I will not be with you anymore.” That’s why they lost. When God stops fighting for you, you lose. When God stops fighting for me, I lose.
In our world, especially these days, there is a lot of bad news; bad news in the world, sometimes bad news in the church, sometimes bad news in the family and sometimes bad news in our life but the worse news that ever reached a human ear, that anyone could hear is that the Lord is not fighting for you anymore, that you are on your own. That’s where they were. The important thing to remember is that all defeat comes when God withdraws Himself. There are occasions from our life; pride and covetousness and anger and other things that can cause defeat, but the ultimate is that God withdraws His hand and He puts the sword back in the sheath.
Israel did not lose because they had too few soldiers. When you first read it might seem that way. But you remember Gidieon’s three hundred and thirty two thousand were defeated. And you remember Abraham’s three hundred eighteen men in Genesis 14 and he defeated four armies and four kings. I like what Jonathan told his servant in 1 Samuel 14:6, “Perhaps the Lord will work for us. The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.” Isn’t that a wonderful verse? It doesn’t matter how many. You remember in Judges 15, Samson killed a thousand with a jawbone. So, they didn’t lose because they had too few. Nothing is so small in your life or in my life. There is no Ai so small that we can handle it. You can’t handle anything and I can’t handle anything. The faster the Lord teaches us that, the better it’s going to be.
The results, this is review, of God not fighting for you are three fold. Joshua 7:5, “The men of Ai struck down thirty six of their men and pursued them from the gate from as far as Shebarim and struck them down on the descent.” The first outworking, when God doesn’t fight for you, is defeat. This is the only defeat; thirty six men. Imagine, they went against thirty one kings and thirty one armies in a seven year war and they only lost thirty six men in the whole seven years. The first result is that we’re going to be defeated and then we’re going to be demoralized. Joshua 7:5, “The hearts of the people melted and became as water.” Once you start fighting your own battles, you’ll see how easy it is to become afraid and become demoralized. Joshua 7:6, “Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening. He and the elders of Israel put dust on their heads.”
And then the last illustration is, “We’re losers. We can’t win. When you fight for yourselves you are going to lose. That is illustrated by Achan, Joshua 7:24, “Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan, the sons of Zerah, the silver, the mantel, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him and they brought them to the valley of Achor. Joshua said, ‘Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.’” So, if you fight your own battles you are going to get defeated. If you fight your own battles you are going to be filled with fear and you are going to be demoralized. If you fight your own battle you are going to be a loser. Achan not only didn’t get to enjoy what he stole, He also lost everything else and he’s just a loser. No wonder they call that place the valley of Achor.
Joshua 7:25, “Joshua said, ‘Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day. Therefore, the name of that place has been called the valley of Achor.” The word “Achor” just means “trouble”. When you start fighting your own battles you better believe it, you are going to end up in trouble and you are going to end up in the valley of trouble. And not only that valley but there is another valley. Judges 2 describes it, verse 4 & 5, “When the Angel of the Lord spoke these words,” and the words in the context are, “I’m not fighting for you anymore. When the Lord spoke those words the people lifted their voices and wept and they named that place Bochim.” Bochim means “weeping”. Bochim means “tears”, “the valley of tears”. When God is not fighting for you, you are going to be defeated and you are going to be demoralized and you are going to lose and you are going to end up in the valley of trouble and you are going to end up in the valley of tears.
I want to continue this morning what we began last time and I began to show you the grace of God in the defeat at Ai. We didn’t come to the victory yet. We’ll do that, Lord willing, next week. But this is the grace of God in the defeat at Ai. I started showing you how God demonstrated His grace underneath this all inclusive truth, that all things are redemptive. Because the Lord is a God of grace, everything in your life and everything in my life is redemptive. That means that God will use positive and negative for His redemptive purposes because He is sovereign.
Last time we demonstrated it by Hosea 2:14-15, there was a valley of trouble, a valley of Achor, but God turned it around, “Behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her and I’ll give her vineyards from there and the valley of Achor as a door of hope.” Isn’t that amazing that God can turn a valley of trouble into a door of hope, “And there she’ll sing, as in the days of her youth, the days she came from the land of Egypt.”
You don’t need to be saved twice. You are saved once and that’s all you ever need. I remember when I lost a sense of God’s presence after I became saved, I hitchhiked all the way out to Hartford, Connecticut and tried to find the school where I first accepted Christ and I asked the janitor to get me in there and I found the same seat that I sat in when I received the Lord and I asked the Lord to save me again because I thought I needed to be saved. I don’t need to be saved more than one time. You are not born again, again, again and again. You are just born again. But God re-enacts your salvation. Every time He restores you it’s just like getting saved all over again. David calls it, “Return the joy of my salvation.” By undeserved grace He’ll take that valley of Achor, the valley of trouble, and He’ll turn it into a door of hope and not only a door of hope but Isaiah mentions the valley of trouble. Isaiah 65:10, “Sharon will be a pasture for flocks. The valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for My people who seek Me.” When you start seeking God out of the valley of trouble, it becomes a valley of rest. That’s one illustration of the grace of God in the defeat at Ai. He takes the valley of trouble and turns it into a door of hope and into a place of rest.
What about the valley of tears, the valley of Bochim? Does he transform that as well? The answer is yes. Psalm 84:5&7, “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose hearts are the highway to Zion, passing through the valley of Baca,” (Baca is just singular for Bochim), “They make it a spring. The early rain covers it with blessing and they go from strength to strength. Every one of them appears before God in Zion.” Because of your rebellion and sin and backsliding, you might end up in a valley of tears but God will use that and turn it into a valley of springs, so that others can come from your tears and your trouble and they can find a door of hope and they can find a resting place and they can find spring of living water.
As I said last week, as I look back, it didn’t happen when I was going through it but now as I look back I can’t praise God enough for the many ways that He has used my mess-ups. I’m not encouraging you to mess up and I’m not encouraging you to take your eyes off of the Lord but there is life after that, after the valley of trouble and after the valley of tears. Once you put your eyes back on the Lord, immediately He draws His sword and begins to fight for you again. Immediately He draws His sword and begins to fight for me again. It’s never more complicated than that.
Don’t listen to all these people who try to make the Christian life hard and complicated. It’s simple. As you receive Christ (that was simple; you came as nobody and said, “Lord Jesus help!”), so walk in Him. The whole Christian life is nothing more than continually receiving Christ. It’s that easy; putting your eyes on the Lord. So, trouble becomes hope, a door of hope and a place of rest and tears become springs of living water.
I told you that although there were thirty one different kings and armies, they only lost thirty six men. But though they fought thirty one kings and armies, there are three strategic battles for the land of Palestine. There was the battle for central Palestine which is illustrated by Jericho. Then there is the battle for southern Palestine and there is the battle for northern Palestine. The reason I’m bringing that up now is that I want you to think about this; three strategic battles to win Palestine. How many of those three were after the battle of Ai? The answer is two of them.
The reason I’m calling attention to this is because sometimes we think that once we mess up and get into trouble and get into tears, we think it’s all over. No, the greatest victory follows the valley of tears. Look at Jonah. What was his greatest victory? The answer is it was after his repentance. Peter denied the Lord. When was his greatest ministry? See, it was after that. So, I’m just trying to encourage you to keep your eyes on the Lord and you are going to fall and I’m going to fall and we’re going to mess up but the Lord is able to deal with that. God is a God of redemption and the fact is that after a fall you are not put on a shelf. I was taught that. When I was a young Christian, if I sinned, I was going on a shelf. And if I missed God’s best, I’m stuck with His second best. God has no second best and God has no shelf. When you are restored, you are restored not only to what you were but you are restored to higher usefulness and you are restored to greater usefulness and the reason is because you’ve been humbled by that fall. So, you are going to have less confidence in the flesh than ever. I just wanted to show you, that’s part of the grace.
I want to continue this morning showing you illustrations of God’s grace in the fall of Israel at Ai. I want to introduce a topic. I’m not going to develop this. I’ll just suggest a principle and let the Holy Spirit apply it. I told you that Joshua is the Hebrew word for the Greek word “Jesus” and when we introduced the book I called attention to the fact that only Jesus can take me into Jesus. So, Joshua is a picture of the Lord Jesus. Although it’s true that Joshua is a picture of the Lord Jesus, he’s also a human being and he’s also a man subject to failure. He’s trusting in the Lord and we’re going to see as we go through Joshua that Joshua is learning along the way. Joshua is not only a picture of Christ but he’s also a picture of Christ in you and Christ in me.
Today those of us who have begun to learn the secret of the Lord, union with Christ, we’re the ones that are privileged to lead God’s people into the land which is Jesus, into the land which is rest. I don’t need to tell you that you are not perfect and you don’t need to tell me that I’m not. It doesn’t take long to realize who we are. Like Joshua, we’ve got to learn along the way.
In the Bible there are no clear cut sins mentioned of Joseph, for example and no clear cut sins mentioned about Nehemiah and no clear cut sins mentioned about Daniel. They are picturing something else. We can’t get into that now but Joshua, he made some huge mistakes along the way. Even though he’s picturing Christ, he also pictures us leading others, Christ in us. So, I want to look at a couple of those mistakes, not to be critical of Joshua but to magnify the God Who is a God of grace. I don’t want you to think as we study Joshua, the great military leader, that he had it altogether. He didn’t and he has to learn a lot. The Ai story shows about three or four blunders that Joshua made and I’d like to point them out to show you how God corrected that.
Let me mention them first and then maybe develop them a little bit. It was a mistake for Joshua to send out the spies. Joshua 7:2, “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.’ So, the men went and spied out the land.” Then after the spies came back, they gave some bad council and it was a mistake for Joshua to listen to that council. Joshua 7:3, “They returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not let all the people go up. Only about two or three thousand men need to go to Ai. Do not make all the people toil up there. They are few.’ So, about three thousand men from the people went up there but they fled from the men of Ai.”
He also made a mistake in his prayer life and I want to call attention to that. He didn’t pray when he should of and he prayed when he shouldn’t have. Joshua 7:10-11, “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Rise up. Why is it you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned. They’ve transgressed my covenant which I commanded them.’” This is not a time to pray. You’ve got to deal with sin. It’s an interesting thing.
Joshua also made a large mistake by forgetting a lesson that God has already taught him. Sometimes we say, “God has taught me to trust Him.” Don’t count on it because you are probably going to forget that and you are going to have to learn it again. I never say anymore, “God taught me this.” It’s like that blind man, he touched him and he saw men as trees walking and then God touched him again. And we’re always going to need that second touch. No matter how clearly we think we see, we see men as trees walking and we’re going to see men as trees walking even until we get to heaven. The fact is, when you first arrive in heaven, you are going to say, “Finally I see.” Yeah, hang in there. A million years in heaven and you’ll say, “Wow, when I arrived I thought I saw but I never saw You as beautiful as You are now.” Ten million years later your eyes will be opened ten million years wider and your mouth ten million years wider in amazement saying, “I knew You were wonderful but I never knew that You were like this.” All through the ages of eternity. So, I just want to call attention to Joshua having to relearn a lesson that God began to teach him forty years before and we’ll look at that.
Let me mention those lessons. First of all is the lesson of the spies. As far as the Bible record goes, there are four big spy passages. There are a couple of little ones – David sent out the spies doing some recognizance – but four big spy passages. One you remember is Numbers 13-14. They sent out spies when they were in the wilderness to spy out the land. Let me read those verses, Numbers 13:17, “When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said, ‘Go up there into the Negev and go up into the hill country and see what the land is like and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. How is the land in which they live? Is it good or bad? How are the cities in which they live? Are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land? Is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort to get some of the fruit of the land.’ Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes.”
They not only sent out spies in the wilderness but remember the battle of Jericho. Joshua 2:1, “Joshua, the son of Nun, sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim saying, ‘Go view the land, especially Jericho.’” The third spy story is here in Ai, Joshua 7:2, “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 and spied out Ai. The fourth spy story we looked at when we were in the book of Judges together, Judges 18:2, when Dan was not satisfied with the will of God. Remember the tribe of Dan. They wanted to spy out a land that would be more comfortable for them. “So, the men of Dan sent from their family five men of their whole number, valiant men from Zorah and Estaol, to spy out the land and search it out.” Those are the four large spy stories; the wilderness, Jericho, Ai and the tribe of Dan. Each of those stories ended in failure; all four spy stories, even Jericho, although God turned the curse to a blessing in terms of Rahab.
Before I show you the essential evil of spying out the land, let me begin with objections against spying being wrong. For example, Numbers 13:1-2, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send out for yourself men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan.’” Some read that and say, “Well, now, wait a minute. How can spying be wrong if the Bible says that the Lord said to Moses, “Send out spies?” Let me give you the background. Deuteronomy 1:22-23, “Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up and the cities which we shall enter.’ The thing pleased me and I took twelve of your men, one man from each tribe.” In Deuteronomy 1 we see who initiated and it wasn’t God’s idea. It was man’s idea. They came to Moses and said, “We need to spy out the land
It’s like when Israel wanted a visible king. Do you remember that? 1 Samuel 8:4-5, “All the elders of Israel gathered together and said to Samuel at Ramah, ‘Behold, you’ve grown old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us, like all the nations.’” You remember the response. 1 Samuel 8:6, “The thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all they say to you. They have not rejected you. They have rejected me from being king over them.” And then in 1 Samuel 8:22, “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to their voice. Appoint them a king.’” It wasn’t God’s will. The men wanted it, “We demand a king.” God said, “Alright, let them have one.” So, it looks like God is directing it, but He’s allowing it. He’s not directing it. Psalm 106:15, “He gave them their request but sent a wasting disease among them.” I like the KJV. It says, “He gave them their request and sent leaness to their soul.” In that connection, be careful what you pray. God may let you have it and could be leaness to their soul.
A second argument; some people say that God commanded it. No, He allowed it. A second argument was, “How could it be wrong when Rahab the woman in Jericho became saved because of the spies?” Listen to Hebrews 11:31, “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, after she welcomed the spies in peace.” Some would say that because she got saved, that must have been God’s will to send out those spies. Because God is wise and loving He can do what He says in Deuteronomy 23:5, “The Lord your God was not willing to listen to Balaam. But the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing because the Lord your God loves you.” You’ve heard that expression, “The curse is turned into to a blessing.” I wonder if you knew it was in the Bible. That’s a Bible word and God turns the curse into a blessing and that doesn’t mean that God engineered the curse. He just turns it around. That’s what I call “redemptive”, that everything is redemptive. God can use man’s blunders for His purposes. Remember Joseph’s brothers, “You meant evil. God meant good. You sold me. God sent me,” he said. The cross is an illustration of the curse turned to a blessing. I believe the salvation of Rahab is not condoning spying but it’s glorifying the God of grace who can turn that curse to a blessing.
Let me tell you right up front what is the essential evil of that picture sending out spies. The answer is “sight”, living by sight. It’s the opposite of faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” The way I read remember it is the word “spies” rhymes with eyes. So, it’s just living by sight. Why is wrong to send the spies into the land of Canaan? The answer is given in Ezekiel 20:6. First I’ll read it from the American Standard and then from the King James. “On that day I swore to them to bring them out from the land of Egypt into a land I had selected for them.” In the NAS margin they have a note for “selected for them” and it’s called “spied out”, the land flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all land.
Here is the KJV, “In that day I lifted up my hand unto them to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey.” See, they didn’t need to send spies because God had already spied out the land. He’s the One that had already spied out the land and they should have taken it by faith. Do you realize that when those spies came back they did not tell them one thing that God had not already told them. They already knew everything. The spies did nothing, except end up in the valley of trouble and the valley of tears.
The second lesson that Joshua needed is closely connected with that of spying. He needed to learn not to trust sight. That’s first. But now Joshua 7:3, “They returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not let all the people go up. Only two or three thousand men need to go up there to Ai. Do not make all the people toil up there. They are few.” Once again, we’ve discussed this, this dependence on the flesh, “We can handle the little things. We can’t handle Jericho. Those walls are too big. God has got to do that. But we can take care of Ai. It’s a little thing. Don’t rely on worldly wisdom. When those spies, people living by sight and they give you advice…. I like to think of “Ai” as “Artificial Intelligence”. It’s not true.
Worldly wisdom concludes two things. From verse 27 to 29 in Numbers 13, they told him, “We went into the land that you sent us. It certainly does flow with milk and honey. This is it’s fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, cities are fortified and very large. Moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there, Amaleks living in the land of Negev, Hittites and Jebusites and Amorites living in the hill country and the Canaanites are living by the sea on the side of Jordan.” So, they gave a report, verse 32, “They gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land of which they spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we’ve gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
Worldly wisdom has one conclusion and it says, “You can’t do it. Give up. There are enemies out there. They are too strong. There is a lion in the street. But then the other side of worldly wisdom is what we read in Joshua 7:3&4, “You can do it. Go up. There are only a few. You can handle this.” If you listen to worldly wisdom, those who live by sight, you are going to learn two things; you can’t do it; you can do it. Both are flesh. I can’t do it; that’s still me. I can do it; that’s me. Humility is not low thoughts of yourself. Humility is no thoughts of yourself, not low thoughts but no thoughts. The council of man is always either to give up or to dig in. That’s all worldly wisdom can offer. Here is the reality. Christ in you can do it. Christ in you will do it. You can’t; you can but it’s not you. It’s Christ who lives in you. Joshua needed to learn not to live by sight and he needed not to depend on the flesh; not his own and not the flesh of those who desire to give him council.
There’s a third lesson he had to learn. Let me set it up and let the Holy Spirit apply it. There is a great emphasis on prayer in this story of Ai. First, when did Joshua first learn what was wrong in the battle of Ai? The answer is that it was when he prayed. Listen to Joshua 7:6-7, “Joshua tore his clothes and fell on the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening. Both he and the elders of Israel, they put dust on their heads and Joshua said, ‘Alas, oh Lord God, why did you ever bring this people over Jordan, only to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond Jordan.” That’s when God told him, “I’m not fighting for you anymore.” God told him that he wasn’t fighting for him when he prayed. Did Joshua pray before he sent the spies to Ai? The answer is that he didn’t pray. Did he pray when the spies brought back the report that you only need a handful, only need a few? The answer is “No”. If God revealed the truth, “I’m not fighting for you,” when he prayed, does that imply if he had prayed earlier he might have learned that truth a little earlier?
You see, we usually blame the thirty six dead soldiers on Achan and we say, “Because of Achan’s sin thirty six men died.” But I wonder how much responsibility Joshua had as the military leader, by not praying in advance. You see, those men would have still been alive if he had prayed when he should have prayed. If fact, did he even get the Lord’s approval to go to Ai at all? See, he just took Jericho and he just said, “Keep marching. We’re going to Ai.” I wonder if he had prayed at the beginning, if things would have been different.
There’s another illustration of Joshua’s prayer and it’s in Joshua 7:10-11, “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Rise up. Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned.” See, Joshua didn’t pray when he should have but now he’s praying and God says, “What are you doing praying? Get up. You shouldn’t be praying now. It’s not a time to pray.” As we mentioned earlier, when somebody resists the Lord and asks for a king and God allows it or asks for spies and God allows it, we know then we should have been praying and seeking the Lord. But sometimes it is God’s will that we don’t pray.
In that connection I love Genesis 18 when Abraham was praying about Sodom and God said, “If there is fifty righteous I’ll spare.” And then he prayed and said, “Lord, how about forty five?” And God said, “Alright, forty five.” And then he said, “Lord, don’t get angry but what if there are only forty righteous? Will you spare them?” God said, “Okay. Forty righteous and I’ll still spare them.” And then he got real brave and he said, “How about thirty? If there’s thirty righteous?” And God said, “Alright, if there’s thirty righteous I’ll spare them.” He said, “Please don’t get angry. How about twenty?” And God said, “Alright, if there’s twenty righteous I’ll spare them.” And then he said, “I know that I’m dust and ashes and I don’t deserve this. How about if there are ten righteous?” And God said, “Alright, if there are ten righteous I’ll spare them.” Why didn’t he ask for five righteous? See, he knew when to stop praying. There’s a time to pray and the Lord will show you and there is a time not to pray.
Remember Moses at the Red Sea? Exodus 14:15 and He had just given them this great lesson, “Stand still and you’ll see the salvation of the Lord.” It was all a victorious message. I love the message. And then God said, verse 15, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” It’s not a time to pray. Tell them to go. It’s a time to act, a time to move. You’ve got to know when to pray. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve got to know when not to pray. Samuel kept praying for Saul after Saul departed from the Lord and finally God said in1 Samuel 16:1, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I’ve rejected him from being king.” “Don’t keep asking Me to restore him. It’s over.” There’s a time not to pray.
Jeremiah 7:16, “’As for you,’ He said to Jeremiah, ‘do not pray for this people and do not lift up a cry or prayer for them. Do not intercede with Me. I do not hear you.” There is a time to pray and a time not to pray and Joshua needs to learn both. 1 John 5:16, “There is a sin leading to death. I do not say that he should make request for this.” There is a time not to pray and that sin unto death very clearly is when someone takes a bold and willful stand against the word of God saying, “I don’t care what God says, I’m going to marry that person. I don’t care about His will. I don’t care what God says, I’m going to do this or that.” That person; don’t pray for them. They have to pray for themselves and confess and get right with God. There is a sin not leading to death; if somebody is impatient or angry or blows up and they still have their heart on the Lord. Pray for them and God will give them light. But if somebody takes a willful, bold stand against God, don’t pray for them.
You might say, “Well, how do I know when to pray? How do I know when not to pray?” Well, if prayer is trust, then the answer is Psalm 62:8, when prayer is trusting the answer is easy. It says, “Trust in Him at all times and pour out your heart before Him.” It’s always right to pour out your heart. Lillian and I sometimes we don’t see exactly the same on prayer. I pray in a very general way, “Thy will be done. Glorify Thy name. If it be Thy will, let this pass.” She’s specific. If we’re driving down the highway, “Give them traveling mercies and all of that.” Sometimes I say, “Why are you praying that?” And she says, “You pray your way and I’ll pray my way.” It’s always right to pour out your heart. And she’s just pouring out her heart. So, she sprays specifically and I pray generally. That’s my heart. It’s always right to trust the Lord. Trust the Lord at all times and pour out your heart before Him. That’s Psalm 62:8.
There’s another prayer and though I’m going to jump ahead to another story and it’s not in the Ai story, it’s Joshua learning about prayer and one of the most amazing in the Bible. Joshua 10:14, “Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel and he said in the sight of Israel, ‘Oh sun stand still at Gibeon. Oh moon in the valley of Aijalon.’ There was no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.” That’s when the sun stood still. We’ll get into that when we get to that passage. The point is that Joshua had to learn when to pray, when not to pray and then how to pray the prayer of faith which he prayed at that time and God responded to that.
God is a God of grace and He’s teaching Joshua not to live by sight and teaching Joshua not to listen to worldly council and teaching Joshua when to pray and when not to pray and when to pray by faith. Let me give another example. This is one of the greatest examples of Joshua needing to learn. Remember I told you that sometimes God teaches you something and then you forget it? Well, He has to reteach it.
At the beginning of the wandering, in fact the first mention of Joshua in the Bible he was a military leader and this is the battle of Rephedim. I’m not going to take time to read the story. I’ll tell you the story and you’ll recall the story. Remember that Moses was on a hill and he held his staff. You know what a staff is? Let me tell you what it is. It’s a dead stick. That’s what a staff is. It’s a dead stick. He held his staff, his dead stick, toward God in heaven. And Joshua was down in the valley fighting. He had an army and he was fighting. Every time the stick pointed toward God in heaven, Joshua would win in the valley. Every time the stick came down toward man and earth, then Joshua would start losing. I can picture Joshua saying, “Come on. Keep that thing pointed up. I’m losing down here.” It was a great lesson for Joshua.
Exodus 17:11, “It came about when Moses held his hand up Israel prevailed. When he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.” You remember that it was a long day and God provided Godly men to help Moses prop his direction in the direction of dependence on God. Usually when we call for volunteers, it’s volunteers to fight in the valley. God wants volunteers to help people prop up their dependence on the Lord. Praise God for anybody who helps you point your dead stick toward God in heaven. May God increase their tribe! We need that.
Anyway, the message is simple. Trust the Lord, you win. Stop trusting and you lose. Well, after that little story God gave a strange command. Exodus 17:14, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua.” This is something that Joshua will have to remember. “Recite it to Joshua.” That was forty years before that God taught him that. He was the one in the valley. He was there. He should have said, “I learned to trust the Lord. I learned when the dead stick is pointing toward God in heaven you win and when it’s on the earth you lose. I learned that lesson.”
Now come back forty years later at the battle of Ai, even though it’s written down, he forgot. Evidently they didn’t read it enough and recited it enough. So, God did something very wonderful at the battle of Ai. Look at Joshua 8:18, “Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into you hand.’” Here is an amazing thing; now Joshua is the one with the dead stick and He said, “Hold it out toward Ai.” As you read and we’ll get into that victory at Ai, Joshua, the military leader, was not allowed to fight in the battle of Ai. Instead, he had to hold that javelin out. How long did he hold it out? Verse 26, “Joshua did not withdraw his hand which he stretched out the javelin until they had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.” All day long he wouldn’t fight. He just had to relearn a lesson that he had learned many years before. “Write it down and recite it to Joshua.”
So, God not only turns the valley of trouble into a door of hope and a resting place, and a valley of tears into a valley of springs, He’s also willing to reteach us things over and over. He is so patient. How many times we have to relearn the same thing. You say, “I used to know that. I used to do that. I remember when I trusted the Lord.” We’re a forgetful people. That’s why you break bread; “Do it in remembrance of Me.” Because even such a thing as what He did on Calvary we’re apt to forget. Peter gave a reason in chapter 1 why people don’t grow in Christ, 2 Peter 1:9, “He who lacks these qualities,” that is the qualities of growth, “is blind and short sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sin.” He forgot that he got saved and he forgot what He did at the cross.
I want to show two more illustrations of God’s grace in the defeat and then, Lord willing, next week we’ll look at the victory at Ai. So far we’ve seen God’s grace transforming the valley of trouble and transforming the valley of tears, that the loss at Ai was the only loss and they had one for the rest of the seven year war. God was faithful to teach Joshua not to live by sight and not to trust the flesh and how to pray and when to pray and how to pray the prayer of faith, re-teaching us things what we have forgotten.
The fifth evidence of His grace is the gradual revelation of Achan’s heart. I want you to think about that. Joshua 7:14, “In the morning you shall come near by your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes by lot shall come near by families, and the family which the LORD takes shall come near by households, and the household which the LORD takes shall come near man by man.” The nation at this time was organized into four classes; tribes and they had a prince over each of the tribes, families and they had the heads of each of the families, households and they had the father of the household and then individuals. You are going to see in this story and when we divide the land the truth of Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap. But its every decision is from the Lord.”
There were three ways God revealed His will in the Old Testament. One was by revelation. Sometimes it was a dream or a vision or an audible voice but sometimes He just gave His will. The other two ways, one was called the Urim and Thumen. The priests alone were in charge of the Urim and Thumen. I’ll tell you in a minute exactly what that is (you’re dreaming – nobody knows) and the lot. In those days the words Urim and Thumen mean “light”. Somehow God gave light. Some people think these stones on the breastplate when it was God’s will would flicker and light up or something like that. I don’t know. The point is don’t confuse yourself with how did that lot work? It worked. That’s the point, the every decision of the Lord. Later we’re going to see in chapter 14, I won’t read that, you can glance at it, when they divided up the territories and land, they did it by lot.
You remember that lot, finding God’s will by the lot continued until just before Pentecost. In Acts 1:26 they are going to replace Judas as an apostle and they drew lots for them and the lot fell to Mathias and he was added to the eleven apostles. Whether it was by stones, some think they put colored stones in a bag and one white stone and if the white one is picked you know God’s will, or by drawing straws or by throwing dice or by blinking lights, don’t worry about all of that. The point is that’s how they found out God’s will. What the lot did is that it took it out of the hands of man. That’s the point of the lot. “We’re going to trust the Lord and put it in His hands to decide.” Somebody sinned. How did they find out who it was. The answer is, whatever it means, they found out by the lots.
Joshua 7:16, “Joshua arose early in the morning and brought Israel near by tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken.” “Alright, you other tribes go home. Judah, stay here.” Joshua 7:17, “He brought the family of Judah near, and took the family of the Zerahites were taken.” “Alright, now the other family can go home.” “Then he brought near the family of the Zerahites near, man by man, and Zabdi was taken.” Alright, now we’re into Achan’s house; Zabdi. Joshua 7:18, “He brought his household near man by man; and Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah was taken.”
Wouldn’t you think as the noose was tightening and it was getting closer and closer to Achan as the guilty one, that he would come forth and say, “Alright, alright. It’s enough. It’s me. I’m the one that did it?” I don’t know if he thought that finally he could get away with it, that he could escape, but he didn’t say anything. Little by little. Remember, God knows who it is. This lot is not so God can find out who the sinner is. God knows who the sinner is but He’s accomplishing something by doing this gradually and I suppose it must have been a suspense for everybody, like when Jesus said at the table, “Somebody is going to betray Me.” And they said, “Is it I? Is it I? Is it I?” and they started to feel a little bit guilty. When the spotlight fell of Achan, Joshua said, Joshua 7:19, “Achan, my son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel and give praise to Him. Tell me what you have done. Do not hide it from me.”
How is the grace of God illustrated by this gradual revealing of Achan? Again, it’s not for God. It’s for Achan and I believe God was gradually calling Achan to repentance. He’s giving him a chance to repent. He could have confessed. Did he repent at the end? Joshua 7:20 looks like he may have, “Achan answered and said, ‘Truly I’ve sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel.” But that expression “I have sinned”, does that mean “I have repented”? Not necessarily so. It’s interesting if you go through the Bible you will find that expression “I have sinned” ten times in the Bible. Five times it’s genuine and five times it’s just “I admit it, I have sinned”.
In Exodus 10 Pharaoh said, “I have sinned.” In Numbers 22 Balaam said, “I have sinned.” 1 Samuel 15, Saul said, “I have sinned.” In Matthew 27 Judas said, “I have sinned.” And now Achan in chapter 7:20. Achan admitted his sin. In other words, he got caught. He did not repent, as far as I can see. If the evidence didn’t close in on him, I don’t think he would have ever admitted his sin. This is the policy you might note of politicians. They will not admit it and then finally they get caught, and then in pride they say, “I’m going to take responsibility. I’m the one who did it.” They admit it.
What sin did he confess or admit? He didn’t confess the sin that caused all the problem, stealing the spoils from God and taking glory from God. The sin He confessed in verse 21 or chapter 7, he said, “I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantel from Shinar and two hundred skekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them.” His sin that he admitted was covetousness, not stealing God’s glory. It’s just covetousness. That’s a terrible sin. It’s the first sin that was publicly dealt with in the new land and it’s the first sin publicly dealt with in the new church. Remember Ananias and Saphira? Psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways.” KJV says, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not unto covetousness.”
I have one more to give but I won’t give it now because the time is up. We’ll pick up here one last illustration of his grace and then next week we’ll move into His victory because I want to develop the next one a little more. I don’t want to take your time.
Once again I remind you that the last week we gather together is May 29 and if you can arrange your schedule and if you desire, we’d love to have you and we’ll invite you for a luncheon. We’ll stay here and you can order anything you would like and we’ll have a fellowship together.
Let’s pray together. Our heavenly Father, thank You for Your word, not what we think it might mean but all that you know that it means. Will you work that in our heart. Thank You for great grace, that you can transform these terrible valleys into something good, and that You can teach us and re-teach us the same lesson over and over. You are so faithful and so patient. Thank you for all the grace you show and for gradually working on our conscience and always calling us to repentance. We love You. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.