When asked to consider writing a blog post coinciding with our pastors’ sermon series on Joshua, I requested chapter 8 almost as a reflex driven by my military background. I remembered Joshua 8 records a textbook ambush.
I owe it to my view of Scripture to start with an editorial comment. God’s inspired Word does not contain historical accounts as metaphors for our Christian walk, at least not primarily. These stories are in Scripture to trace God’s salvation history as he increasingly revealed it from Genesis through the Revelation. They are links in a chain that gets us from Creation to the Fall, from the Fall to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to the cross, from the cross to the resurrection, from the resurrection to the ascension, from the ascension to glory. Revealing and tracing God’s plan of salvation is the primary reason for inclusion of narrative accounts in God’s Holy Word.
However, we do no violence to Scripture by seeing parallels in our walk with Jesus or by learning from examples, both good and bad. These passages undoubtedly tell us much about the desperate human condition as well as who our God is and how he operates. We must remember, though, the reason the stories are in the Bible is not as metaphors for our walk (or worse, as allegories). The foremost reason is to reveal and trace God’s salvation plan as he orchestrated history for his glory.
That being said, let’s look at Joshua 8. Israel has just come off a crushing defeat in a battle with the army at Ai. In sports lingo, Israel suffered a monumental upset. They didn’t get off the bus ready to play. Joshua’s men arrogantly believed they would defeat this greatly inferior team “just by showing up.” They quickly and disastrously learned otherwise.
Though very present, it wasn’t their arrogance that led to their defeat. Nor was it, contrary to what I thought at first, an issue of faulty military intelligence. The intel from Israel’s spies was quite reliable. By all accounts, an overwhelming victory should have been a sure thing. They lost the battle because they fought it without God (maybe even against God). This doesn’t seem to me the mistake of thinking they could do stuff in their own strength, though that is certainly a universally prevalent error. This loss came as a direct result of disobedience. In the aftermath of a previous battle, Achan violated God’s covenant. God then pretty much left Israel on their own in the first attack on Ai. Although they didn’t know it, they went into combat without the Lord of Hosts.
This time, a different outcome
In Joshua 8, God has taken back command of Israel’s army. It is time for the second attack on Ai. God lays out, and Joshua executes, a textbook ambush. This time the whole army is involved. Imitating the strategy that led to the recent defeat, Israel presents a modest show of force. Then they fake a retreat, luring Ai’s army out of the city. This time, the fatal arrogance belongs to the men of Ai. Excitedly and recklessly they pursue Joshua’s men, fully expecting a repeat of the last encounter. All of Ai’s security forces chase their enemy. They leave no one back to protect the city. In Army-speak, no one had their six. Joshua stops the “retreat,” turns on the pursuers and signals the ambush forces. The city is captured. The hostile forces are surrounded and soundly defeated.
After the defeat in the first battle, Joshua had a memorial of stones set in place. Similarly, after this victory, he has another one put in place. Finally, replicating Moses establishing God’s covenant with his people, Joshua in essence re-establishes Israel’s covenant with God.
Why this all matters to us
OK, so what? I’ve read hundreds of battle accounts, victories, defeats and learned lessons. I’ve been to combat myself. What makes this piece of history so significant? Why is it recorded in Holy-Spirit-inspired Scripture? Most importantly, as stated above, this account is in the Bible as part of the thread revealing and tracing God’s salvation plan as he orchestrated history for his glory. Despite my personal hobby horse of driving that idea home, we find truths strengthening our daily walk with Christ. (I am aware 2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, …”)
Here are some truths I see.
- Disobedience caused the defeat in chapter 7.
- Obedience led to victory in chapter 8. (I would strongly caution us to let God himself define what victory looks like.)
- Defeat was not the end of the story. God remains faithful. Corrective, yes, but always, always faithful.
- Victory belongs to God, and God alone—for his glory!
- Perhaps it is time to re-establish our covenant with God. (By the way, he has not gone anywhere. He’s not abandoned us nor has he forsaken us, nor will he ever.)