I think many, if not all of us can relate to Israel's defeat to Ai. As the story goes according to Joshua chapter 6 verses 1-27, Israel was commanded by the Lord to tackle a major opponent, Jericho. The city of Jericho is described as having a formidable defense system. Israel in its own strength definitely stood no chance of conquering the powerful territory, yet they won the victory entirely by relying on the grace of God and the simplicity of obedience. As absurd as the instructions were, Israel obeyed, and as a consequence, they won the city.
Fast forward to the assignment right after Jericho, Israel has the task of facing Ai. Ai was historically a significantly smaller city than Jericho, yet Israel failed to conquer Ai on their first attempt (Joshua chapter 7). Why? The simple answer is sin. The disobedience of a member of the camp created havoc for the entire army and as a consequence, they suffered heavy losses.
This crushing defeat came immediately on the heels of a supernatural victory. Can't we all relate to that? The internal shifting of our faith organs to a place of self-reliance? The feeling that I've got this now...?
As I write, I am reminded of so many instances in my personal life where I quickly lost sight of the anchor of my soul and was swept away by the waves of flippancy. Oh, how quickly are our souls consumed by the scorching east wind of self. It's crazy to me how fearful and pathetic we can be when entering a new environment or a situation that presents new challenges. We feverishly pray those meek prayers and lift urgent supplication for assistance from the Most High and Lofty One, only until we've grown familiar enough with our circumstances to give ourselves a promotion to the seat of Lofty One.
A number of reasons account for Israel's initial defeat by Ai, but definitely among them is the very real phenomenon of victory breeding self exaltation. I personally know that after any victory, I am many times at my most vulnerable because I feel awesome. Nothing is wrong with celebrating the wins, but we have to do so while being very aware that all the glory goes to God and we need Him no less after we've won a battle; there's still a war going on.
1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 12 cautions us that we need to be careful where we stand lest we fall. This is the constant tightrope existence of our Christian walk. Celebrating the victories of our Savior and rejoicing in the power of His might at work in us, while maintaining sight of His sacrifice that qualifies it as His win on our behalf - feeling the buoyancy of ecstasy resulting from His providence and faithfulness, without exalting ourselves. This is a delicate balance that Achan failed to keep sight of.
Achan is commonly held to be the one at fault for the defeat at Ai, yet I fear that his heart condition was by no means unique. Perhaps he was the only one noted in scripture to have acted on the urge to disobey from the height of exuberance, but it is the unfortunate human condition that we are all plagued with. That being the case, we would all do well to stay alert, and guard our hearts to avoid falling prey to the same demise.
When was your last defeat? I challenge you to do some deep soul-searching and introspection. Is it possible that one of the contributing factors was that you were happily progressing and enjoying that 'wind in your sails' rush of success? If, like me, you find that too often to be the case, pray and invite the Holy Spirit to refine your soul and train your spirit in the art of remaining grounded while being inflated by His goodness. An anchored balloon doesn't fail to rise. An anchored balloon floats to the height that the anchor and tether permits it to. I would daresay that the Word of God and the Holy Spirit are an exceptional anchor and tether.
In the book of Joshua Chapter 8, Israel is given an opportunity to revisit the place of defeat. Often times God takes us back to the place of defeat and we feel like we're going in circles. We fuss and fight and resist the journey back there like 'God why am I back here?'. God says, 'You're back here to win. I brought you back here to confront the enemy and defeat that which defeated you.'
Upon revisiting Ai, God gave Israel the victory. A brilliant ambush strategy downloaded from the courts of heaven secured the win. God loves to see us win. He loves to see us reliant on Him for our daily winning. May we never lose sight of the God who gives us the victory and causes us to triumph.
May we decrease and may He always increase.