January 13, 2011

Day 13: The Battle of Ai

I'm dropping the Game of Risk comparison for now. Explaining all the rules has become too cumbersome for me right now. If you're saying, "Phew," know that I am too! That being said, I want to continue with a discussion on strongholds. I think this is exactly what God wants me looking into right now. I'm glad you're coming along for the ride.

Today I was reading about the battle of Ai, the second battle Joshua faced with the Israelites in the Promised Land. As I read the story, I was encouraged to know that the struggle against disobedience and strongholds has been around for a long time. However, I was slightly discouraged because even though I won't die physically for my disobedience, something definitely dies when I don't make the right choices in my life. I have asked the Lord to reveal to me how this story can relate to my life under the New Covenant. Hopefully, He'll give me an answer by the time I'm done writing.

Here's the story (my paraphrase from Joshua 6 and 7 with quotes from NIV, unless otherwise noted):

The Battle of Ai actually begins just before the Israelites gave the great shout that demolished the wall of Jericho. On the seventh day, Joshua gives this command: "Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it." (6:16-19)

Just like a parent, Joshua gives the boundary and the clear consequences for disobedience: Take stuff, and you'll bring trouble upon yourself and the community. Of course, their shout is a smashing success, and "they devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it--men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys...They burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord's house." (6:21, 24)

The next verses remind me of what I learned when I wrote Utter Annihilation. Joshua pronounces: "Cursed before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates." (6:26) After this great victory, the chapter ends with the statement that the Lord's favor rested with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land (6:27).

The Israelites were well on their way to a spectacular life filled with milk and honey. They conquered their enemies in their first battle in the Promised Land. Unfortunately, their victory didn't last long. I turned the page and read these fateful words: "But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the Lord was very angry with the Israelites." (7:1, NLT)

This breach of command was kept as a family secret within the household of Achan. Confident of their strength, the spies Joshua sent to investigate the next stronghold, Ai, returned saying, "There's no need for all of us to go up there; it won't take more than two or three thousand men to attack Ai." (7:2, NLT)

"So approximately 3,000 warriors were sent, but they were soundly defeated...Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their clothing in dismay, threw dust on their heads, and bowed face down to the ground before the Ark of the Lord until evening. Then Joshua cried out, 'Oh, Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! Lord, what can I say now that Israel has fled from its enemies? For when the Canaanites and all the other people living in the land hear about it, they will surround us and wipe our name off the face of the earth. And then what will happen to the honor of your great name?" (7:4, 6-9)
So, we know something Joshua doesn't know. Joshua trusted that his command was obeyed, so when Israel was defeated at Ai, he assumed that God had turned his back on them for an unknown reason. There's nothing like an unpredictable deity to grip a nation with terror and hopelessness. No wonder they tore their clothes in mourning. It wasn't just the loss of his men; it was the loss of the favor of the Lord that caused Joshua to tremble in fear.

He was wrong to blame God, though. Joshua made a very common human error--he blamed God for the defeat! He did not put two and two together and assume that there was a breach of the command. He trusted his people more than he trusted his God. I hang my head in sorrow at how many times I have blamed God when it was my own error, or a family secret that created the environment for my trials and troubles.

What does God say for Himself? "Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this? Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction." (7:10-12a, NLT)

There is more, but this last sentence is ringing like a clarion call in my ears! The command was clear. It was not confusing or unclear. He told them exactly what He wanted, and they understood. The fact that Achan lied about the things he stole proves that he knew it was wrong. I know that I don't lie unless I fear punishment or retribution for a wrong.
It was a family secret, likely not even discussed within the family. It's likely that everyone was walking on eggshells around Achan. Whenever I hide something, I'm grumpy and defensive. I put everyone around me on edge. Someone surely suspected what was going on. In fact, he may have even had some accomplices. They didn't tell anyone outside their family, yet the whole of Israel was held accountable for their sin.

It reminds me of how everyone over the age of 18 in a household with drugs can be put in prison for drug trafficking in the event of a bust. There is a complicity in keeping a secret...in not calling someone out on the secrets they're holding; on allowing the secret to fester untouched. It will infect the whole group. This is how strongholds begin.

I'll finish tomorrow with the rest of the story. Until then, I wish for you courage to face down the strongholds in your life.

Peace & Joy,

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