“SNATCHING DEFEAT OUT OF THE JAWS OF VICTORY”

JOSHUA 7 & 8

AUGUST 30, 2009

 

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            Have you ever noticed that our most embarrassing moments stick with us while most everything else seeps out of our brains?  For example, I can recall walking out of a high school assembly engaged in conversation with a friend, attempting to look cool, only to wind up walking into a telephone pole in full view of the best looking girls in school.  I can also vividly remember making a home visit, knocking on the door of the family, and someone saying, “Come on in,” only to discover I had the wrong family.  I can still see the expression on their faces as if to say, “Who is this guy?”  I had the number of the address correct, just the wrong street.  I was on the avenue, not the street.  I can also recall one of my first hospital visits.  I was in seminary and one of the kids in our youth group had surgery, and I went to visit him, and he began describing his surgery and well, I excused myself quickly, made it out of the room and fainted in the hospital corridor.  The next thing I recall was coming to with a nurse over me with a cup of orange juice in her hand.  I  can even go back to the 7th grade when I was giving an oral book report in Miss Merritt’s English class and a friend holding up a sheet of paper saying, “Your zipper is down!”   

            I could go on, but I do have sermon to preach, and I bet if Joshua were here this morning and we asked him to share some of his most embarrassing moments, one would be the events recounted in this seventh chapter.  Chapter seven is not the high water mark in Joshua’s life, and if he had written this book I venture to say he might have left the seventh chapter out altogether.  Nevertheless, there are some important things to learn this morning from this low point in Joshua’s life, but before we get to the main thrust of our text, I want to make two preliminary remarks.

            First, I want to make sure we do not feel overly sorry for Achan and his family.  We may think, “How in the world could God be so harsh with old Achan?”  After all, Achan only stole a designer robe and a handful of dollars.  Why execute him and his family for that?    Did the punishment really fit the crime?  Well, consider the following.

            First, consider the fact that Achan had ample time to confess, but he did not.  In the process of casting lots and moving from tribe to tribe and then clan to clan and then family by family and then family member to family member, Achan kept his mouth shut.  He did not say a thing.  He sat in the corner while the lot was being cast.  Why?  Did he hope he would not be found out?  Did he hope someone else would be blamed for disobeying God?  And if someone else had ended up being accused and threatened with stoning, would Achan have come forward?  Reading between the lines, the answer appears to be no, he would not.

            Second, consider the fact that Achan’s family was not executed for what Achan did, but rather they were executed because they participated in what Achan did.  If they had not participated in the crime, they certainly participated in the cover up.

            Third, consider the fact that after he was found out, Achan did not repent of his wrongdoing.  He only admitted what he had done.  He admitted he had sinned against the Lord, but he did not say he was sorry for what he had done.  What would have happened if he had clearly asked for forgiveness?  Would he have received the same punishment?

            And finally, consider the fact that in the midst of battle one cannot indulge in the luxury of leniency.  If we are playing checkers and someone cheats that is bothersome, but not life threatening.  We may not want to play checkers with that person again.  We may report to others that the person cheats at checkers.  We may want to slap his or her wrists, but when our life depends upon the person next to us, if we are fighting for the life of a nation, we can’t afford the luxury of leniency.  The stakes are incredibly high and we need to trust the person next to us won’t do something that might get us killed.

            That then, is one preliminary remark:  let’s not feel too sorry for Achan and his family.  The other preliminary remark is this: let’s also not overlook the corporate nature of sin.  Look with me at Joshua 7:10:

 

            The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up!  Why have you fallen upon your face?  Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I imposed on them.  They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have acted deceitfully, and they have put them among their own belongings.”

 

            Note how how God does not mention Achan at all.  God doesn’t indict a particular individual, rather God indicts the entire nation of Israel.  You see, when we sin, it not only affects us, personally, but it also affects, it hurts, the entire community.

            Maybe you recall the buffaloes walking on the plains of Nebraska.  The buffaloes were walking across the plains, and suddenly, out of the blue, one of the buffaloes suddenly keels over.  He drops to the ground as if struck by lightening.  His startled buffalo buddies turn to him and ask, “What’s wrong?  What happened to you?”

            The fallen buffalo says, “Oh, I thought I heard a discouraging word.”

            It’s discouraging to hear that our sin goes beyond ourselves, it has corporate ramifications.  I think of the very astute seven year old.  She got the corporate nature of our personal behavior.  She was home from school with the flu and said to your father, “Daddy, if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit, I would not be sick today.”

            But she was not done.  She said, “Of course, if Adam and Eve had not eaten the fruit, we would be sitting here naked.” 

            Like Adam and Eve our behavior often has corporate ramifications.  Take drinking bottled water out of a plastic bottle.  Those bottles will sit in landfalls for years.  Corporate greed has led to a world wide recession.  Smoking leads to increased health risks and higher insurance costs for everyone.   Cheating on our income tax may benefit us, but the community as a whole needs to make up the difference.  It’s discouraging to think about, but the truth is, we do not sin in a vacuum.  Our sin often adversely affects the community as a whole. 

            OK, those are the two preliminary remarks.  Now, let’s turn to the main thrust of the text.  Let’s turn to how we can guard against snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.  As chapter seven begins, Joshua and the Israelites are coming off a great victory, the fall of Jericho.  Within days, however, they suffered a stunning defeat against a lesser enemy.  They were routed by the citizens of Ai, and it was the Israelites fault.  They did something that contributed to their own downfall.  Let’s take a closer look at that. 

            As we do, I want us to explore three doors that often lead to spiritual defeat.  Whenever we walk through any of these doors, we walk into a danger.   And sounding a little like Monty Hall this morning, let’s turn to door number one: the door marked “victory.”

            Few things make us more susceptible to spiritual defeat than a victory or a success in our lives.  Joshua’s defeat came on the heels of his great victory in Jericho.  Think about it.  When is the hardest time to be obedient to God?  Is it when we go through tough times?  No.  When times are tough we are afraid not to pray, not to keep in touch with God.  No, the hardest time to stay on track with God is when we have been successful.  The hardest time to be obedient is when the promises have been fulfilled, when the battle has been won, and when we sit back with a beverage of choice and relax.

            Do you recall that old Burt Reynolds movie when the decide to commit suicide by swimming so far out into the ocean that he wouldn’t be able to get back?  But when he got way out there in the ocean, he had second thoughts.  He said, “I don’t like this.  I’m going back,” and he turned around and began swimming back to shore, but he had a long way to go and so he prayed, “God, if you get me back I’ll give you everything I have.”  Then when the shore was in sight he changed the terms of the bargain.  He prayed, “Lord, if you get me back I’ll give you half of everything I have.”  And the closer he gets to shore he prays, “Lord, if you get me back to shore, I’ll make a contribution.”

            Door number one is the door marked “victory.”  We need to be on guard after walking through that door because when we are on a roll, when we taste success, we tend to relax and ignore God.

            Door number two is “overconfidence.”  One of the things that got Joshua and the Israelites into trouble was Joshua’s overconfidence in his own gifts and talents.  Joshua was a gifted military leader.  Moses, his predecessor, did not have his military acumen.  Moses could hardly get up and down the mountain, let alone lead the people into battle.  But Joshua could, and on the heels of his victory at Jericho he sends the troops against Ai.  But something was missing.  See if you catch what it is as I reread the account.  Chapter 7:1,

 

            But the Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites.

            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.”   And the men went up and spied out Ai.  Then they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Not all the people need to go up; about two or three thousand men should go up and attack Ai.  Since they are so few, do not make the whole people toll up here.”  So about three thousand of the people went us there; and they fled before the men of Ai.  The men of Ai killed about thirty-six of them, chasing them outside the gate as far as Shebarim and killing them on the slope.  The hearts of the people melted and turned to water.

 

            Did you catch what was missing here?  Anyone?  Nowhere does Joshua receive orders from God to attack Ai.  In the next chapter he does.  Listen to how the eighth chapter begins:

            Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai.  See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land.

 

            In the eighth chapter God orders the attack.  In the seventh chapter Joshua, relying on his own expertise and not God’s, orders the attack

            The loss of those thirty-six men was as much Joshua’s fault as it was Achan’s because if Joshua had consulted God prior to the attack, the loss of the men would have been avoided.  Thinking it would be an easy battle, Joshua didn’t even pray.  We can handle little Ai.  It will be a piece of cake and thirty-six names were added to the Promised Land War Memorial.

            Let me share another embarrassing moment.  I was 19, and it was spring break.  My friends and I had rented a place at Laguna Beach, and I had talked my dad into letting me borrow his car for the week.  I had it made.  Beach rental, car.  I would have to beat the girls off with a stick.  I picked up the car and my dad said, “Be careful and drive safely.”  I didn’t say anything, but I thought to myself, “When is he ever going to stop telling me that?  Golly, I’ve been driving now for three years.  I know what I am doing.”  Fifteen minutes later, I ran into the back of another car causing $2,000 worth of damage to my father’s car.  My mother ended up driving my friends and me to the beach for the week. 

            Do we think we have things wired?  Do we think we can handle it?  I hope not.  Overconfidence can get us into trouble.

            Finally, door number three is “covetousness.”  Joshua 7:20,

 

            And Achan answered Joshua, “It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord of Israel.  This is what I did:  when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels, then I coveted them and took them.

 

            Note the process.  He saw them.  That was OK.  There is nothing wrong with looking.  But then he went on to covet them.  Do you remember what the word “covet” means?  It means “to wish for enviously or to desire inordinately.”

            Have you ever coveted anything?  Have you ever desired something inordinately?  As a boy growing up in Southern California I coveted my aunt and uncle’s swimming pool.  I wanted my dad to put one in his backyard.  My folks were divorced, and when he refused to put in a pool, I refused to visit him for six months.  As a teenager I coveted a forest green Triumph sports car.  I ended up with a navy blue Volkswagen beetle.  As a young married it was a state of the art stereo system.  As I got older it was a hot tub and then a Jenn Air range.   I used to hang out at the Nebraska Furniture Mart thinking how much a Jenn Air range would improve the quality of my life.

            I do not know what I’ll covet next month or next year, but whatever it is it will ever so quietly move me away from God.  In fact, what I covet will become my God.  I’ll worship it with my time and energy, and maybe even my money and before I know it, I’ve lost touch with God. 

            I know I’ve gone on and on today, but let me close with one last story.  You know, both Achan and Joshua blew it, but one of the guys was lifted from defeat to victory.  What did Joshua do that Achan did not?  Joshua came immediately to God with the problem.  He did not procrastinate.  He faced his wrongdoing, took a cleansing action, and God restored him.

            Here’s the story.  In the British Museum one can view the Portland Vase, a work of perfect and incomparable beauty.  And if you know anything about the Vase, you will remember that a madman, passing through the museum, struck it with a stick and smashed it into fragments.  Broken, it’s beauty gone, it was a thing for pity and tears, not admiration.  But along came a man with infinite patience, and with love gathered the pieces of the Vase together, and built it again with such skill that only with the most careful examination can the fact of its ruin be observed.

            In the weeks to come, we are going to see a “put-back-together” Joshua, and I challenge you to see if you can tell any difference in the man from the one we knew prior to chapter seven.  And the same God who restored the broken Joshua, will do the same for us.  All we need to do is ask.