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Aug 22, 2010

Hide & Seek

Passage: Joshua 7:1-8:35

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Taking the Land

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: victory, danger, failure, guidance, god's wisdom, ai, joshua


Past (or current) successes can make us vulnerable to new failures. As the people of God wrapped up their first big "win" at Jericho, they also stumbled into their first big "fail" in the Promised Land. How we live privately affects the people of God publically. Both our failures and successes as the church impacts what people will understand of God and what we will experience of Him as well. Watch out for taking people or things God intended to be used to help you worship Him and turning them into idols that lead to God's chastening hand on us.


Hide & Seek

August 22, 2010

Joshua 7-8


Get acquainted:  Share one piece of counsel or advice that you received from someone that was either really GOOD or really BAD.


Story:  the danger of past successes…in ski jumping.  (Tell the story of my concussion about 4 years ago while skiing at Mt. Spokane.  I had just been up the week before, trying some of the jumps in the “Terrain Park” so felt pretty confident about tackling them again.  Was my first run…and what would be the last of the day.  Past success made me blind to present changes.)


Thankfully, my over-active self-confidence only produced a concussion and a trip to the hospital.  It could have been paralyzing or deadly. 


Victories are wonderful things.  They can give us more confidence for the next game, the next test, the next business challenge. They can display the work of God among us.  They can energize us and motivate us to stretch for even greater, bigger things. 

      They can also make us oblivious to the things we should be watching and the voices we should be listening to in ways that can be terribly dangerous for us. 


Such was the case with the people of God in Joshua 7.  As we saw last week, they are fresh off of their first battle in this new land that God had promised centuries earlier to them and their forefathers.  It was a HUGE victory.  By God’s miraculous work, they had conquered in 7 days what would naturally have taken 7 months or even a couple of years.  Walls 5 stories high had been reduced to rubble in a matter of seconds.  God-fearing people had been saved in that city of Jericho while godless enemies had been destroyed.  Israel was on a roll. 

      Chapter 6 leaves us with these encouraging words about God’s chosen leader at the time, Joshua“So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.”  Ah, the fleeting and deceptive nature of fame! 


As far as Joshua was concerned, everything was coming up roses.  His new leadership role had been affirmed by none other than God himself.  His numbers were rising in the polls.  His respect at home was skyrocketing while his reputation abroad was unparalleled. 


So, he did what most of us do in a similar situation.  He did what had “worked” before…or at least the part HE had done before that he thought “worked.” 

  • At Jericho, he had sent out the spies.  God had not commanded that, but he had done it in secret.  It wasn’t even a necessary part of the operation from what God’s word indicates…except for discovering Rahab and the part she ultimately played in the line of David.
  • At Jericho, the most important part of the whole battle plan was not what he learned from the 2 spies he sent out.  It was what God had revealed to him about what God was going to do at Jericho…and what he and God’s people therefore should and shouldn’t do. 


So we pick it up in 7:2.  (We’ll come back to 7:1 in a moment).

“Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.”  So the men went up and spied out Ai.”  So far, so good.


Vs. 3“When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai.  Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.”  So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them.  They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes.  At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.” 


How quickly we can go from victory to defeat! 

APP:  Life in the U.S. prior to 9-11: Unemployment was at 4.9% in the summer of 2001.  We were not fighting a war.  More people were buying homes than ever before. Incomes were on the rise.

      Do you remember what you felt like on 9-11 as the realization dawned that average American passengers on airplanes were no longer safe in our own skies?  Millions of Americans who had never given a thought to being at war all of a sudden changed their travel plans and business practices for fear of their lives.  And we grieved the loss of some 3,000 people, most if not all of whom we didn’t even know.


Now if you were Joshua back in chapter 7 at Ai, and this route, this defeat, is all the information you have at present, what’s your first question?

  • WHY?  Why did we fail?  Why did God not prosper our battle plan?  Why did God abandon us and allow 36 families to be robbed of their husbands, brothers and sons? 


What’s your second question?

  • WHAT should we do now?


When 9-11 happened, there were lots of questions, weren’t there?  Most of them had little if anything to do with WHY God would allow such a calamity to befall our nation.  Most centered on…

  • WHO did it?
  • WHY did THEY do it?
  • WHAT can we do to protect ourselves in the future?
  • WHO’s to blame?


Lots of people came to church that week who hadn’t been in church for a long time.  Lots of people showed up for special prayer meetings that week in churches.  There were lots of tears… lots of questions… lots of anger… lots of sadness.  Do you remember? 


That actually seems to be what happened to Joshua and the people too.  I’m sure they were stunned.  This was the last thing they had expected.  Some were terribly grief-stricken.  It was their dad who had been killed…or their brother who had been cut down in the field. 

      And Joshua, as any good leader does, feels it very deeply.  Vss. 6-9 tell us what he did. (READ)

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?"


That all sounds like the right thing to do to me.  Doesn’t it to you? 

  • He entered into public mourning (torn clothes, humiliation)
  • He entered into public contrition and humiliation (face down in the dust in the presence of God). 
  • He came to the presence of God with his questions and sorrow.
  • He kept silence before God for the rest of the day.  (That’s a whole lot more self-restraint than I have.  It’s about a nanosecond between a crisis and my questions to God most of the time.)

NOTE:  Stephanie Orr posed a question in staff mtg. this week that got us all to talking about what is the appropriate and biblical posture(s) for prayer.  Biblically speaking, you never find someone closing their eyes to pray.  You do find bowed heads occasionally as a symbol of submission.  But the more frequent bodily postures are 1.) prostrate on the ground, face down, 2.) bowing down, 3.) Jesus prayed most often lifting his eyes to heaven, 4.) kneeling. 


Joshua’s bodily response appears to me to be right on target. In vs. 7, we start to hear what is actually going on in Joshua’s heart and mind about this disaster.  As we look at it, ask yourself, “What is Joshua RIGHT about and what is he WRONG about in his thinking?”  

  • “Ah, Sovereign Lord….”  Right!
  • “…why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?”  WRONG!  God didn’t bring them to this side of the Jordan for destruction. He did it for blessing.  He brought them for more blessings than they could have had on the other side of the Jordan.  But all Joshua could see right now was a huge defeat.  His mind was thinking that the desert past with its limited security and provisions was better than this land-of-abundance present with its crisis and challenges. 
  • “If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!”  WRONG!  What would have happened if they really had been “content” with the dessert and the other side of the Jordan?  That would have been outright disobedience.  That route would have been absolutely faithless.  That option would have meant apathy and ultimate death.  2 million people could not eek out an existence apart from God’s miraculous provision of food and clothing in the desert.  And that provision would have ended at some point over there.  Joshua is starting to rewrite history.  This was not a matter of “being content with what we had.”  It was a matter of obedience and faith.  APP:  Isn’t that what we’re tempted to think when things don’t go as planned?  “Maybe I should have stayed in that old job?”  “Maybe I shouldn’t have left that school?”  “Maybe I should have been content with my old way of life instead of thinking God would really do something new and fresh with me.”  Stinken-thinken!  And just plain WRONG!
  • “O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?  TRUE!  They did lose.  They were routed.  They were real enemies. And Joshua was without an explanation.
  • “The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this…”  RIGHT.  But so what!  Are we more concerned with our reputations before people than in God’s very present activity in our lives?  Yes, people will hear about what goes on in the lives of God’s people.  But that reputation, for better or for worse, does not determine our future. 
  • “”…and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth.  What then will you do for your own great name?”  WRONG!  Joshua’s concern is quite genuine here.  He really does care about the nation he is called to lead.  He really does care about what the world thinks of God.  But neither Israel’s existence or God’s reputation was going to suffer.  Yes, if they continued down the same trail, it would.

       But God had other plans for both His name and their progress.  God knew that he was still going to kick out the Canaanites and install the Israelites in the land.  God knew that even the death of 36 people would be used with a whole nation to move them forward both with Him and in their battles. 


How often is our assessment of life’s challenges and even disasters largely inaccurate?  All too frequently.  The greater the challenge and apparent “disaster” of a situation, the higher the probability that our understanding of the situation will be faulty. 


So how would you expect God to react to this utter brokenness and devastation of Joshua? 

I’d expect him to come alongside Joshua, pick him up, dust him off, give him a hug and tell him that “everything’s going to work out alright, Josh.  Just trust me.”  

      God is NOT like us.  He is God and he is to be feared and loved all at the same time. 


7:10 (READ)-- 10 The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?

What a profoundly simple question: 

  • What are you doing…so hopeless right now?
    • What are you doing…so discouraged right now?
    • What are you doing…so fearful…so angry…so worried… so full of doubt and questions…so down on yourself… so full of shame…so worn out from life???

Was the problem really about Joshua’s failures?  No.  Was he the key to it’s solution?  No.  He had certainly played a part in the disaster, though not directly.  He would certainly play a part in the solution, though it really wasn’t about him. 


APP:  Sometimes the junk and crud we’re experiencing isn’t really primarily about us.  Yes, God is using the messes and failures of other people to grow us.  Yes, there are things we could have done differently…better.  But we live in a world where other people’s actions impact our lives.  God will work with that and he will grow us in the process, but not everything is a direct result of our actions.  God is still “Sovereign LORD” and sometimes we just need to sit in that reality a bit and let Him speak to us about it. 


Beginning in vs. 11 God gives the proper diagnosis of the problem.  (READ 11-12)

11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

So God breaks through Joshua’s shock and anguish over this defeat and says…

  • Israel (actually one family in Israel) is the real problem, not you, Joshua.
  • They have failed in the most basic and 1st commandment:
    “Love the Lord your God with all….”
  • That failure had caused them to fail in other commands:  don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet. 
  • What God had given them (Jericho and the plunder) as a means of worshiping God had become a means of worshiping other gods—gods of greed, selfishness, wealth, pride of life, self, etc. 
  • What God had meant to be a means of blessing had turned into a curse because it was misused. 


Did God “need” the “devoted things” of gold, silver and bronze from Jericho?  Absolutely not.  He can create out of nothing more precious metals and stones than will ever be mined in the history of this world. 

      So why was everything from Jericho to be either devoted to God (if it was of high value) OR left to be destroyed by fire?

Imagine the difference in the worship between someone who had found a bunch of gold, silver and other precious materials in the rubble of Jericho and had brought it joyfully to the priests as an offering of thanksgiving to God for the victory He had accomplished for Israel AND someone who had kept back for himself and his family a chunk of wealth and only brought a token gold or silver coin to offer in worship?  For the former, that experience would bring them closer to the heart and life of God, right?  But for the latter, the one who pretended to do what God had asked for yet knew that something else really had their worship and affection, that experience would clearly move them farther from the presence of God.


APP:  True to the pattern we see throughout the Bible, God was asking them to give him the first-fruits of their lives (in this case, the wealth from their 1st victory in Canaan) in worship.  God was asking them to live by faith that when they sought and honored God first, He would continue to take care of them and supply their needs.  That’s what giving back to God is always about—faith!


But there is something else here that this text teaches:

APP:  There is a tendency in the church in America today think that God is not like this anymore.  God wouldn’t judge His people or His church like this anymore.  Yes, God hates sin BUT he has a lot more grace and love these days than during the Old Testament times.  In essence, God “winks” at a lot more sin and just lets it slide more nowadays. 


  • Is that why Jesus spoke those 6 stern warnings like this in Luke 11“Woe to you [spiritual leaders] because you…neglect justice and the love of God.”  “Woe to you…because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.”  “Woe to you… because you load people down with burdens they cannot carry and you yourselves will not life a finger to help them.”
  • Paul spoke pretty sternly against sin among God’s people, the Corinthian church, when he condemned the man who was sexually involved with his mother or step-mother (I Cor. 5).  He said, “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord”???
  • Then there are the 7 churches of Revelation, 5 of the 7 churches are rebuked for certain sins resident in their church and are told to repent and change or face the reality of discipline and eventual demise of the church?  That section ends with these words of Jesus to the church of Laodicea:  “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:19-20)


It is NOT loving of God to leave any person or church in a place where we are weighted down and messed-up with sin yet never confronted with the seriousness of it through conviction.  It is a divine mercy when God stops the “show” and says, “There is something out of place here.  There is someone faking it.  Your worship is a joke as long as your hearts are holding onto other gods.”


But it is precisely because God loves enough to not let us stay in our sin that there is hope of a much better and brighter future.  It is precisely because God is willing to stop us in our tracks, confront us and warn us away from the path of certain destruction that passages like this are actually good news, not bad.  How pathetic it would be for God’s people if God just walked away from us every time we wandered off to false gods of our day and culture rather than stopped and confronted us, sometimes sternly, with discipline!


Joshua 7:12-15 gives God’s SOLUTION to this particular problem at that particular time among God’s people.  [Read.]

12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

 13 "Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.

 14 " 'In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe that the LORD takes shall come forward clan by clan; the clan that the LORD takes shall come forward family by family; and the family that the LORD takes shall come forward man by man. 15 He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!' "


What does this teach that the people of God were to do? 

1.)     They were to understand that the reason they were powerless in battle before their enemies was because “they [had] been made liable to destruction” (vs. 12).  The “secret” sinful actions of one family had put the entire nation at risk.  God would not nor could not keep his hand of protection and blessing over people who knew what God wanted them to do but stubbornly refused to do it.    

2.)    They were to grasp the severity of the problem.  God would not be with them in their future battles unless they dealt with the present sin in their camp (vs. 12).  It is a terrible thing to know that God has promised to be with us wherever we go but to also sense that he has withdrawn the power of His presence because we are continuing to run after other gods while pretending that we’re really sold out to the true and living God. 

3.)    They were to “consecrate” themselves.  Simply put, they were to examine their lives under the light of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God with an eye to identifying sin and getting rid of it in their lives. 

      It’s interesting that while only one family headed by one man was directly responsible for the death and chaos that all Israel had experienced, God calls everyone to get involved in the process of personal examination and cleansing. 


APP:  That’s what we’re to do every time we celebrate Communion.  We are to “examine ourselves” as Paul told the Corinthian church to do in I Cor. 11:28.  Times of “consecration” like communion are not just for when we’ve been involved in blatant, willful rebellion against God.  They are for ALL of us ALL the time.

      How many people, preparing themselves in Israel that day, were spoken to by God’s Spirit about how close they had come in their thoughts to do just what Acan had done?  How many realized, “Wow, there is covetousness in my heart too.  But for the grace of God, I might well have been the guilty party today responsible for the deaths of 36 other people.  God, please root out my love of wealth…or attraction to something or someone else that is displacing your lordship in my life.”

      I think that is also why James speaks to us of “confessing our faults to one another so that we may be healed.”  Confession not only opens the guilty sinner up to God’s healing; it opens the eyes of other’s in God’s family to how close our own hearts might be to going down the same dangerous road.


This is why being in soul-accountable relationships is SO important.  But we often shy away from those kinds of transparent, honest, regular accountability relations.  Maybe it’s because…

  • …we’re afraid someone will use that knowledge against us…
  • or we’re so wounded that we misinterpret someone’s genuine concern about some sin or weakness in our lives as an attack instead of a helping hand.

PERSONAL:  Going through a book with Charlie and Eric right now called “The Dark Side of Leadership.”  When Charlie first brought it to my attention and suggested we work through it, I reacted defensively.  But as we’ve been talking through it over the past month, we’ve all realized we all have certain weaknesses in leadership that need God’s healing work.  And as we’ve all opened up about our failings, God has been using that to warn and steer each of us away from those same leadership failures. 


So what is God asking you to “take away” from this text today?

  • Is God asking you to realize that there is no such thing as “secret sin.”  There is no such thing as “just my personal choice so long as it doesn’t affect anyone else”?  In the family of God, it never works that way.  When I sin, it affects you.  When I give my heart to some other god, it affects our church.  When I fail to let God work with my “dark side”, God’s loving hand of discipline often touches more than just me.  It hurts you too. 
  • Is God reminding you today that past victories don’t mean you should stop asking for fresh direction from God about new battles and challenges in life?  Joshua fell into that trap of thinking he just needed to do the same thing he did last time when God gave him victory rather than waiting on God for God to give direction about the next step.  Have you gotten ahead of God by making decisions without first consulting God and waiting for His answer?  I’m dead sure God would have spoken to Joshua about the sin among the people IF he had just taken the time to wait on God and get his direction for the next battle. 
  • Is God convicting you about something or someone he’s ask you to devote to Him and yet you are holding back, hanging on to it/them for yourself?   Is God asking you to let go of something or someone, to lay them/it down as an act of worship, as a statement of your faith in God that HE will give you what you truly need if YOU will give him what he simply asks?
  • Maybe you’ve been beating yourself up about something that hasn’t worked out like you thought it would or should when, in reality, you’re just feeling the effects of someone else’s sin?  Is God asking you to address what someone else is doing that is damaging the people of God? 
  • Is God asking you to consecrate yourself afresh to Him and His will?  Is there something He wants to say or reveal to you that only an honest, open time of Spirit-led self-examination will enable? 


[Allow for a time of silent prayer and openness to God as I repeat each category.]