Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, . . .. – Joshua 7:12a

What a resounding victory! Jericho, the massive walls of Jericho came tumbling down! Incredible! I’ve been to Jericho and seen the excavations of the walls of that ancient city. To this day you can gauge the immensity of what those mighty walls must have been. And you are impressed by the collapse of those mighty walls into dust.

The victory at Jericho was pivotal to the conquest of the Promised Land. Jericho was the first point of battle. Jericho was an imposing structure. It was a city protected by a double wall, something near impregnable in its day. I say “near” because we all know what happened historically. Those “near” impregnable walls, they came tumbling down! Archeology confirms this. [1] But why should we care that such ancient walls to such an ancient city came down?

If these walls came down, the way they came down, then no other wall, no other enemy could stand against the conquest of Canaan. That was the sense of the sense of the situation at the first conquest, and that same sense of invincibility reverberates through history to present day and beyond. What God has done in the past, He can do in the present and future. The conquest of Jericho and the fall of those mighty walls, should be a source of encouragement to all those who follow the God of the Bible.

But the fall of Jericho’s walls isn’t the focus of this study. I want to discuss something that is, in light of the fall of these mighty walls, even more astounding. It’s been said that we learn more from defeat than we do from victory. When all is well, we tend to coast, skate, and glide on in the way. Its when we are confronted by defeats and problems which perplex us, that’s when we really learn to trust the Lord. That’s why James tells us, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). James was inspired by God to teach his readers that trials are a useful, and even necessary part of our spiritual walk with the Lord.

So, what is it that is even more astounding than the fall of the walls of Jericho? What astounds us more than the fall of those great walls is the subsequent defeat at the hands of a much lesser foe. I’m talking about a defeat at a small, tiny, miniscule little city names Ai, whose short name is the perfect moniker for such a diminutive place. Ai was a real city. Archeologists have recently discovered what they believe to be its remains. [2] Ai is a real city folks. And what is just is real and profound is the lesson learned from the historical defeat that occurred here.

You’d be hard pressed to have two more contrasting cities in the sequence of the conquest of Canaan. Jericho was well known. Ai was hardly known. Jericho was comparatively gigantic and formidable. Ai was comparatively miniscule and “few” in number. This next little town was what we call an apparent “piece of cake.” But what happened? Israel, certainly oozing with confidence after “their” victory at Jericho, goes up against these country bumkin neighbors and what, is defeated?! Yes, defeated? This was an upset. This was unexpected. This was shocking. How could this be? What caused such an unexpected defeat? That’s what we will examine in this study: The Cause and Cure for Defeat.

Joshua and Israel, to this point, have experienced nothing but victory: crossing the Jordan, entering the Land, Gilgal, and Jericho. There was no reason to expect anything other than complete and continuous victory. And yet, the proportionally puny Ai put a whuppin’ on God’s people. In his book Victorious Christian Living Alan Redpath comments:

“Unbroken victory for His people was certainly God’s purpose. The defeat at Ai, the account of which is contained in this seventh chapter of Joshua, was the only defeat they suffered in their conquest of the land of Canaan. Defeat in Canaan might occur, but it need not.

A life of unbroken victory over sin is the purpose of God for every child of His redeemed by the blood of Christ. However, God does not make it impossible for His children to sin: He always makes it possible for them not to sin. Defeat may happen in the life of the Christian, but it need not. [3]

“Defeat may happen in the life of the Christian, but it need not.” Joshua 7 and the defeat at Ai is a precautionary revelation from God to teach us the causes of defeat and in so doing, forewarn us showing us how defeat can be avoided.

Joshua 7

     But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel.

Jericho was God’s victory. It was a holy battle in that it was the first battle in the Promised Land and it was a victory won entirely by the Lord as God’s people watched. Everything therefore associated with Jericho was the Lord’s and to be offered to Him in sacrifice. What do we learn about Achan’s sin and Israel’s defeat? We need to keep a few things in mind here.

First, that done in secret is usually sin. The phrase “committed a trespass” (Hebrew – מָעַל mâ˓al, maw-al’) means to cover up, to act treacherously, to transgress. There is always an element of covering up in a trespass or sin. Beware when you do something that you want to keep hidden. Always ask yourself, why do I want to keep this act hidden? Unless you are blessing someone with a surprise party, you likely are crossing the line into sin.

Second, nothing done secretly escapes the view of God. Achan’s sin was to secretly take what belonged to the Lord. He thought only He knew what he did. He didn’t factor God into that equation. He wasn’t thinking of God when he did what he did. Perhaps he didn’t believe in God at all. Maybe he didn’t appreciate being circumcised. Maybe he had no faith in God. Wherever he was in regards to the Lord he wasn’t thinking of the Lord or how his sin would impact others when he took some of the accursed things of Jericho.

The Bible is very clear that nothing escapes the view of God. The “eyes of the LORD” see all. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous (e.g. Psalm 33:18; 34:15). But the eyes of the LORD are also on all people, sinners included:

  • Proverbs 5:21 – For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths.
  •  Proverbs 15:3 – The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.  
  • Amos 9:8 – “Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom,   And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” Says the Lord.  
  • Zechariah 4:10 – For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”  
  • 1 Peter 3:12 – For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Achan gave no thought to the fact that what he did was in the sight of the Lord. That tells us he had no regard for the Lord or any real relationship with the Lord. He would soon regret that.

Third, Israel as a whole was impacted by the sin of the individual Achan. The sin of the individual impacts the body as a whole. Israel and her individual parts are interconnected. That is a great and important lesson here. Individual sin is never isolated; it always has residual and broader effects outside the individual. You may think your secret sin only involves you, but it deadens your spiritual sensitivity to the Lord. That spreads the effect toward God. And as your sin makes you less effective in your walk with the Lord, it removes you from God’s use in the lives of others. If you persist in sin and are discovered it will tarnish your reputation and by association God’s reputation. It will bring shame to you and those closely associated with you. And very often sin has a direct impact on innocent lives around the sinner. For instance, the adulterer’s sin leads to divorce which impacts a spouse and innocent children in the relationship. Any sin involving a betrayal of relationship has broader consequences. That is the lesson we learn at the defeat at Ai.

A family is a body. When one of its members sin, it impacts the entire family. The church is a body. When one of its members sin it impacts the entire body (cf. 1 Cor. 12). We see this in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (e.g. 1 Cor. 5). When one of its members is allowed to indulge in sin without correction it is rebuked by Paul as unacceptable and correction is ordered.

The church today is defeated and ineffective to a great extent because individuals in the church think nothing of sinning outside the church. Congregants give little to no thought about how their personal sin impacts the church as a whole. We are ambassadors of God (2 Cor. 5). When we sin, it reflects poorly on the Lord and His church. David discovered this first hand when he sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). A host of others in scripture have found this out too. Cain, King Saul, Samson, and Judas to name a few. Sin affects the sinner, but it also affects those around the sinner.

The Lord through Jeremiah stated, “Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you” (Jeremiah 2:19). There is a consequence connected to sin. A person reaps what they sow (Galatians 6:7-9). Sin is like a metastasizing cancer; it spreads. And as it spreads, it leads to more and more pain and suffering. That is why God hates it. The Bible says, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13). It’s almost as though sin is too panful for God to watch. That is why God demands it be dealt with and cleansed away.

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.” 4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.

The sin of prayerless self-confidence. After the resounding victory at Jericho, the spies assessed Ai as easy pickin’s. They saw no need to send the entire army to deal with this relatively small little city. They were self-confident. There is here a subtle taking of credit for the victory of Jericho or at least presuming on God’s fighting on their behalf. They simply assumed that since they were victorious at Jericho that they would be victorious at Ai; especially since Ai was a much smaller obstacle. This was a disastrous miscalculation that led to defeat and discouragement. What was their sinful error?

Their greatest sin here was not merely being self-confident or presumptuous, but being prayerless. Victory is wonderful. But victory also carries with it a potential danger, prayerless presumption. God wants us to depend on Him all the time in every situation. There is no such thing as a “no-brainer” that doesn’t need prayer.

We need to pray in every situation; pray before, in the midst of and after every situation. God wants us to take nothing for granted but to depend on Him and include Him in every situation. We should never presume an outcome. We should always pray and seek God’s guidance. God knows all things. We do not. God is able to inform us and prepare us for unforeseen dangers. It’s never a good idea to lunge ahead without first prayerfully seeking the Lord’s counsel (e.g. Psalm 34:4; 77:2). David is a good example of how important it is to inquire of the Lord every step of the way. This is because sometimes God says “Go,” and sometimes God says “No” (2 Sam. 5:17-25). Early in his life, David sought the Lord’s direction every step of the way in his journeys.

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?”

The appropriate response to defeat is humble confession and concern for the name of the LORD. Joshua tore his clothes and prostrated himself before the ark of the LORD (i.e. the symbol of the presence of the LORD). He did this along with the leaders of Israel until evening. Instantly Joshua was struck by this unexpected defeat. Defeat was unexpected. But defeat was the undeniably reality here and it must be addressed. Joshua didn’t try to brush defeat under the carpet. He knew this was not normal or acceptable. He instantly humbled himself before the Lord. That is always the best and should be the first response to defeat (e.g. Psalm 51).

And notice too that Joshua, while he was concerned about how this defeat would impact the people of Israel, he was more concerned for the reputation of the Lord’s name. Joshua was more concerned for how the Canaanites would perceive this defeat in terms of fearing God. When David sinned with Bathsheba one of the greatest consequences was that the enemies of the LORD were given reason to blaspheme the LORD (cf. 2 Sam. 12:14 in context of 2 Sam. 11-12).

People tend to paint with a broad brush. If you are connected with God in some way, if you call yourself a “Christian,” when you sin, God is associated with that sin. You represent Him whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not. And when you sin, He is brought low by others who accuse the Lord of not being strong enough to stop the sin of the offender.

It’s a question of sanctification. To be sanctified is to be set apart to God. Sanctification means to be set apart for God’s use. Sanctification is another word for “holy.” To be holy, is to be unique, different, special. It is God’s will for us to be sanctified and holy, to be different, unique (1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:4:3 and 7). We are to be evidence that God is real. By our changed and holy lives, we are to be a living, walking, talking example and evidence that there is a God and He is real. We are to be different from the common sinful world. When we are not, it reflects poorly on God. When we sin, it gives the world an excuse to say He isn’t real. When we sin, it gives the world an excuse to ignore God. Sin in the camp of believers is a serious thing.

When you sin, do you consider how your sin, when and if discovered would negatively impact the name of the LORD? You should. That should be a priority and a preventative measure to keep us from indulging in sin.

10 So the Lord said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? 11 Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff.

Sin is serious and has serious repercussions. God told Joshua to “Get up!” This was no time to lie on his face. Israel had sinned and transgressed God’s covenant. They did this by taking what belonged to the LORD. They were guilty of stealing and deceit. They were guilty of taking what belonged to God and putting it “among their own stuff.” They had disobeyed the LORD. Notice again, the individual sin of Achan reflected in a consequence and guilt of the entire body of Israel. One man sinned and the entire body was defeated.

How do you recover from defeat? We have looked at the cause of defeat. What is the cure for defeat? That is what we will learn now.

 12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you.

First, understand that God will not tolerate sin. You cannot expect God’s blessing and victory when there is sin in the camp. Sin in the camp leads to discouragement and defeat. Israel’s faith was negatively impacted; they were discouraged and “turned their backs on their enemies” because of this sin. God very clearly stated, “they have become doomed to destruction” because of this sin. God said His presence would not be with them anymore unless . . . .

13 Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the Lord God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.”

Second, we must be sanctified from sin. To be sanctified means to be separated from sin unto God. To be sanctified means to be cleansed from sin. We cannot expect to stand or be victorious if we allow sin to go unchecked in our life. Sin will always deter and diminish God’s work in and through us. We must be sanctified from sin. We must live holy.

14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the Lord takes shall come according to families; and the family which the Lord takes shall come by households; and the household which the Lord takes shall come man by man. 15 Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.’ ” 16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 He brought the clan of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 Then he brought his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

Third, we must cooperate with the Lord and make every effort to find and root out sin. This must be a priority. We see that Joshua made it a priority in that the first thing in the morning he began to address this issue. It’s not a bad thing to start each day with a time of asking God to search our heart for any sin and to sanctify us from it by washing it away with the blood of Jesus (e.g. Psalm 139:23-24; 1 John 1:7,9). Here we see Joshua bring the entire camp of Israel before the Lord and the painstaking effort to root out the sin in the camp of God’s people.

We also see here that Achan was taken and exposed for his sin. God is able to identify the culprit whose sin has negatively impacted the camp of the Lord. Always remember, “Your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23; cf. also Heb. 4:12-14).

19 Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

Fourth, it glorifies God to confess our sin. Joshua told Achan to give glory to God and confess his sin. How would this give glory to God? It would give glory to God in that the confession was also an admission of God’s sovereign position to know and call to judgment the sin of the sinner.

The heart is a deceitful thing and desperately wicked (e.g. Jer. 17:9-10). So dark and deceptive is our heart that we are more fearful of being found out about our sin than we are actually concerned about the sin we’ve committed against Holy God. Alan Redpath comments:

“All of us are more afraid of being found out than ashamed of the sin in our hearts. Our first reaction to the prick of conscience is always to plan that, somehow, our sin may not become known. But one day the net is drawn around us, one day the sin is exposed, and the Holy Spirit says, ‘Thou art guilty.’ Then, in humility before God and often before His people, we have to say, ‘Lord Jesus, I saw, I desired, I took and I held.’ [4]

Are you more concerned with being found out about your sin than you are about your actual sin against God? If so, you have not reached the place of repentance. If so, you have not truly come to understand the depth and seriousness of your sin.

If you are indulging in some sin or some ongoing sinful habit, I would encourage you to sincerely seek the Lord to help you see your sin for its sinfulness and seriousness. Then I would pray you confess it before the Lord. To “confess” sin is to see your sin as God sees it. God is repulsed by sin (Hab. 1:13). God keeps His distance from sin (Is. 59:2). Sin shuts down our communication with God (Psalm 66:18). Sin is serious and offensive to God. It must be confessed before Him and we must commit to repent and leave it if we are to be forgiven of it.

20 And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: 21 When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.”

Fifth, recognize sin is first and foremost against God. Achan now recognizes and admits his sin is an offense to God. He thought he could hide his sin. Now he is forced to come to the reality and truth that God is real and that his sinful disobedience of God’s command has a just consequence. David also expressed this reality when in confessing his adultery and murder he acknowledged his sin was against God first and foremost (Psalm 51). Confession to God is our priority in dealing with sin.

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it.

Sixth, no loose ends or unverified facts are to be left in dealing with sin. When we confess our sin, God forgives us through faith in Christ. Though the application of Christ’s blood, our sin is forgiven. And this provision for forgiveness bring glory to God (e.g. Prov. 25:2; 1 John 1:9). That doesn’t mean we should continue to sin in order to bring glory to God. Perish the thought! (Romans 6:1ff.). Jesus died to put away sin. Sin put Jesus on the cross. Sin brings a curse (Galatians 3:10-13). We should avoid sin at all costs. We should deal thoroughly and decisively with sin in our life. Jesus spoke of dealing thoroughly and drastically with any sin or cause of sin in our life (e.g. Mat. 5:27-30).

Joshua leaves no stone unturned in dealing with Achan’s sin. That is a good example for us. Joshua confirmed the statement of Achan and did not assume what he said was true. He made sure the exact facts of this sinful behavior were clarified and brought to light. We need to bring our sin to light before God and see them for what they really are.

23 And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the Lord. 24 Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. 26 Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.

Seventh, bury and blot out sin. The Valley of Achor means Valley of trouble. Achan and his sin had caused Israel great trouble and defeat. And the only way to get back on the road to victory is to deal thoroughly with the causes of defeat. That is what Joshua did here. Sin must be buried and blotted out.

Alan Redpath comments:

The only way to deal with the evil that was bringing defeat to Israel and dishonor to the name of the Lord was to blot it out. In the light of God’s Word, to acknowledge that we have been guilty is not enough. Have you ever spent an hour asking yourself, ‘Why did it happen? What was the cause of it? Need it have happened? Why did I allow it” I didn’t pray, I was proud, I was disobedient.’ You have to go back to where you failed, where you can see the weakness in your life. When you get to the very root of it, you need to look up into the face of Jesus and acknowledge, “I saw, I coveted, I took,’ and then you can thank Him that, ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).

All that Christians are asked to do to cleanse themselves of guilt is to confess and forsake their sin. ‘Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (Eph. 6:13).

But the Word of God says, also, ‘Thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you’ (Joshua 7:13).

My fellow believers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I bid you, with all the love I have in my heart for you, either get right with God or leave His house. Maybe some subtractions from the membership roll would be the first step toward victory in may a church. I pray God that, whatever it may cost you in terms of personal humiliation before Him and before men, you will search out any Achan in your own life – don’t bother about other people – and get right with God. In the presence of the Lord Jesus give up your sin and claim the cleansing of His blood.[5]

In the book of Hosea there is a wonderful promise of God. Hosea is inspired to write:

Hosea 2:14-15

14     “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,

     Will bring her into the wilderness,

     And speak comfort to her.

15     I will give her her vineyards from there,

     And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;

     She shall sing there,

     As in the days of her youth,

     As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.

Notice what the Lord says here through Hosea, “I will give her vineyards from there,” from the wilderness. This speaks of restoration and refreshing; revival. Then God says, “And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope.” In other words, God will provide hope where there has been trouble. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Through faith in Christ, through His cross and blood, there is no sin that cannot be forgiven when a person confesses it to the Lord and repents of it. God is able and willing to make all things new for you. He is able and willing, to give you a fresh start.

If we will but confess our sin to God, repent, and live in full surrender to the Holy Spirit God says there is hope for renewal, hope for a fresh start; hope for the future. That is what God is calling those who are Achan’s or who have an “Achan” entity in their lives. Confess, repent, and let the blood of Jesus Christ cleanse you from all your sin. Let the blood of Jesus do a deep cleanse in your heart. Then get back to victorious living in the fullness of the Spirit.

I pray we can deal with our sin and move on to victory in the Promised Land. God has made provision for us to do so in Christ. Confess, repent, apply the blood of Jesus and then let’s go on to victory!




[3] Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, (Costa Mesa, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2007) p. 104

[4] Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, (Costa Mesa, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2007) p. 109


[5] Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, (Costa Mesa, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2007) p. 1109-110


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