This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
To say that Joshua had been discouraged after the Israelite defeat at Ai would be a major understatement. He led the people of God and at Ai many of them lost their lives in a battle that Joshua didn’t think would amount to much. The defeat was the result of sin. Achan and his family had disobeyed God and followed his own lust. God had told them not to take any spoils from the conquered people and Achan desired some of the goods and took them for himself. The people had disobeyed God, were defeated, and Joshua was disheartened and discouraged. He fell on his face before God and no longer felt worthy to lead.
The first words that God spoke to Joshua following the defeat at Ai were not words of judgment. He did not say, “Joshua, you dummy, why did you let such a terrible thing happen!” Instead, the first words out of God’s mouth were, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged . . . .” God encouraged Joshua to lift himself up and begin anew. God continued to lead Joshua despite this failure. God had a plan B. God gave Joshua another way for the Jews to conquer Ai. It was a precise and careful plan that would bring about the defeat of Ai. God actually took the results of the earlier defeat and used those results in the new plan. God took the results of sin and made it work for good.
When the Jews first went to Ai, the people of Ai drove them away from their city and soundly defeated them. That made the people of Ai overly confident in their ability to defeat the Jews. God used that overconfidence to give victory to the Jews. He told Joshua to send part of his army to Ai and appear to make a frontal attack on the city of Ai. When the people of Ai saw the army, they thought they could easily defeat them again and their army left the city and went out to engage the Jews in battle. The Jews then fell back and appeared to retreat, drawing the army of Ai further from their city. Another part of the Jews’ army been hidden and then went behind the army of Ai and attacked their city. They totally destroyed the city and then turned toward the army of Ai, which was now caught in the middle with the Jewish army on both sides. The army was also totally destroyed.
God took the results of the sin of Achan and the Jews’ defeat at Ai, to form a plan that eventually defeated Ai. That is the way God works with His people. He can take the results of our bad choices and makes them work out for good when we love Him and seek His will. Most of the discouragement I have had in my life, and the discouragement others share with me usually results from our not following the way God has told us to live. However, when we repent and return to Him, God makes even the results of our sin work for good.
God gave this new plan to the Israelites as soon as they confessed their sin and before sacrifice was made for their sin. I would have expected God to come up with a new plan and new victory after the sacrifice for sin had been made. However, the grace of God came even before the sacrifice for sin had been made. That is the way God’s general grace works. Romans 5:8 says, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The grace of God operates in our lives even before sacrifice is made for our sins. God may send His grace of healing or provision even before we are forgiven. While we are yet sinners, God works to make us new and give us a new life. For the Jews at Joshua’s time, God gave them a new plan even before they had made sacrifice for their sin.
At the end of this, there is a wonderful section where the people gather together to make sacrifice for sin. From that time on, they can know that the sin they committed was paid for and dealt with. They did not need to keep going back with regret to what they had done. God’s forgiveness becomes the new center of their lives. They went from discouragement and regret to victory and forgiveness. The reality of forgiveness is at the core of all our dealings with God. We are forgiven totally and completely because of what Christ has done.
Once in a while, our daughter Lynn and I talk about things of the Lord. Recently, we had a conversation about God’s grace and how thoroughly we need to depend on the grace of God. We often think that we have something to do with our forgiveness. We forget that forgiveness is completely from God. We can live a better life for ourselves if we live closer to the sort of life God has called us into, but it is still a long way from the sort of life the Lord will one day bring us into. I was talking to Lynn on the phone at the east end of our house and Sandy was working at the west end of our house. Lynn lives near Nashville, Tennessee, which is about 350 miles west of where we live. I told Lynn that at that time her mother was closer to her than I was. We were both still about 350 miles away, but Sandy was a bit closer. For those of us who say we are living closer to the way God wants us to live than others, that is the sort of picture we need to have. Even if we are closer, we are still a long way from where the Lord is calling us to live.
One of my favorite writings of C. S. Lewis is The Weight of Glory. In that essay, he explores where God is taking us and what we will one day be like. He says that if today we could catch a glimpse of what we will one day become, we would be tempted to fall down and worship the person we are to become. God is taking us to a place where we will become a wonderful creature in a deep and complete relationship to Him. Right now, we live in the reality of grace and will only one day become what we are really called to be. Until then, we can trust only in God’s forgiveness.
Some people think that if we teach total dependence on grace that people will just do whatever they want and will be terrible creatures. We think we need guilt to motivate us to become what we are to be. Guilt may motivate us to try to look and act better, but I don’t think it does much to make us become better. At the end of this chapter, the last thing they did was to celebrate the goodness of the law of God. It is significant that the goodness of the law goes deeply into our souls so that we will know the way God has called us to live is really best. We don’t obey the law of God in order to earn points toward our salvation or to ease our guilt. We obey the law of God because we know it is good and will make our lives rich and full. It is the way that will bring joy and a deep and wonderful relationship to God into our lives. When we fall short of the way God has called us to live, we become discouraged and downtrodden about our life, as Joshua was before God brought a new plan and a new sense of calling into his life. Once forgiveness is established, we need to meditate on the law of God and have its goodness penetrate into the core of what we see as right and good.
That is especially needed in our culture because we seem to have the twisted notion that somehow the best way to live is to do whatever we want to do, then get forgiven at the end of our lives and go to heaven where we will do what God wants us to do. That means we don’t really see the law of God as being truly good, and it is. Obeying God’s law is the best way to live. When we don’t follow it, that only means that our lives will have less joy and be more empty. We don’t obey the law in order to get to heaven: we obey the law because it is the best way to live. We need to have the goodness of the law held in front of us again and again so that it penetrates deeper and deeper into our hearts. It is hard to see the goodness of the law of God because our world teaches that doing whatever we want to do is the best way to live. We need to have the goodness of the law of God drummed into the core of our being and then let it guide how we live.