Overcoming Defeat

Joshua 8

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2019

Today, we come to an interesting chapter of Joshua but what relevance is it to us today?  We will find out.   The two big themes of the chapter are war and worship.  The chapter begins with WAR.  It ends with WORSHIP. It begins with an AMBUSH.  It ends with an ALTAR.  An altar was used for worship.  It was used for animal sacrifices which was part of worship for OT Jews.

It is a violent chapter.  There is a lot of death and bloodshed in this chapter.  There is a lot of dying. A whole town is wiped out.  Dead bodies are hung on trees until sunset.  This chapter would be rated R for violence.

This is a man’s chapter.  It is full of fighting and war.  It is full of action.  It is a military chapter.  There is a special-ops, an army commando unit in the chapter.  It has a top-secret mission, a covert operation in the dead of night.

What this chapter really is about is overcoming defeat.  It is about overcoming defeat in your life.  It is all about winning.  God intends for us to win.  He doesn’t want us to go around defeated. It is also about worship.  The chapter ends with a worship service.  There is a big revival service at the end of the chapter.  Warfare is followed by worship.  This chapter gives us some principles for worship.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”

Israel just suffered military defeat.  It was a surprising military defeat.  They lost a battle they should have won.  Just beat big Jericho and lost to little Ai.  They suffered defeat because of sin in the camp.  They dealt with the sin in Joshua 7. God tells them to go back and fight Ai again.  This time they win.  Today, we will be looking at six Ai principles that are life transforming from this chapter

The Six Ai Principles

1) All of us have an Ai in our life

Life is a serious of Ai’s.  It is a serious or problems.  It is a serious of setbacks.  It is a series of mistakes.  It is a series of failures and defeats. Some of these failures are devastating. They are embarrassing. They are debilitating.  Joshua fell on his face, face on the ground and prayed for hours.

Leaders can have failures. Pastors can have failures.  Joshua felt like he failed as a leader.  He was devastated.  He might have felt partially responsible for the deaths of 36 men, since he sent them into battle.  What does Ai represent in your life?

2) God is the God of second chances

This chapter is all about overcoming defeat.  It is all about a new beginning.  It is all about a fresh start.  It is all about second chances after people screwed up.  In this case, after the nation screwed up. They had a humiliating defeat because of sin.  This is a new beginning for the nation.  Two armies have a rematch.  It is round two for Israel and Ai.

Proverbs 24:16 says, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” (NIV).  The only thing worse than being defeated is staying defeated.  One defeat doesn’t have to define us.  There are two examples of this. Example one is Rahab.

Rahab had a past, but she did not let her past define her.  We don’t have to let a past failure or past sin rob us of future victory. Rahab was a prostitute.  She was an immoral woman.  She displayed incredible faith and obedience in spite of her past and was rewarded by God.  Rahab was wicked but became righteous.  James called her righteous (James 2:25).

Example two is Peter.  Peter was an Apostle.  He was one of Jesus’ top twelve men.  He was one of Jesus’ official representatives on earth.  Peter had an important position.  Peter not only denied Jesus, he denied Jesus publicly.  He denied Jesus repeatedly (three times).  He denied Jesus emphatically.  He denied him with a curse and with an oath (Mark 14:71).

If anyone screwed up it was Peter.  If anyone thought his ministry was over, it was Peter.  If anyone thought God can’t use him, it was Peter.  God used Peter to preach a sermon in Acts 2 that led to the salvation of three thousand people.  God not only used Peter, He used him in an incredible way.  He went on to write books of Scripture. No failure in our life has to be final.

Now God tells the Jews to go back.  ‘Go back and fight the same enemy that already defeated you.”  Not only can we succeed if we have failed in the past, but we can have victory over the very foes that beat us before.  That is encouraging.

We can’t do it on our own, but God can give us the victory.  Have you ever failed?  Have you ever made a huge mistake in life?  God can change defeat into victory. He can take the place of defeat make it the place of victory.  God is not only the God of second chances, He is the God of third and fourth chances.

3) If God is with us, we do not have to fear

If God is not with us, we should be afraid.  We will not be successful.  That is what happened in Joshua 7.  In the last chapter God’s anger was kindled against the nation but Israel deal with its sin and in Joshua 8, God is not longer mad at them.  In fact, He encourages them.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do NOT be afraid; do NOT be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. (Joshua 8:1 NIV)

This is God’s Word to us today.  God does not want us to be afraid.  He does not want us to be discouraged.  This is a call to conquer fear.  We are afraid of all kinds of things.  All of our life we face fears.

We have fears of not getting married.  If we are married, we have fears of not having any kids.  We have fears of not getting a job.  If we have a job, we have fears of losing our job or not making enough money.  If we live in a high crime area, we fear getting shot.  If we live in a safe area, we fear having a heart attack or getting cancer.  We have a fear of who will win the next election.  We fear the Commies might take over.  God tells us NOT to fear.  God tells us not to listen to the voices of fear inside our head.

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, FOR YOU ARE WITH ME; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

4) If you want to be successful, you have to do things God’s way

If you want to have a successful marriage, you have to do things God’s way.  If you want to have a successful church, you have to do things God’s way.  If you want to have a successful business, you have to do things God’s way.  The Jews tried to beat Ai their way and didn’t work.  They failed.  They lost.

Now they are going to do it God’s way and they are going to win.  Ai will be ambushed, burned to the ground and the king will be hung on a tree (Joshua 8:28-29).  When they did it God’s way, not only will they win but they will be BLESSED.  God promised them the spoils at Ai.

God gives Joshua a PROMISE of victory. God says something interesting to Joshua. “For I HAVE delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land” (Joshua 8:1 NIV).  What did He deliver into his hands?  Everything (the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land).

Notice that God does NOT say that “I will deliver it into your hands.”  He says, even though it had not even happened yet.  It is so certain to happen that it is put in the past tense like it has already happened.  He says, “I HAVE delivered it into your hands.”

God also gives him a PLAN of victory.  God’s way is always different from our way.  His thoughts are not our thoughts. God tells Joshua to go ahead and attack Ai again, but He does NOT tell him to do it exactly the same way.

Just doing the SAME thing over and over again will not get DIFFERENT results.  God has a different plan for Joshua.  They are to use a completely different military strategy.  Joshua is to attack Ai.  He is to attack Ai with his WHOLE ARMY (Joshua 8:1) and he is to set AN AMBUSH behind the city (Joshua 8:2).

That is a little different than how they attacked it the first time.  The first time, they attacked the city with three thousand troops (Joshua 7:4).  This time, the take the whole army.  This time, they take mentions thirty thousand of their best fighters (Joshua 8:3).  That is ten times more than they sent last time.  How big was the enemy?  Only twelve thousand were killed (Joshua 8:25) but they come in at least with thirty-five thousand troops.  The enemy was completely outnumbered.

The enemy was not just outnumbered but outsmarted.  God gives the battle plan and He told them to use an ambush, a surprise ambush, a divine ambush. This ambush was God’s idea.  The plan involved some trickery.  They pulled a trick on the enemy.  This was holy trickery.  Most of the army lay in ambush while 5000 troops attacked Ai from the front.  Joshua was with those troops.

What was the enemy thinking?  “History repeating itself.  We beat them before. We can beat them again.”  They presented to be beaten and ran away and the enemy followed them, leaving the city unprotected.  That drew them into a trap.  The other army attacked the city and burned it.

They wanted to go back and protect the city but found themselves caught between several armies.  They were attacked from all sides.  They were attacked them from the front, from the back and from the side.

5) God does not always work through miracles

This seems a little counter-intuitive.  All of us should want to live in the supernatural.  All of us should want to see miracles every day in our life but the truth is that God does not always do miracles.  This is a message that you will rarely hear in church.  The reality is that big spectacular miracles are NOT always God’s plan.  Sometimes He does that and sometimes He does not.

Jericho was taken SUPERNATURALLY, while Ai was taken STRATEGICALLY.  God performed stupendous miracles in Jericho with huge walls coming down but He did not perform any miracle in Ai.  In Ai, the Jews didn’t march around the city.  They didn’t blow any trumpets and no walls came down. They just used an ambush and outsmarted the enemy.

The Christian life contains both: the supernatural and the strategic. Sometimes God works through incredible miracles and sometimes He works through providence. Sometimes He heals through doctors and good medicine and sometimes He heals people through faith.  God does not always work the same way.  He fed the people of God by sending manna from the sky.  He does not do that anymore.  Has God changed?  No but His program has.

What is the error in the church today?  Some do not believe in using medicine and doctors.  They just heal by faith.  They believe in healing just by prayer.  Other Christians only use medicine and doctors.  They believe that God does not do miracles today.  He stopped doing them in 70 AD.  Both views are wrong.  We need a balanced approach.  God is a God of miracles.  We should believe God to do impossible things in our life but recognize that God does not always work in spectacular supernatural miracles.

6) Glorify God in your victories

How many times do people do something amazing or get an award and they credit themselves and they own abilities?  People in the world do that all of the time.  They credit their hard work and their perseverance. The Jews did not do this here.  They just won an amazing victory and they gave God the glory. They worshiped Him.

The chapter ends with a worship service. Joshua talks to the whole nation.  He must have had a good set of lungs and a good strong voice.  Apparently, Joshua was not just a general.  He was a preacher.  Joshua does some public speaking.  He preaches to two million people outside.

Israel was camped in front of two mountains (Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim). These two mountains faced each other and there was a valley in between them.  The valley was where Shechem was located.


Why were they doing this?  It does not look like a good time to have a revival service.  They were involved in a major military campaign. They are surrounded by enemies who wanted to kill them, but it was the perfect time for a worship service. God gave them victory over their enemy.  They worshiped God and rededicated themselves to his covenant with the nation.

Joshua builds an altar.  Many people in the Bible built altars.  Noah built an altar.  Abraham built an altar.  Moses built an altar.  Altars were used for worship.  They were used for animal sacrifices.  Most Protestant churches today do not have altars.  Many churches talk about opening up the altar.  They have altar calls but they do not have an altar.  The Jews had an altar.

The cool thing about this altar that Joshua built is that it has been discovered.  It is over three thousand years old, but archaeologists have found it.  Most people do not know this.  Many commentaries do not even mention this, but it was discovered in the 1980s.

It was discovered by an archaeologist who did not even believe the Bible.  It was discovered by a man named Adam Zertel.  He was a secular archaeologist.  He was a secular Israeli archaeologist and he was famous.  He was a renowned archaeologist.  He taught archaeology at the University of Haifa in Israel.

He believed that the Book of Joshua was not historical but a legend.  When he saw a huge pile of stones, at first he did not know what they were.  He began digging and found an altar underneath it with ashes and animal bones in it, but only certain animal bones were there.

There were no bones from a pig found at this altar.  He sketched the structure.  A religious Jew looked at it and told him that it looked exactly like the altar in the Second Temple.  Zertel became convinced based on the evidence that this was Joshua’s altar.  It is in the West Bank today.[1]

Worship Lessons from Joshua 8

What can we learn about worship from Joshua 8?  What does it say to us today?  There are three lessons that stands out to me.

1. God should be present in our worship services

This worship had God in it.  The Ark of the Covenant was in the center (Joshua 8:33). That symbolized the presence of God.  God was present in their midst.  In some churches God is present.  You can tell God is there. In some churches, God is absent.

2. The Bible should play a central role in our worship.

Joshua read the Law of God (Joshua 8:34-35).  He publicly read the Bible and everyone stood up and listened to it.  Many churches today de-emphasize the Bible and minimize it.  Beware of any church that has a low view of the Bible.

One pastor in another state told me that he did not believe in reading long passages of Scripture in church because he said that studies say that people zone out when you read more than a few verses  You can’t read the Bible too much in church because people won’t like it.  This was a conservative church but they did not want to have too much Bible in it.  Joshua did not just read a few verses.  He read much more.

The worship in Joshua 8 not only CONTAINED the Bible but was BASED ON the Bible.  The very type of altar they made was based on Scripture.  He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. (Joshua 8:31 NIV)

How many churches do things, not because of Scripture but because of tradition?  That is the way they have always been done.  That is the way their denomination does things.

3. Our worship should be balanced.

We are to worship in spirit AND in truth (John 4:24).  Our worship should NOT be all spirit, all emotional with people foaming at the mouth and passed out in a religious trance.  Our worship should NOT be all truth. It should not sound like a dry lecture but that is exactly what we see in the church today.  We have some spirit churches and some truth churches.  Some churches are all intellectual.  Other churches are all emotional.

How was worship in Joshua 8 balanced?  Afterward, Joshua read ALL the words of the law—the BLESSINGS and the CURSES—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them. (Joshua 8:34-35 NIV)

Joshua preached the whole counsel of God.  He preached the whole law.  He did not just preach part of it.  He preached BOTH blessings and curses from the Law.  He read all of the blessings.  He read all of the curses.

We have preachers today that just want to preach the blessings and talk about prosperity.  They tell people what they want to hear.  It tickles their ears.  Preachers don’t want to talk about curses.  We have other preachers that are all negative, all hell, fire and brimstone.  Joshua preaches both blessing and cursing and we should preach the whole counsel of God today as well.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZglPosex_8

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