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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Retaking Lost Ground – Pressing On

Now the Lord said to Joshua: “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land – Joshua 8:1

Resounding victory, resounding defeat, a lesson learned, and now back on track to victory. Joshua and Israel suffered a humiliating and unexpected defeat at Ai. They had lost ground. They turned to the LORD. They humbly received the correction of the LORD. Now they would retake lost ground. They are ordered by God to carry on to victory. They would now snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

God promises to restore us when we repent of our sin. He realizes we are but dust. And His promise is to restore to us what the locusts of defeat have eaten from our lives (cf. Joel 2:25). God is a restoring God. He is merciful and forgiving.

It’s always harder to retake lost ground. But in the Promised Land of the fullness of the Spirit even if we suffer defeat, we must press on. In the New Testament the apostle John spoke of “a sin which does not lead to death” (1 John 5:16). A sin not leading to death is a sin that happens in the life of a believer due to spiritual immaturity, a momentary lapse in faith, a giving into temptation, or some other failing. A sin not leading to death is a sin that is repented of.

John also speaks of a “sin that leads to death.” A sin that leads to death is any sin that is not repented of. John is inspired by God to instruct his readers:

·         1 John 5:16-17 - 16 If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.

If as believers we give into temptation and sin, we deal with such sin by praying and asking God for forgiveness – “he will ask.” The friend of the one caught in sin as well as the believer who has sinned pray to God for forgiveness.

Earlier in John’s first epistle he instructs that if we “confess” our sins God is faithful to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9). To “confess” means to see our sin as God sees our sin. This implies a revulsion to our sin; a holy regret. It also implies the presence of repentance. If we truly confess our sins to God and see them as He sees them then we won’t want to repeat them. Some use grace as an excuse to indulge in sin. That is abhorrent to the Lord (cf. Rom. 6:1ff.). The Holy Spirit is holy and if we want to live in the fullness of the Spirit we need to renounce and forsake our sin. If we do sin, we need to confess and repent, receive God’s forgiveness and then press on. That is what we see in Joshua 8.

Joshua 8:1-2 states, “Now the Lord said to Joshua: “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. 2 And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves. Lay an ambush for the city behind it.” Joshua and the people had humbled themselves before the Lord and repented of their sin (7:6-9). They had obediently followed the instructions of the Lord to deal thoroughly and completely with the sin which was in their camp, i.e. Achan taking the accursed things (7:10-26). Now the LORD begins the restoration of Joshua and His people by assuring them and calling them to press on in their mission of conquest.

Defeat due to sin has consequences. God reassures with the words, “Do not be afraid, . . . ” Defeat infects God’s people with fear (יָרֵא yârê˒, yaw-ray’) which means to be afraid or terrified. When we sin and are defeated it causes us to realize God was not with us otherwise we would have been victorious. It causes us to realize there is sin in the camp; something that has brought displeasure to God and separated me from His victory. And we realize our enemies are stronger than us. These are fear producing things to the one accustomed to God’s victory.

Fear is the foe of faith. Living in the fullness of blessing in the Promised Land is a life of faith. Fear will quench much of what God and the Spirit want to do in and through us if we allow fear to stifle our faith in Him. Faith shields us from the enemies’ attacks. It is a vital part of our spiritual armor (cf. Eph. 6:10-18). We need faith to press on with the Lord to realize the fullness of His blessing and plan.

God also tells Joshua and the people “nor be dismayed” (חָתַת châthath, khaw-thath’) which refers to brokenness, discouragement, confusion, or dismay. Defeat due to sin gets us down; it discourages us; it saps our God-given, God-dependent faithful courage from us. Now that Joshua and the people have come to God and dealt thoroughly and put away their sin, God restores them.

God calls us to press on. The consequences of defeat due to sin can be compounded if we become so fearful that we don’t press on. There comes a time where we have to trust God, leave our defeat behind, and press on with Him. This is what the apostle Paul is inspired to state in the New Testament: Philippians 3:12-15 - 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

There is work to do. We are not perfect. We can be perfectly committed to pressing on in the LORD. But sometimes we stumble. When and if we do, we need to go to God, receive His forgives and restoration,  and then we need to obey His call to press on in faith.

Sometimes we look at our sin and defeat and think we are too far gone or too defeated to carry on. We may listen to the accusations of the enemy and his dark discouraging words to give up and stay defeated. The enemy wants us to live in defeat. He wants to quench God’s plan in and through us. He wants to stop us in our tracks. He does this by telling us “You are too far gone for God to use you. You have betrayed God. You deserve to be set aside forever due to your defeat.” The enemy will say just about anything to keep you from pressing on. He wants to split you off from the ranks of God’s army. He wants to remove you from God’s plan and in so doing weaken God’s army. THAT IS NOT GOD’S WILL FOR YOU! There is forgiveness and restoration with the LORD. That is what we see in Joshua 8.

There is thorough and complete forgiveness and restoration with God. In Joshua 8 Joshua and God’s people are forgiven and fully restored. When we sin but confess and repent and seek God’s forgiveness, God will forgive us and will restore us. And God’s forgiveness is a through forgiveness. Look at what His word promises:

·         Psalm 103:8-14 - 8     The Lord is merciful and gracious,  Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9     He will not always strive with us,  Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10     He has not dealt with us according to our sins,  Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11     For as the heavens are high above the earth,  So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12     As far as the east is from the west,  So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13     As a father pities his children,  So the Lord pities those who fear Him. 14     For He knows our frame;      He remembers that we are dust.

·         Micah 7:18 - 18     Who is a God like You,  Pardoning iniquity  And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever,  Because He delights in mercy.

·         Ephesians 1:7 - 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace

·         Colossians 1:14 - 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

·         1 John 1:7-9 - 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

God forgives thoroughly and completely based on the atoning work of His only Son Jesus. He actually puts the righteousness of Jesus to our account when we put our faith in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). He makes it so that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). To that we say “Hallelujah!”

But retaking lost ground involves a concerted whole effort. God tells Joshua, take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai.” Retaking lost ground is more difficult than taking ground. If Joshua and the people had prayed for instruction to the LORD at the outset of their attack of Ai God may very well have ordered less than all of the people to go up and attack Ai. But now they have to make a concerted full on-everyone involved effort to overcome what was initially thought to be little Ai. It always takes more effort to retake lost ground than to do things the right way the first time and be victorious.

God strengthens for victory in retaking lost ground by reassuring us with His word. God says, “See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.” God’s word is sure. He keeps His promises (1 Kings 8:56). And so we can take hope and stand on the promises of God to press on to victory (e.g. Rom. 15:4; 2 Peter 1:3-4). God’s word fuels us to press on victoriously.

God also strengthens us by referencing past victory. God says, “And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king.” It’s as though God was reassuring them that He would again be with them and that with Him, they would have a similar outcome of victory as in the past. If God is with us, that’s all that matters (e.g. Rom. 8:31-32).

God also strengthens us with promise of provision. He says, “Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as boot for yourselves.” God assures the people that this time they will be allowed to take spoil for themselves. God is reassuring them that He will provide for them in this victory.

God strengthens by laying out a strategy for victory. God instructs Joshua and the people, “Lay an ambush for the city behind it.” God gave a clear strategy for victory. The Bible says that pride goes before destruction (Prov. 16:18). God will use the Ai people’s newfound pride in their recent victory over Israel against them. In so doing God will accomplish victory, but He will also not so subtly be communicating to His own people that pride leads to defeat.

It goes on to say in Joshua 8:3-4, “3 So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai; and Joshua chose thirty thousand mighty men of valor and sent them away by night. 4 And he commanded them, saying: “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind the city. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you be ready.” Joshua leads Israel obediently according to God’s plan emphasizing readiness. It was as though Joshua, in telling the army to be “ready,” was telling them to pay attention, be alert. That is always an important aspect of battle. We need to be circumspect in spiritual warfare and while living in this dangerous world (Eph. 5:15).

Now in Joshua 8:5-9, “5 Then I and all the people who are with me will approach the city; and it will come about, when they come out against us as at the first, that we shall flee before them. 6 For they will come out after us till we have drawn them from the city, for they will say, ‘They are fleeing before us as at the first.’ Therefore we will flee before them. 7 Then you shall rise from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will deliver it into your hand. 8 And it will be, when you have taken the city, that you shall set the city on fire. According to the commandment of the Lord you shall do. See, I have commanded you.” 9 Joshua therefore sent them out; and they went to lie in ambush, and stayed between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua lodged that night among the people.” The strategy God gave to Joshua was to play on the pride of Ai. Pride goes before destruction (Prov. 16:18). By using a strategy that used the pride of Ai as a weakness to exploit, God was being totally efficient in that Ai would be defeated, and would be an exemplary object lesson to Joshua and Israel about how they needed to guard against pride. This was important because their first defeat at Ai was due to prayerless self-confidence; pride.

Note also that Joshua is sure to point out, “for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.” The victory, though involving Joshua and the army of God more directly than at Jericho, the victory is still from the LORD. We are who we are and we are victorious only by God’s grace and enablement (1 Cor. 15:10).

So what would Joshua now do? Joshua 8:10-13 – “10 Then Joshua rose up early in the morning and mustered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11 And all the people of war who were with him went up and drew near; and they came before the city and camped on the north side of Ai. Now a valley lay between them and Ai. 12 So he took about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city. 13 And when they had set the people, all the army that was on the north of the city, and its rear guard on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.” God’s strategy must be obediently implemented. God’s strategy and way to victory always involves us taking action obediently. Love is an action and if we say we love Jesus, we need to actively obey Him (cf. John 14:15, 21). Faith without works or implementation is dead (cf. James 2).

It’s important to realize the enemies’ vulnerabilities. “14 Now it happened, when the king of Ai saw it, that the men of the city hurried and rose early and went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at an appointed place before the plain. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. 16 So all the people who were in Ai were called together to pursue them. And they pursued Joshua and were drawn away from the city. 17 There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. So they left the city open and pursued Israel.” (Joshua 8:14-17). The enemies of God are blind to His ultimate will. Without the Holy Spirit the unsaved person cannot discern the things of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-14). The sinner is blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4); pawns in his unholy plans (Eph. 2:1-3), and ultimately doomed to defeat (cf. Romans 16:20; James 4:7; 1 John 4:4). The only hope for the lost is the light of the glory of God’s gospel grace (1 John 1:5-9). Unfortunately God in Christ has shone His “true Light” into the world but the world rejected it (John 1:9-13).

So what was next in this restoration to the path of victory? “18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the spear that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the spear that was in his hand toward the city. 19 So those in ambush arose quickly out of their place; they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand, and they entered the city and took it, and hurried to set the city on fire. 20 And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and behold, the smoke of the city ascended to heaven. So they had no power to flee this way or that way, and the people who had fled to the wilderness turned back on the pursuers.” (Joshua 8:18-20). God tells us when it is time to act. He tells us how and when to implement His plan. God only asks that His leaders and people obey Him. He will give us victory if we are attentive to His voice and obedient to His instruction. “21 Now when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city ascended, they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 Then the others came out of the city against them; so they were caught in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side. And they struck them down, so that they let none of them remain or escape. 23 But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.” (Joshua 8:21-23). When God’s people are obedient to God and work in unity, complete victory is assured.

The work of restoration involves dealing completely with the sources of previous defeat. We see this in the account that states, “24 And it came to pass when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness where they pursued them, and when they all had fallen by the edge of the sword until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. 25 So it was that all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as booty for themselves, according to the word of the Lord which He had commanded Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation to this day. 29 And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until evening. And as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his corpse down from the tree, cast it at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raise over it a great heap of stones that remains to this day.” Joshua 8:24-29). Again we see the total desolation and elimination of pagan inhabitants according to the instruction of God. And again we should not see this as evil or heartless decimation of a people. God in His sovereignty knows the life destiny of each individual person that has been ordered destroyed. His foreknowledge dictated these people were beyond His redemption. He has waited over 400 years for them to repent and they did not (cf. Genesis 15:16). If we see this destruction merely from a human perspective we will misunderstand the instruction of God. He knows what is best and we have to trust and obey Him. That is what Joshua has done.

And the first thing Joshua does after getting back on the road of victory is to worship the Lord. “30 Now Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, 31 as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.(Joshua 8:30-31a). The first thing Joshua does after regaining the lost ground of Ai is worship the LORD. So too should we worship and offer thanks to the LORD when He restores us and enables us to retake lost ground. And notice Joshua builds an altar of “whole stones” just as God prescribed in His word (Exodus 20:25). We need to make sure that when we worship the LORD we worship Him according to His word. We have no right to worship God our way; that will lead to rejection and compounding our sin (e.g. David and return of the ark - 1 Sam. 5-6 and 2 Sam. 6). “And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings.” (Joshua 8:31b). Burnt offerings represented totally permanent surrender to the LORD. It was a statement in worship of that which I give will not be taken back just as a burnt offering cannot be unburned. The peace offering indicated fellowship with God as you would eat together a fellowship meal in the presence of God.

Joshua also brought the word of God into central focus so that a statement would be made that from now on they were committed to following it obediently. “32 And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written.” (Joshua 8:32). Again God’s word is kept central to God’s people. It’s in God’s word that He speaks to us and instructs us in the way of victory in the Promised Land of the fullness of the blessing of the Spirit. “33 Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as he who was born among them. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.” (Joshua 8:33-35).  As part of the victory celebration Joshua assembled the people half in front of Mount Gerizim and half in front of Mount Ebal and there before the people in the presence of the LORD Joshua read “all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law.” The acoustics of this area are perfect so that all the people would be able to hear God’s word read out loud.

Victory comes when we listen to the LORD and faithfully follow His word. That is the way to victory. And that is the way to regain lost ground if we suffer defeat. Blessing or cursings are determined by our decisions. Blessing is always available if we trust and obey the Lord. But a curse of defeat and difficulty and lost presence of the LORD is the consequence of disobeying His word. God wants to bless not curse and He will bless, if we in faith press on and follow Him.

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