The Book of Joshua

20. Lessons in Victory.

Joshua 8:1-28.

"The Lord your God will deliver it into your hand." — Joshua 8:7.

"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." — Eph. 6:18.

So long as Israel's sin remained unconfessed, it remained unforgiven, and consequently they had no strength to war for Jehovah. He was not with them, for the sin in their camp had separated between them and their God (Isa. 59:2); but having now confessed and forsaken their sin, God had put it away. Some of God's people spend months — nay, years — of their lifetime in a condition of spiritual inaction, their hearts like water, and themselves afar from the knowledge of God's mind! Let there be but the breadth of a hair severing the telegraphic line of communication between this country and America, and we cannot hold intercourse with our friends across the ocean. Thus does sin separate between God and His people. Not indeed that God foregoes His grace towards His own, or fails to bring them safely home; but here on earth, during this lifetime, unconfessed sin breaks into the communication of God's mind to us, and to it is due the absence of divine power in us, and hence ineffective soldiership.

So long as communion with God is broken, courage for Him is lacking. Spiritual courage is the consequence of faith in God, and active faith follows communion with Him. Abraham walked with God, and God said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" Upon the mind of God being communicated to the servant, the servant acts in faith, and gains the victory. Unfaithful hearts, proud self-reliant spirits, occasion defeat in the Lord's work. Jehovah's word, "I will not be with you any more," is a solemn sentence for the Christian soldier, and until the evil God exposes be cast out from the midst of His people, defeat follows their steps. The really effective soldier of Christ is not only a constant and energetic worker for God, he is also a truly humble and dependent man walking with God. Unless the Christian be in a right state before God, the Spirit is grieved, and His fire in the soul is quenched. True power in the believer is not his own might, but God's strength in him; he is but a vessel filled by the Lord. As Jehovah was not with Israel, and as He withdrew from Samson, so does He now leave His people when their ways are evil in His sight. He never leaves nor forsakes in the sense of casting off for ever; but in His governmental dealings He does leave unfaithful servants, even as the fondest parent turns his face from his child until the child forsakes his evil way.

Men once used for God are at times set aside by God; they go on as of old in their work, but win no victories; they essay, like Samson, to shake themselves, but the Philistines obtain the mastery. The story of Ai unveils the cause — hidden evil is in the camp. Again these selfsame servants arise, and, after a period of defeat, become once more vessels of power with God and with men. The story of Ai again lets us into the secret: they have been before God, and have humbled themselves. As He has discovered to them the cause of their failure, so they have judged themselves in His sight, casting out the evil thing from amongst them, and once more God gives them courage to go forward, granting victory to their efforts.

Having turned from the fierceness of His anger against His people Israel, the Lord encouraged Joshua to go forward, saying, "Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai." Reassuring indeed were God's words, recalling His first gracious exhortation and encouragement, victory was ensured. But how differently was the battle to be fought from the way in which Israel had at first proposed to overthrow the "heap of ruins," Ai! They had said, "Make not all the people to labour thither"; the Lord said, "Take all the people of war," and as the thousands of Israel arose to battle, each soldier had to remember that small foes cannot be made light of, for of Jehovah alone was Israel's strength and courage.

"Labour thither" all Israel did — some to the ambush, others to the front — for when we lightly make errors, and sin wilfully in our service, God enforces upon us by toil and labour those lessons we neglected, even though He has shown us our errors and pardoned our ways. And not only did Israel labour up to Ai, but God made them victorious through humiliation; by apparent defeat, by fleeing before their foes, they won their success. Falls and failures teach the believer to walk with diffidence. He who is not of a chastened spirit after a fall or a failure has not thoroughly repented of the iniquity of his sin, neither is God truly with the man who is not of a chastened spirit, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29).

Hidden work, that which goes on in the heart with God, the world sees not. God's ways with His people baffle all human calculations. The foe reckons merely on human might; of the secret things which render God's hand against His saints in their path of service and warfare, the world concerns itself not. We see this principle in the way the king of Ai came out against Israel. He saw no change in them. To his eye, they were the selfsame people who had fled before him a day or two previously; therefore he imagined they would fall into his hands as easily as before. He wist not that the Lord was among them. On he came, but only to meet his doom and to complete the destruction of his city. Joshua's outstretched javelin was the signal to Israel, and the sign of a war which cannot cease till every foe is cast down and destroyed.

Little did the heathen king dream what was the result of God's secret work in the camp, accomplished through His dealings with them in government and in rebuke. Israel was a different people from what they had been a few days previously; their hands were clean and their hearts were strong. What the spirit of pride designates as the folly of fasting and prayer, had been favourable in the eye of the Holy One, though to human gaze it had been but degradation of self. Spiritual movements are incomprehensible to the world — all that it recognizes is the result of the movement. May God's hidden work in the hearts of His people deepen and increase; may His soldiers be alone with Him in the camp, and, judging themselves and purifying themselves from iniquity, find God among them, and at His bidding come forth to victory, their eyes upon the outstretched spear of their Leader.