Monday, April 7, 2014

Discouragement in the Lord

Israel had just been defeated by the Canaanites at Ai, and Joshua was deeply discouraged. Although only 36 Israelites had lost their lives in this battle, it signaled the fact that Israel was not invincible. This sent Joshua into a tail-spin:

  • Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” (Joshua 7:6-9)

Even worse than the fact that this defeat would have catastrophic effects on Israel’s Canaan campaign, it was discouraging for another reason. God had promised Joshua that no one would be able to resist him:

  • No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Josh. 1:5)

However, Ai seemed to make a mockery out of this promise. They had just stood very successfully against Joshua and his Israelites. How could Joshua ever trust in the Lord and His promises again? If God had let him down once, why not again and again? No wonder Joshua was devastated and even imagined that he had done something wrong by having the hubris to cross the Jordan, believing that he would conquer the Promised Land.

However, Joshua’s problem was that he lacked an important piece of the puzzle, and this lack prevented him from understanding the defeat. God explained to Joshua that Israel had been defeated because they had sinned by violating the command of God:

  • The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?  Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (Josh. 7:10-12)

Sin will interfere with receiving any of God’s promises. We cannot expect the blessings of God if we reject the Word of God. Actually, it was only one person – Achan - who had sinned, but his sin involved the entire nation of Israel. We are our brother’s keeper, and whenever we allow unrepented sin in our midst, we all suffer.
With this knowledge, Joshua was able to address the problem, and Israel was once again enabled to stand. However, sometimes it seems as if the Word of God has failed. Paul had warned the church that although the Word might seem to have failed, it really hadn’t. It only seemed to have failed because we have interpreted it wrongly:

  • It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. (Rom. 9:6-7)

In fact, God’s people have often despaired because it appeared as if God’s promises had failed. The Psalmist despaired as he viewed what had seemed to be the failure of the Davidic Covenant (Psalm 89). However, the Psalmist had regarding God’s promises too narrowly. We do the same thing and wrongly conclude that God has failed us.

Abraham had wrongly concluded that God had failed him. He had intervened with Yahweh for the salvation of Sodom where his beloved nephew Lot and his daughters resided. The next morning, he went out the mountain overlook to survey the fate of Sodom and the cities of the plain. They had been utterly consumed. In despair, Abraham packed his bags and never returned to that area, convinced that Lot and his daughters had also been consumed. As far as we can tell, Abraham never found out his God had rescued them.

Our Lord is more faithful than our discouraged eyes are able to perceive.

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