A costly defeat
But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the Lord was very angry with the Israelites. Achan was the son of Carmi, a descendant of Zimri son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah. Joshua sent some of his men from Jericho to spy out the town of Ai, east of Bethel, near Beth-aven. When they returned, they told Joshua, “There’s no need for all of us to go up there; it won’t take more than two or three thousand men to attack Ai. Since there are so few of them, don’t make all our people struggle to go up there.” So approximately 3,000 warriors were sent, but they were soundly defeated. The men of Ai chased the Israelites from the town gate as far as the quarries, and they killed about thirty-six who were retreating down the slope. The Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away. Joshua 7:1-5 NLT
Israel defeated Jericho because of their faith and obedience to God. They were courageous in fighting Jericho which was a formidable foe. So, when they fought Ai, they thought that this will be an easy victory for them for this was not as powerful as Jericho. Yet they were defeated. The chapter begins with the phrase, “But Israel violated.” They sinned against God’s instructions: “Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel” (Joshua 6:18). They were defeated because they failed to obey God. They were overconfident that they became vulnerable in moments of apparent success. They have the mistaken notion that they can just ignore God’s command and rely on their ability. There are those who have been used by God greatly, but in the surge of spiritual success, had critically fallen. Faith and trust in God should be consistent. We cannot ignore that sin will be left unpunished; “so the Lord was very angry with the Israelites.” We can be a great blessing to the community but also can be a curse when we violate God’s command. “Better to have wisdom than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much that is good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18). When Achan sinned, all Israel suffered: when we sin others are affected. We cannot just say that when we sin, we are only harming ourselves. This was not an isolated case of Israel’s disobedience. When they left on their own to fight at Kadesh-Barnea without the ark of the Lord, they were defeated (see Numbers 14:39-45). God was establishing the fact that when we ignore Him and His word, left to our own volition, we will be defeated. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).