Mindful of God’s glory
The Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away. Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their clothing in dismay, threw dust on their heads, and bowed face down to the ground before the Ark of the Lord until evening. Then Joshua cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! Lord, what can I say now that Israel has fled from its enemies? For when the Canaanites and all the other people living in the land hear about it, they will surround us and wipe our name off the face of the earth. And then what will happen to the honor of your great name?” Joshua 7:5-9 NLT
The Israelites advanced to conquer Ai without divine directions. There was no command from God that they proceed. They were on uncharted territory. Everything seemed to be brewing to a defeat. The Israelites’ defeat caused them having thirty-six men killed. They also suffered emotional trauma from the defeat. “The Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away” (v. 5). How easy for the people of God to forget His word. “But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you... and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there” (Exodus 23:22-23). Joshua was told to study and meditate on God’s word. “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do” (Joshua 1:8). It seemed that he did not take heed God’s word. Joshua blames God indirectly by saying that their obedience brought them into trouble. “If only we had been content to stay on the other side!” (Joshua 7:7). We’ve read this language before when the Israelites voiced their grievances to Moses after they had crossed the Red Sea; “It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!” (Exodus 14:12, 16:3, 17:3). Joshua’s complaint to God demonstrated a faith struggling to come to terms with the humiliation of defeat and the horror of anticipated annihilation. Where is God in all of this? Has he broken his covenant with them? Has God forsaken them and why? Joshua is struggling to find sense in the disaster. His faith is groping for an answer as he attempts to understand. Joshua’s prayer is not offensive to God. He does not condemn Joshua for his strong words, for they have a kind of honesty, openness and transparency. He was concerned for the divine glory. He could not bear to think of God being reduced to an object of disdain and hatred. “What will happen to the honor of your great name?” (Joshua 7:9).