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God Turns Failure Into Victory Joshua 8a

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God Turns Failure Into Victory

Joshua 8:1-29

Stephen Caswell © 1999

God Turns Failure Into Victory

Story Of Abraham Lincoln

There was a tall lanky lawyer in America in the 1850 s who ran for president many times. He was one of the first members of the new Republican party. Time after time he worked hard only to fail again. He ran for president many times before finally being elected. All the time God was preparing him for the job he had for him to do. He was probably the best president America ever had. He sought to bring reconciliation with the southern states after the Civil War. He fought for the abolition of slavery. He pioneered the legislation that finally made it a reality even though he was killed before it was passed. He was of course Abraham Lincoln. He was a great man who pressed on through failure to achieve ultimate victory.


Have you ever felt that you were a failure? You tried to do something important, only to fall flat on your face. Does one defeat mean that you become a failure for life? No! Many of God's greatest servants failed dismally at first. Look at Peter who said he would remain faithful to the Lord even if all the rest forsook Him. Then he denied the Lord three times a few hours later. John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. Because of this Paul wouldn't allow him to come on the second missionary journey. But Barnabas gave John Mark another chance and helped him back into a life of fruitful ministry. One or even a number of failures doesn't mean we become permanent failures. The key to victory is God. If we will turn our failures over to the Lord and seek His plans, He can turn them into victories.

In the same way Israel had tried to conquer Ai and failed. They were self confident and unaware that the enemy had gained a stronghold within their camp. They underestimated the enemy. Through defeat God revealed their sin and self confidence. They were now ready for the conflict. This time they would follow God's plan. This time He would give them victory.

God's Plan involved a:

i.        Promise

ii.      Preparation

iii.    Providence

iv.    Possession

v.      Plunder    

After their last attempt on Ai ended in defeat Joshua was discouraged. So God's plan had a


i.    Promise

Joshua 8:1-2 says: And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.

Remember Your Commission

The Lord told Joshua not to be afraid or dismayed. God assured Joshua that He had given the city of Ai into their hands along with the king and it's people and land. Israel would defeat them the same way they defeated Jericho and her king. This must have encouraged Joshua immensely. This would have reminded him of His commission on the other side of the Jordan. God promised that no one would be able to stand against him. At Jericho God gave him a similar promise before their tremendous victory. Now Joshua knew that all was well, and that God was with them again.      


God has given us promises as well. He has promised us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. 2 Peter 1:3-4 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. He has promised to complete His good work in us. He has promised to come back and take us to Himself. Therefore let us be courageous in the Lord's battles. Let us take hold of His promises and claim victory for our captain.   

God's plan also involved


ii.   Preparation

Joshua 8:2-13 says: Take all the men of war with thee, lay thee an ambush for the city behind it. So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night. And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready: And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them, (For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.  Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand. And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall ye do. See, I have commanded you.


Joshua therefore sent them forth: and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai: but Joshua lodged that night among the people. And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai. And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city. And when they had set the people, even all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.   

a. A Different plan

The first thing you notice is that this is a different plan to Jericho. God doesn't work the same way each time. He is able to work in may different ways. I believe He does this so that we will trust in Him and not the method. If God worked the same way every time we trust in the method and not the Lord. He wants us to trust in Him. He asks us to walk by faith, not sight.

Illustration From Bible College

When we went through Bible college we had financial needs. Almost every month we had more bills than money available. We prayed for God's provision. And God touched people's hearts and often they would send a letter with a gift. After a while we started to wait eagerly for the postman. We began to trust in what we could see rather than the Lord. So God met our needs in a number of ways. Sometimes we were given boxes of food. At other times we were presently surprised to find our bank account had increased by $ 200.00. When we queried to find out if they had made an error, the teller found an entry there with the words " from a friend. " At times I was able to do extra work. Sometimes I would find my college account had received a gift from someone. God worked in so many ways that we never knew how we would do it. He delights to surprise us by working in the most unexpected ways.

b. A Diversion Plan

The Lord had a completely different strategy than Joshua and his spies had formulated. Joshua and the spies completely underestimated the enemy at Ai. To make sure that Joshua got the message God gave him two commands right up front.  Verse 1 & 2 give these. Take all the people of war with thee. Lay an ambush for the city behind it. For a start God told Joshua to take all people of war with him. All the troops would be needed. Ai might have been a small city but it was quite formidable and should not be underestimated. The Lord also told Joshua to set up an ambush behind the city. The gate was on the north side of the city and therefore the back would have been the south side. But the west side was the furthest part from their camp at Gilgal. This would have been the most unlikely place the king of Ai would expect them to be. 

Joshua chose thirty thousand mighty men to make up this force and sent them out by night. This enabled them to move into place undetected. He took the main force of soldiers to the north of the city and would attack from there. Joshua also chose a group of five thousand men to be stationed between Bethel and Ai to destroy any help that may have been sent from there. When all was ready Joshua would attack Ai from the north. They would pretend to be beaten and flee into the wilderness like they did last time. This would draw the people of Ai out of their city to pursue them. The men in ambush could then easily take the city.

Lions Catching Their Prey

When a pride of lions goes on a hunting trip they usually set a trap. Some of the older lions go up wind and move in on the game. When in position they begin to roar. The sound and scent of the older lions is detected by the game and they move out in the other direction. They are unaware that the younger lions are hiding down wind in their escape path. When the game flees towards them they strike before the fleeing animals know what has hit them.

c. A Detailed Plan

God's plan was quite ingenious. It was detailed and required the people to follow the orders exactly. The timing needed to be just right. Joshua was very active in this campaign.

i.        He chose 30, 000 men, gave them detailed commands and sent them away by night.

ii.      Joshua took the main body of troops and moved up and camped north of Ai.

iii.    Joshua rose early took 5, 000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai.

iv.    Now everything was ready Joshua and the host went into the midst of the valley

Joshua's Diligence

God had promised Israel victory. He revealed the plan of how it was to be achieved. But one cannot help but notice the diligence and military prowess of Joshua. God would overrule in the battle. But Joshua and Israel also acquitted themselves very well. If Joshua had been a Hyper Calvinist he would have built a big tower to have a better view of God's amazing victory. But although Joshua believed God would give them the victory, he also made every effort to assist this. He paid great attention to detail and made the necessary preparations.


In our Christian service we can do nothing that will last unless God works through us. But at the same time we are not to sit around and do nothing. We should pray and plan and make preparation in our service for God. All the time seeking His guidance, enabling and blessing. God works together with us. Are you making plans to reach people around you with the Gospel? Do you pray for them? Have you invited them to church? God has promised to help us and will answer our prayers, but wants us to get involved too. Are you praying for God to save someone you know? Have you considered that He wants to use you to do it?

Illustration About A Complainer

There was a winger named Bob who was complaining to his friend. He complained that God wasn't doing anything about the starving and homeless children in his area. His friend suggested  that he ask God about this. Bob said he was going to but had changed his mind. His friend asked why. Bob said I was afraid He might ask me the same question.

God's Plan involved

iii.  Providence

Joshua 8:14-17 And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city.  And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.  Here is a summary of the events:

i.        The King saw Israel camped in the valley and mobilised his forces against them. 

ii.      He was over confident against Israel because of their last battle.

iii.    Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them and fled.

iv.    All the men in Ai and Bethel pursued Israel leaving their cities open.

God's Providence Turns Defeat Into Victory

God used Israel's previous defeat to their advantage now. The king of Ai and his men pursued Israel just like they did the first time. This time the king was overconfident and fell as a result. Israel's first defeat would help in this present victory. God's providence arranged it all. The Lord doesn't waste our failures and defeats. He uses them for our ultimate good. As long as we commit our ways unto Him. God has a way of bringing good out of evil.

Israel was seeking God's will for them. But unfortunately they sinned along the way. They had been self confident. But now that this had been dealt with they were right with God. They were following His plan again. He could use their previous failure to bring victory!  Only the God's providence can do that! And this should encourage us all to commit our ways unto God when we fail and seek His plans. Then allow Him to use these failures for our good and His glory. Romans 8:28 says: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  

God used Israel's previous defeat as part of His victory plan. He used their defeat to lead their enemies into defeat and give them a great victory. All the people of Ai and Bethel pursued Israel and left their city without any protection.  


God's plan gave Israel


iv. Possession

Joshua 8:18-26  And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city. And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire. And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers. And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.


And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape. And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua. And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

God Gives Possession

The next part of the plan was Possession. God told Joshua to hold forth his spear and He would give the city into Joshua's hand. God could give Joshua the city because He owned it. The Lord is sovereign and able to give the land to whomever He chooses. Psalm 127:1 says: Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. God alone gives protection to people. High walls and fortified cities are no threat to Him. He can raise them up or bring them down. God would give possession of the city of Ai to Israel.

The Spear Of Victory

At God's command Joshua pointed his spear toward the city of Ai. This was probably a signal arranged by Joshua for the men hiding in ambush. Because they arose quickly from their hiding place and entered the city. There was no one their to defend it and they took it at once. Then they set it on fire as the Lord had commanded them trough Joshua. Now when the people of Ai saw their city burning they realised that it had been taken. They realised that they had been tricked and they didn't know where to run. They were discouraged because their families and homes had been destroyed. There was nothing left to fight for and the fleeing Israelites turned and trapped them between themselves and their own soldiers coming out from Ai. They killed all the soldiers from Ai and Bethel. Then they returned to Ai and killed the people there. They set the entire city on fire. The victory was complete.  


But why did God tell Joshua to stretch out his spear toward the city? Did the spear have some special power? No! God required Joshua to do this as an act of faith. God often gave such commands to his leaders. This was a way of them appropriating the promises from God. God gave them the city. By stretching out the spear Joshua was acting as God's instrument through which judgement came upon the peoples of Ai and Bethel. This showed the two sides of the battle. God would give the city of Ai to Israel. But Israel would be involved in the conflict. The battle was both physical and spiritual. And the spiritual aspect was of primary importance even though the physical battle had to be fought.

Moses And Joshua Fight Against Amalek

A similar thing happened to Israel at Rephidim. Exodus 17:8-13 says: Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.  So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.  And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.  And Joshua vanquished Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. 

Moses prayed and prevailed upon the Lord from on the top of the hill. He watched the battle and prayed accordingly. With the rod of God in his hands he was very much involved in the conflict. This can be seen by the consequences of lowering his hands in verse 11.

Joshua would have remembered this battle. He knew the significance of the Lord's command. In verses 25-26 we read that Israel killed 12, 000 men and women in Ai because Joshua did not withdraw his spear until they had utterly destroyed them all. Joshua held his spear out toward Ai until the victory was complete. Therefore God gave Israel a conclusive victory!


Both Moses and Joshua relied on the Lord for victory in their battles. But they still engaged the enemy in warfare. God would grant them victory, but only if they fought the enemy. Ephesians 6:10-11 put the two together. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Be strong in God's strength, but put on the armour and get involved in the fight. In other words let us be faithful to what God has called us to do. He will be faithful to bless when we follow His plans. We don't passively sit around and wait for God to do all the fighting. If you want to know victory in your life, then seek God's plans and assistance. But you will also have to fight for it!

God's plan gave Israel


v.  Plunder   


Joshua 8:27-29 says:  Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua. And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.  

Israel Kept The Spoils

Unlike the city of Jericho, Israel could keep the spoils from this battle. God put a ban on Jericho because it was the firstfruits of the land. But the Lord would allow them to keep the cattle and produce for themselves through out the campaign. This would be their means of support during the campaign that took some seven years.

If only Achan had suppressed his greedy and selfish desires and obeyed God's word at Jerciho he would later have had all his heart desired and God's blessing too. But he rushed in and lost everything. The path of obedience and faith is always best.


The lesson for us here is that God's way is always best. When we take shortcuts to get something that we want we're the ones who suffer. Disobedience always leads to defeat. But obedience brings blessing and reward from God. Matthew 6:33 says: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Are you trusting the Lord for your needs? Are you seeking His Kingdom or your own kingdom? Seek first God's plans for your life. He won't fail you. He will provide all your needs!


Does one defeat mean that we are failures? No it doesn't! Once we realise our failure we can put things right with God and seek His help. Then the Lord reveals His plans for us.

i.        Promise - God's plans come with the promise of victory.

ii.      Preparation - God's plans require our diligent involvement, we must be faithful too.

iii.    Providence - God's plans can turn our defeats and failures into victory.

iv.    Possession - God's plans come to fruition because He is sovereign.

v.      Plunder - God's plans come with a reward for obedience.

Do you feel like a failure? Do you desire to know God's victory? Then may I encourage you to put things right with Him and seek His plans for your life. God's plans are perfect. They cannot fail if we follow them completely. May the Lord bless you as you follow Him.

Benediction  E inside back Cover   " God Be With You Till We Meet Again "

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