The Consequences of Not Following God's Instructions (Joshua 7–8)

After what had happened at the bank of the Jordan River and at the walls of Jericho, it seemed like nothing could stop the Israelites. All around the region, people heard what had been happening and they were terrified. But Israel';s air of invincibility melted away as quickly as it was established as the Israelites were routed in a battle against Ai, a target the spies who checked it out believed wouldn';t take more than a few thousand soldiers to take (Joshua 7:2–5).

The name of the ancient Biblical city of Ai means “ruins.” It was one of the royal cities of the inhabitants of Canaan (Genesis 12:8) prior to the invasion of Israel. After the conquest of Canaan was complete, the city of Ai was rebuilt and inhabited by the Benjamite tribe of Israel (Ezra 2:28, Nehemiah 7:32).

Joshua and the elders of Israel, of course, were distraught over what had happened, and Joshua fell on his face and cried out to God:

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 7:7–9)

The problem was spelled out in the first two verses of Joshua 7. A man named Achan had stolen and kept for himself some of the things God had said were to be set apart for Him alone. And because one man had violated God';s commands, it was as if the entire nation of Israel had violated His commands.

God commanded Joshua to get up, then told him that the problem was that someone had broken His covenant by stealing and then lying about it (Joshua 7:11). God then told Joshua that in order to set things back on track, the people would have to purify themselves and make things right again.

After going through a process of elimination (Joshua 7:16–18), Joshua discovered that it was Achan who had caused the problems for the Israelites. He had stolen a beautiful robe, 200 silver coins, and a one-pound bar of gold and then hidden them under his tent.

It is in the tenth chapter of Joshua that the city of Jerusalem is first mentioned in the Bible. That city would later become the hub of all Jewish religious activity, the seat of government for Israel, and a place of conflict between Jews and Muslims and Israelis and Palestinians.

Once the wrong had been righted, and once the people of Israel repented for what Achan had done, God instructed Joshua to send the fighting men of Israel back to Ai. When they did, they defeated Ai decisively. After that, the covenant God had made with the people of Israel was renewed (Joshua 8:30–35).

Study Questions

What connection can you draw between obedience and God';s blessing in this passage?

What does the account of the Israelites defeat at the hands of Ai tell you about partial obedience to God?

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