Sunday Sermon: ‘Learning From Our Mistakes’

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I’m sure that most of you are familiar with Michael Jordan. Several years ago he was named as one of the “50 Greatest Basketball Players in NBA History.” Some say that he was the greatest athlete ever – regardless of the sport.

I remember several years ago when the Chicago Bulls had what many call a ‘dynasty.’ A dynasty in sports is a program that rises to the top and over an extended period of time, remains there. During Michael Jordan’s time with the Bulls, they won six NBA championships. What’s even more impressive is that those six championships were won within a seven year time period. Five times Michael Jordan was the MVP of the NBA. Fourteen times he played on the All-Star Team. In all of his six championship years, he was the Championship MVP. He won two gold medals on two separate USA Olympic Basketball Team and a NCAA championship with the North Carolina Tar-Heels.

Michael Jordan’s basketball resume is unsurpassed, yet consider what Michael Jordan once said – “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” In other words, Michael Jordan was such a huge success because he didn’t let failure stop him.

I have written in the front of one of my Bibles – “Greatness is measured by the obstacles we overcome.” There’s another great quote that says, “Failure doesn’t have to be fatal.” That is proven in today’s passage of scripture.

Joshua 8:1 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: 2 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.

“Fear not, neither be thou dismayed…” We saw those same words in chapter one, when Joshua took over for Moses. Now God is saying them to him again. Why? Perhaps you’ll remember a message I preached a couple of weeks ago about what happened the last time Joshua led his army into battle.

Joshua 7:4 So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.

The last time Joshua took his men into battle, thirty-six men didn’t come home. The little town of Ai not only defeated them, it demoralized them. The army of Israel ran like scared rabbits before them. And when the rest of the nation heard what had happened, their hearts melted and they lost all their courage.

Why was Israel defeated? We learned in our last study that it was because there was sin in the camp. A Jewish man by the name of Achan thought that he could disobey God and get by with it. His sin cost not only his life, but the life of thirty-six fellow soldiers as well as his wife and his children. Several of you have asked me why God was so hard on Achan’s family and the rest of the nation. Apparently it was to teach them and us the seriousness of sin.

But praise God, that’s not the end of the story. Chapter 8 comes after chapter 7.

I. The Reassurance

Joshua 8:1 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed … I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land.

One of the great truths found in scripture is that God is the God of a second chance. That truth can best been seen in the life of a man we call Simon Peter. You will remember that Simon Peter was one of the Lord’s disciples and boasted that he would die before he would deny the Lord. Yet on the night Jesus was arrested, Simon denied knowing his Lord three times.

But then Jesus came to Simon and asked him, “Do you love Me?” I don’t think that was as much a rebuke as it was encouragement. “Simon, if you love Me, get busy. Feed My sheep.” We know that it was Simon Peter who preached the message on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 men were saved and then baptized.

God is the God of a second chance, yet God’s second and third and fourth chances hinge upon our willingness to deal with the sin in our lives. Ps 66:18 “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” We can’t live with known sin in our lives and expect God to bless us. I am sure that as the people watched Achan and his family being killed, many of them examined their own lives. Perhaps others had been tempted to do the same. The thought of coming so closed to sin and its consequences must have frightened them. That was the reason God punished Achan so severely.

God will forgive sin; yet in order for Him to do so, we must confess our sins and forsake them.

1 John 1:5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins, God is faithful to us and just to Himself to forgive our sins. What does it mean to confess sin? The word confess means to say the same thing about something as God says about it. What does God say about our lust, pride, greed, anger, strive, backbiting, lukewarmness? He says it is sin. Therefore, in order to be cleansed of it, we must confess it as sin.

David gives us a great word of encouragement about confessing sin. Ps 32:1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. 3 When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. 4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. 5 I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

II. The Re-engagement

The first great truth found in Joshua 8 is reassurance that God will forgive. The second great truth is that once He does, it is time for us to re-engage in serving Him. As we continue reading in 1 John we see –

1 John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.  3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

Once you have confessed your sins and received forgiveness, don’t keep living in your sins, nor keep beating yourself up over your sins. Receive His forgiveness and then start living for Him.

Achan’s sin brought reproach upon the nation Israel. But once Achan’s sin had been dealt with, it was time for Israel to get back into the battle. It was time to ‘re-engage.’

Joshua 8:1 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: 2 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.

3 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. 4 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: 5 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, 6 (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. 7 Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand. 8 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.

A. The Ambush

The first time Joshua went against Ai, he was defeated. As a result, two things happened: Israel was humbled and Ai was filled with pride. But the Bible says that –“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28) God is able to take defeat and turn it into victory.

The Lord was going to use Ai’s self-confidence as a way of luring them out of the city so that Joshua and his army could easily defeat them. Thirty thousand of Joshua’s men were sent out in the secret of night to hide behind the city. Then he sent another five thousand men to lie in wait on the west side of the city.

Joshua 8:15 And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. 16 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. 17 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. 18 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.

The next morning, Joshua and the rest of the army started marching towards Ai. But then, as the battle began to start, they suddenly turned and ran as though they were afraid as they had been before. When the army of Ai saw the army of Israel running, they were filled with pride and commanded every man in their army to go after them. As they did, Joshua and his men drew them out of the city and into the open. Then Joshua turned and pointed his spear towards Ai and when he did, the thirty thousand men who had been hiding, ran the city and set it on fire. At the same time, Joshua and his men turned on the army of Ai, while the five thousand attacked from the side. Then the thirty thousand men in the city came out after them as well. The army of Ai was trapped and the Israelites killed everyone of them.

B. The Annihilation

Joshua 8:26 For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27  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. 28 And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap forever, even a desolation unto this day. 29 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.

Twelve thousand men, women and children from Ai died that day. Many struggle that the women and children were killed as well as the men. In many ways it does seem rather cruel. Why would a loving God have everyone killed? Since the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us, it’s hard to be dogmatic, however, let me make some suggestions.

What was God’s primary concern about His people after they began to settle into Canaan? There were two things that in many ways go hand in hand.

Deuteronomy 31:20 For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.

1. They would become more focused on the blessings than the One who blesses.

2. They would begin to compromise with those already living there and stray in their relationship with God.

Now suppose the Lord had said, spare those up to age ___?___. First of all, where would cut off that age? Secondly, what do you think would have happened once the Canaanite children started growing up and discovered that it was the Israelites who had destroyed their families and culture? Would they have been content to be a friend to Israel or would they have become an enemy?

Even with all the protective measures God tried to take to protect His people spiritually, eventually Israel began to accept foreign gods, such as Baal; even to the point of where some Israelite kings commanded human sacrifices as a part of their pagan worship.

There’s a very practical application in this for us. Consider what Proverbs 6:27-28 says, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?” In other words, can you play with fire and not get burnt? The answer is – no.

God allowed Israel to be defeated at Ai in order to teach them that they needed to take their relationship with Him seriously. He had called them to be His special people that He would bless and it was only by their complete obedience that they could they be so.

III. The Reinforcement

Joshua 8:30 Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal, 31 As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel. 33 And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, (Rahab and her family) as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half  of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded  before, that they should bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.

Now that they were in the Promised Land, it was time to reinforce the importance of obedience to God’s Word.

A. Altar of Rough Stones

31 … an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.

Joshua was to build an altar out of stones that no man had ever tried to fabricate or alter. Jewish rabbis teach that the reason for the rough stones was to distinguish the altars of Israel from the altars of the pagans, who often used stones that had been carefully cut and beautifully polished.

On this special altar, Joshua offered two types of offerings: a burnt offering and a peace offering.

1. Burnt Offerings represented complete consecration to the will of God. Total dedication to God.

2. Peace Offerings represented fellowship with God.

Before there can be peace offerings, there must first be burnt offerings. That is why Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

B. Authority of God’s Word

Joshua 8:32 And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.

1. A Visible Reminder

Deuteronomy 27 says that Joshua was to take stones and paint them with a coating of plaster, so that he could write on these stones a copy of the Law of Moses. This would be a visible, lasting memorial before the people.

2. A Verbal Reminder

Secondly, the Law was read for everyone to hear.

33 And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, (Rahab and her family) as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.

After the battle, they went out about twenty miles to a place called Sychar. Sychar you will remember is the city where Jesus met the woman at the well. Another name for Sychar is Shechem, which is the place where God first gave the land to Abraham, hundreds of years earlier.

At Shechem, there were two mountains very close together, Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. Joshua was to divide the two million plus people into two groups. Six of the tribes were to gather on Mt. Ebal, and the remaining six of the tribes were to gather on Mt. Gerizim. Then the priests stood in the valley between the two and read to them every word of God’s law.

Joshua 8:34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.

C. Accountability of All the People

Joshua 8:35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.

Husbands and wives, moms and dads, sons and daughters, even those such as Rahab and her family who were becoming a part of the nation Israel, were present to see and to hear how God would bless them if they followed Him and how He would curse them if they didn’t.

Conclusion:

Failure doesn’t have to be fatal. God is the God of a second chance to all those who will repent of their sins and turn to Him. We read in Joel 2:25, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten…”

What about your life? Are you trying to live with a secret sin, thinking that no one will ever know and that you can get by? The Bible says, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” (Num 32:23)

Or maybe you’re someone who has asked for forgiveness, but you keep living in defeat. Is that because you keep dabbling in your sin? We read in Romans 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. In order to find victory, we have to make some tough choices. You can’t leave the back door open and expect to keep the devil out.

Or maybe you’re someone who has asked for forgiveness and has genuinely repented of your past sins, but you still keep carrying the weight. We read in Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

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