Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: There are no small sins according to Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It’s such a temptation when we’re dealing with our flesh, with sin in our lives, to deal with the obvious things—the big things, the majority of things—but to spare some of those little sins that are our pet sins—the ones we enjoy doing.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, October 20, 2014.

Do you ever feel like your growth is at a standstill. Like you can't change your attitudes or behavior? Nancy has some good news for anyone who feels this way, as she continues in the series "Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 11): Waging and Winning Spiritual Battles." 

Nancy: I got an email yesterday that really has been weighing heavily on my heart. This gal said,

I’m a twenty-one-year-old Bible college student. I grew up in a good Christian home and know all the right answers, yet find myself a defeated, frustrated, and exhausted Christian. Over the past several weeks I’ve fallen back into a lifestyle that torments me and that I know God hates. It’s a cycle I hate.

I was doing well for a year-and-a-half and saw certain behaviors becoming more infrequent with longer periods of time between relapses. However, I found myself back at a point where I once was—wishing I could end life some days. I have fallen back into bulimic behaviors, cutting, and a sinful, personal moral habit.

She goes on . . . and our team will be reaching out to her and trying to encourage her. We’re calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. I’m so glad she wrote, and I hope that we can be an encouragement to her and to others like her.

What she described there, perhaps in a more extreme form, I think, describes the way a lot of us live—with up-and-down cycles, roller-coaster Christianity, sinful bondages that we can’t get victory over. You may not be cutting or having bulimic behaviors, though a lot more women are than what you may realize.

But it may be with your tongue, with anger, with a critical spirit, with depression, moodiness, lying . . . we hear it all at Revive Our Hearts, and one of the reasons my heart goes out to people like that is I know what it is to deal with the sin patterns in my own life and the frustration and the exhaustion that that can bring in the Christian life.

Over these next several sessions, we’re going to be taking a closer look at what we can learn from the life and work of Joshua about how to wage and win spiritual battles.

Today we come to Joshua chapter 8, which is the follow-up to the very heavy story we’ve been talking about with Achan and his sin and his subsequent death. Now we come back to Ai, where you remember the Children of Israel had already been defeated once because of Achan’s sin.

Now we come back to this passage in chapter 8, the follow-up, the postlude, the rest of the story—and the challenge in this passage is not to let past defeats keep us down. And I think that’s going to be encouraging to you, as it has been to me.

One Scottish theologian from the 1800s said, “The victorious Christian life is a series of new beginnings.” 1 I like that. I'm really thankful for that truth—that the Christian life is a series of new beginnings. Aren’t you glad that God gives you fresh starts? “Will You not revive us again?” You say, “Lord, You revived me a few months ago, but here I am now again just needing a fresh touch of Your Holy Spirit.” Thank God, He gives us those new beginnings, especially as it relates to the failures of our past.

When we experience failure or we suffer spiritual defeat, the temptation is to wallow in it, to wallow in the failure. We think of the past—“Ai, we were defeated there. I lost thirty-six men there. I failed there”—and we get discouraged. We think of the future, and we’re discouraged because we think we’re going to do it again. You say, “I’m just going to fall back into that cycle all over again.” So what happens many times is we get paralyzed. We get stuck. We feel like, “I can’t move on.”

Here we come to Joshua in chapter 8. Think about what he’s been through and what he’s experienced. He’s carrying the heaviness of the humiliating defeat they’d just suffered at Ai. Thirty-six men lost their lives. He felt responsible for that in some measure—he’s the leader. And then he has the heartbreak of Achan’s sin and its consequences.

Joshua was the one who had to oversee the process of church discipline, so to speak, ferreting out the offender, dealing with it, overseeing the death of this man for his sins. I mean, Joshua’s just got to be feeling very heavy about all of this. If you’ve ever been in a position of leadership, you know that in a situation like that, it’s easy to blame yourself and to wonder, Is there something I should have done differently? Is there something I could have done differently?

Anybody who’s a parent has had those feelings. You see your children fail, and you think, What did we do? What did we do wrong? What should we have done differently? And those are not necessarily wrong questions to ask, because God can use these circumstances to bring light to our lives and to say, “Here are areas where I want to change you.” The danger is when we wallow in past failure. We wallow in what’s behind us.

The good news that we find as we come to Joshua chapter 8 is that God had not forsaken His people. God had disciplined them, He chastened them. Sin had been costly; it had been no small thing. But God says, “Now you can put it behind you. Now is the time to move on.”

So we see this progression, as we look back over the last several sessions. You see God blessing His people as they crossed over the Jordan River, as the walls of Jericho came down. It was a season of great blessing in the lives of the Israelites.

Then you see the sin that enters the picture, the overconfidence of the Israelites, Achan and his disobedience. You see that sin has consequences. You lose the blessing. You forfeit the presence of God when you sin. Then you see sin being dealt with, as Joshua did in chapter 7. And then we see, as we do in chapter 8, the blessing returning.

  • So it’s blessing
  • Then sin
  • Then consequences
  • Then dealing with the consequences, dealing with the root issue of the sin
  • Then God is free to restore His blessing to His people once again.

I find that some believers stay stuck in the sin and its consequences and don’t move on into the place of blessing. That’s what I want this twenty-one-year-old young woman to understand, and that’s what I want you to understand as we look at this passage.

Now, the Children of Israel still had to recover lost ground, and there’s no question that lost ground is harder to regain. It would have been better had the sin never taken place in the first place. You don’t want to just sin and say, “Oh well, I can come back and start over again.” That is to treat God’s grace lightly, and sin does leave scars. It does have consequences. So don’t take God’s grace lightly. But even though that lost ground is harder to regain, by God’s grace, it is possible.

The Children of Israel had been defeated at Ai, but I’m so glad that’s not the end of the story. I’m so glad God brought them back to Ai because it shows us a progression that we need to go through in dealing with past failures.

The Children of Israel have now dealt with the cause of their defeat. Now they need to go back to the place of failure and face the enemy again. They can't just move on. They have to go back to Ai, fight the battle again, and this time win it. It’s time for a new beginning.

Anybody here need a new beginning. We all do at times. That's what God is offering to the Israelites at this point. It's what He offers to us.

Now at the beginning of Joshua chapter 8, beginning in verse 1, God meets Joshua—this is right after the very sad story of Achan’s stoning. They erected a memorial, a monument there. It would always be a sad place as people would look at that and they’d say, “That’s what happens if you don’t deal with sin God’s way.” But now God gives to Joshua a much-needed word of reassurance and encouragement, and I’m so grateful that God knows exactly when we need that and how to give it to us.

Joshua 8, verse 1: "The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear and do not be dismayed.’” He’s saying, “Yes, you’ve just been defeated. You lost thirty-six men. It was tragic. It didn’t have to happen, but it did. Now that’s behind us. Yes, Achan sinned, and yes, a lot of people suffered for his sin, and the Children of Israel broke faith with Me, but we can put that behind us. The sin has been dealt with. Now we need to move on. Don’t be afraid to move on. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t get stuck. Don’t get paralyzed by the past failure.”

This is a recurring word from the Lord to Joshua: “Don’t be afraid.” As you look at what’s happened, put it behind you, and don’t be afraid to move on. It’s a recurring word that God gives to our hearts. It may be just the word that you need today: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be dismayed.”

And now God gives direction to Joshua, instruction for how to proceed from here: “Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai” (v. 1). Now, they’ve already been to Ai once. You think you might be afraid to go back there again where you just got defeated, but God says, “Don’t be afraid. Go back to the place where you lost the battle” (paraphrased).

See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it (vv. 1–2).

So God gives to Joshua the instructions—specific instructions—for this battle, and the instructions are different than at other times in other battles. The first time, the Children of Israel only sent 3,000 men out to fight the battle of Ai. This time they’re to take the whole army, which was 600,000 men, we know from other passages.

Now, it hardly seems necessary to take a contingent of 600,000 troops to take down a city of approximately 12,000 people. What’s that—fifty to one odds, or something?—but I think Joshua has learned you don’t question God. You do what God says.

Then God gives this promise: “I have given Ai into your hand. You will do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king” (vv. 1–2, paraphrase).

You’d think Joshua could be saying, “But, Lord, can you see what happened the last time we went up against Ai?” Joshua exercises faith—faith in the promise of God.

This time they’re given permission to keep the spoil, unlike Jericho, and this time God gives a totally different battle plan and strategy than He did for Jericho. In Jericho, God caused the walls to fall without the Israelites having to fight at all. This time it was different. They would have to fight, but it would still be God who won the victory. God said, “I have given Ai into your hands.”

I think it’s three times, at least, in this chapter that you see that phrase. God is always reminding Joshua and the people: The battle is the Lord’s.

If you win the battle, it's not because you were smart, or because you were diligent, or because you tried hard, it's because I gave the enemy into your hands. Then God gives specific instructions, starting with this thought of laying an ambush against the city behind it. They’re detailed instructions. It reminds us of the importance of finding out how God wants us to handle each situation in our lives—inquiring of the Lord, asking Him for direction, for instructions.

I was on the phone the other day talking with one of our staff about a program in our ministry. It's something we've done the same way for several years in a row. As we were on the phone, the staff member said to me, "So this year, again, we'll do . . ." and he outlined what we've done in past years.

I've been living in the book of Joshua. I said, "That may be exactly what God wants us to do this. It may be the way He wants us to do it again. But I don't want us to assume that that's the way God wants us to do it year after year. I want to make sure that our team has stopped and asked the Lord, 'Is this what You want us to do this year? Is this how you want us to handle this issue, or do you want us to do something totally different?'"

I said to the staff member, "Don't assume that that Lord wants us to do it the same way every time. We need to pray. We need to ask the Lord, 'Are we headed in the right direction? Or should we go in a different direction?'"

Let me just summarize the directions that God gave and how Joshua carried them out: Some of the troops were sent to the west side of the city where they set up an ambush—they were hidden there. The people in Ai didn’t know they were there. Then Joshua and his troops, the next morning, approached the city head-on from the north, and the people of Ai saw Joshua’s troops coming. They vacated the city.

The soldiers came pouring out the city, all of them, to go out against Joshua, and they’re thinking, Boy, we took them down last time; they’re stupid enough to come against us again, we’ll take them down this time. And as the army of Ai came out, Joshua and his troops turned and pretended to retreat. They fled, as if, “You’re getting us again. You’re winning against us again.”

What Joshua was doing was drawing out the men, the army, from Ai, and once the whole army was out of the city, Joshua gave the signal that had been prearranged—I want to come back to that signal in just a moment—but he gave the signal to the troops who were waiting on the other side of the city, on the west side. Then those troops moved into the city that had now been emptied out, that had been left undefended, and the troops from the west came in and captured the city and set it on fire.

Verse 21 tells us that when the men of Ai who had come out to pursue Joshua looked back at their city, they saw their whole city going up in smoke, and they realized they were trapped. They couldn’t go in either direction. Joshua and his troops turned back.

You see it in verse 21:

When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. And the others came out from the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side. And Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped (vv. 21–22).

So God was gracious. They’d been defeated at Ai once, but this time God gave Ai into their hands, just as He had Jericho.

Now, let me just make two observations about this passage.

Number one is the thoroughness with which Joshua dealt with the opposition. There were no survivors. He “struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped.” That included the king—you read about him in verse 29. He was captured. He was killed.

God said, “You are to utterly destroy all the Canaanites.” We’ve talked about the reason for this being that the Canaanites were wicked people. The Israelites were just executing God’s righteous judgment on those whose cup of iniquity was full. “So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day” (v. 28). And then they built another memorial, a heap of stones over the place where the king of Ai had fallen.

Let me just remind you, again, Warren Wiersbe says in his book on Joshua, “Keep in mind that this was not the ‘slaughter of innocent people’ but the judgment of God on an evil society that had long resisted His grace and truth.” 2

It would not have been right for Israel to go do this on their own. God said, "You will become My instruments to accomplish My purposes in dealing with these people."

I think it’s important that we notice that Joshua finished the task. He finished the job. He did a thorough job. He carried out God’s judgment in a thorough way.

As I was reading this passage again yesterday, another example came to my mind—it’s an opposite example—it’s that of Saul, who was told to go and utterly destroy all the Amalakites, but he saved King Agag alive, and he spent much of the rest of his life, actually ended up losing his life ultimately, because of that sin, not going all the way.

It’s such a temptation when we’re dealing with our flesh, with sin in our lives, to deal with the obvious things—the big things, the majority of things—but to spare some of those little sins that are our pet sins—the ones we enjoy doing.

Joshua could have done what other leaders and commanders wanted to do, and that is to parade the conquered king as the example of his conquest, but Joshua wasn’t trying to make a name for himself. He was just trying to be obedient to the Lord. Flesh must die. Every sin has got to be dealt with, and we’ve got to deal with it thoroughly. We see a picture of that in how Joshua dealt with Ai.

Then I mentioned a moment ago that Joshua, who was retreating against the people of Ai, when he turned around and raised his javelin in the air, that was a signal for the troops on the west side of the city to come into the city.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand." And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it (vv. 18–19).

When I read God’s Word, I assume that God didn’t waste any words, that if He gives a detail, it’s important. There’s a fascinating detail, to me, in this story.

In verse 18, we see he stretched out his javelin, which was a signal for the other men to come into the city. But look at verse 26: “But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction.” He kept that javelin raised, that spear raised up in the air through the whole course of the battle, until the battle was over.

Does that remind you of something that Joshua had seen and experienced earlier in his life? Do you remember the first battle that Joshua fought? We read the account in Exodus chapter 17 how he was down in the valley fighting against the Amalekites. But what was Moses doing up on the hill above overlooking the valley?

He was sitting there with his hands uplifted, with the rod of God in his hand, and when his hands got tired of holding it up, he got Aaron and Hur by his sides to help lift up his hands (we studied this passage already in this series on Joshua) and Moses kept that rod uplifted. It said anytime his hands started to fall down, they would start to lose the battle, but anytime his hands were lifted up, they would win the battle.

It was a picture of their dependence upon God. And we said when we studied that passage some weeks ago that Joshua would always remember that the battle was the Lord’s. As he saw that uplifted rod, he would gain courage and faith. Now Joshua is the older man—in his nineties—following the example of his leader, raising that spear—that javelin—in the air, keeping it upheld.

Do you think it’s easy for a ninety-year-old man to hold that spear up in the air for all that time? But God gave him supernatural strength. It was a symbol that the battle is the Lord’s, that we are dependent on Him. It was a symbol of the importance of having staying power in the battle, perseverance, faithfulness.

It was one thing for me to be a Christian in my early twenties—I was so energetic, so gung-ho. I couldn’t imagine, as I would watch older people kind of falling by the sidelines spiritually, in the battle, falling out of the race, I’d think, What’s wrong with them? Why can’t they keep going? I wasn’t the least bit winded.

Now I’m right at that fifty mark, and I have a little more sympathy for people who get weary in the battle. I realize that it’s one thing to be successful and faithful in the first flush of the battle—when you’re young, when you’re energetic—but it’s another thing to stay in the battle until the victory is complete, to stay faithful over the long haul.

Let me read something to you that I wrote in my journal at one point as I meditated on this passage. I wrote: “Deliver me, oh God, from conquests begun but not completed. Please grant grace, determination, and staying power to finish the work You have given me to do.”

That’s what I want to do. I will often say to other Christian leaders as I jot them a note about something. I will often close my note by saying, “May the Lord keep you faithful all the way to the finish line. May the Lord keep your hand up, keep you strong, give you staying power.”

That’s how you can pray for me. I want to be faithful all the way to the end of the battle.

We need to be faithful not only in ministry, but in dealing with our sin, in dealing with flesh. Sometimes it gets wearisome. You say, “I’m tired of dealing with this same issue over and over again.” There’s some issues in my life that I’m tired of facing, and I’d just as soon say, “I don’t want to worry about that anymore. I don’t want to think about that anymore—just drift from here to heaven.”

Joshua says, “No. Keep that javelin up in the air. Keep in the battle. Keep faithful. Keep persevering. Keep pursuing until the battle has been won.”

That uplifted javelin is a symbol of triumph over the enemy. God has won the battle. God has overcome. God has conquered. In the name of the Lord, the enemy has been overcome.

I want to get to heaven my hand upraised with the javelin in my hand. I don’t mean that as a symbol of violence. I just mean as a symbol of triumph, that by God’s grace, He has kept me faithful in the battle, and the enemies have been overcome, and now it’s time. When I get to heaven, then will be the time to rest—to rest from our labors, to rest from the battles.

In the meantime, we’re in a battle. It doesn’t get any easier as you get older. It doesn’t get any simpler. Sometimes it gets harder, but by God’s grace, we can stay faithful all the way to the finish line.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been giving you good news about your ability to grow and thrive in Christ.

That teaching is part of the series, "Lessons From the Life of Joshua Part 11: Waging and Winning Spiritual Battles." Nancy’s been taking us in-depth, looking at the life of Joshua, helping us be strong and courageous and to stay faithful to the end of our days. To hear past broadcasts from the series, or to order any of the series so far on CD, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

We’re able to bring you series like this one thanks to listeners who support Revive Our Hearts with financial gifts. This month, we’re showing appreciation to everyone who supports this ministry with a one-of-a kind gift, perfect for the end of the year. It’s the 2015 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. Nancy and some other friends like Janet Parshall and Priscilla Shirer contributed meaningful quotes about God’s peace in turbulent times. We commissioned Timothy Botts to express these quotes in his signature artwork.

The calendar will point you to the truth you need in tough times and beautify your home at the same time. Ask for the Peace in the Storm wall calendar when you call with your donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or make your donation online, and you’ll see the place to tell us you’d like the calendar. The web address is ReviveOurHearts.com.

God loves us even when we sin, but He also loves us enough to help us stop sinning. Gain a new appreciation for this balance tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1Alexander Whyte (1837–1921).

2Warren Wiersbe, Be Strong (Joshua): Putting God’s Power to Work in Your Life (Cook, 1993), 78.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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