The long and short of it – Lessons from Ai


In the promised land, Joshua is confronted with surprise after surprise. Just when he thought he had matured in the art of war, he is taught that no battle is too great or too small for presumption. Just when he thought he knew God as holy, he is taught that no human is too sinful to be God’s special and loved vessel of grace. And just when he thought Israel is God’s chosen, he is taught that God will punish sin, even among His beloved.


(Joshua Chapters 7, 8; Joshua 15: 13 – 19; 1 Chronicles 4:9 – 15)

Ai is a long story

But it has such a short name’ tittered Hathath, Caleb’s grandson from his daughter Acsah and the Judge Othniel.

Everyone around the meal spread laughed. Hathath was clever and witty. No doubt about that.

It has, hasn’t it? Ai gave me some of the deepest lessons of my life. The battle for Ai was prolonged, it was confusing, and it involved every tribe, family and child. Never had I seen God refuse to fight for us unless everyone, everyone, knew what was at stake.’

The eyes of the children were bright. The men looked down, knowing that Joshua was about to move curtains they would rather have drawn. Joshua’s insistence on telling the stories of Israel could be uncomfortable. But his position was that God had warned him never to forget and never to be quiet about what he had seen, heard and experienced. He was to pass the stories and lessons on, and make sure everyone knew their God and His works. So generations allowed him to speak.

Caleb’s family had gathered in his son in law Othniel’s home, and Joshua had joined them with his entourage. The Calebites were from the tribe of Judah and Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim. No one knew why Joshua had no children or grandchildren of his own and no one dared question why. He was the great leader and that was enough. And he and Caleb were legends and carried myths. Hebron, the city they were gathered in, had been called Kiriath-Arba after its giant chief Arba. It was peopled by Arba and his family of Anakite giants. When Caleb demanded the mountain country as his inheritance, Joshua had offered him Kiriath Arba with the blessing of the Lord to conquer giants. And true to the tales of extraordinary power from faith, Caleb had fought the Anakites, taken the city from Arba, and renamed it Hebron. Caleb’s name evoked adoration for his whole clan. Joshua’s name evoked reverence.

It was the month of Nissan, and they were commemorating the Passover. As he often did, Joshua chose to move from his base in Ephraim to come and celebrate the festival in Hebron, the home of his beloved friend Caleb. Tonight, Joshua wanted to reiterate the lessons of Ai. So they allowed him to talk.

I felt as if I was in an out of body experience. How could God’s people be beaten when He is with them? That was the first lesson, children. We can be beaten.’

Little Moeshe dropped a tear. Her mother cuddled her. ‘It is alright, flower. The story just started. There is more’. Saba Joshua went on after smiling at Moeshe.

After the first battle when Israel had been totally routed and thirty six men killed, I run to the tabernacle of the ark. I lay on the floor with my robes torn, my  

hair muddied and my sword far off. I cried, wailed and groaned and all the elders with me. I was embarrassed beyond compare. And I was at my wit’s end. What if the nations around us attacked us if they knew we could be weak? But clearly, that was not God’s concern in the situation

What possibly could be His concern, apart from victory, when it comes to war?’ asked Jabez. He was named after grandfather Jabez, the hero of faith.

Obedience. Holiness. Right living. Putting the interest of community above any personal interest. Knowing the difference between right and wrong’. Joshua quietly responded.

Hmmmph’. Sputtered Na’am, the third son of Caleb, who loved to dress in the rich robes taken from the wars against the Anakites, and keep his hair long. Joshua ignored him. This generation did not seem to appreciate that enjoying milk and honey was not the reason for bringing them into the promised land. They had been brought there to remove evil practices, experience blessing, and bring the blessing of God to all other nations. Their inner postures frightened him no end, and this is why he loved to tell their children the tales of God. Oh, how he wished he could pour the love of God into the hearts of men! And wipe out, like with a washing rag, the sensuous interest in the practices of the shrines of the philistines and anakites. Why would God not just wave a hand and make men obedient to Him? It made leadership so difficult.

The night Jericho fell. I said under the unction of the Spirit of God the following words: ‘The city shall be accursed, even it, and all within it, except Rahab and all with her. Everyone ought to keep themselves from the accursed thing, lest they make themselves accursed, when they take the accursed thing and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord.’

This was the word known and owned by every family in Israel. Everything from Jericho was to be burned except the gold and silver. The gold and silver of Jericho were to be wholly dedicated to the tabernacle. For the service of God. So God would sanctify it for His own use, and give us ours from the land. He could only be the gatekeeper of our wealth, if we handed Him the first. This was the law instituted by Melchizedek, king of Salem, through our father Abraham, the one to whom was given the promise of the Lord. Now if we all accepted this to be the rule, what was every one to do?’

The tender military slayer of giants and leader of the nation directed his question to the youngest generation, led by Hathath the outspoken. The gathering was deathly quiet. Just then the Passover lamb started to bleat and everyone laughed. The tension eased. A bit.

Everyone was to be careful not to take anything, anything from Jericho’. Said Hathath with a stomp of his feet.

Well spoken. And Achan, son of Carmi, the son of Zerah the weak, twin brother of Perez the second who became first, grandson of Judah, took gold, silver and clothes. He brought the accursed thing into the camp. He was covetous and greedy. He refused to fear God or authority. He stole. He lied. He was self centered and did not care about the consequence of his actions on everyone. And God could not travel with us when such people thrived in our midst. So God allowed His people to be beaten and crushed. He gave us up, so he could defeat the sin of lust and covetousness when he had given us His love and inheritance so freely. That night, we learnt that purity of heart was more important to God than the prosperity of his people. Because we are called to show the way to who God is, not obstruct the view of those seeking to know Him.’

One could hear a feather fall. What a distressing lesson! They felt ashamed because Achan was of the tribe of Judah. With heads bowed, all the people thought about their consistent disobedience, and struggles with faithfulness.

Mum said the story has a good ending?’ Moeshe was crying again.

The worse was yet to come, after that defeat. While we prayed and wailed, God told us about the sin in the camp, but He wouldn’t tell us who? He wanted the one who did it to trust Him enough to repent, and confess, so they would learn about His forgiveness too. But Achan, like Adam, refused to own up to his sin. His wife and children refused to own up too, though they had seen him hiding the treasure. His brothers refused to own up, though they had helped him to steal. And that is how God exposed them all for punishment. They died. They were buried in Achor, the valley of trouble

Moeshe couldn’t stop crying. She had been joined by most of the children. Tears and fear stretched around the group. Hathath spoke up.

So how did you subdue Ai after so much trouble, Saba?’

Joshua looked long and hard at him. He lowered his voice.

It was easy once we obeyed God. When we got to Ai, we presumed it was a little place with few people and so it would be easy to conquer, compared to Jericho. But our inability to fight did not come from their size. It came from the withdrawal of God’s presence. Once the trouble of sin in our midst had been exposed and removed, God spoke kindly to me. His instructions were specific. He directed that I go with all the fighting men. Thirty thousand men of valor went on ambush against the city from behind it. Then the rest of all of us marched towards the city. When the people of Ai rushed out to fight us, we fled from before them. They thought things would be as the first time. They left their city wide open. And… ‘ He halted. Everyone was laughing and slapping palms. Joshua laughed too. Exhilaration filled him as he remembered that day of victory.

Guess what. God’s instruction was for me to stretch my spear out over Ai. Like Moses stretched his rod over the red sea. Like the Ark surrounded Jericho. Never forget this. The battle is the Lord’s. Victory is not from any human craft or strength. The horse is made ready for battle, but victory is given by the Lord. So it is God’s outstretched arm that makes the difference! And did the hosts of heaven fight for us that day!!

Caleb took up the story, smiling and panting.

As soon as Joshua’s spear went up, the 30,000 men in ambush run into the city and set it on fire. The people of Ai looked back confused. And in their confusion, we slew them. The battle was easy. And believe it or not, the whole city had only 12,000 men and women. Each of them was killed. But until the battle ended, Joshua had to keep his spear up. That is how Ai was taken.’

He sat back. His military bearing glistening in his festive robes, his eyes met those of Joshua, and they smiled and closed their eyes.

Moeshe spoke in a little voice. ‘I have a question. Why did Saba Joshua have to have his spear up?’ Joshua smiled.

That is the lesson we have to keep regarding the need for the presence of God in every situation of life. Ai was a city between Bethel and BethAven. The house of God and house of wickedness. Its soul was captive to whoever ruled it. The authority of God had to remain assertive against those rebellious spirits that filled the lives of the inhabitants. This is the secret you must never forget. Who rules the space you are in? Who rules the people you are dealing with? If they do not know God, then you had better assert God’s authority in that space until all is subject to the arm of God. Never forget why we are here. To be blessed, and to be a blessing to others by revealing our God and His ways, works and worship.’

The children nodded. Many many lessons they had learnt that evening. The adults looked down with averted eyes. Caleb and Joshua stared around with eyes of fire. ‘Any more questions?’

Hathath raised his hand. ‘Saba, how do you hear from God?’ The Passover lamb bleated.

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