It is amazing how quicky our ego inflates when God gives us victory over a particularly difficult situation. This reminds me of a mechanically-inclined guy whose vehicle breaks down. After he spends an extended amount of time agonizing over how to fix the problem, he eventually calls out in desperation to God for help. After God leads him to the solution, he breathes a long sigh of relief. Soon he boasts to everyone about how he repaired the broken vehicle, and now he can fix any other problem that might arise with it. That is—until the next time something goes wrong—and he discovers that he cannot solve it so easily on his own. Then a towing service ultimately has to be called, and the one who was formerly victorious now has an enormous repair bill to pay.
This sort of scenario is not new. In fact, defeats like this occurred numerous times in many different forms throughout the Bible. One example occurred shortly after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the land God had promised to them. The great city of Jericho was coming into view and God arranged for it to be their first real test of obedience to Him in the new land. Jericho’s leaders and inhabitants feared the Israelites and knew they were approaching. They were relying on a great wall around their city to keep the enemy out. So they took appropriate measures to protect themselves, including sealing up the great perimeter wall.
The people of Jericho were unaware that no barriers exist of which God cannot remove. Joshua had replaced Moses as leader of the Israelites, and the army of men with him obediently followed all the commands of God for overtaking Jericho. Then the walls fell down flat without a battle, leaving the city practically defenseless. Joshua’s men could freely go in as commanded, utterly destroying the city and all within, except for “…all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron…they shall come into the treasury of the Lord” (Joshua 6:19). “So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was [made publicly known] throughout all the country” (Joshua 6:27).
It seemed like the Israelites had everything going in their favor. With God’s help, they made it through the wilderness, they crossed over the Jordan on dry land, just as they had done with the Red Sea at the beginning of their journey after leaving Egypt, and now the mighty city of Jericho had been eliminated. They must have been in great spirits and feeling rather invincible.
The smaller city of Ai was next in line for attack and Joshua sent men to spy it out. When they returned, they “said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and [strike] Ai; and make not all the people to [go toward it]; for they are but few” (Joshua 7:3).
The Israelites were now overconfident from the previous victory at Jericho, so they assumed that conquering Ai would not take much effort. But look what happened: “…they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai [struck] of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and [struck] them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water” (Joshua 7:4-5).
The city should have been quickly overtaken by the Israelites, yet God would not let it happen. How was it that they were able to overtake such a great and mighty city so easily before, and then failed so embarrassingly on a smaller one? First, it was because there was sin in the camp. One Israelite soldier disobeyed God’s specific command not to take anything but the silver, gold, brass and iron. Second, and most importantly, they never sought God in all of this. They did not see any need to seek Him first, since this was such a small endeavor. So they took it for granted that He would be with them here as He had been at Jericho. As a result of their overconfidence, they were defeated and humiliated.
God could have simply removed all of Ai’s defenses like He had done with Jericho, and the Israelites would have been victorious. When we go ahead of God in the assumption that He will carry us through, we get in the same position as Joshua and the men of Israel. We make ourselves vulnerable and open to defeat. Then even the simplest act of the enemy will bring us down.
Now see what happened after they removed the sin from the camp and turned to God for direction. “…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…his people…city, and…land: and thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king…lay thee an ambush for the city behind it” (Joshua 8:1-2 emphasis added). Instead of taking just a few thousand as they thought they would need, following their own understanding, Joshua sent over thirty thousand mighty men this time, and Ai was ultimately ambushed and overthrown.
If we will seek and obey God first, even for seemingly trivial decisions, we will come out victorious and strong over all the Jerichos in our life. But if we rely on our own thinking and common sense, we will end up suffering an awful loss, like the Israelites did at Ai. God wants us to always be victorious, but not by depending on our own thoughts and efforts.
Let’s not permit overconfidence to bring about our defeat, but go to the Lord in prayer instead, before we make decisions—rather than attempting to win future confrontations following our conceit over past victories. “…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33 emphasis added). True success will come when we humbly yield our self over to God and allow Him to resolve the situation.