Joshua 8: Milestones
A ‘milestone’ comes from the use in olden times of having stones which told the traveler how many miles it was to the next city. They were a reference point which reassured the traveler they were on the right path. Milestones have also been used to describe significant events in one’s lives. In the Bible, especially, the Old Testament, we see a heap of stones to commemorate a significant event in the life of an individual or of the nation or people.
Joshua and the nation of Israel were experiencing some milestone events. Milestone events can be wonderful or they can appear as trouble, a loss, a setback. Certainly the defeat at Ai was especially troubling for Joshua and the nation of Israel.
With the Lord, a setback is a set up for a comeback. Now in order for this to be true, we must learn from our mistakes. We must learn the lesson the Lord would have us to learn, don’t we? Or else we are doomed to repeat them. And when we learn something, we can begin again, more intelligently. After what had happened at Ai, Joshua and the Israelites were discouraged. Let’s face it- discouragement over the past failure and fear of the future are two common reactions which accompany failure.
One can imagine the mood in the camp of the Israelites. They had suffered an embarrassing defeat. They had stoned Achan and his family to death, burned all their belongings and built a monument of stones in the Valley of Achor. A spirit of defeat and discouragement had fallen over the camp. They were fearful of the future and devastated by their defeat. What can lift you up when you have been knocked down? Especially when you realize it was your own fault you failed.
“ The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand. (Psalm 37)
- No matter what mistakes you make or have made – the worst mistake you can make is to not try again!
You must begin again. God is the God of New Beginnings. This is where you start. You start with the Word of God. What an advantage we have over Joshua and the Israelites. We have the Word of God before us and the Spirit of God within us! God will direct us to our ‘new beginning’; if we will wait patiently on Him and do good. Doing good means we are actively obeying God’s Word. (We are always coming to new places in the seasons of our lives.)
When you are discouraged and afraid you need to encouraged. Joshua and the Israelites had just obeyed God’s commands in dealing with Achan. Now they hear from God who says: “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.” God knows when we have failed – when we have fallen down we are going to be discouraged. We are also fearful of the future. We begin to play the ‘what if’ and the ‘if only’ game of blame and shame. Fear can paralyze one.
Here is what we need to see in this story:
- Hearing and believing God’s Word will encourage us and faith will replace fear. For faith comes from hearing and hearing- the Word of God ( Romans 10:17)
- His Word will always meet your needs. Need to be encouraged? Go to God’s Word. Need direction? God’s Word will be a lamp unto your feet and a light upon your path.
- When you obey His commands- you can claim His promises.
- God always has a plan. Wait for His instructions and follow them absolutely.
Verse 1: The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the WHOLE ARMY and go up and attack Ai. For I HAVE DELIVERED INTO YOUR HANDS THE KING OF AI, his people, his city and his land.”
Fear not is one of the most repeated commands of God in His Word. From the Old Testament to the New, we hear this command from the Lord to His people. Do you know who (I believe) our most powerful enemy is? Ourselves. Our old nature- the flesh. The devil is powerful and cunning. The world is influential and the devil and the culture, the world system in which we live in want to conform us. But when we get right down to it- where the decision is made is when our old nature gets his/her way. Listen to what James says: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil , nor does He tempt any one; but each one is tempted when by HIS OWN EVIL DESIRE, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1)
The reason we take the whole army up against Ai, which is a picture of the flesh, is because the old nature, the flesh is our greatest enemy. We cannot defeat the flesh in our own power. We are powerless to do so. We need the Spirit of God to do this for us. This is why we must crucify the old nature. “ I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me, and the life I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2: 20) Half-hearted effort will not avail. Trying to defeat the flesh in your own power is what happened when the spies said we can do this ourselves with just a few soldiers. Take the whole army. Put on the full armor. Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. (Ephesians 6)
Joshua had listened to the spies rather than God in the first attack on Ai. Joshua was in agony and dismay over his defeat. Ever been there? I have. Defeated by a lifestyle I had once embraced. I tried and tried to overcome the power of alcohol in my life, but I could not gain victory. Defeated time after time- I was so discouraged and defeated; I lost all hope of ever being able to be sober. But God had a plan for my life just as He had a plan for Israel. And remember, God does not change. He has a plan for your life. God wants you to make progress – His Way. Each season in life is a new beginning.
Get in His Word and He will give you instructions. But hear what He has to say first as an encouragement to you. “I have already delivered into your hands, the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.” Ai is the flesh. He is going to deliver the king of Ai.
God’s plan must be obeyed if you are to claim His promise. Do it His Way. Let God choose the way of progress for you. Do not get ahead of Him. Do not second guess Him. Do not try to do this in your own power.
When you let God choose the way for you- He will always give the best to those who let Him choose for them. Remember when Lot and Abraham decided to separate? Abraham let Lot choose first. He said, ‘if you go to the right, I will go to the left; and if you go to the left, I will go to the right.’ Abraham was allowing God to choose for him. Genesis 13: 17 tell us: “So Lot chose for himself…” Lot ended up settling in Sodom and Gomorrah and lost everything. Not unlike what Achan did. Both were drawn by the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh.
Observe what God now promises them when they follow His instructions; “…. You may carry off the plunder for yourselves.” If Achan had waited to do it God’s way, God would have supplied him with wealth- God’s way.
You have probably always heard this saying: “If something sounds too good to be true- it probably is not true.” God never made a promise that was too good to be true. When we run ahead of the Lord, we usually rob ourselves of what God had for us and hurt others in doing so. Achan learned that lesson too late.
God’s strategy was very much a military strategy. An ambush, a divided force which also played into the overconfidence of Ai’s army. The flesh is often overconfident of what it can do. This is why the Lord reminds us- apart from Him we can do nothing. But we can do all things through Him, who strengthens us. This is why we sing – Victory IN JESUS.
Notice God’s strategy for the battle this time does not include a miracle as in the walls of Jericho tumbling down at the sound of the trumpets and the shout of the army. It requires each soldier doing what he is instructed to do. We read ‘the soldiers took up their position.’ Have you taken up your position? Have you taken hold of that for which the Lord took hold of you?
Are we waiting for God to perform a supernatural miracle? Could it be what God is waiting on is for each of us to do what we know we are supposed to do?
Do put on the whole armor of God each day? Do you spend time daily in the Word of God and in prayer to get your instructions for what lies ahead that day? Or do you go into battle, and we are in a battle each day, unprepared and unarmed? Matthew Henry said, “They are most in danger, who are least aware of it.”
Here is a new beginning for Israel and there is a new strategy. Sanctification is a process. The goal of this process is to change us from the inside – out. To transform to be more like Jesus. How does this occur? “But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord ARE BEING TRANSFORMED into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3: 18) The verbs used here are in a present tense, meaning this is an ongoing process. This tells us we are to keep changing. When a person quits changing- the Spirit of God may say- we can no longer use you.
For many of us at our age, we are guilty of resisting change. We use the old cliché – you cannot teach an old dog – new tricks. Maybe when we quit learning new tricks – the result is we become old dogs.
This verse in 2 Corinthians 3 contains what is known as the Law of Worship and Beholding. God tells us to worship Him because God knowns we actually adapt ourselves to the things or persons we admire and devote ourselves to. Psychiatry calls this ‘modeling.’ Our character actually becomes transformed. The reason God wants us to worship Him, is because He is the only one worthy of worship that will not lead us to degenerate. The choice of whom or what one worships greatly influences the development of our thought process. This is why your parents sometimes did not want you hanging around certain people they considered to be a ‘bad influence’ on you.
Now James says when you look in the mirror of God’s word but do not do what it tells you to do – you are like the man who looks in the mirror and goes away forgetting what he looks like. He is deceived. You must be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only. If you do what the Word tells you – you will be transformed and you will be blessed.
Did you get the picture of what happened to the king of Ai? He was hung on a tree. Our old nature, the previous king of our old nature – sat on the throne of our heart. Wanted to control our actions and do what pleased him. Our old nature must be crucified on the tree with Christ. This why Paul writes this truth as plainly as he does: “I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST. He also tells us in Colossians 3 – put to death the old nature.
The two vital works Christ accomplished at Calvary are: His blood covered our sins. An atonement for all my sins, past, present and future. The cross dealt with my sin nature and crucified it. The blood deals with my sins, the cross deals with my sin nature.
This chapter ends with victory. We see an altar, sacrifice, and the Word of God. There is also a fourth monument of stones erected. Let’s review these monuments and see what they tell us.
- First monument of stones was at Gilgal in Joshua 4. This commemorated Israel’s passage across Jordan into the Promised Land. Q. Can you look back at a day, when you entered into the new life? A time when you made a decision to follow Christ.
- The second was in the Valley of Achor, a monument to Achan’s sin and God judgement. Q. Can you look back at your old life and see the things you have been able to overcome in your new life in Christ? Things which no longer hold you captive. (Remember the Lord said he came to set the captive, the prisoners free and give sight to the blind.)
- The third was a monument of stones erected at the entrance of Ai in today’s story in verse 29. This was to remind the people of God’s faithfulness in their victory over Ai.
- The fourth monument was on Mount Ebal to remind Israel that their success at Ai lay in obedience to God’s Word. Are you a doer of the Word or a hearer only? Do not be deceived.
Here is where we are today as God’s people in the 21st century. We are in a valley between two great mountains. Looking back we see the Mount Calvary – where Jesus died for our sins. Looking ahead we see in distance – Mount Olivet, the mount where Jesus will return in power and glory. We are in the last days, which refers to the time since His crucifixion.
God’s promises never fail when we follow God’s commandments.
When we obey – we will be blessed. When we do not- we can expect to consequences.
- Keep on learning- in the Word of God day and night
- Keep on loving- giving is always associated with loving.
- Keep laughing- a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.
- Keep laboring- keeps you alive and away from boredom
- Keep leaving behind your failures – and emotional baggage. Quit playing the ‘if only’ game of shame and blame.
By now you should have also learned to expect delays. Be patient. God is at work always.
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90)
Did you notice the word grow associated with age? There is a growth in wisdom which comes with age – if you are in the Word day and night. As your mind becomes saturated with the Word of God, you are being transformed.
Do not ask for more years added to your life. Ask for more life added to your years. Come grow old with me, the best is yet to be.
Don’t forget – Joshua and Caleb were the two oldest men in the camp of Israel.
The morning which is the brightest is the one after the darkest night.
“Though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16)
If we are doing this right – doing it God’s way- we never stop growing more like Him. And we know this best is yet to come!