The Defeat at Ai

Is it not amazing that every story in the Bible has lessons for the people of God —lessons of present truth with warnings and admonitions? So it is with the story of Achan and Israel’s defeat at Ai. “All are doubtless familiar with Achan’s case. It is recorded in sacred history for all generations, but more especially for those upon whom the ends of the world are come.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 520. Let us see if we can learn some of the lessons for which the story of Achan and Israel’s defeat at Ai was recorded.

A short time before the defeat, Israel had just experienced the miraculous passage of the Jordan and the overthrow of Jericho. One can just imagine the excitement, eager expectation and confidence that was in the camp of Israel! Jericho, large, wealthy and one of the strongest fortresses in the land—defeated. Yes, God was with them and soon the whole land of Canaan would be theirs!

Something happened in the camp of Israel, however, after the victory at Jericho, which led to defeat. They became self-confident. “Because he [God] had promised them the land of Canaan they felt secure, and failed to realize that divine help alone could give them success. Even Joshua laid his plans for the conquest of Ai without seeking counsel from God.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 493. Spies were sent out and the report was brought back to Ai, being so small, required only a few soldiers to overtake it.

Off to battle went three thousand men, without seeking counsel from God and trusting in their own strength, fully expecting an easy victory. Confidently they approached the gates of the city, but were met with determined resistance. “Panic stricken at the numbers and thorough preparation of their enemies, they fled in confusion down the steep descent. The Canaanites were in hot pursuit.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 494

Thirty-six men lay dead—casualties of self-confidence. Self-confidence blinds us to danger, leads us to presumption, prepares the way for failure and finally, leaves us without any confidence at all—timid and fearful. “The moment we begin to feel self-sufficient and confident, then we are in danger of a disgraceful failure.” This Day with God, 277. This was exactly the experience of Israel. They had gone to battle in their own strength, were humiliated in cruel defeat and returned with no confidence, now fearful of the smallest of enemies. “The hearts of the people melted, and became as water.” Joshua 7:5

The lesson for us is the danger of trusting in ourselves. “Nothing is more offensive to God than a self-sufficient spirit.” The Faith I Live By, 138. “Self-confidence will lead you into the snare of the enemy. The youth do not ask counsel of God, and make Him their refuge and strength. They enter society with all assurance, confident that they are fully able to choose the right and to comprehend divine mysteries, because of their powers of reason, as though they could discover truth for themselves. We fear more for those who are self-confident than for any others, for they will surely be entangled in the net that has been set by the great adversary of God and man….Those who are exalted in their own opinions will despise the blood of the Atoning sacrifice, and will do despite to the Spirit of grace.” Signs of the Times, April 21, 1890

What is one to do if, through the working of the Holy Spirit upon their heart, they see that they are self-confident and want to change? “Some are self-confident, self-sufficient, exalted in their opinion of themselves, because they do not have clear views of Jesus. If they lived near to Him, they would see His purity, His matchless benevolence, his self-sacrifice and infinite love, which would lead them to see their deficiencies; and when viewing the cross of Calvary, and the sufferings that Christ endured that they might be rescued from ruin, they could not have one exalted feeling in regard to self.” Review and Herald, December 18, 1883

Though Israel was humbled through defeat, God was nonetheless watching over them and when, in their ignorance and weakness, they cried out to Him, He was there. “Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, ‘Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?’” Joshua 7:6-9 (NKJV)

“Joshua manifested a true zeal for the honor of God, yet his petitions were mingled with doubt and unbelief. The thought that God had brought His people over the Jordan to deliver them up to the power of the heathen was a sinful one, unworthy of a leader of Israel. Joshua’s feelings of despondency and distrust were inexcusable in view of the mighty miracles which God had wrought for the deliverance of His people, and the repeated promise that He would be with them in driving out the wicked inhabitants of the land.

“But our merciful God did not visit his servant with wrath because of this error. He graciously accepted the humiliation and prayers of Joshua, and at the same time gently rebuked his unbelief, and then revealed to him the cause of their defeat.” Signs of the Times, April, 21, 1881

“Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face?” Joshua 7:10 (NKJV). The people were not to go on lamenting and mourning, but find the cause of the displeasure of the Lord. There was secret sin in the camp and it was to be dealt with. “The sin of one man caused Israel to be beaten before the enemy. Something more than prayer was required. They were to get up and cleanse the camp if Israel.” Conflict and Courage, 120

“Joshua had a work to do to search out the guilty one, and put away the sin from the congregation. Instead of concluding that the Lord had brought upon His people defeat and ruin, Joshua should rather have made diligent inquiry if all Israel had been faithful to their covenant with God.” Signs of the Times, April 21, 1881

Before the conquest of Jericho, God gave a very direct command in regard to the spoil. “And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of 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.” Joshua 7:12 (NKJV)

Achan had taken one of the forbidden Babylonish garments, which he thought too valuable to be destroyed in the flames, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels. In taking the silver and gold, Achan had not only disobeyed, but he had stolen from the treasury of the Lord.

The sin of one man cost the death of thirty-six people. What a lesson for us today. “That our influence should be a savor of death unto death is a fearful thought, yet it is possible. One soul misled, forfeiting eternal bliss—who can estimate the loss! And yet one rash act, one thoughtless word, on our part may exert so deep an influence on the life of another that it will prove the ruin of his soul. One blemish on the character may turn many away from Christ.” Prophets and Kings, 86. No soul will be lost that will not draw other souls down with him. Are you, by your sin, to be responsible for the eternal loss of some around you?

Joshua was instructed as to how he was to deal with the situation. In His great mercy, God did not immediately deal with Achan. “The sinner was not directly pointed out, the matter being left in doubt for a time, that the people might feel their responsibility for the sins existing among them, and thus be led to searching of heart and humiliation before God.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 494, 495. Notice that “the children of Israel committed a trespass” and “they have even taken some of the accursed things.” Joshua 7:1,11 (NKJV). “The nation was held accountable for the guilt of the transgressor.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 494. And so today, “The church as a whole is in a degree responsible for the wrongs of its individual members because they countenance the evil in not lifting up their voice against it.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 491. “We repeat, God holds the church responsible for its individual members.” Signs of the Times, April 21, 1881

The solemn investigation before the whole congregation commenced early the next morning. Step by step the process continues. Closer and closer came the fearful test. Opportunity after opportunity was given him to confess his sin, but none of them were taken. Finally, Achan was named as the guilty party.

In the hope of averting the terrible consequences of his crime, he confessed his sin. “When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.” Joshua 7:21 (NKJV)

“The confession of Achan, although too late to be available in bringing to him any saving virtue, vindicated the character of God in His manner of dealing with him.” The Youth’s Instructor, February 1, 1894. Doesn’t the confession of Achan remind you of the confession of the devil and all those who are lost at the end of the millennium? They will all bow down and confess to the whole universe that God is right, that He is just, that He is holy; but it will be too late. What a lesson in the need of thorough confession today.

After Achan’s confession, Joshua sent messengers to Achan’s tent who brought back the accursed things and laid them before the children of Israel. These things, along with all of Achan’s belongings, his wife, and children, were taken to the Valley of Achor, stoned and then burned with fire.

Just as cherishing known sin was Achan’s downfall, so it will be the downfall of all who delay to repent and confess. See Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol.2, 997. “God is the same yesterday, today and forever.” He requires no less of his people today than He did in Achan’s day. “Satan’s power is increasing, he is terribly in earnest, knowing that his time is short, he is working with all ‘deceivableness of unrighteousness.’ Those who would escape his wiles must be vigilant and determined. If we would meet the demands for this time, we must put on the whole armor, and go forth with energy, perseverance, and unswerving faith. In God alone is our strength. Indolence and slothfulness, presumption and self-confidence, will alike bring defeat and destruction. God takes cognizance of the works of all. Those who have sought their ease, and shunned care, anxiety and labor for God’s cause, may be sure their sin will find them out. Those who, like Achan, cherish selfishness, avarice and deception, may be sure that God’s eye is upon them. As He searched out Achan, He will search them out, as He pronounced a curse upon them.” Signs of the Times, May 5, 1881

Today God has also given us direct and specific commands about some accursed things. Why do you think He has given us these commands? Could it be that He is trying to teach us the same things that He taught the Israelites? Could it be that in the spoil of this world, there is much that is objectionable and sinful, which would lead to our moral corruption?

In writing about these accursed things, Ellen White records under that category the following:

Adultery and Fornication

Adultery is wicked in the eyes of God. No matter how bad our marriage or how lonely we may be, there is absolutely no excuse given in the Word of God for sin, and we have express direction from the prophet of the Lord to cleanse the camp of this sin, no matter what the sinner’s position. “When men and women of large experience, who have been considered patterns of piety, are revealed in their true character—unsanctified, unholy, impure in thought, debased in conduct,–then it is time for such to be dealt with in a decided manner. The greater forbearance that is exercised toward them has only had, as far as my knowledge extends, the influence to cause them to regard their fornication and adultery as a very light matter, and all their pretense has proved to be like morning dew when the sun shines upon it….

“Cleanse the camp of this moral corruption, if it takes the highest men in the highest positions. God will not be trifled with.” Testimonies to Ministers, 426, 427

2. Immodest Apparel and Extravagance

What was it that Achan took? A goodly Babylonish garment—clothes. Especially to the ladies does dress apply. “As I have seen many Sabbath keeping Adventists become worldly in thought, conversation, and dress, my heart has been saddened. The people who claim to believe that they have the last message of mercy to give to the world, are attracted by worldly fashions, and make great exertions to follow them as far as they think their profession of faith allows them to go.” Selected Messages, book 3, 243

Fashionable dress is a tool of the devil to get the youth and those that are older to use up their time thinking about what they look like on the outside so that the character is neglected and they are not ready for Jesus when He comes. If fashion is your besetting sin, God will give you the victory if you repent and make a determined effort to change. Before you make purchases, send up a prayer asking that holy angels will accompany you, guiding in the decisions you make.

Extravagance was also mentioned in the quotation above. Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Luke 12:15 (NKJV). One’s life does not consist in what we wear, what we own, or what we have in our bank accounts. “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1Timothy 6:10 (NKJV). I would like to invite you, if you are not already doing so, to look over the things that you own and to spend some time during your devotions asking God what you can give up for Him and what he wants you to do with the funds He has given you. I don not know what God wants you to do with your funds, but I know that He wants them in his work and not in the hands of the enemy. I have spent time praying about this and afterwards I felt that the Lord was telling me, “No,” to a personal desire. “you wait on those things,” Do you do with your money what you profess? As Seventh-day Adventists we need to fulfill our profession not just in our diet and dress, but in the way we spend our money as well. Extravagance is not fitting for a Seventh-day Adventist. See also Proverbs 21:25,26; Psalm 10:3.


“I would point the intemperate to a power out of and beyond themselves,–the power of Jesus. Flee to your Saviour. He has overcome in behalf of just such helpless, sinful ones as you. In His strength you may be honest, faithful men, true to your Maker. But no half-way work will suffice. You must be thorough. And do not think that you can do the work of abstaining gradually. Leave the accursed thing once and forever. ‘Touch not, taste not, handle not.’ Drink not a drop of the liquor which wets depraved appetite on fire.” Signs of the Times, January 30, 1901

False Reports.

“False reports had been circulated, and the band had been sinking and had lost the power of the third angel’s message. They were sickly, but knew not the cause. The reason was that there was an accursed thing in the camp, and by the assistance of God we were trying to get it out of the camp.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, 242

Jealousy, Evil Surmising and Evil Speaking.

“There was a time when Israel could not prevail against their enemies. This was because of Achan’s sin. God declared, ‘Neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed thing from among you.’ God is the same today. If defiling sins are cherished by those who claim to believe the truth, the displeasure of God rests upon the church, and he will not remove it until the members do all in their power to show their hatred for sin, and their determination to cast it out of the church. God is displeased with those who call evil good and good evil. If jealousy, evil surmising, and evil-speaking are allowed to have a place in the church, that church is under the frown of God. It will be spiritually unhealthy until it is cleansed from these sins, for till then God cannot reveal His power to strengthen and elevate His people and give them victory.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 144

Carrying out the decisions of those we know are not in harmony with the truth.

No matter what the position, even in the professed church of God, we have no assurance that God will be with us if we fulfill the commands of those who are not in harmony with the truth. On the contrary, it is one of the accursed things and God has said He will not be with us as long as this is our practice. “I call upon God’s people to open their eyes. When you sanction or carry out the decisions of men who, as you know, are not in harmony with truth and righteousness, you weaken your own faith and lose your relish for communion with God. You seem to hear the voice which was addressed to Joshua: ‘Wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them….There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel.’ ‘Neither will I be with you anymore, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.’ Christ declares, ‘he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad.’” Testimonies to Ministers, 91

Are you willing to cleanse your heart of every accursed thing? Are you willing to lift your voice in protest of sin that the camp (church) may be cleansed of every accursed thing?

Today the church of Christ is entering into the most severe conflict with the powers of darkness it has ever faced. Are we ready? Have we made God our consultant? Have we humbled ourselves before Him and rid ourselves of every ounce of self-confidence which will lead us and the church to defeat? Have we made sure that there are none among us who are disregarding the explicit command of God? Oh, friend, Ellen White said in her day that there was an Achan in almost every congregation and every family. What would she say today?

There is sin in the camp today, preventing a full manifestation of the power of God. When sin is out of our lives, God will evidence His presence with the outpouring of His Spirit. This is as much a law as is the law of gravity. Oh, friend, God is waiting for you; he is waiting for me, to put sin out of our hearts. Will you set yourself about today to commence this solemn work? It is time, not only to cry out to the Lord for help in prayer, but it is time to cleanse the camp of every accursed thing. God is going to work; He will manifest His power, but He cannot do it while we hold sin in our hearts and grant wisdom to his people in doing the work of cleansing the entire camp from all sin.

The End