The battle at Jericho had gone so well, or so it seemed! The city walls fell down flat, Rahab had been delivered as promised, and everything else had been utterly destroyed by Israel as the LORD had commanded. But, there was one exception that was unknown to the nation. Achan had secretly kept some of the items from Jericho that belonged to God (in other words, he had taken of the "accursed things") and had consequently brought himself and the whole nation under God's curse. That which was a secret to the nation was plainly known by Almighty God who is omniscient.
"Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, 'Go up and spy out the country.' So the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, 'Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.' So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water" (Josh. 7:2-5).
The Israelite success at Jericho was just supposed to be the beginning of their conquering. Their next target was a nearby city, Ai. Spies are sent to gather information, and they return with a confident message. There were few people at Ai, so there was no need to send the whole army to fight. They believed sending a couple thousand would be sufficient, and they were probably right had Achan not sinned at Jericho. Nevertheless, because of Achan's wickedness God was not with the men who attacked Ai. The men of Ai defeated the Israelites and killed three dozen men as they fled. Suddenly, the confidence of Israel vanished into thin air; their courage evaporated!
"Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, 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 it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?' (Josh. 7:6-9).
This defeat devastated the nation. They had been on top of the mountain, so to speak, after destroying Jericho, and now they are deep in the valley of despair. If they couldn't take a small village like Ai, how could they succeed to take all the land of Canaan? Wouldn't their enemies learn about their failure and plot against them to surround them and annihilate them from the land? Joshua, with clothes torn in mourning and dust on his head, conveyed these sentiments to God, prostrated before the ark. He wishes they had stayed on the east side of the Jordan and simply settled there. He doesn't understand why God has allowed this to befall them! Although God will provide an answer in the next portion of text, it is unfortunate that Joshua's faith wavered on this occasion. God had promised them the land, and God is faithful! Instead of entertaining thoughts of doubt, Joshua should have been inquiring as to what they had done wrong so it could be corrected. Friends, there is a lesson here for us. Sometimes when we fail miserably it is because of our sins. May we never doubt God when adversity strikes, but let us first examine our own life to determine whether it is in order before the Lord.