After a defeat like Ai, one could see how Joshua might be tentative, but God tells Him to "not fear or be dismayed." The sin of Achan was one thing that prevented the Israelites from taking Ai, but you will also notice that Joshua did not consult God on Ai in Joshua 7 but relied on the advice of his spies. This time, Joshua listened to God's strategy and took the city of Ai and Bethel by means of an ambush. Ai in Hebrew means "the ruin."
Joshua built an altar at Mt. Ebal (Shechem) according to Moses' command in Deuteronomy 27:1-8 which is the same spot where Abraham had built an altar in Genesis 12. They made an altar of uncut stones and sacrifices were made. This was a public act of worship to proclaim faith in the one true God in this pagan land.
God had given Joshua the general plan of conquering the land, but he employed his own strategy for conquering Ai by listening to the advice of the spies rather than consulting God. Chapter 8 is Joshua's "course correction." He listened to God's strategy and Ai and Bethel were conquered.
I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten a word from the Lord to go forward into uncharted territory and bravely gone forward with great zeal and enthusiasm only to find myself utterly defeated, falling on my face, and crying out to the Lord and asking Him, "Why? Why? Why did you lead me here?" I had heard right about the "general plan," but I had not gotten specifics from the Lord. Bad idea.
In Joshua's case, if he had inquired of the Lord before trying to take Ai the first time, he would have heard from the LORD about Achan's sin and gotten the Lord's strategy; but Joshua did not inquire, he listened to bad advice and zealously went forward.
One specific example from 1985 burns in my memory. God had spoken very directly and specifically to me about discipling a woman. After a year of meeting together, we met some major road blocks in our relationship. I had done with this woman what I had always done before when discipling women, but Jennifer was different from anyone I had ever discipled, and it was tough! I really began to question God's leading.
As I poured out my heart in frustration to my friend, Tom White, he looked at me with his piercing blue eyes and gently said, "Carol, one thing I have observed about you is that sometimes you let your zeal get in the way of the Holy Spirit's leading."
God hit me right between the eyes with that statement. I had gotten the Lord's directive right, but I was not employing the Lord's strategy for helping Jennifer! Zeal has its drawbacks. It was time for course correction. Instead of giving up on Jennifer, God gave me His strategy, and it made all the difference!
I cannot tell you how many times over the years I have replayed those wise words from Tom. (Actually, I would say it was a rebuke, but Tom has a way of making you feel really good while he is rebuking you.)
In 2005, I heard directly from the Lord about helping women grow to be all that God intended for them to be, but I jumped into a ministry that left me exhausted, defeated, and flat on my face before the Lord again saying "Why? Why? Why?" But God gently reminded me of Tom's words. Now, I go forward with the same vision God gave me, but it is His slow and steady strategy and not my own (or someone else's), and God is blessing!
2011 Update - I wrote this three years ago, and I am so glad I listened to God's "slow" plan! I was going in a direction in 2008, but I felt hesitation in my spirit about a long-term commitment to that ministry. I loved the people I was working with, but it was not the ultimate plan that God had for me that He opened up in late 2009. This ministry allows me to work with George (the other ministry involved just women and was totally separate from him, and we make a great team), utilizes my gifting, draws on my unique experience, causes me to use the abilities I have gained along the way, and gives me great joy! I am in God's "sweet spot" of ministry!
Although I no longer work with the people I was working with in 2008, those people have become our biggest prayer warriors! On top of all that, many of the women that I worked with in that ministry to women in 2005 have also become our biggest prayer warriors. God had a purpose in all of it!
2014 Update - Still doing that ministry with my husband, and we recently spoke to a big group about it. Many of the people there were women from the ministry I led in 2005! One friend came up afterward and said, "You are definitely in your "sweet spot," and I agree! It is so fun to wait and listen to the Lord rather than rush ahead of Him!
2017 Update – Two of the women from that 2005 leadership group are now doing the ministry we are involved with! That 2005-2006 ministry was worth it, even though I fell flat on my face at the end!APPLICATION
I see two different responses to this reflection:
Some of you are probably saying, "Well, I do not like to move forward so I am going to just stay in my safe place on the other side of the Jordan. I do not want to end up flat on my face like Joshua (or Carol)."
All I can say is that you will miss out on God's blessing if you play it safe. Joshua learned from his mistake and went forward and was blessed with victory. Move out. You may make some mistakes along the way. Be open to "course correction" from the Lord (and the rebuke of wise friends).
Others of you are like me, you have listened to the Lord and zealously plowed forward and employed your own strategy. Stop and reevaluate! Cultivate a listening and teachable heart every step of the way. Do not let your zeal get in the way of the Holy Spirit's leading like I did!
Move forward my friend! He may have you step out of your comfort zone in sharing Christ with someone or helping others grow in Him. I am sure that God has GREAT things planned for you!
Lord, Your ways are perfect! "Let us hear Your unfailing love in the morning, for we have put our trust in You. Show us the way we should walk, for to You we lift up our souls" (Psalms 143:8). Amen.