Looking across the field at the opponent, it was easy to feel confident. After all, the advance scouts had done their homework, assessed the opposing side’s strengths and weaknesses, and determined this was victory for the taking. Show up, execute the plan, and walk away with the usual rout.
Only problem was, this time it wasn’t the underestimation of the opponent’s ability that led to resounding defeat. It was the underestimation of the dominant “team’s” pride and arrogance.
No, I’m not talking about college football, although you see it every week when a powerhouse plays an obvious underdog. Some days the underdog manages an upset and potentially destroys the favored team’s chances of a national championship. However, I’m talking about the Israelite army as it prepared to attack the city of Ai ( Joshua 7). Joshua sent out his scout team and it came back extremely confident, telling Joshua he only needed to send 2,000 to 3,000 men, saying, “Since there are so few of them, don’t make all our people struggle to go up there.”
What resulted was a rout of Israel’s army, and a significant lesson for us as Tennessee Baptists as we pursue the Five Objectives we as Tennessee Baptists have adopted in an attempt to see our state radically changed spiritually over the next nine years.
Joshua and the people had just come off a major victory over the extremely fortified city of Jericho. As they looked at that city, it appeared to be an impossible task. How were they going to penetrate the thick, double-walled fortress? Their army and its weapons were simply inadequate. They recognized their inadequacies and depended on God’s leadership and His strength. As a result, He ensured the victory.
However, when it came time to move against Ai, the people committed three sins that guaranteed their defeat and offer a warning to us.
The presence of arrogance. Think about it; it was probably heady stuff to march around a city and shout and see the massive stone wall crumble to the ground. They walked in, destroyed everything, and recorded an easy win. However, they forgot God when it came to Ai and decided to do it in their own strength. They paid a high price for attempting God’s work in their way.
The presence of sin. Looking at Joshua 7:1, we see that Achan and his family sinned by disobeying God’s command to destroy everything. The fortune literally scattered throughout Jericho’s rubble was a temptation he couldn’t resist. He stole what was dedicated to God and it ultimately destroyed him and his family. In the interim, it cost his nation a victory, cost the lives of several of his countrymen, and brought humiliation to Israel. Israel paid a high price for attempting God’s work with spiritually “dirty hands.”
The absence of God. God did not go out with the army that fateful day. Joshua, an obviously godly man, acted on human counsel and never asked God His opinion of their plan. The people forgot God. They paid a high price for attempting God’s work without God.
Let’s be honest. We too often are guilty of these same three things. We press ahead rather than follow behind. I confess, hoping to see 50,000 people each year come to Christ, be baptized, and set on the road to discipleship; hoping for 500 churches to be revitalized and 1,000 new churches to become a part of the TBC; and hoping to see substantial giving increases in both the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions are unattainable goals in our own power. We absolutely need God to go before us and win the victory. However, as we see success, will we as Tennessee Baptists forget God? Will we begin to think more of our abilities and let arrogance creep in? Will we sin by touching His glory? With all my heart I pray we’ll be vigilant to avoid Israel’s three sins.
I challenge you as individuals, then collectively as churches, to search your hearts and ask God to reveal your sin. Repent and pursue God in obedience. I then challenge you to seek God, asking Him to show you where beyond your church you can reach people now with the Gospel. Let’s dedicate Tennessee to Christ for His glory, and then let’s follow Him into the field to reap the harvest.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.