Joshua lay face down in the dirt. Things had not gone according to plan. He had been there all day and had failed to work out what had happened. It was only now that God said to him “What are you doing down on your face?”
It had all been going so well, Jericho had fallen just as God said it would, albeit in a very strange way and the Canaanites had melted in fear. Now Joshua had instructed his men to attack Ai and they had been defeated, routed with 36 men killed. What had gone wrong?
Man’s Plans and God’s Purposes
Identifying our objectives and planning how to achieve them is an unavoidable process as we seek to fulfil our part in bringing about the Kingdom of God. But, and it is a big “BUT”, it is often difficult to discern what God’s plan is and what part we must play. Perhaps more often than we would like, we end up like Joshua, disappointed with the outcomes and asking God “What happened?”.
This article, the first of three on Kingdom planning, looks at lessons that we can learn about planning and execution from Joshua’s experience so that we can perhaps avoid some of the disappointments and be more effective for the Kingdom of God. Understanding God’s plan is a significant challenge for Servant Leaders in Churches and Christian Organisations.
In business we often are given a goal and its up to us to achieve it using the people, resources and methods at our disposal. But does it work like that in Christian service? This series, “Man’s Plans and God’s Purposes” poses this question and examines some of the incidents in the Bible from which we can learn. It will challenge you to think about how, as a Christian leader, you workout and execute Kingdom plans.
When Plans Go Wrong
The plan to be victorious over Ai had not worked. Joshua’s reaction was to blame God for enticing them into the Promised Land. Now, with the River Jordan at their backs, he feared an overwhelming onslaught from the Canaanites. So Joshua fell, face to the ground before the Ark “Ah, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!” (Joshua 7:7). It’s your fault God, Joshua was saying, we were only doing what you told us to do, take the land and we cannot even take this place that has only a few men. You are the sovereign God, so it was you who caused us to be routed. What have you done to us? What will you do to us?
We know that the root cause of the defeat was “Achan’s sin”, God explains this in the following verses. There was to be no booty taken form Jericho, it was all devoted to God and the gold and silver was to go into God’s treasury. Achan took some of the devoted things and hid them under his tent, later he and his family paid for their rebelliousness. This sin, a direct violation of God’s command, had been the root cause of the defeat. However, there is something more subtle going on that meant that the defeat and those 36 deaths could have been avoided.
Read through the story of Israel’s entry to the Land, the fall of Jericho and the taking of Ai. Ponder Joshua’s behaviour and attitude.
Whose Plans and Whose Methods?
Ahead of the assault on Jericho, the gateway to the land, Joshua was reconnoitring for himself (Joshua 5:13). The text says that he was near Jericho. Why would the leader of the Israelites, who had already received the report of his spies, be near Jericho? The story shows us that he felt the need for intelligence about the enemy. He had sent spies to Jericho and later to Ai, so it was quite likely that he wanted to see Jericho for himself as he formulated his battle plan.
In the opening verses of the Book of Joshua, God promises that no one will stand against the Israelites and he told Joshua “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:6). So here was Joshua trying to work out how he was going to lead the Israelites to victory by overcoming the first hurdle, Jericho. Joshua had a man-centred perspective as he recalled all he had learned about warfare. What would be the winning plan? This is why I think that when confronted with the “Commander of the Lord’s Army” (Joshua 5:13) Joshua asked “Are you for us or our enemies?” The answer was enlightening, “Neither“.
Hold on a moment. Was not Israel there because God had promised them the land? Were they not there because God had instructed them to take the land? Was Joshua not to lead them to inherit the land? Was this not the task that God had given Israel? Was this not their objective? How could the Commander of the Lord’s Army not be for Israel?
This does not make sense until you consider an alternative perspective.
Indeed, Israel and Joshua and been so commissioned but did Joshua now consider it to be his task to bring about God’s plan? To do this it was down to him to work out how. Was that why he was near Jericho?
This was not Israel’s plan; it was not theirs to work out how it would be achieved. It was God’s plan and yes, he had commissioned Israel and Joshua to play a part, but the means was to be God’s means. This is why the Commander of the Lord’s Army replied to Joshua “Neither“. It would not be sufficient for Joshua to take on the God given objective. It would not be appropriate for Joshua to plan how this would be achieved. “The battle is not yours but God’s” were the Lord’s words to Jehoshaphat some 550 years later and so it was here and now for Joshua. This meant that it was Israel and Joshua that had to be for God and his plan and not the other way round.
It was God’s plan that had to be executed in order to fulfil his purpose, not Joshua’s. Joshua’s question “Are you for us or our enemies?” belies a wrong outlook, a wrong perception of what was going on.
This is the subtle thing that was wrong and it meant that the defeat at Ai was not avoided and 36 people died. It was this perspective that left Joshua on his face, in the dirt, complaining that God had let them down because his plan had not been honoured by God.
But let’s look further at the working out of God’s plan at Jericho.
God’s Plan for Jericho
God gave explicit instructions on how the battle of Jericho was to be conducted and victory won. From the human perspective the battle looks strange. Joshua was instructed to lead Israel to do some peculiar things; things that were not at all militarily logical and which simply do not fit with the human perspective of warfare. However, it is plain that there is more to this battle than meets the eye, after all the Commander of the Lord’s Army is in charge. This leads us to expect that a battle invisible to Joshua and Israel also took place according to a plan that was not fully known by them. However, they had to do certain things for that plan to be fulfilled and God’s objective to be achieved.
(Daniel gives us some insight into invisible battles in the spiritual realm while men struggle – Daniel 10:12&13, 20)
What would have happened if Joshua had tried to execute his own plan for the taking of Jericho? Israel would simply have been doing the wrong thing, in the wrong place at the wrong time when, or even if, the walls had fallen. It was imperative that Joshua not only look to the achievement of the goals that God had set out for Israel but that he lead Israel in accordance with God’s directions such that the plan is achieved in God’s way.
For instance, would the walls of Jericho have fallen if Israel had engaged in classic siege warfare? From the human perspective it would seem like an obedient plan because it is seeking to fulfil God’s command. However, it would not have been following God’s plan. Israel would not have been in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time.
A siege would have been logical and in keeping with the wisdom of the best battle planners. How could doing that be wrong? Paul gave us the answer in 1 Corinthians 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” but more than that it would not have been obedient to God. Not out of deliberate disobedience necessarily, but because of lack of care to consult God resulting in an unthinking conformance to the ways of this world, through a reliance on man’s wisdom.
The result of following the detail of God’s plan, even if it was counter-intuitive and counter-logical, was that Jericho fell.
What went wrong with Ai?
Why did Joshua end up on his face before the Ark to all intents and purposes asking God what he thought he was doing? Let’s look at what happened.
Joshua followed his practice of sending spies to reconnoitre and provide intelligence on the situation at Ai. After all knowing the enemy, finding out his disposition and weaknesses, understanding the lie of the land is what a good commander does. Only then can he form his plans, based on his wisdom and his experience and so lead his army to victory. Why did Joshua do this? After all, the war was being led by the Commander of the Lord’s Army in accordance with God’s plans. How did such intelligence help take Jericho? It didn’t, it wasn’t needed at all. God had all the intelligence he needed and he instructed Joshua to deploy Israel in a particular way so that the victory was achieved, in the manner that God wanted.
That Joshua sought the intelligence indicates that he was not thinking here in terms of God’s plans. He was about to make his own and, as a consequence, go it alone without God.
When the intelligence came back, what was the result? Puffed up by what they thought was their victory over Jericho the spies said “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.” (Joshua 7:3). Joshua showed that he also had the same mindset by sending only 3000 men. He had missed what had really happened at Jericho and he sought to win Ai in Israel’s own strength, without consulting God. He had failed to realise that whilst Israel had been given a goal by God, they could only achieve that goal God’s way. Rushing off to fulfil God’s plan in man’s way fails. The result? Israel was routed and 36 men were killed.
What would have happened if Joshua had sought God’s wisdom before the assault on Ai? He would have learned of Achan’s sin before things had gone wrong! God would have said then and not later, “Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction”. The devoted things would have been returned to God and the sin dealt with. More than that, God would have explained the battle plan for Ai to Joshua, as he did at the beginning of Joshua 8, and success would have been with Israel.
What guides can we draw about Kingdom planning from Joshua and the battles for Jericho and Ai?
- The sovereign God has a plan and purpose and in any situation that plan has at least two parts decreed by God: the goal or purpose and the method.
- God’s plans and methods sometimes defy man’s logic and wisdom.
- Attempting to fulfil God’s purpose with our own plan and man’s methods will not lead to success
- Executing our plans puts us in the wrong place doing the wrong thing at the wrong time when God is seeking to fulfil his plan in another way. In short, our plans based on our wisdom, even if we think we are being obedient, will work against the Kingdom.
- To be useful to God as he fulfils his plans and before we make any plans, we need to seek his wisdom and obediently employ his ways.
- Humility is vital so that we do not think more of our ability than is real, lest we forget to seek God’s guidance or we think that we know better than God.
All of this means that we must earnestly seek God’s insights and direction in prayer for all of our plans, not simply the key objectives and broad direction. Nor should we simply seek his approval of our plans to achieve his objectives but we need to seek God’s mind that he might reveal his plans and our role in those plans.
Is this easy to do? Not necessarily. Will we get it wrong? Almost certainly. However, by trying and reviewing the results before God we will learn as he instructs us and we will become more effective for the Kingdom.
Take a moment to ponder the approach that you take to planning your contribution to the Kingdom. Whose aims do you achieve, yours or God’s? Whose methods do you use when you work out what to do, yours or God’s?
Take time to prayerfully review one of your projects for the Lord and ask him to help you see what he sees and to learn from your experience. Remember, the best learning comes from our failures not our successes. In that sense even the worst failures can have a positive outcome.
What is the biggest challenge that you face in identifying God’s plans?
This is part of a three article series entitled “Man’s Plans and God’s Purposes” that looks at the issue of how we determine God’s plans and then execute them:
Part 2: According To Whose Plan?
Part 3: When Methods Have Their Place
Image: Mykl Roventine Flickr.com