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A Stolen Garment and the Lost Battle

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Today we want to look at Joshua 7 which tells the story of the defeat of the Israelites at the battle of Ai. 

When the Israelites entered into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua they had a wonderful victory at Jericho, but then they lost the very next battle. 

This loss was so perplexing to Joshua that he sought the Lord for an explanation.

The reason for the Perplexing loss 

At the battle of Jericho the Israelites were commanded to completely destroy the city and to not take any of the spoils for themselves… however, someone disobeyed this command and took something. And it was for this reason that the next battle ended in defeat.

This someone turned out to be Achan, from the tribe of Judah. 

Now Judah is the lead tribe of Israel, meaning that whenever the nation of Israel moved, Judah would lead the way.

So when Achan confessed that he had sinned against the Lord by stealing a garment which he had hidden in the midst of his tent he recognised that his sin concerned not only himself but also his household and by extension the whole nation of Israel.

The significance of the garment

The question is what’s with this garment?  Why would Achan take it in the first place – didn’t he have enough clothing, or was this a particularly nice or expensive piece of clothing that he coveted? And why did stealing a garment halt Israel’s progression in taking possession of the land that God had promised them?

What does this garment represent?

A garment is a covering.  We can tell a lot about a person by the type of clothes they wear.  We use fashion to make a statement about who we are.

In reading the account of Achan, we note that it was not just any old garment that he took, but that it was a ‘goodly Babylonian garment’. So by taking this garment Achan was associating himself with the ways of Babylon, which represent the ways of man, which often times look so good. We see this further evidenced by the fact that the garment was taken from Jericho, which as a city represents ‘the government of man’.

This association with the ways of man, by a Judahite, halted Israels progression into the Promised Land. 

Why was this so?

Being covered with god’s garment

If we go back to the beginning of the book of Joshua we find that Israel’s ability to enter and posses the land was dependent on them obeying and being faithful to the laws of God – in essence being under the covering of God – clothed by His garment of light.

Joshua, had been instructed that as long as he continued to observe all the Law, that God would be with him and he would have great success.

The Law of God represents God’s character, which finds its expression in pure light. We see this illustrated by Moses, Joshua’s predecessor, who was covered in light when he came down Mount Sinai with the 10 commandments. 

As Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land they too were covered by God’s Presence.

How the miraculous is possible when under God’s covering

The biblical narrative states that the Kings of the Amorites and Canaanites were greatly afraid when they heard that Israel had crossed the Jordan. It was, however, not the people that they were afraid of as the Amorites and Canaanites knew they were more numerous and more technologically advanced than the Israelites. It would have been a piece of cake for them to overcome their inferior force.

So why were they afraid?

They perceived that the presence of God was with Israel… and it was this presence that they were afraid of. Their technological ability and their number paled into insignificance when compared to the power of the Almighty God.

Israel’s ability to overcome enemies and advance in taking possession of the land was directly dependant upon them remaining under the covering of God. 

Now we can understand the significance of Achan’s sin.

By taking the ‘goodly Babylonian garment’ Achan had moved outside of God’s protective covering. Additionally, as head of a household, his action affected his whole family, and as a member of the lead tribe of Judah, his action affected the entire nation of Israel.

The lesson of the stolen garment

The conquest of Ai shows us two things, firstly that we can not be in possession of two garments simultaneously. We are either under the covering of God, or the covering of man.

And secondly, that it is only under the covering of God that we will be able to stand against and overcome the enemy.

It was only when all traces of the offending Babylonian garment were removed from the midst of Israel that Ai could be overcome, and Israel could move forward in taking possession of the land promised to them.

I’ve been amazed at how such a small detail in the narrative, a garment, could impart such a deep meaning to our understanding of the text. 

Its application for our modern day is profound.  

We can be encouraged in knowing that as we remove the ‘goodly Babylonian garment’ from our midst and return instead to God’s garment of Light, vested in His Word, that we will be able to stand against and overcome the modern day enemies of the Kingdom of God. 

In so doing, His kingdom will be advanced here on earth, and His glory will be manifested.