Things rarely go smoothly. That’s just the way life is. In fact, many of us may be currently dealing with struggles, problems, and failures. Anticipation, diligence, planning, and hard work will lead to success, but not always. In fact, more often than not, success is born out of failure.
Writers who receive numerous rejection letters have a decision to make: do they move on to something else, or do they keep writing? Baseball players who strike out consecutively have a decision to make: do they hang up their cleats, or do they work extra hours on the mechanics of their swing? Teachers who fail to reach their students have a decision to make: do they stop teaching, or do they get creative with their teaching methods?
In almost all aspects of life we are going to have to deal with failure. We’ve done it before; we’ll do it again. When it comes from our own desires and our own labor, we understand the cost. What may be a bit unnerving is when we fail in what God has called us to do.
Joshua and the Israelites have just won a decisive victory over Jericho by being obedient to the commands of God of how to conduct the battle. Along with those instructions were the commands that all of the city must be destroyed. In other words, take no plunder.
Yet, as Scripture tells us, one man decided to take a cloak, silver, and gold for his own.
God delivered Jericho into the hands of the Israelites because they were obedient to God’s commands and instruction. Once they ceased being obedient, God ceased their ability to defeat their enemies. When a small gathering of men was sent to attack Ai, they were defeated and the hearts of the Israelites were struck.
Leadership involves submission
This teaches us a couple of things. First, God provides victory when we are obedient in order to recognize that our victory is because of God. Remove God’s provision from our lives, and the world suddenly becomes a scary place to occupy.
Secondly, we also learn that the price of leadership is being held accountable for the failure of those we lead. Joshua did not fail God, but one person among the twelve tribes under Joshua’s leadership failed by not adhering to God’s strict instruction.
This section of Scripture tells us something vastly important to understanding God’s character. God demands obedience, and when we fail to be obedient, we fail God. Thankfully, none of us are going to be called out and stoned for our failure, but what should not be lost is Joshua’s attitude.
Joshua is only a good leader because he submits to God’s authority, and the people of Israel are victorious in battle when they submit to the authority of Joshua. They lost the first battle to Ai because of the sin that existed in the plunder taken from Jericho. Joshua submitted to God’s authority by strenuously finding the man who committed the sin and bringing him to justice.
Yet after punishment is delivered, God instructs Joshua to not be dismayed and that he would deliver victory of Ai. Reparations had been made through the punishment delivered on Achan.
Lessons from failure
For us, the story is a little different. You see, we each deserve death for our sin, yet Jesus Christ paid that price on the cross. It is through this atonement that we are able to have confidence in doing what God calls us to do, and to experience the grace in which to work.
We are each going to sin and experience failure from that sin. We may even experience failure through no fault of our own, just as Joshua does here. But we must not allow a single failure to determine how we move forward. We must learn from our mistakes and take those into consideration as we move forward.
In the midst of devastation and loss, it can be difficult to grasp onto thin rays of hope, but that is what we are called to do. Thank God our hope is not dependent upon our ability to succeed at each task to which we set our hands and minds. We live in a fallen world where even our best efforts may not produce anything more than the sweat and ache of the toil exerted. And let’s be honest, not every personal success has come from nothing but our diligence and ingenuity.
Learn from, don’t dwell on, failure
After experiencing the loss in battle against Ai, the Lord instructs Joshua to not be dismayed. Joshua has been obedient to the Lord’s commands, and when there was sin to be dealt with among the people Joshua did as instructed. Joshua could not dwell on this failure if he was to succeed in the future. This is true for each of us, whether we are in positions of authority or not.
We are sinners in need of a savior, and we will stumble at times. Yes, this calls to mind our sinfulness but it also serves, each time we fail, as a reminder of God’s grace and provision of salvation. Not only does this turn our eyes on Jesus and to be amazed of His love and goodness, but it also prepares us to exude the same love and grace to others when they fail us. We can use these opportunities to communicate the goodness of God and the fullness of His grace.