Making up for lost ground is always difficult. For the football team that falls behind, the student who procrastinates too long, or the couple who spends too much money, catching up is hard to do. This was true for the Israelites, and it's true in Christians today.
However, consider the old adage, "There are three men who deserve no pity: the unsecured creditor, the henpecked husband, and the man who will not try again." A most admirable quality in the lives of God's children is their trying again. We seek to live for God and depend on His power and strength, but we do fail; and when we fail, it is time to try again. Joshua teaches us principles for regaining lost ground.
I. Follow God's plan (v. 1)
"Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the King of Ai, his people, his city and his land.'"
A. No fear
The Israelites had sinned, and that sin lead to fear. The people were hesitant to continue their attempt to capture the Promised Land. Their failure led to their lack of confidence. God gave them His plan, which hinged on their willingness to live by faith, not by fear. Sin can bring fear and a loss of confidence in our lives, too. Only in confession can we claim the renewed power of God in our lives.
B. No discouragement
We can only imagine the disheartening effect of the failure at Ai. These people who had lived in the victory of Jericho now dwelled in the defeat at Ai. However, God reminded His people that His plan would bring the victory. He instructed them to take the entire army to Ai. Everyone was involved; no one was left out. They set the ambush and prepared to fake a retreat so that the people of Ai would be convinced that, once again, they were running scared. Isn't it just like God to take us back to the place where we last did business with Him in order to restore our confidence? Indeed, the men of Ai fell for the ruse. As they pursued the fleeing army of Israel, once-hidden Israeli soldiers entered and torched the empty city of Ai. It was destroyed completely, and the men of Ai were defeated.
We must remember that no matter our defeats, we can experience victory only as we depend on the plan of God in our lives.
II. Rejoice in God's provision (vv. 30-35)
The Israelites took the 30-mile walk to Shechem in the beautiful valley area of Palestine. The valley was about two miles wide. On either side of it stood two mountains: the rugged, rocky Mount Ebal and the wooded, beautiful Mount Gerizim. The time came to stop at Ebal and worship.
III. Remember to give thanks (vv. 30-31)
Joshua led the people of God in worship. They built an altar according to Moses' specifications and offered sacrifices as a sign of their thankfulness to God for His victory. It's easy, even tempting, to start celebrating after a victory and to forget who is ultimately responsible. How many times is everyone recognized at the Thanksgiving table except the One who really deserves our thanks?
IV. Renew your commitment (vv. 32-35)
Joshua remembered during the celebration and sacrifices to give attention to God's Word. He "copied on stones the law of Moses" (v. 32) and then read it to all of the people. The behavior of Joshua and Israel was a symbol of their renewed commitment to God.
Some will read this chapter and see the regained ground as that which was overtaken at Ai. The real regained ground, though, was the renewed commitment God's people to Him. Just like water, our tendency is to flow only downhill, spiritually. We need to be reminded constantly, in times of challenge and in times of victory, that our real strength and our real source is God. Commitment to Him in worship and in His Word restores ground previously lost because of sin.