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Joshua 8:1-35


Intro: Our text speaks about the tiny city of Ai. From all indications, this city should have been a pushover for Israel as they marched through Canaan. However, in chapter 7, Israel experienced her only defeat when they attacked the little city of Ai. In that battle, thirty-six of their soldiers died and Israel was forved to flee from the soldiers of Ai.

Israel experienced this defeat for a couple of reasons. First, they failed to seek the Lord’s will before they went into battle. They were arrogant and proud after their victory at Jericho. They assumed they were beyond defeat. They learned differently.

Another reason they suffered this defeat was because there was sin among them. When Israel faced Jericho in chapter 6, they were commanded to destroy the city, but they were to take the wealth of the city and dedicate it to the Lord. A man named Achan took some of that wealth for himself and brought the wrath of God upon the whole nation. Because of these two failures, Israel suffered a tragic defeat at Ai.

The Lord used the defeat at Ai to teach Israel the importance of holiness and of seeking the Lord’s will in every situation. He used this defeat to teach them the danger of pride, Pro. 16:18. One of the most valuable lessons Israel learned was the truth that they needed the Lord, His presence and His power, if they were going to defeat their enemies and walk in victory.

There is a sense in which we believers are a lot like Israel. If you are a child of God, then you know something about battles. You know that you have three very powerful enemies that must be overcome every day you live. The world, the flesh and the devil are all out to destroy the child of God, but each of these enemies can be defeated, if they are handled according to the will of God.

As we move into these verses, I want you to see that Ai is a picture of one of our enemies. Ai is a picture the flesh. The word “Ai” means “a heap of ruins.” That is a good way to describe our flesh, or our fallen, human natures. Paul reminds us about the wickedness of the flesh in Rom. 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing...” Our flesh is dead, Eph. 2:1, and it is absolutely wicked and unredeemable, Rom. 3:10-23.

Ai is first mentioned in the book of Genesis in connection with the life of Abraham, Gen. 12:8; 13:3. The Bible tells us that Abraham pitched his tent “between Bethel and Hai.” Now, the name “Bethel” means, “The house of God.” Like Abraham, many of God’s people have pitched their tents somewhere between “the house of God” and “a heap of ruins.” 

Do you see the connection? You can either live in a place of victory and blessing, or you can live in a place of defeat and misery. You can either have a Bethel kind of life or an Ai experience. The kind of life you live will be determined by where you pitch your tent! 

Just like Israel, we often lose battles to our flesh, but by God’s help we can learn how to defeat our Ai and walk away with the victory in our lives. 

  • I don’t know the battles that you are fighting with your flesh, but I do know that you are. 
  • I do not know the battles you are fighting with your flesh, but I do know that you can experience victory over your Ai. 

These verses have something to teach us about how that can become a reality in our lives. Notice with me the truths that present themselves in this passage. I want to preach on the thought: Victory Is Yours, If You Want It.


A.  V. 1  A Word About Winning - When the Lord speaks to Joshua, aGod tells him to go to Ai. God promises Joshua that things will be different this time. He assures Joshua and Israel of the victory.

It is interesting that the Lord called them to return to the place of their greatest defeat. God knew that they needed to overcome Ai before they could move on in the conquest of Canaan. 

The same is true for us. 

  • How many times have we lost the battle to the flesh? 
  • How many times have we been defeated by this old sinful nature’s lust for the forbidden? 
  • How many times have we fallen and wondered if we would ever get back to where we were before. 

If that has been your experience, the Lord has a word for you today!

He says to Joshua, “Fear not…I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king… 

To those who have fallen and have lost a battle to the flesh, God says, “Fear not! I am able to give you the victory! 

God has made some tremendous promises to His children. We do not have to live in defeat! 

  • We are no longer slaves to sin, the flesh and the devil. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace,Rom. 6:14! 
  • We have been made “new creatures” in Jesus Christ. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,2 Cor. 5:17.
  • We have been given the “divine nature.” “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust,” 2 Pet. 2:4.
  • We are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, Who teaches us about the dangers of sin and about the blessings of holiness. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth...John 16:13.
  • God has promised the victory to His children. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,1 Cor. 15:57.

The Lord did not save you to leave you defeated, beaten, and enslaved by the flesh. He saved you to set you free, to enable you to walk in the victory that He gives to all those who walk according to His Word and His will.

B.  V. 2  A Word About Waiting - Notice that the Lord tells them that they will do to Ai what they did to Jericho, except this time, they are allowed to take all the spoils for themselves! If Achan would have waited just a few more days, he could have had all the riches that he could have imagined. Instead, he ran ahead of God and grabbed for himself what God had forbidden, and as a result, Achan and Israel paid a terribly high price.

What a lesson for you and me today! If we could just learn to wait on God and let Him lead and bring into our lives the things that need to be there, we would be far better off. The flesh is impatient! Our flesh wants what it wants and it wants it now! It doesn’t want to wait for its gratification. 

We are far better off to wait on the Lord to bring those things into our lives that He knows are best for us, than we are to run ahead of God. But, that’s what we do isn’t it? We make our plans, do our thing, and never check with God about it. Then, when we make a mess, we expect Him to bail us out! 

When we can learn to wait on the Lord, we are well on our way to victory in the Christian life.

  • Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it,Psa. 37:34.
  • Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD,Psa. 27:14.

  I.  Victory Over Ai Is Promised


A.  V. 3-17  They Embraced God’s Plan - God told them in exact detail how they were to mount their attack against Ai. (Ill. The Context.) They were to lay an ambush for Ai and they would take the city and all its inhabitants. Israel learned at Jericho what happens when you do things the Lord’s way. They had also learned what happens when they refused to do it God’s way. They learned that failure awaits that person who goes against the will of the Lord.

We need to learn this lesson today! When you fight the battle God’s way, you cannot fail. When you do it your way, you are headed for trouble.

We are talking about fighting this flesh and its lusts. If you are going to pursue victory over your flesh, and if you ever expect to gain the victory, then you must go about it God’s way. No other plan will work! I will say more about God’s plan for dealing with the flesh in a moment, but for now, you need to know that if you will win the victory over your flesh, then you need constant contact with spiritual supports God has given us. We are strengthened spiritually when we are exposed to the spiritual blessings the Lord has given to us to help us walk in His will. 

God’s spiritual support system must be made a huge part of our lives:

1.  We need the Word of God - 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:15

2.  We need prayer - Luke 18:1; 1 Thes. 5:17; James 4:2

3.  We need faithful church attendance - Heb. 10:25

4.  We need the constant fellowship of the saints - 1 Cor. 12:27

None of these things will give victory in and of themselves, but we need each of them to strengthen us and to help us grow in the Lord. When we begin to neglect even one of these essential areas, then we are headed toward spiritual trouble. When we feed the flesh and ignore our spiritual needs, it is a sign of impending problems in our spiritual lives!

B.  V. 18-23 They Experienced God’s Power - Ill. The Context. Israel fought the battle, but God gave the victory! The first time Israel went to Ai, they went in their own power and they suffered terrible, humiliating defeat. This time they went to battle walking in the power of God and they were victorious.

There is a lesson here for those who struggle with their flesh. 

  • The battle with your flesh will not be won by your ability to say “no” to sin, because you can’t say “no” all the time.
  • The battle will not be won because you are more powerful than the temptations you face, because you are not. 

The fact is, if you try to fight the spiritual battles of life in your own power, you are headed for terrible defeat in your life. You might as well plan now for a string of sins and defeats in the flesh. 

There is just one way for us to prevail in this battle, and that is for us to learn to appropriate the power of God in our lives. We are unable to fight the flesh, sin and the world in our own power. We need to realize that when we cannot win the battle, only He can! 

  • Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,Eph. 6:10.
  • I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,Phil. 4:13.
  • There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it,1 Cor. 10:13.
  • Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,1 John 4:4.

The only way any of us will ever see victory over this flesh is through the power of God!

C.  V. 24-26 They Enjoyed God’s Performance - (Ill. The Context) These verses tell us that Israel trusted in the Lord and absolutely prevailed over their enemy. God did what He said He would do!

We are serving the very same God that gave Israel the victory. He hasn’t changed! He is still the same God today that He always has been and always will be. You can count on God to keep His Word, Rom. 4:21; Psa. 119:89; Matt. 24:32. 

When we are engaged in a battle with this flesh, we must be able to count on God, and we can! He is all powerful and He is able to help you as you fight the flesh and the battles of life. “14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,Heb. 4:14-16.

  I.  Victory Over Ai Is Promised

 II.  Victory Over Ai Is Pursued


At this point in this story, Israel has followed God’s plan and that have achieved the victory. Now, they must maintain their victory. They take two steps that make this a reality for them. 

We can achieve the victory over the flesh! We can walk in the will of God and be truly spiritual. We can be holy. We can live right. If we are going to maintain that victory, when God gives it, we must follow Israel’s example and do what they did at Ai. Let me share those steps with you.

A.  V. 27-29  Victory Is Preserved By Death - Please notice that they did not leave a single person alive in Ai. No one, from the king down to the humblest servant, was spared from death in this battle. God knew that this enemy had to be totally eradicated or there would be problems down the road.

The lesson for us today is this: Your flesh is still alive and well, but it must be put to death! Some say that when a person gets saved, their flesh is put to death. I’ve got news for you, they are wrong! Your flesh is as alive today as it ever has been. It still likes all the things that it used to like, and if you turned it loose, it would run to sin like a pig to a wallow. Your flesh is not saved. Your flesh is not holy. Your flesh is rotten and it hates God and everything He stands for! 

Now, we need to understand some things about our flesh if we are to have the victory over it today. Allow me to share some truths with you about your flesh.

1.  Your flesh is at war with the Spirit of God Who is in you - Gal. 5:16-24. This is a struggle that the Apostle Paul dealt with in great detail - Rom. 7:14-25.

2.  Your flesh was crucified with Jesus Christ - Rom. 6:6-7. This is our positional standing. In the eyes of God, our flesh, all its works and everything it stands for was crucified with Jesus at Calvary. God considers the wicked, sinful natures that we possess crucified with Christ. The flesh was reckoned dead when Jesus died on the cross.

3.  We are to reckon the flesh dead daily - Col. 3:1-10. This is how we are to live practically everyday. The secret to victory hover the flesh lies in seeing the flesh as God sees it. It lies in being able to reckon the flesh dead - Rom. 6:11-14; Gal. 2:20. When we come to the place that we can look at our flesh and its lusts and live as if it is dead then, and only then, can we expect victory in our lives. 

We don’t crucify the flesh by gratifying it! You cannot feed every lust that enters your mind and claim to be living a life that is pleasing to the Lord. Ill. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof,Rom. 13:14. The flesh must be reckoned dead every day we live. Listen, this is a conscious decision we must make in every situation we face in life. 

  • The fact is, we never truly fall into sin, we usually walk into it with our eyes open. 
  • We sin because we do not flee sin. 
  • We sin because we allow the flesh and its lusts to control us. 
  • We sin because we do not yield to the Spirit of God in every thing!
  • We are told to flee those things that tempt us - 2 Tim. 2:22.

4.  There will come a day when the battle with the flesh will end. One day, the Lord will deliver us from this vile flesh and we shall be changed to be like Him. 

    • Positionally, God says that our flesh is dead to sin. 
    • Practically speaking it can be, but only as we take the initiative to reckon it dead day by day. 
    • One day, we will be changed and we will be delivered from the very power and presence of sin, Rom. 7:24-25.

B.  V. 30-35 Victory Is Preserved By Devotion - Ill. The Context. After the enemy had been eradicated and victory had been preserved, Israel finished by doing what the Lord had told them to do in Deut. 27:1-28:6. 

Half of the nation was to stand on Mount Ebal and the other half on Mount Gerizim. The Levites were to stand in the valley between these mountains and were to read the cursings and the blessings. As they read the cursings, the crowd on Mount Ebal was to shout “Amen.” When they read the blessings, the crowd on Mount Gerizim was to shout “Amen.” This exercise was to remind them what God would bless and what He would not bless. They were also reaffirming their commitment to live by the Word of God every day! 

So, in obedience to the command of the Lord, Israel made the 30 mile trip to those mountains and they stood there facing one another across a valley that was 2 miles wide. As the commandments were read that day, they shouted “Amen!” Imagine what that scene must have looked and sounded like that day! There’s was a devotion to living by the Word of God.

By the way, the name “Ebal” means, “The Heap Of Barrenness.” Ebal was a barren, deserted rock. Ebal was the mountain of cursing. “Gerizim” means, “Cutting Off.” This was a beautiful, wooded mountain, surrounded by a fertile valley. Gerizim was the mountain of blessing. 

  • Ebal reminded Israel that disobedience to the Lord would result in barrenness. 
  • Gerizim reminded Israel that they were to be a separate people, and that if they walked in the ways of the Lord, they would receive His blessings in the Promised Land. 

Conc: Before Israel worshipped on the mountain they built an altar, and Joshua wrote the words of the Law of God in the presence of all the people, vv. 30-31. 

The altar was a place of death. It was a place of sacrifice. It served to remind them that they did not achieve anything by their own power; they only won the victory because God gave it to them. They were only victorious because they sacrificed their will, their pride and their ability at the feet of the Lord.

They built the altar without tools, reminding them that their victory over Ai was entirely the work of the Lord. They used rocks God Himself created to build a place to honor Him. The victory was not about them; it was about Him!

If we intend to enjoy God’s blessings in this life, we must learn to walk in the will of God. Before we can ever shout on the mountain, we must first kneel at the altar and acknowledge that we are incapable of fighting the battles, winning the victory, or hanging on to it after it has been won! If we are to win and preserve the victory day by day, then we must learn to live by the Word of God. We must learn to depend on the Lord. We must learn that we are helpless without Him! 

The path to lasting victory begins in the altar, in the place of sacrifice, on your knees!

Who would be honest today and say, “You know preacher, this message has been for me. I have a terrible battle with my flesh and all the things that it lusts after. I need help to overcome it today”? 

  • If that describes you, there is victory in the Lord, if you want it. 
  • If you have lost the battle and the flesh has whipped you again and again, there is forgiveness in our Lord, 1 John 1:9. 
  • If you need to lay an ambush for your Ai, God has a strategy to help guide you to victory.

  • Some here deal with lust, some with anger, some with bitterness, some with that besetting sin. 
  • Some here have been sneaking around doing and saying things that aren’t right. 
  • Some here know that you are messing around in dangerous territory today. 
  • I warn you now that if you keep letting your flesh feed itself and grow stronger, there will come a day real soon when it will take over your life. 
  • Today would be a good day to come before the Lord and seek His help in reckoning your flesh to be dead. 

Others here have never been saved. You don’t need to reckon your flesh dead, you need to know that your spirit is dead. What you need is a salvation experience. You need to be born again. It’s no wonder that you can’t achieve a place of victory in your life, you need to be saved.

I would just remind you that Victory Is Yours, If You Want It!

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