One thing about sin - it will find you out. Just ask Achan. In Joshua 7, Israel had just come off of a tremendous victory at Jericho. They had won their first battle towards inheriting the Promised Land. But they would soon suffer a humiliating defeat at Ai. How could this happen? Didn't God want them to succeed? Didn't He say that they would win the battles? Here are several reasons why Israel lost the battle at Ai. (They went on to win at Ai after they dealt with the sin - Joshua 8).
1. They disobeyed a direct command from God.
God told the Israelites not to take anything from their victory at Jericho. But Achan had stolen some things and hid them under his tent. You know you are wrong when you try to hide your sin. You cannot hide sin - it will find you out (Numbers 32:23). You cannot directly disobey God and expect to have victory in your life.
2. Achan was concerned about immediate satisfaction instead of inheriting the Promised Land.
God had promised Achan (as well as all of Israel) great things, but he could not wait for them. They had to have their great things now. Question: "How can you enjoy something buried in dirt under your tent?" You can't touch or see it. You can only hope someone doesn't find out about it. Sounds satisfying to me! Yet many try and achieve satisfaction that way. God's best is ahead - don't rush the process.
3. They were overly confident in themselves.
Instead of sending out the full army to deal with Ai, they only sent out about 3,000 men. Because of this, 36 men were killed and the rest of the army ran for their lives. After God does something great in our lives, we too must not let our defenses down or stray from God's plan. We cannot get too self-confident and cocky in our own accomplishments - the battle is the Lord's, not ours.
4. Joshua was deceived.
Joshua did not listen to the Lord's plans (Joshua 7:13) and clearly the Lord was not with them in this failed attempt to conquer Ai (7:12). They had come up with their own plan and sent out only part of the warriors. I'm sure these warriors were not as guarded and ready based on the spies report of only a few people inhabiting the land of Ai. Joshua had not prayed to God about this plan - he just went along with it. This is a long way away from where he was before Jericho was defeated (Read Joshua 5:13-15). We cannot just go along with any old plan. We must be about what the Lord told us to do. We must pray through the plan all the way to victory.
5. They did not deal with sin until after defeat.
Achan's sin was not dealt with until after they lost to Ai. They had lost their ongoing emphasis on dealing with sin. This happens when you become self-confident. Why does it take failure for us to deal with sin? Why don't we deal with sin before it leads to failure? Why does failure cause us to repent? Why not a holy fear of God instead?
6. They thought a "little sin" would only hurt the one who sinned.
After all, no one would find Achan's buried treasures. After things cooled down, he would dig them up and enjoy them, right? No one knew - that is right. But God did. And it killed 36 men and compromised the whole nation of Israel. Instead of winning the promised victory at Ai, they lost in humiliation. Sin never affects just you. It always reaches beyond the dirt of the tent to the lives of the whole nation.
7. They tried to be religious.
In Joshua 7:6-9 they fell on their face before the Ark of the Covenant, tore their clothes, stayed till evening - all the marks of feeling guilty. Haven't you seen people do this? When things go wrong in their lives they turn back to God, get in church and cry at the altar? Joshua even put on ashes. He then went on to whine about his problem and wish he had never crossed the Jordan river. God told him (v. 10) to stand up and stop being religious. God told him to deal with the sin in the camp then they would win. We too must stop being religious and deal with the sin in our camp. Then, we will win the victory.