When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water. Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord , remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord , why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” – Joshua 7:3-9
Well it did not take long for the Israelites to forget how to follow God. It was not long ago that God held back the waters of the Jordan River and then gave the Israelites victory over Jericho. Now it is the Israelites hearts that are melted out of fear and becoming like water rather than their enemies. So what changed? Guess who moved? The Israelites get ahead of God’s leading and fail to faithfully follow God. They forgot who it was who gave them the victory at Jericho.
The language used here is interesting —“Their hearts melted in fear and became like water”. I assume by hearts what is meant really is their souls or at least the part inside of them that makes decisions and choices. So what does it mean for our souls to become like water? How could our souls be like water? What is water like? I explored some of this territory in a blog post a while back about How God is like Water. What is different in this case is that our souls are being compared to water in a negative way.
Water is a fluid and fickle thing it 1) evaporates easily with the addition of a little heat and sunlight; 2) follows the path of least resistance; 3) almost always flows downhill in response to gravity; and 4) when two droplets are close they tend to group together into a larger droplet. Let’s explore each one of these.
Water has a relatively low boiling point and in fact water molecules are always moving from bodies of water into the air and back again. When heat is applied this process accelerates and water disappears into vapor. This is pretty much what happened to the Israelites confidence and resolve when they went up against the army of Ai. The heat of battle evaporated the confidence they had in God and they lost.
The reason they lost was apparently because they were following the path of least resistance rather than the path that God needed them to follow. They were not practicing the art of leading while following God. Their easy path ended up in disaster, just like some of the easy paths that many of us follow. The consequences are often not what we intend or want.
Water tends to obey gravity…it flows down hill. The equivalent of “gravity” for our souls can be the prevailing culture and morals that carry us with them if we are not careful to follow God. Following God often means swimming against the current (like water flowing up hill) in the opposite direction that we would be carried by the societal “gravity” around us. The Israelite leaders who went to war with Ai were allowing themselves to be carried by “gravity” instead of the God who wants to carry them like a son or daughter.
The last property of water is its tendency to clump together. If you have ever been mesmerized by water droplets on a car windshield or shower glass you will know what I am talking about. The droplets seem to be attracted to one another and all of a sudden combine into a larger droplet of water, gain mass and momentum, and move down the glass. This may be partly what happened to the Israelite leaders. They got together and their group momentum (peer pressure) caused them to make a very bad choice to get ahead of God. When we get out ahead of God it is easy to get lost.
Prayer: God I confess that my soul is like water sometimes, give me the wisdom, faith, and patience to faithfully follow You.