And Joshua rose up early in the morning and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people of Ai.
It has been aptly said that failure is the back door to success. Nowhere is this adage more graphically illustrated in Scripture than in the capture of Ai. With a task force of 3,000 men Israel had failed miserably in her attempted conquest of Ai because of one man's sin. Achan kept God's people from victory, but once his sin had been dealt with, victory would most assuredly come again to Israel.
The defeat at Ai could have dealt a devastating blow to Joshua's leadership. Joshua feared the Canaanites would hear of Israel's cowardice and their name would be cut off from the earth. His concern really was what such a defeat would mean to the great name of Jehovah God. But his fears were alleviated when Jehovah promised Joshua victory in the second battle of Ai.
The plan of attack for this battle, unlike that of Jericho, was far more likely to be included in military manuals. God told Joshua to put an ambush of 30,000 men between Ai and Bethel to the west. To this was later added another ambush of 5,000 men in the same direction. Meanwhile "Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people of Ai" (Joshua 8:10). When the king of Ai saw what was happening, he too "hasted and rose up early" in the morning (Joshua 8:14). Mustering his Aiite troops, he marched out to meet the main body of the Israelite forces. Because he knew that the enemy was fully aware that Israel had retreated once in defeat, Joshua feigned a retreat, drawing his troops back to the northeast. The Aiite troops followed.
While this was happening, the Israelites that were waiting in ambush entered the now empty city of Ai and burned it to the ground. When the king and his men turned to see their city smoldering, they realized their defeat was imminent. They were surrounded by Israelite soldiers. The Israelites in the ambush then came out of Ai and marched on the rear flank of the Aiite army. Joshua reversed his movement and caught the king and his men in a pincer movement. The people of Ai were defeated; Joshua's victory was now complete.
Joshua had taken the stumbling stone of defeat and turned it into the stepping-stone of success. In doing so he learned the valuable lesson that our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall. Others give striking testimony to this fact as well.
In 1832 a young American was a candidate for the legislature. He lost. In 1834 he was again a candidate and this time he won. In 1847 he went to the United States Congress but served only one term. He was not even renominated by his party. He campaigned for Zachary Taylor for president, hoping to be appointed commissioner of the General Land Office. He wasn't. He returned to private law practice. In 1854 he again ran for the legislature and won but soon resigned because he hoped the new anti-Nebraska party would support him for the senate. They didn't. In 1856 he was nominated for the office of vice-president of the United States and lost. In 1858 he ran again for the United States Senate and lost again. In 1860 he was simply nominated as a favorite son from Illinois for the presidency, and later that year he, Abraham Lincoln, was elected president of the United States. Like Lincoln, we must never allow yesterday's mistakes to bankrupt tomorrow's efforts.
Just as there is no failure more disastrous than success that leaves God out of the picture, likewise there is no success greater than the rediscovery of the power of God in our lives. We must never be ashamed to confess that we have failed, for this is but one way of saying we are wiser today than we were yesterday.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious Thy great name we praise.