Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
Chapter 7 lays open the principles of God's government, or His ways in the midst of His people who are in conflict. Victory leads to negligence. The work is thought easy. After a manifestation of God's power there is a kind of confidence which in reality is only self-confidence, for it neglects God. What proves this is that God is not consulted. Ai was but a small city. Two or three thousand men could easily take it. They went up and viewed the country, but God was forgotten. The consequence of this will be seen. If they had taken counsel of Jehovah, either He would have given no answer on account of the accursed thing, or He would have made its presence known. But they did not seek His counsel; they went forward, and they were defeated. The people of God surrounded by the enemy, have lost their strength, and flee before the least city in the land. What Will they do now? This is more than they know. Engaged in battle, and unable to conquer, what can they do there, where victory alone is their safety? "The hearts of the people melted and became as water." Joshua cries unto Jehovah, for in such a case even he who has the Spirit is taken by surprise, not having acted according to the Spirit. He must fall on his face before Jehovah, for their condition is not normal, not according to the Spirit who is the only guide and wisdom of His people. Joshua however recalls the power by which God had brought the people over Jordan, and contrasts it with their present condition, so evidently inconsistent with it. "Wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan, O Lord! what shall I say?"
This was a perturbed state of mind, the effect of a mixture of unbelief with the remembrance of the wonders which the power of God had wrought. Joshua loves the people, and he sets before God the glory of His name; yet with a timorous wish that they had remained on the other side of Jordan (and what to do there? for unbelief ever reasons badly), away from the conflict which led to such disasters-a wish that betrayed the unbelief which disturbed his heart.
Such is the state of a believer's soul in the conflict which the Holy Ghost brings him into, when the state of his soul does not inwardly correspond with the presence of the Holy Ghost who is our only strength for conflict. There is no escape. The position in which the saints find themselves is one which absolutely requires strength; yet the very nature of God prevents His bestowing it. We lament, we recognise His power, we dread the enemy. We talk of God's glory: but we are thinking of our own fears and our own condition. Yet the thing was very simple. "Israel hath sinned." Man, even when spiritual, looks at results (because he is in close contact with them), even while owning the power of God, and the connection between Him and His people. But God looks at the cause, and also at what He is Himself. It is true that He is love, but He cannot sacrifice the very principles of His being, nor deny Himself in those relationships which are founded upon what He is. His glory is indeed connected through grace with the well-being of His people. But He will vindicate His glory, and even bless His people in the end, without compromising these principles. Faith must count on the sure result of His faithfulness, but bring the heart (submitting to God's ways) into accordance with those principles. It would not be maintaining His glory in the midst of His people if He tolerated amongst them anything contrary to His essential character, and made use of His power to maintain them in a condition which would deny His nature. The relationship would be broken, and God Himself compromised-a thing absolutely impossible. They had sin amongst them, and the strength of God is no longer with them; for God cannot identify Himself with sin.
And let us remember that there was sin also in the neglect which went forward without seeking counsel from God. Joshua's cry did not at once bring deliverance, but, first of all, discovery of the sin, with respect to which God is very precise and exact. When the government of His people is in question, He searches into everything, and takes cognisance of the smallest details (see Jos 7:11). Further, God not only said, "therefore Israel could not stand," but "Thou canst not stand." Their weakness would continue. Sorrowful change! Before it was "No man shall be able to stand before thee." Now they could not stand themselves. Where there is not holiness, God allows the weakness of His people to be practically seen; for there is no strength but in Him, and He will not go out with them where holiness is wanting, nor thus sanction and encourage sin. Only, let us remark here, that God does not always withdraw His blessing at once from those who are unfaithful. He frequently chastens them on one hand, and blesses them on the other. He deals patiently, He instructs them, in His grace; He does not bless them on the side where the evil is, but He acts with admirable tenderness and perfect knowledge, taking the trouble, so to say, of following the soul in detail according to its condition and for its good; for He is full of grace. How often He thus waits for the repentance of His people! Alas! how often He waits for it in vain. But we have here the great principle on which He acts (as in the case of Jericho, that of His power exercised on behalf of His people), proving that all is of God.
Another important principle is here set before us. The people of God are viewed corporately, as to the effects of sin amongst them. God is in their midst. sin is committed there. He is there. But since there is only one God there, and the people are one, if God is displeased and cannot act, the whole people suffer in consequence, for they have no other strength but God. The only remedy is to put away the accursed thing. We find the same thing at Corinth, modified according to the principles of grace. The wicked person must be put away. If not, they are all identified with the sin until they have put it away, and have thus "approved themselves to be clear." In doing so, they take God's part against the sin, and the relationship between God and the body reassumes its normal state. Nevertheless all this cannot fail to produce certain painful effects. If the accursed thing is there, although God may have been glorified in the manifestation of the perfection of His ways-of His jealousy of sin, and perfect knowledge of all that happens (for Achan's confession justifies God, and the people have not a word to say), still, though the sin is no longer concealed, discipline must be carried out. The confession of Achan (whose sin had been brought to light, through the obedience of the people, or of Joshua, to the Lord's directions) does but ratify, in the eyes of all, the just judgment.
But it is well to remember here that christian discipline has always the recovery of the soul for its object. Even if the offender should be delivered unto Satan, it is for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord-a most forcible reason for exercising this discipline, according to the measure of our spiritual power; for we cannot go beyond that. At the least we might always humble ourselves before God, in order that the evil may be removed. To be indifferent to the presence of evil in the church is to be guilty of high treason against God; it is taking advantage of His love to deny his holiness, despising and dishonouring Him before all. God acts in love in the church; but He acts with holiness and for the maintenance of holiness: otherwise it would not be the love of God which acted; it would not be seeking the prosperity of souls.
It is interesting to see that this valley of Achor, the witness and the memorial of the first sin committed by Israel after they had entered the land, is given them "for a door of hope" (Hos 2:15), when the sovereign grace of God is in action. It is always thus. Fear sin, but do not fear the bitterness of its discovery, nor that of its chastisement: for at this point God resumes the course of blessing. Blessed be His gracious name for it! Alas! Shinar (Babylon) and money soon begin to affect the ways of the people of God. They find these things amongst their enemies, and the carnal heart covets them. Observe also that, if there is faithfulness and obedience, God never fails to manifest and take away that which hinders the blessing of His people. Let us follow the history of the people's restoration to God's favour.