The reputation of the Israelites preceded them as they begin to occupy the Promised Land, “they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites” (Joshua 5:1). Joshua was visited by “the commander of the Lord’s army” (5:13-15) and given an odd battle plan which he carried out in detail quite successfully. Rahab the prostitute and her family was spared (as promised) and they were rescued from the onslaught.
So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land. Joshua 6:27
Chapter 7 begins with “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things…the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.” Crazy to think, but easy to understand, one man from the tribe of Judah fell into temptation and took idols for his own. Even Rahab was wise enough to leave all of that behind, but not Achan!
Joshua sent spies to Ai to help set his battle plan. The spies reported the little town would require a relatively small group to overtake, so Joshua sent 3,000 men into battle.
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. Joshua 7:4-5
Joshua’s response: whine to the Lord! Seriously. After all that they’ve been through, Joshua’s response is weak, “What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?” (Joshua 7:8). God is not impressed:
Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Joshua 7:10
Achan’s sin is revealed as the thing that offended God and caused Him to remove his favor from Israel. So Achan, the silver, his sons and daughters and all that he had were exposed and “all Israel stoned him” and the rest of his family then burned everything else. The cancer was removed from Israel.
God provided instructions for luring the men of Ai out of the city and into a trap, an ambush. Ai was sure of their victory, given the previous success, and chased the Israelites leaving the city unguarded. Joshua and his 12,000+ men destroyed Ai and by the time the army realized the deception, they too were ambushed. And so Ai was destroyed completely.