6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” (Joshua 7:6–9 ESV)
Interesting how quickly Joshua panics when a few Israelites are killed and the army retreats in haste.
By a few, I mean 36. Or, as both the ESV and the JPS Tanakh state (in fine journalistic fashion), “about thirty-six.” Three-dozen dead, give or take. Out of 3,000 soldiers, who then flee before the gates of the city of Ai [עַי]. It’s a rout, this little battle, and “the heart of the troops sank in utter dismay” (Joshua 7:5 JPS Tanakh) or, literally, “melted and turned to water” (וַיִּמַּס לְבַב־הָעָם וַיְהִי לְמָֽיִם).
It isn’t much of a defeat. But after Jericho, which God simply handed over to the Israelites, it was a humiliation.
I sympathize here with Joshua, whose cry here echoes the cries of Israel as it faced hunger, thirst, an Egyptian army, and the deep blue sea. Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you — accusing God or Moses or both — brought us out here to die? Would that we had been content with the food of Egypt, where we had full pots, than this miserable manna we must gather every morning! Did you bring us out of Egypt simply to kill us and our children?
Would that we had been content across Jordan, Joshua says. Lived quiet lives. We’re doomed. We look weak, and everyone knows it. We’re doomed! (Forgetting that the tales of what the Lord God had done for Israel so frightened the people of Jericho they had no fight in them.)
So Joshua asks:
What will you do for us now?!?
This is faith. A bold faith. A frightened faith. A desperate faith. A fighting faith. A faith that demands God act on behalf of God’s people. A faith that knows that without God’s redeeming acts, we are doomed.
What it isn’t is doubt. When Israel cried out in despair, in hunger, in thirst, in fear, Israel did not doubt. And God did not feed Israel, or slake their thirst in the wilderness, or even deliver them from the Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea, without Israel first despairing. “Did you bring us out here to die?” To look to God, to be afraid, to cry out in despair, to demand deliverance, that God act on his promises and save his people — this is faith.
This is faith.