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The danger of success

“The Lord has driven out great and powerful nations for you, and no one has yet been able to defeat you. Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as he has promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.” — Joshua 23:9-11

Yesterday’s victories do not guarantee tomorrow’s triumphs.

Napoleon’s string of victories was stopped at Waterloo, and Hitler’s relentless eastward march came to an end in the ruins of Stalingrad. The champions of any sport know that all winning streaks come to an end, and even the most successful salesman knows that one day he will not be able to close the deal.

Sometimes the heady atmosphere of continual victory contributes to the factors that lead to eventual defeat. Appropriate confidence degenerates into unseemly arrogance, healthy respect for the opposition hardens into flippant disparagement, and careful preparation gives way to mindless attitudes and a casual approach.

Joshua, the seasoned general, knew this. His fighting forces had tasted the thrills of victory over an extended period. So toward the end of his life, Joshua reminded the leadership of Israel, “The Lord has driven out great and powerful nations for you, and no one has yet been able to defeat you” (Joshua 23:9).

The emphasis was on the Lord, so he added, “The Lord your God fights for you, just as he has promised” (23:10).

It seems unthinkable that the Israelites, whose victories had been so spectacular that they were unmistakably the work of the Lord, would ever overlook their complete dependence on divine intervention in their affairs. But victorious armies do grow careless, and winning teams do stray from the things that brought them success.

Israel was no exception. So, Joshua insisted, “Be very careful to love the Lord your God” (23:11).

Joshua had the foresight to recognize that victorious Israel could fall on its face. He recognized that there were still undefeated enemies in their midst who would dearly love to bring Israel’s winning streak to an end. So he posited the unthinkable possibility that the day might dawn when the Lord would “no longer drive [the enemies] out,” and he warned that they could become “a snare and a trap to you, a pain in your side and a thorn in your eyes, and you will be wiped out from this good land the Lord your God has given you” (23:13).

Joshua did not envision that the triumphant Israelite army would suddenly become incompetent, or that their experienced leaders would mysteriously lose their strategic skills. It was more serious than that. He saw a day when the armies might discount the Lord and become so sure of themselves that they would no longer love Him and honor Him, when they would slide into compromise and lapse into disobedience and head for disaster.

That’s the way to guarantee that yesterday’s victories turn into tomorrow’s defeats. It is a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

For further study: Joshua 23:1-16

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.