After she had been told the story of Jericho, Beth was happy. But as she tried to fall asleep that night, something about the story started to bother her. The next morning at breakfast, she had another question ready for her mother.
"Mother, were the Israelites upset that all they got for invading Jericho was a burned down city, a floating house, an immortal prostitute, and some money for God?" asked Beth as she tried to spell out "Jesus is Lord" in her Alphabets (and succeeding only by pretending that an "a" was an "o").
"Oh no, Dear One," her mother answered over her morning melon-with-half-a-cherry-in-the-middle. "They were pleased to be doing God's will."
"Besides," interjected Beth's father from behind the sports pages of his Christian Daily Clarion, "if they hadn't obeyed, God would have kicked their butts."
Somehow Beth's mother's withering glare managed to penetrate the newspaper and wrench a mumbled apology from Beth's father for his language.
Still, what he had said made Beth wonder. "Mother," she asked, "would God have punished the Israelites if they hadn't done as he said?"
"Of course, Dear One," answered her mother. "You know that God has no mercy for sinners. Here, if you will stop playing with your cereal and eat it, I'll tell you a story which will help you understand."
And this is the story she told:
One day Joshua sent men from Jericho to spy on the city of Ai.
The spies came back later and told Joshua, "We only need two or three thousand people to take over Ai. It's no big deal."
So three thousand Israelites went to invade Ai, but the people of Ai killed 36 of them and chased the rest of them away.
This made Joshua so upset that he tore his clothes, fell on his face, and lay like that in front of the ark of the covenant until evening. Also, Joshua and the old Israelites put dust on their heads.
Joshua said, "God, why did you make us come here and let the people of Ai beat us? We would have been happy to stay where we were. What am I going to do now that we have acted like cowards? All our enemies will hear about it and come to kill us."
"Get up," answered God. "Why are you lying on your face like that? You people have broken your promise to me. One of you took something from Jericho that he shouldn't have. That's why I made you cowards. In fact, I'm not going to have anything to do with you, except for killing the ones who broke their promise. Now get up and tell the people that they have to come to you one at a time until someone confesses. When you find out who is guilty, set him and all his stuff on fire."
The next morning, Joshua got up early and told the Israelites to come to him one at a time. When a man named Achen came to him, Joshua said, "My boy, confess. Tell me what you did. Don't keep it a secret."
Achen answered, "Okay, I did a bad thing. I saw some nice clothes and some gold and silver in Jericho and I took them. They're in my tent."
When he heard this, Joshua had messengers search Achen's tent. The messengers got the clothes, the gold, and the silver and brought them to Joshua for him to show God and everyone else.
Seeing this, Joshua and the Israelites, took Achen, the silver, the clothes, the gold, Achen's sons, his daughters, his oxes, his donkeys, his sheep, and his tent, hit them with rocks and set them on fire. The valley where they did that is still called the valley of Achor to this day.
With that bit of business taken care of, Joshua sent thirty thousand soldiers to Ai and, after a big battle, killed all twelve thousand people and set the city on fire. The only person they didn't kill was the king because the Israelites wanted to hang him later.
This time God let them keep the cattle and treasure, though.
Beth thought about this for a moment. "So," said Beth, "the Israelites lost the war when they were bad, but when they made up for their misdeeds, God helped them win."
"Yes, Dear One," said her mother. "This is a good story to remember if you are ever tempted to go against God's commandments. The Israelites were lost when they were sinners, but they repented. It was the glory of God that made them victorious in the end."
"Of course, having two and a half soldiers for every man, woman, and child in the town didn't hurt, either," said Beth's Father.
"God helps those who help themselves, Richard," said Beth's mother, and she spilled a full carton of milk into Beth's father's lap.
While her father cussed and cleaned himself up, Beth smiled and hugged her mother. All her questions had been answered.
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