Joshua 7: Achan's Sin
Joshua 7: “Victory and Purity”
The Bible is True…
Intro: We’re continuing a series on the Old Testament book of Joshua to see how God used the man, Joshua, and the people of Israel to accomplish his purposes. Last week we looked at the story of Jericho and saw how God got victory through Israel’s obedience, through Jericho’s rebellion, and through Rahab’s surrender.
Today we will look a difficult story found in Joshua 7 commonly called, Achan’s sin. It’s difficult because when we face Achan’s sin of greed and covetousness…and how it negatively impacted so many, we are forced to look at how our sinful thoughts and behaviors impact those around us. We will see how God’s victory in and through His people is connected to obedience and faith.
I invite you to follow along on the screen, in your own Bible or Bible App. Or…if you like, try closing your eyes and placing yourself in this story. Maybe you’re one of Achan’s family members…or you’re close to Joshua as he’s praying. Maybe you’re one the spouses of one of the 36 men killed in battle with the kingdom of Ai. Regardless, try identifying with the original hearers. Let’s read the story. [Read Joshua 7:1-26 NIV]
We just witnessed God’s great victory over the pagan Canaanite city of Jericho, with the loud trumpet blasts and shouts from the army of Israel and “the walls came ‘a tumblin’ down.” The fears of the people of Jericho came to fruition. Their hearts melted, then their lives were ended, and the city destroyed. What could stop God’s mighty army now!
Turn the page in the story of our heroes and read this little three letter word: B-U-T. “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things. Achan…took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.”
To understand this great sin, let’s go back to the story of the fall of Jericho and find out about these “devoted things.” On the seventh day, as they were about to march around the city the seventh time and shout, the Lord, through Joshua made this command: “But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.”
Ordinarily, the prevailing army got to keep the spoils of war, and Israel was no exception. That’s how the nation gained so much wealth as they conquered the Promised Land. But the spoils of this first city—Jericho—was to be a first fruits, of sorts, unto the Lord.
As an act of trust in God and obedience to His commands, the army of Israel was to give ALL the spoils of Jericho to God’s treasury—all the silver, gold, bronze, and iron objects.
They were called the “devoted things” because they were devoted to God, the source of Israel’s victory. But it turns out that some of these devoted things became the downfall and destruction of one man (Achan) and his family, the defeat of Israel as well as the needless death of 36 men.
We can learn so much from this story of Achan’s sin, a.k.a., the Valley of Trouble. Let’s look at a few life lessons on sin, faith, and obedience.
Lesson One: Sin hurts more than the sinner
Notice that the story opens with the statement that Israel was the object of the Lord’s anger. Why? Because Israel was one people of the Lord, not just a collection of tribes, clans, families, and individuals.
According to Deut. 23:14, Jehovah God walked about in their camp, therefore the entire camp was to be kept holy. So, when Achan sinned against God, it affected the entire camp.
Here’s how Achan’s sin affected the entire camp. After the victory of the large fortified city of Jericho, Israel sent just 3,000 troops up to take a small town of Ai on top of a hill. Ai is about 15 miles up from Jericho…and it’s up because Ai is about 1,700 feet above sea level.
But God was NOT WITH ISREALE in their conquest and as a result the small town routed Israel, killing 36 soldiers. The Bible records the same emotion from Israel that had been expressed by Jericho TOWARD Israel—“the hearts of the people melted in fear and they became like water.” More on this later.
Because of Achan’s disobedience, people died and a nation trembled because they now knew their vulnerabilities and they knew that OTHER nations new they were subject to defeat and would have all the more resolve to destroy them.
From our own lives, we know that sin hurts more than just the sinner, don’t we? I think back over my life and recall those times when I let my sin of anger hurt others, especially my family. At the very least, my sin of anger hurt my relationships with some of the very people God has sent me to shepherd. I thank God for those of you who have shown grace and offered reconciliation. I don’t take that lightly.
The sin of divorce (and that’s what the Bible calls divorce—sin) can be painful for children and extended families. The struggles of addictions hurt not only the one addicted but spouses, children, and parents. In the news just this past week a Pennsylvania grand jury indictment of 301 Catholic priests who had sexually abused more than 1,000 victims over a decades, while the church covered up the crimes by either moving the priests or sending them to privately run treatment centers before sending them to new parishes. I think we all agree that sin indeed hurts more than the sinner.
Lesson Two: Self-confidence, rather than God-confidence, can lead to defeat
Let’s be honest. It’s important to have a positive self-image. A low self-worth is the cause of many personal issues. Addictions, co-dependency, choosing relationships for the wrong reasons, self-harm…these are just a few of the possible outcomes of low self-image.
A healthy self-image comes when we see ourselves as a child of God made in His image…when we trust that God knows the best outcome for our lives because we are his workmanship and we work best when God works in and through us.
Overconfidence occurs when we trust the outcomes in our lives solely on our own abilities. That’s what happened to Joshua and the Israelites. Having just won a major victory at Jericho, they trusted in their own abilities—forgetting it was God who brought those walls down, NOT their shouts. The shouts were just the distraction for God do what God does…the miraculous.
After Jericho, Joshua and Israel walked by site and not by faith. Had Joshua stopped and had a prayer meeting before charging the hill, there might have been a different outcome. Perhaps God would have warned them that he was NOT in their camp because SIN had showed up!
One of my favorite worship artists is Jason Upton, who sings a song called, Joshua. One of the lines in the song goes like this: “God said, Joshua take a stand. Remember my command. There is no victory without hearts of purity.”
Like he did before the battle of Jericho, Joshua sent some spies to report back what they saw at Ai. The spies boasted that it was not necessary to trouble the entire army for this Podunk hillbilly town. “Send a few thousand troops. That should do it.” Consult God? Nah. Don’t bother the Man upstairs. WE got this! Right?
Wrong. The problem is that Israel STILL had the misguided notion that God was on their side, no matter what. They somehow thought that being “mostly” consecrated to the Lord was good enough. You see, the enemy of God’s best is our willingness to compromise God’s way for expediency, convenience, and even self-preservation.
Join a Kairos Prison Ministry team? That would take up too much of my time. Support the rescue of girls caught in human trafficking? That sounds too messy and unsavory. Work with others to build handicap ramps and steps for the elderly and widows? What about SEC football? Give a tithe unto the Lord? Surely God didn’t mean that, did he?
Choosing to obey God EVERY time about EVERY thing is not easy, but neither was it easy for Jesus to obey His heavenly Father—OUR heavenly Father—in every way, even death on a cross. And our call to discipleship is no less demanding and just as rewarding as the joy set before Jesus to endure His cross. Self-confidence, rather than God-confidence, can lead to defeat.
God let Israel suffer defeat by an inferior pagan city-state to teach them a lesson—you can’t separate victory from purity. Spiritual success depends upon our choosing HOLINESS and FAITH in God over compromise and misdirected self-confidence. We must surrender to the King of kings and Lord of lords. We must trust that God is our wise guide, our sure and strong defender, and our provider of truth, peace and hope.
After their defeat, Joshua and the others rightly humbled themselves before God. To tear one’s clothes and to cover one’s self with dust and lie prostrate are all customary Jewish practices to show shame or distress, both individually and corporately.
Joshua sort of blamed God for their problems. He questioned God for delivering them into the hands of the Amorites. He prayed one of those, “if only” kind of prayers. Oh, Lord, if only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan. Sounds a lot like what the Israelites said to Moses, “If only we had stayed in Egypt.” This prayer by Joshua is coming from a place of doubt and defeat. How quickly we forget who’s in charge.
God didn’t care for Joshua’s tone because his reply was something like this: “What are you doing down there in the dirt. Get up! Consecrate the people because tomorrow we are going to find out who brought this sin in the camp by taking the dedicated things for themselves. We are going tribe by tribe, clan by clan, family by family, and person by person. And WHEN the guilty party comes clean, all Israel will destroy this source of sin and disgrace SO THAT your camp may be consecrated for my Presence.” This brings us to the third lesson.
Lesson Three : Sooner or later, Sin must be dealt with.
God instructed Israel to consecrate themselves—to get themselves ready spiritually for a special day when sin would be eliminated from the camp. The camp would not be worthy of God’s presence until it is cleansed of sin.
They went tribe by tribe until they came to the tribe of Judah. Most likely the Levitical priests used the sacred ephod worn by the priest to determine God’s direction. Or maybe they cast lots. In some manner, it was determined that the guilty party was within the tribe of Judah. From there it was determined it was the clan of Zerah. Then the family of Zimri, and finally it was Achan, son of Karmi, who was chosen to be the guilty one.
Imagine what Achan must have felt when he was discovered. Was it relief because the guilt was eating at him? Was it fear, since he knew the consequences of his actions would affect not only himself but also his immediate family? There’s another line in that song, Joshua that says, “You and I we’ve heard the tempter’s plea. Sin will only hurt if someone sees.” Since he secretly hid the devoted valuables in his tent and apparently nobody noticed him doing it, I wonder if he heard the tempter say, “It’s okay, Achan, only you and I know your secret. It won’t hurt anybody.”
Achan came clean. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel.” He went on to describe what was in his heart at the time: the lust of the eye for that beautiful robe, and all that silver and gold made him want what was not his. That’s what coveting is, after all. And did I mention that coveting what is not yours is one of the BIG TEN? Why? Because to covet changes the heart and once the heart turns toward wrong-doing, it’s just a matter of time before the actions will follow. But…sooner or later, our sin must be dealt with.
It’s interesting that Joshua tells Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” To confess our sins, one to another, brings honor to God. The apostle James says it this way, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” There is a connection between coming clean and “BEING CLEAN.” We’re only fooling ourselves if we think we can hide our sin from God like Achan hid those things in his tent.
This leads us to the fourth and final point today: Forgiveness of sin does not always eliminate consequences
Scripture does not speak of Achan’s condition with God after that confession. Maybe because he confessed only after being found out, there was the consequence of death instead of simply being cast out of the camp. If he had allowed what he knew about God to govern his thinking and action, maybe Achan would have come to Joshua after the defeat at Ai and confessed that HE was the reason for their failure. In any event, sin had to be dealt with. There were at least 5 consequences for Achan’s sin:
- God had removed his Presence from them. The Ark was just a pretty piece of furniture as long as God was not moving with Israel. Defeat was inevitable.
- Israel suffered a minor military defeat but a major spiritual and emotional loss. They no longer saw themselves as the protected children of God.
- 36 men died in battle that should never had died. That does not sit well with grieving wives and children.
- Achan lost his life because of his covetous behavior
- Achan’s family—who must have known about the sin, since Deut. 24:16 prohibited innocent family members from being punished for the sins of relatives.
I think about the consequences of my sinful behavior. Most poignantly and regrettably, Hannah Rose’s eating disorder was, in part, due to the way I displayed my anger toward her. While I know she has forgiven me…and that God has forgiven me because of my confession and repentance, there were still consequences. Experts say that, like alcoholism, eating disorders never leave. She will always have to fight against that demon.
Knowing that our sin has consequences, even though we are forgiven, should motivate us to AVOID SIN IN THE FIRST PLACE. If you know that flirting with someone other than your wife will hurt your marriage, why not avoid it? If you know drunkenness leads to bad choices, why not quit at one drink…or better yet, DON’T DRINK! If you know that listening to profanity and watching television with nudity and violence leads to bad thoughts and maybe even actions, why not turn the channel…or TURN IT OFF!
As troubling as this may sound to some of you, there are times when the church needs to clean the camp of its sin. Not only do we all need to clean out our own closets, there are times when a spring cleaning of corporate sin is needed. Remember the Covenant Renewal Service we did in January? That is ONE way to clean the camp. Other times, we may need to invite people living in known, unconfessed sin to leave the camp for a season until they can admit their sin against God and others, be forgiven and restored to the body of Christ. Don’t believe me? Read 1 Corinthians 5.
Our sin has consequences. Most significantly, it was OUR sin that put Jesus on the cross. Though he willingly gave up his life to save ours, it was still a consequence to sin. But THROUGH the consequence of our sin, we have forgiveness, redemption, and everlasting life if we will do what Achan did—confess that we are a sinner in need of a Savior. Admit that we blew it, but accept that Jesus is victorious over our sin and death through his death and resurrection.
That’s the Good News today. While we have the power by the Holy Spirit NOT to sin, we also have forgiveness through Christ if we sin, WHEN we turn back toward God, ask for forgiveness, and live holy lives.
And like the camp of Israel was consecrated and God walked with them again, we, too, can experience the peace and assurance that God walks with us and we with Him. We can be a holy people, set apart SO THAT God can be victorious in and through our lives. The world needs to see the Victory of Jesus in us. Remember, there is NO VICTORY without HEARTS OF PURITY. AMEN.