Series: Joshua Part 3, by Rosie Moore
“You have set our iniquities before You, Lord,
Our secret sins in the light of Your Presence” (Ps 90:8)
Joshua chapter 7 surely stands as one of the most shocking chapters in the Bible, a real dampener after the conquest of Jericho. Israel’s defeat at Ai showed that what mattered was not the power of the opponent, but the help of God. Without God’s help, the people of Israel had good reason to be afraid of even the weakest opposition, because if God didn’t fight for them, they could expect nothing but defeat. As Christ’s Church today, we should remember that all the power and programs in the world mean nothing if God withdraws his blessing and guidance from us.
Please read Joshua 7 prayerfully.
Achan’s secret sin.
But Achan’s sin might seem trivial to us. After all, he only took a beautiful robe from Babylonia, some shekels of silver and a wedge of gold from the plunder of Jericho (Josh 7:21). No one outside Achan’s family would have known about the hidden loot or been hurt by it. Surely it was a well-deserved reward for a soldier who had long awaited a slither of his own land? Hadn’t he fought hard for the welfare of his family and nation? Given the wealth of Jericho, Achan’s plunder was petty cash.
But God saw what Achan did, and there is no trivial or secret sin in God’s eyes. The Lord said, “Israel has sinned…they…they…they also”, not only one man. It is staggering to think that the whole nation was found guilty, and thirty-six men were dead, all for the sin of one man. God’s mercy made Israel fail in battle so that He could deal with a particular area of sin in the camp.
Sometimes we forget that all disobedience (even partial obedience) is rebellion against God and deserving of death. Achan’s story is a sobering reminder of God’s holiness and the serious, far-reaching consequences of our sin—even secret sins that nobody else can see.
But Achan’s story also points us to the desperate need for Christ’s atonement for the cleansing of our sin, for without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin. When we realise that we deserve no better than Achan, we begin to see the scandalous gift of Christ’s atonement and our urgent need, as his people, to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). The power and victory of Christ’s resurrection are ours as we die to our flesh with Him every day.
Two verses at the beginning and end of chapter 7 bookmark the story of Achan, who deliberately disobeyed God’s command not to take any of the devoted or banned or ‘accursed’ plunder from the battle of Jericho. One man stole from God, but Achan’s sin had far-reaching consequences for himself, his family and the whole nation of Israel. God’s anger burned against Israel. But when his sin was atoned for, the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Here are the two bookends:
“But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel” (Joshua 7:1)…
“Then all Israel stoned him (Achan), and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since” (Joshua 7:25-26).
Once Israel had been cleansed from Achan’s sin, Joshua prepared to fight against Ai again—this time to win.
The purpose of the ban.
Lest we misinterpret this story, it’s important to understand that God was carrying out divine judgment against the wickedness of the Canaanites. This judgment, or ‘ban’ required that everything had to be destroyed (Josh 6:18; Deut 12:2,3; 13:12-18) because the Canaanites were a stronghold of rebellion against God. The wars fought against the Canaanites were not wars for Israel’s personal gain.
Because the Canaanite nations were deeply immersed in evil practices, witchcraft, idolatry, prostitution and child sacrifice, God ordered the destruction of all memories and associations with their culture. The reason for the ban was that the Lord detested these demonic and debasing worship and practices. He intended for his people to flourish in their new land.
The Lord wanted his holy people to have nothing to do with the ‘accursed things’, lest the wickedness of the Canaanites spread like a cancer in Israel. But Rahab and her family were an exception to this total ban, because she had turned away from her sin and idolatrous culture, putting her faith in Israel’s God and standing with the spies. We saw this in the previous devotion, “Rahab, the faithful Prostitute.”
Moreover, the Lord had explicitly warned the people, through his servant Joshua, that there would be destruction and trouble for the whole nation if they did not keep away from the devoted things:
“The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.18 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. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury” (Joshua 6:17-19).
It is clear that the gold, silver and precious metals were kept, not to enrich the people, but to adorn the temple of God and bring him glory. But Achan took what he wanted for himself.
Ripple effects of Achan’s sin.
The consequences of Achan’s sin are as terrifying as the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira at the birth of the New Testament Church (Acts 5). After the great victory of Jericho, thirty-six men died; Israel’s army melted in fear, and God threatened to withdraw his presence from Israel (Josh 7:5-12).
After his exposure, Achan and his entire family were destroyed (Josh 7:24-26) and cut off from God’s people. All these consequences were a direct result of one man’s disobedience. God judged the whole nation because of Achan’s secret sin.
Timeless lessons from Achan’s story.
What can we make of this sobering story today? Of course, 21st century Christians are not part of the Israelite army going to war with Ai. Nor are we called to stone people who disobey God. (If that were the case, we’d all be buried under a large pile of rocks by now!) We also know that our position before God is secured by the work of Jesus on our behalf, not our works or obedience.
But Achan’s story is in the Bible to teach, correct, convict and train God’s people in righteousness (2 Tim 3:14-17). Here are four timeless truths that we can still apply two millennia after Christ’s atoning sacrifice:
- Christians still have a duty to obey a holy God.
Jesus reminds us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” In his final prayer for his disciples, Jesus asked, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15; 17).
I wonder how many of us hear the implicit warning in the Lord’s prayers? Even though our position before God is secure in Jesus, our fellowship with Him is hindered by our sin and disobedience (1 John 1:6). God’s word is His command to us and daily application of the Bible has a purifying effect on our minds and hearts. It guides us back to the path of truth.
Having recently witnessed the shocking implosion of some older Christians and the resulting devastation on their families, due to secret sins being practised over many years, I am convinced that we are sometimes blasé about the seeds of sin germinating in our hearts and too casual about the Bible’s instructions to live distinctive, pure and transparent lives before God and men.
Do we dwell on justification by faith, but ignore sanctification and the confession of specific sins? Are we carnal Christians? Achan’s story backs up Paul’s urgent appeal to Christians to mortify the flesh: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die” (Rom 8:13). Achan’s story urges Christians to live in the light, because a casual attitude to sin will eventually lead to death.
- God still burns with holy anger towards sin.
Achan’s sin was exposed and publicly judged. This is a warning that God will punish all sin and rebellion, sooner or later. Because God still burns with holy anger towards sin, Paul warns that accepting and tolerating sin in the Church will infect the whole group:
“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor 5:6)
Just as Achan represents his whole family, and Adam represents fallen humanity in judgment, the good news is that Christ represents all who believe in his name. Because Jesus faced God’s fierce anger on the cross, God’s fierce anger is turned away from those who are in Christ. But God still burns with holy anger towards all sin.
So, God’s timeless command to his people is always to consecrate ourselves (Josh 7:13), to purge seeds of sin in our own hearts and have nothing to do with the evil practices that are tolerated, even celebrated in our culture. This may involve walking out of an immoral movie; seeking counsel from your pastor or small group leader; confessing your sins with a friend, or joining a group to overcome a besetting sin. With the Holy Spirit, we can overcome temptation and be trained in holiness (1 Cor 10:13).
And if God hates sin so much, shouldn’t we remember the regret that sin brings before we sin, not after, as Achan did? What are we doing to wage war against sin in our lives? Jesus instructs us to pluck out an eye or sever a limb if it causing us to stumble, for “it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt 5:29-30; Matt 18:8-9).
A theme throughout the book of Joshua is that partial obedience always leads to partial conquest or complete defeat. If Christ is not ruling every area of our lives, we are inviting bitter and far-reaching consequences not only for ourselves, but also our families, church, community and nation.
- The progression of hidden sin.
We too are tempted to stumble along the same path of sin that Achan took, namely—
“I saw it. I coveted it. I took it. I hid it” (Josh 7:21).
Achan’s confession is a clear picture of the four-part progression of sin. Sin does have its pleasures and usually involves hiding–at least initially. That’s why we need to live our lives with one face, one set of books, one kind of life that can be seen by anybody, anywhere. Hidden sin always has a special power over us, especially where money, sex, power and pride are involved.
Truly, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through many sorrows” (1 Tim 6:10).
Achan’s story reminds us that God sees and knows everything– even secret sins committed in dark places or the dark recesses of our minds, invisible to human eyes. Secret sins like pride, pornography, deceit, theft, resentment, sexual abuse, greed, envy and corruption are regarded as commonplace in our culture, yet are deeply offensive to our holy God.
Like Achan, we are inclined to rationalise our cravings; to confess only once we’ve been exposed; to hide in the shadows; to care more for reputation than purity before God. Just like Adam and Achan, we think we can deceive God. But secret sin on earth is an open scandal before God.
Solomon urges us not to hide from God, as He is our only source of mercy.
“He who conceals is sins does not prosper,
But whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov 28:13).
4. The balm of confession.
As Christians, we dare not hide in the shadows if we want to experience the healing balm of God’s grace. Every sin that is dealt with can lead again to renewal and victory. Our only hope of restoration is Christ’s atonement on the cross.
When confronted by Joshua, Achan finally stopped hiding and came into the light:
“Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honour him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath” (Josh 7:20-21).
I don’t know whether Achan’s confession was borne out of true repentance, or mere regret that he’d been caught. But I do know for sure that there is only one way out of the destructive cycle of sin and death:
It is to confess, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord. This is what I have done….” It is to throw ourselves at God’s undeserved mercy; to renounce our sins and trust in Christ to save us and change us. God forgives, restores and blesses those who are honest about their sin.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10)
Lord, you are the righteous God who searches hearts and secret thoughts (Ps 7:9). Your Lamp searches my spirit; it searches the inward depths of my being (Prov 20:27). Holy Spirit, search my heart today and reveal any unconfessed sin. Thank you for your forgiveness. Help me to put off my old self which is corrupted by evil desires, to be renewed in my mind, and help me to put on the new self which was created to be like You, in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 4:22-24). Amen.