We’re back in the OT book of Joshua after a few weeks away from it. And here we come to this passage in chapter 7. Where there is war, the anger of God, judgement and the stoning or a family. It’s a hugely difficult passage for our modern sensibilities. It seems primitive and barbaric. Is God going to be like this towards us?
It’s enough to makes us give up on the OT altogether. Some Christians do that, Except that there is a remarkably similar, parallel story in the NT to this one. Acts 5. Just following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as the early church begins its work of taking the message of Jesus out, One family in the church, a couple called Ananias and Sapphira drop dead infront of the Apostles because they lied about a gift of money they were making to the church! They’d sold a property and said they were giving all the proceeds to the church when actually they’d kept a proportion for themselves. And they dropped down dead for it! I remember preaching that passage on our penultimate Sunday at GCH before we started SBD. We were preaching through the book of Acts and that passage was where we’d got up to and it just so happened that on that very sunday we were having a gift day for people to give money for our new church plant! What a passage to preach on on a gift day. Is God going to be like this towards us??
To which the answer, I think is, no…. and yes
No.. because these 2 incidences were both crucial moments in salvation history. The tiny, fledging church which carried the first single flickering torch of the truth about Jesus couldn’t afford for that precious flame to be compromised by dishonesty. Ananias and Sapphira needed to be taken to heaven early.
Israel under Joshua have been taken into enemy territory. The nations of Canaan were brutal and pagan, engaging in practices like child sacrifice. The time had come for God to judge those nations he tells us very clearly in the Scripture. On a physical level if Israel do not destroy the Canaanites, they will be destroyed. This is what their world looks like. It’s kill or be killed. But also on a Spiritual level it’s even more crucial. This repetition of this phrase ‘the devoted things’is really important. Look back if you would at chapter 6 v17, God’s instructios to Israel about the conquest of the city of Jericho “17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. …. v18 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…..So v21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
Everything in enemy Jericho is either destroyed or if it’s precious metals put into the treasury of the Lord. And there’s a spiritual reason for it. This language of devotion/devoted things is the language of worship. If Israel preserve Canaanite people or property for themselves, God had warned them, they will be corrupted by Canaanite idolatry. This must not be toyed with. The contagion must be removed. They must kill it or it will kill them - and at a deeper more serious level than the physical. Their spiritual, eternal well being is at stake.
Remember we’ve said that these OT accounts of the Exodus - rescue from slavery in Egypt and the entering and conquest of the promised land. These happened and are recorded in the Scriptures as prototypes, models of the real story of God’s global salvation - Jesus rescuing the world from slavery to sin and death. Our entry into life with God. And our need to fight in the here and now - not against flesh and blood but our spiritual enemies of sin and fear inorder to take hold of the eternal life that God has for us ..while we wait for the day when God will act in final judgement to completely remove all sin and all evil from this world.
So Joshua’s time is a foretaste of that. An intrusion of the future into history for our instruction.
Achan and Ananias and Sapphira - they are people just like us. Covetous. A bit dishonest. They were unfortunate to mess up at crucial points in salvation history. Where crucial action had to be taken!
But even though, NO God may not be like this towards us in our day
Nevertheless, Reality does not change and God does not change and we need to understand 1. how serious sin is - our selfish independence, our actions that disregard God and others. Affect others! And we need to understand how seriously God takes sin and is committed to exposing it and removing it. This passage challenges us and comforts us.
So let’s look at it
First thing to see is that. You are connected to others. We are not islands. We are not isolated individuals. We are wrapped up in each other. When it comes to sin, and when it comes to life our actions and their consequences are not limited to ourselves. You are connected to others.
Look at the passage.
It was all going so well for Israel. God had said step into the raging Jordan river. Obey me and I wil be with and you’ll see my greatness. I will fight for you. And Israel does obey God and they find it to be true! They dare to step into the raging torrents of the Jordan and the river stops flowing. It piles up in a great heap a mile away and they cross on dry ground. They obey God’s bizarre instructions and startegy for the “battle” of jericho. Marching around, blowing trumpets, giving a big shout and the walls come tumbling down! They discover God is faithful to his promises. If they obey him he will be with them, he will fight for them, they will know life and rest. The principle is absolutely true today.
But just when it’s all going so so well. A violent shock to the system.
Spies have brought report that the stronghold of Ai is small and will need a force much smaller than Jericho. 3000 is plenty and the other men given a day off ….but v4 the 3000 were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.
What is this? This isn’t meant to happen. This isn’t meant to happen. Where is God? Suddenly Israel feel very very vulnerable.
v6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.
And Joshua pours out his heart to God in fear and despair and self pity “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”
Why has this happened?
Was it overconfidence? - we only need a small force to overcome Ai
Was it prayerlessness? they didn’t commit their way to God
Was God faithless? God doesn’t keep his promises. Earlier was just a coincidence when things were going well. God doesn’t care.. If he’s even there.. Ever feel like that a bit when things aren’t going your way? Well listen to what God says:
10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
It wasn’t over confidence. It wasn’t prayerlessness. It wasn’t God’s faithlessness. It’s sin, trangression. Let me just say - not all seeming failures in our lives with God are the result of sin could be something else but where there is sin there is failure.
But now here’s the thing that we are learning. You are connected to others. When it comes to sin (as well as life) We are wrapped up in each other.
v1 told us the reason for the failure right at the start of the passage
the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things
it’s repeated here in God’s explanation to Joshua: Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.
But the slightly weird thing is. It’s only one guy who’s done wrong. Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. One man does wrong but the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.
What we have here is the reality of corporate solidarity. The Bible is big on this. We are blind to it in our individualistic self obessed culture but it’s always been the case. We are wrapped up in each other.
We do have some ways that we express it that can serve as an illustration. So for example - nationality. When Germany win the world cup in 4 weeks time. Any German you meet will be able to say ‘We won the world cup or even I’ve won. And of course it’s highly unlikely that the particular German you’re talking to actually won it - unless you’re interviewing Thomas Muller who’s injury time tap in sealed the victory. But the German who sat in a pub in Friebourg with one of those huge beers watching the final, she can still say we won the cup simply by virtue of the corporate solidarity of being German.
It’s the same with being in a family. Did you notice Achan’s family references in v1? Your parents, grandparents, great grandparents.. their lives have a bearing on your life. You are wrapped up in each other
And it’s the same actuall with being human. The bible says that we are all impliated in our human parents Adam and Eve and when they chose to sin. All humanity fell. We unavoidably sin because we are in Adam. We bear te family likeness. Which seems unfair but that is they way corporate solidarity works. It was the case with Israel. In the case of Achan it led to the deaths of 36 people and risk to the whole nation.
And while our place in salvation history is not the same as Achan’s, it is still true in the people of God the church that we are wrapped up in each other. We are one body, says the NT of the local church. Different parts of a single body joined together by joints and ligaments. The same blood flows in our veins. And so, again to quote the NT, when one part suffers, every part suffers. Whenone part rejoices every part rejoices. And when one part is sinning - the whole body is affected. What a sobering reproach towards our easy sinful independence and selfish gratification. We are not private individuals who can do as we damn well please. We are in community. Our private hidden decisions affect one another.
Now, we might want to take God to task on his creation of corporate solidarity in church and humanity. Why should i bear the consequences of another person’s sin? whether it’s my yours or Adam’s sin. It’s just not fair. It’s not just. But here’s the thing…. There has to be corporate solidarity if there is to be salvation. If i truly was an isolated individual. If there was no way that i could be joined, hooked up to something better, some better humanity some better human. then i would be lost. I couldn’t be saved. But thanks be to God that he has sent a second Adam a new Adam. A perfectly obedient man. Who has created a new humanity. Jesus Christ. And i jpined to Adam by birth in sin, I can leave Adam’s doomed humanity and be connected by faith to Jesus’ death to sin and resurrection to life!
While it was Jesus who conquered sin and death and rose to life I can say, along with all those connected to him. We’ve won. I’ve won. We died, We rose. We are alive forever. We’ve won simply by virtue of the corporate solidarity of being a Christian. In Christ.
We are wrapped up in each other. Be challenged. Be comforted.. But get rid of your sin. You’ve died to sin, you’re alive in Christ. Obey him and know life
2. Your sin will find you out. Your sin will find you out
God takes sin seriously because he is holy and because sin is deathly. he will not be soft on it. he will not let it fester in our lives and in our community. because he cannot live with it. Look at v12 which comes right at the centre of the story.
I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
God will not abide sin
And he roots it out. He exposes it
Your sins will find you out. Achan thought his sin was well hidden under the ground in his tent. he’d smuggled the belongings out and no one had seen. He’d done it. But there is no such thing as hidden and secret and safe sin. Everyone is affected. Your wrapped up in one another. And God knows and he will root it out for everyone’s good.
A whole night of preparation is given for the Israelites to come clean before the sin is exposed v13-15. But Achan does not come forward.
The following morning Achan’s tribe are chosen from the 12 who present themselves. But Achan does not come forward. Achans clan is chosen among all Judah, and then his own family v17. But still Achan does not hold up his hand. When Achan is finally outed he freely admits his sin. I wonder if all along he was thinking - is this about me? i know i took a little bit of loot, just a bit of silver, a bar of gold.. just a nest egg a portion .. and that beautiful robe from babylonia. who could resist that. I wonder if all along he felt that his sin wasn’t such a big deal? He deserved something from the battle. I wonder if we rationalise things in the same kind of way?
Achan lived at a crucial time. He really had no excuses. Israel needed God, holy and almighty close to them as they made this momentous step into enemy territory. The instructions about devotion and holiness had been very clear and Achan had violated them and he needed to be taken out. And he was.
And for us. God won’t allow the death of sin to ruin our lives and our communities. For God to contemplate sin in a Christian is like a father seeing sickness in his beloved child - his hatred goes out towards the sickness his love and compassion towards his child. He’ll do anything to take us past those enemies to help us take hold of the life that is ours. Sometimes it’s only the exposure of sin that brings us to our senses and helps us overcome our addiction to sin. We need one another in that fight.