Let’s turn to Joshua 7. We’ll be studying this chapter in the book of Joshua today. I actually originally set out to teach both chapters 7 and 8. But I had way too much material on chapter 7 to go any farther. So Lord-willing when we return from Easter we’ll continue chapter 8 of Joshua. But today we’re in chapter 7. And I’ll just give this title to the message – God Troubles Achan.
So, what’s happened so far in the book of Joshua? In the first 2 chapters we saw Joshua being encouraged to enter the Promised Land. In the next 2 chapters (3 and 4) we saw all Israel crossing the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. And then last week in chapters 5 and 6 we saw Israel conquer the walled city of Jericho – the first city they captured in the Promised Land. And do you remember what the rules were for conquering Jericho? Let’s read 6:17-19 to remind ourselves of what Joshua had commanded right before entering Jericho.
[6:17 And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18 And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19 But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.]
So all human and animal life needed to be accursed. That word accursed (cherem) means something that is dedicated to God. And not dedicated in the sense that we sometimes dedicate our children to the Lord when they’re first born by having a formal religious ceremony. No, this dedication to God involved utter destruction. All human and animal life were to be dedicated to God — for his destruction of them. But the inanimate objects – gold, silver, brass, and iron – they’re holy or consecrated to the Lord. They also were to be dedicated, but not for destruction – but rather to go into the Lord’s treasury.
And the way that chapter 6 ended made us all think that this had been carried out. The things meant for destruction were destroyed. The things meant for the treasury went there. And that was mostly the case. But, were there any exceptions? Yes. Read 7:1.
[7:1 ¶ But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.]
Again when we hear about “the accursed thing” we’re still talking about the things devoted to destruction at the hands of God… Alright. So one person took something. What’s the big deal? Well, note how God responded to this theft. His anger was kindled like a fire against whom? Achan? Certainly Achan. But was his anger limited to Achan? No, God was angry at all Israel. Why? Because of the sin of one among them.
Now, let me ask you. Does that seem fair to you? Doesn’t it seem like only Achan should have received God’s anger? It might seem unfair to us. But let’s just remember that God entered into a covenant with that entire nation. If one of the members of that nation transgressed then it’s as if all transgressed. So God’s anger burned against Israel because they as a nation – through just one of their compatriots – sinned against God.
And that’s all we hear about Achan’s sin for now. But no one else knows about this, so the story moves on to the next city that Israel is going to conquer.
But before we move on let me go back to last week’s lesson and point something out. Did you ever wonder why Israel attacked Jericho first? Why Jericho of all the cities? Maybe the answer is nothing more spectacular than that Jericho was the first city in the Israelites’ path. But wait, did they have a path? Were they on their way to some place? Yes. They’re actually headed to Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. They need to utter the blessings and the curses of the Law on those two mountains.
But we’re not going to make it that far today. So, let’s on to the next city on the path to Gerizim and Ebal! Let’s read verses 2-3.
[2 ¶ And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few.]
Joshua again sends spies. Apparently though they don’t enter the city like they did at Jericho. And the spies find that Ai – pronounce it like “eye” [‘ay] – is pretty tiny. And for that reason they advise Joshua to send only 2 or 3 thousand men to fight against the city. I mean, based on the wild success that Joshua and Israel had at Jericho, you can understand why the spies and even Joshua himself would think this would be a piece of cake.
But let me point out a contrast between Jericho and Ai. With Jericho, God is the one who tells Joshua how the attack is supposed to work. And we’ll see in chapter 8 that God again tells Joshua how to wage war against Ai. But who is telling Joshua how to wage war on Ai right here? God? No. Men. Fallible men. Maybe well-intentioned men. They may be wise men. But Joshua needs God’s direction. He didn’t have to ask God about it last time at Jericho, apparently. It seems that God just gave it. And this time God doesn’t give it. Should that have been a sign to Joshua to halt the attempted conquest of Ai? The text doesn’t say. But I do wonder if Joshua should have picked up on this and consulted the Lord on his apparent silence.
Well, what happens to Israel when they come up against Ai? Verses 4 and 5.
[4 So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.]
So, I did some research and discovered that we apparently don’t know where exactly Shebarim is. If it was a city or landmark, it has since disappeared. That kind of thing happens sometimes over the course of – oh – about 3,500 years! But we’re not totally in the dark regarding the physical aspects of this scene. Israel would have come from Gilgal. Gilgal was on the north end of the Dead Sea on the east side of Canaan. Now, Ai was northwest of Gilgal. Let me fill you in on a geography fact about Israel. Its western border is the Mediterranean Sea. And it’s eastern border is the Dead Sea and Jordan River. Each of these borders are very low in their elevation. But in the middle of the country is what’s known as the Hill Country. Why? Because it’s hilly. It’s higher than Sea Level. And its in this Hill Country where the city of Ai resided.
So the people of Israel would have come from the southeast and gone northwest toward Ai – all the while, they’re going up-hill into the hill country. So when Ai starts beating Israel back, where do you think Israel goes? Yeah, they’re going back to base in Gilgal – southeast. And they’re not going up. They’re going downward. That’s why it says that the people of Ai smote Israel in “the going down” or the descent.
How did Israel react to this defeat? The text says that their hearts melted. Uh-oh. That’s bad news. That sounds really similar to how the pagans were originally reacting to Israel. Now Israel is the one with melting hearts. Are their leaders experiencing a similar reaction? Let’s see what they’re doing in verses 6 through 9.
[6 ¶ And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. 7 And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! 8 O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?]
What do you think about Joshua’s reaction? He starts by tearing his clothes and falling on his face. He’s devastated. What could be the explanation for God’s abandoning his people? God promised to be with Joshua. God stopped the Jordan River for Israel to cross. He overthrew Jericho. God was causing Joshua’s fame to be proclaimed abroad. And now… this. Defeat at the hands of the tiny city of Ai. I thought God promised not to fail or forsake Joshua. But to Joshua, isn’t this exactly what it looked like? It looked like God had forsaken him and all Israel. Of course Joshua doesn’t know about Achan at this point. We are given that information up front. But he still doesn’t know. So he humbles himself before God, along with all the elders of Israel.
But then what comes out of his mouth is noteworthy. Joshua surely remembers God’s promise to be with Israel and give her victory as she loves and obeys him. That was his promise. But reality is now colliding with that promise. The reality is that Israel was defeated. Israel won’t fail if she obeys. But Israel failed. So… what should Joshua have concluded? I think he should have concluded that Israel somehow did not obey. Right? Success through obedience was the message of Deuteronomy before Israel entered the Land. So… lack of success comes through… disobedience. But does Joshua conclude that? If he did, it sure isn’t what’s coming out of his mouth. What does he say to begin with? “Lord, why have you brought us here? To give us over to the Amorites so they can destroy us?” Wow! Is that really what he thought God was doing? Was that really God’s purpose? This sounds surprisingly similar to what the Isralites kept accusing God of in the wilderness. Remember? “Hey Moses, did you bring us out here to the dessert because there weren’t enough graves in Egypt?” So Joshua, in a moment of weakness, is starting to question God’s promises. Then what does he say next? He laments that Israel had been overly ambitious and crossed the Jordan in the first place. “If only we would have been content to live on the other side of the Jordan!” he says. But this was God’s plan – that Israel enter the land of Canaan and destroy the 7 wicked nations. Joshua was doubting God’s plan. And then Joshua goes on to worry out-loud about the Canaanites surounding them and cutting off their name from the earth. And – Joshua goes on to say – when that happens, then what will happen to God’s great name. If God allows his people to be cut off before their enemies then what will that do to God’s name – God’s reputation? This last concern that Joshua expresses – about God’s name – seems to be somewhat godly. I mean, Joshua is concerned that God’s name be hallowed and not profaned. And so, in this sense it’s admirable. And yet, it comes at the end of a list of other anxieties that seem to not be so admirable. So, what we see here overall in Joshua’s response is really a leader of God’s people despairing. And I’d have to say that this despair is not of faith.
So, shame on Joshua, right? I can’t believe anyone would be so faithless in the face of a trial! Really? Does anyone here think that about Joshua? Yes, we need to recognize that how Joshua responded to this difficulty in his life wasn’t really a model of how we’re to respond. But does anyone here empathize with his response? Do you know what it’s like to have a promise from God in his word? But then you’re faced with circumstances that just seem to defy that promise and God’s own faithfulness to you? When that happens to you and me, we need the Lord’s help to remember that the one thing we shouldn’t be doubting is God and his promises. Doubt your circumstance — doubt the reason you’re in the situation you’re in — before you doubt God and his promises.
Let me issue another application. Does anyone in here doubt that Joshua was a godly man? Do you think he was a good leader? Did he love God? But he was led into temptation through the act of one single disobedient covetous Israelite. Achan wasn’t even directly disobedient to Joshua himself. But his disobedience caused his godly leader to stumble. Each one of us has leadership God has placed in our lives. In most cases there is very little earthly glory these leaders receive. They – as the apostle Paul would say – are gladly spending and being spent for your sake. And oftentimes what these imperfect and yet faithful leaders receive in return from those whom they’re trying to lead is expressed by the apostle Paul when he said that the more he loved, the less he was loved. This can happen in any relationship – parent-child, husband-wife, pastor-congregation. Let’s resolve to be a blessing to our leaders wherever they’re found in our life. Let’s do our part to help them not stumble.
Now, you may think I was being a little unfair with Joshua. Maybe you wonder if his statements were in fact something to emulate in your own praying to the Lord. Well, let the Lord’s own reaction inform you as to what he thought about Joshua’s statements. Let’s read verses 10 through 15.
[10 ¶ And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. 12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. 13 Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the LORD God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you. 14 In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which the LORD taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the LORD shall take shall come by households; and the household which the LORD shall take shall come man by man. 15 And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel.]
So the Lord just cuts to the chase and tells Joshua to get up. God asks the rhetorical question – “why are you on the ground?” He then gets right to the issue. The issue that somehow Joshua had completely overlooked. Remember, obedience = success. Therefore where there’s no success there was… what? Disobedience. It’s as if God expected Joshua to figure that out… And yet the Lord is very merciful. He lays out pretty plainly what the problem is and what Joshua needs to do to remedy the issue. The problem, of course, is that someone – God’s not saying whom yet – but someone stole something under the ban. And that’s why God is so angry. And that’s why Israel can’t stand before tiny Ai. So God gives the plan. See? If Joshua would have approached the Lord before the original battle at Ai, God would have I’m sure let him in on this to begin with. But at any rate, here’s the plan now. Tomorrow each tribe would come and one would somehow be chosen by the Lord. Then one family within that tribe would be taken. One household within that family would be taken. And finally one man within that household would be taken. And the man who was taken would be burned with fire. But not only him, but actually “all he has” would also be burned.
Is there any thought in any of us here that says that somehow God is overreacting? Is burning someone to death for stealing a few things fair, you might wonder? I think we want to move our way of thinking away from “what’s fair?” to “what’s just?” Would it be just of God to punish a sinner? Yes. We are so used to God’s grace and forgiveness and mercy and leniency in this New Testament Church era. But we all need to be brought back to the reality that God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. It might not strike us as fair. But it is most certainly just of God to do this.
Lastly, notice the punishment God prescribes. Judgement by fire. Just like the people of Jericho experienced. By disobeying the Lord, Achan proved that he was no better than those pagans that Israel had just destroyed. After all, wasn’t the reason that God destroyed Jericho ultimately because of their disobedience?
So, we move to the next day. Joshua needs to find out who’s the one who caused their military defeat. Let’s read verses 16 through 18 for the details.
[16 ¶ So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken: 17 And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken: 18 And he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.]
So the tribe of Judah, the family of Zerah, the household of Zabdi, then finally Achan the son of Carmi was taken. How did this happen? We’re not told. It was likely either that Joshua was casting lots and the lot identified the guilty one. Or it could have been that the Lord himself communicated directly with Joshua to let him know which one should be taken.
But however it happened, now Joshua and all Israel know who the culprit is. And Joshua converses with Achan in verses 19 through 21. Let’s read that.
[19 And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.
20 And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: 21 When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.]
Give glory to the Lord. How? Confess your sins. That was Joshua’s admonition to Achan. So Achan actually confessed his sins in front of Joshua. He owned up to all that he had done… Now, as New Testament believers – what’s the promise to us as we confess our sin? God is faithful and just to forgive us. I’ll spoil the ending of the story for any who don’t know it – that’s not what happens with Achan. There’s no forgiveness and cleansing on the horizon. Just judgement and destruction.
Let’s note what Achan took. He took a “goodly Babylonish garment.” The word translated “garment” is sometimes translated elsewhere as “robe.” It’s the kind of garment that the king of Nineveh replaced with sackcloth after hearing the message of Jonah. What else does he take? Two hundred shekels of silver and 50 shekels of gold. In terms we can better understand, he took about 80 ounces of silver and 20 ounces of gold. Combined this would have weighed a bit over 6 pounds. This is less than most new born babies weigh. So, what Achan took wasn’t heavy. But it was costly – at least in our day. At about $20.00 USD per ounce of silver today ($1600) and $1318 per ounce of gold ($26,360), this is almost $28,000 USD — plus whatever the robe would have cost.
So what do we learn from this? We learn that Achan was greedy. We learn he was motivated by money and material gain. We learn he really didn’t trust the Lord. Remember, the Lord promised each one of these Israelites houses they didn’t build, cisterns they didn’t make, and lands full of good things. Did he really not trust that God would provide everything he needed? And the most important thing we learn is that Achan’s valuation of the Lord was less than $28,000 in terms of today’s currency. This is a problem.
Here’s something we might not think of either. How many Israelites lost their lives as a result of Achan’s selfishness? Verse 5 says that 36 men died in the battle. 36 lives of men who were interested in obeying God. These men perished. Their families were bereaved of their husband and father. 36 widows. Many more than 36 orphans. All created by Achan’s flippant act of selfishness.
And that’s how I view it. Achan didn’t rob Fort Knox. He didn’t come away with bars and bars of gold. He was acting like a petty thief. Well, why did God end up being so harsh to him? Think about it. Achan broke the commandment to not covet. He broke God’s command to not steal. Achan refused to listen to God’s command to devote everything in the God-forsaken city of Jericho to God. God through Joshua had just clearly stated that everything was God’s in that city. What was Achan’s problem? Did he not know of these commands? Oh, he knew. Did he not care? I think that’s probably more likely. He knew what God wanted. But he showed that he couldn’t care less about doing God’s will.
And let me say this. Achan didn’t have to be perfect. Theoretically if Achan desired that garment and the silver and the gold – and that’s all he did – and then he just walked away from those things – he would have lived. Who knows whatever other sins Achan may have committed in his heart? That wasn’t why God was condemning him. Achan let his internal desire consume him. And in the absence of any apparent vital relationship with the God of Israel, he externally acted out his internal evil desire.
So, a question that’s often asked in light of God judging sin is “why is God so harsh in response to sin sometimes?” But here’s the question I’m left asking. Why is God so merciful to us? I understand how God needs to punish sin – sometimes swiftly and immediately. Adam sinned and he and Eve were ut of the garden and condemned to eventual death. Israel sinned at Kadesh-barnea and immediately they were barred from the Promised Land. Ananias and Saphira sinned and God struck them dead on the spot. But what about when God doesn’t immediately judge sin? What about during the reign of the judges where everyone is doing whatever he feels is right? Why no swift and shocking judgement then? What about Israel’s long spiral down with their various kings? Why no immediate harsh judgement? And the only answer I have is what God said to Moses – I will be merciful to whom I will. God is just to punish sin immediately. But if he wants to delay the punishment, that also is his right.
So, Achan gave Joshua his report. He confessed what he had done to Joshua. And so verses 22 and 23 tell of Joshua sending messengers to Achan’s tent to see if his report was accurate. Let’s read that.
[22 ¶ So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it. 23 And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD.]
Notice before whom they laid these things out. Not just man. But actually, they laid them out before the Lord. It’s as if the Lord was specially present among Israel in those days. And it seems that when God’s presence is with his people in a special way that disobedience is often not overlooked. Again, think of Ananias and Saphira.
Finally, let’s see what Joshua and all Israel do with Achan. Verses 24 through 26.
[24 And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day.
So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger.
Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.]
Let’s notice a word play used here. Look at the end of verse 24. The last word is… Achor. It’s talking about the Valley of Achor, which is north of Gilgal. So the Israelites came back from Ai in the Hill Country back southeast to Gilgal. They found out who troubled Israel. And then they went a little north to this Valley of Achor to execute judgement on Achan. I’m going to pronounce his name the way it would be pronounced in Hebrew – or at least I’ll try to. So here’s the word play. Achor means something like “disturbance” or “trouble” in Hebrew. So they go to the Valley of Trouble. And Joshua asks Achan – whose name is pretty similar to Achor – Joshua asks why he troubled – or achor’ed – Israel. Then Joshua says that the Lord will trouble – or achor Achan. And this is what Joshua warned Israel about in 6:18. He admonished all of Israel to keep themselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest they bring on themselves destruction and trouble (akar).
But notice the recipients of this trouble. It wasn’t just Achan – I’ll return to our typical English pronunciation of his name. It was him and his sons and daughters and all he owned. His sons and his daughters. It’s interesting that it doesn’t mention his wife specifically. I’m not quite sure where she would have been or if she would have been grouped into “all that he had.” Maybe he was divorced. Maybe she had passed away previously. I don’t know. But his sons and daughters were there. And all Israel stoned them.
I’ve tried to envision what it would be like to see someone stoned to death. It’s a very unpleasant thought to me. So much so that I have a very difficult time concentrating on the details. But let me try. Stones are plentiful in much of Israel. That’s why to this day you’ll hear even of Muslims on the Temple Mount throwing stones at the police or visitors. That’s the weapon of choice because stones are so abundant. This place of the Valley of Achor would be similar. It’s in an arrid region that has a lot of stones. So these people pick up these stones. They’d probably try to use sizeable ones. I don’t think they’re lobbing pebbles. And I can hardly bring myself to think about it. If the stone was large enough and hit someone in the head I suppose they’d be knocked unconscious. That would be merciful. But what if the people weren’t very good at aiming? They might hit the person in the face. In the torso. How many times would this need to happen before the person was dead? Did the person facing execution try to duck? Was the person tied up and unable to move? If he wasn’t, is there any way he could resist the urge to flee? There’s no easy painless way through this type of execution. It’s not like lethal injection or even the electric chair. This is a terrifying execution style.
And then when Achan and his family were finally dead, Israel burned them with fire. It’s worth noting that God explicitly called for them to be burned with fire. But for what it’s worth, he didn’t call for them to be stoned. I’m not saying that he disagreed with that punishment. I’m just saying he didn’t explicitly call for it.
Are you troubled yet by this story? The most troubling part for me is that Achan’s sons and daughters experienced Achan’s fate. We have no indication that they were a part of his crime. Maybe they were. But that’s not stated. What do we make of this? If this part of the story is anything, it’s a warning. Friends, I guarantee you that if you let yourself indulge in sin you will not be alone in suffering its consequences. You will bring trouble on yourself and on others with you. And your family is the group who will primarily suffer. This is just the way it is. God visits the iniquities of the fathers on the children and grandchilren of those who hate him.
But here’s where I’ll leave it. God also shows mercy to thousands of those who love him. And I think of my sin and I can see myself in Achan’s place. Can you? I deserve a brutal and painful punishment for my sin. But thanks be to God that where sin abounds, God’s grace much more abounds. Why is it that God seems to be so severe with some – and yet he’s extended mercy to me? Achan confessed to no avail. He still experienced punishment. And yet when I confess my sin I receive forgiveness and cleansing. God has said he’ll show mercy to whom he’ll show mercy. And he has seen fit to invite me into the New Covenant. One of the stipulations of that blessed covenant is that God will be gracious to my sins and will remember my iniquities no more.
God isn’t carefree when it comes to sin, even in the New Testament – even in your life. But Achan was troubled and ultimately destroyed for his sin. And I have been extended pardon by the Lord. And if this is the case for you as well, and I trust it is, rejoice and give thanks. Praise the Lord for the mercy and kindness he chooses to bestow upon us undone sinners. Achan received justice. And for us, because Christ received the justice that our sins deserved, we receive mercy.
Next time, we’ll see what God does with Ai now that his people have purged the evil from among them.