10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’”
16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor. – Joshua 7:10-26 ESV
There is in this passage the revelation of a personal sin committed by a single individual, but there is also the corporate consequences of that sin. God had forbidden the Israelites from taking any of the items they found in Jericho as spoil.
18 “But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” – Joshua 6:18-19 ESV
All the inhabitants and the livestock were to be destroyed. Nothing and no one was to be spared, except Rahab and her family. And all the gold, silver, and vessels made of bronze or iron were to be placed in the treasury of the Lord, as an offering to Him for His role in delivering the city into their hands.
But someone had disobeyed God’s command. And while the text reveals that it was one man who committed this crime, God held the entire nation of Israel culpable.
“Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them…” – vs 11
“…they have taken some of the devoted things…” – vs 11
“…they have stolen and lied…” – vs 11
“Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” – vs 12
“They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction…” – vs 12
God viewed Israel as a covenant community. And while Achan would be revealed as the guilty party, the entire nation was accountable for his transgression. Until he was eventually exposed and his sin confessed and punished, the Israelites would find themselves unable to stand before their enemies. The victory they enjoyed over Jericho would be their last, because the sin in their midst would deny them access to the presence and power of God. And God gave them an ultimatum.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” – vs 12
How did they find themselves in this predicament? What led to this dramatic turn in their fortunes? It was the result of nothing more than what John described as “the desires of the eyes” (1 John 2:16 ESV). It’s that craving that rises up within as a result of something the eyes see. Solomon, the son of David and the king of Israel, had a constant struggle with this temptation.
“…whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.” – Ecclesiastes 2:10 ESV
And Achan, when his sin became known, eventually confessed, “when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21 ESV). He saw. He coveted. He took. A simple, yet devastating process that had resulted in the deaths of 36 Israelite soldiers and had brought the anger of God against the entire nation. Achan, driven by his desires, thought he could get away with his sin. He had hidden the items in his tent, hoping that no one would notice, including God. He had not only disobeyed God’s command, He had ended up stealing from God. The items he took were to have been devoted to God and placed in the treasury of the Lord. But Achan had kept them for himself. The book of James describes the internal process that took place in Achan’s heart and led him to do what he had done.
14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:14-15 NLT
Achan’s sin had resulted in death – the death’s of the 36 Israelites who had fallen in the battle to take Ai. But there would be more deaths due to his sin. Achan and his entire family were stoned. This was the God-ordained punishment for such a crime. Achan’s real sin was that he had defied the law of God. He had defiantly disobeyed God’s command. And God had given very explicit instructions regarding this kind of behavior.
30 “But those who brazenly violate the Lord’s will, whether native-born Israelites or foreigners, have blasphemed the Lord, and they must be cut off from the community. 31 Since they have treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command, they must be completely cut off and suffer the punishment for their guilt.” – Numbers 15:30-31 NLT
And immediately after God had given this warning to the Israelites in the wilderness, one of their own was caught gathering wood on the Sabbath, in direct violation of God’s command. And God told Moses exactly what should be done with him.
35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must be put to death! The whole community must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the whole community took the man outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Numbers 15:35-36 NLT
We may find God’s solution to the problem as a bit overbearing and heavy-handed but, as human beings, we have a tendency to minimize the impact of sin. We don’t view our decisions to sin as a form of defiance against a holy God. We may not even view our actions as sin at all. But God does and He takes them quite seriously. In the book of Acts, we see a very similar situation. In the early days of the church, as the number of Christians increased, there were those who were selling their possessions and giving the proceeds to the apostles, in order to care for the needs of those who had nothing. When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira brought money to the apostles and claimed that it was the entire profit from the sale of some property they owned, God exposed them as liars. They claimed to be giving all that they had made in the sale, but had actually kept back a portion for themselves. And Peter exposed their sin, saying, “How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” (Acts 5:4 NLT). And as a result of their sin, their lives were taken from them by God.
In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, their deaths had a dramatic impact on those within the church. It was a wake-up call to take sin seriously and to treat God reverently. The same would be true for the people of Israel. The deaths of Achan and his family would have had a dramatic and sobering impact on all those who witnessed them. The temptation to violate the will of God would have been greatly diminished. In this passage we have seen the deadly influence of self-confidence and covetousness. The God-given victory at Jericho had led the Israelites to become over-confident and self-reliant. They thought they could win any battle and defeat any enemy – on their own. But they were wrong. And Achan’s personal struggle with covetousness led to Israel’s corporate defeat at the hands of their enemies. His sin infected the camp. He saw…he took…and the community suffered for it. God takes sin seriously. So should we.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.