1 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. 2 And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” – Joshua 8:1-2 ESV
Achan saw and he took. He violated the command of God by greedily grabbing what God had expressly ordered to be given to the treasury of the Lord. Achan let the lust of his eyes get the best of him and he ended up being stoned to death for his efforts. But if only he had waited. At the battle of Jericho, God had made it clear that no one was to take anything of value away from the city. There was to be no plunder. No livestock was to be taken. Every single living thing was to be put to the sword. And all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron were to be dedicated to God. The victory at Jericho was to be seen as God’s alone. He had brought it all about. And, in a way, it was a test for the people of Israel, to see if they would remain obedient to His command. But they had failed the test because of the actions of one man.
But when God exposed the sin of Achan and commanded Joshua to deal with it severely, the people followed Joshua’s lead and removed the sin from their midst. They cleansed themselves from the impurity created by Achan’s actions, reconsecrating themselves to God. And God, knowing that all of this had been a blow to the confidence of Joshua, encouraged him to stay strong.
“Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Take the whole army with you and march against Ai! See, I am handing over to you the king of Ai, along with his people, city, and land.” – Joshua 8:1 NLT
This is similar to the words spoken by God to Moses when the people of Israel were preparing to attack King Og and the nation of Bashan.
But the Lord said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” – Deuteronomy 3:2 ESV
Joshua had been a part of that battle and God was reminding him that just as the people of Israel had enjoyed victories over Bashan and the Amorites, they would defeat the people of Ai. Their set-back had been temporary and due to disobedience. But now that they had purged the sin from their midst, God would deliver the city of Ai into their hands. Victory in the life of the child of God does not come through self-effort and is never the product of self-confidence. And anytime covetousness or greed enters into the equation, the outcome will result in failure. Achan had allowed the things of this world to influence his decision-making, and his desire for material wealth clouded his thinking. He sought an earthy reward and was not satisfied with the God-given reward of victory over a more power enemy. But here is the important lesson in all of this: Had Achan been willing to wait, he would have received all the plunder he could have taken. Had he been patient, God would have allowed he and all the Israelites to enjoy all the tangible benefits of their victory. Look closely at the instructions God gave to Joshua.
Do to Ai and its king what you did to Jericho and its king, except you may plunder its goods and cattle. – Joshua 8:2 NLT
This time, things would be different. Whereas at Jericho, God had forbidden the taking of any plunder and had commanded the destruction of all livestock, in this case He gave different instructions. They could plunder all the goods and keep all the animals for themselves. There was no command to dedicate all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron to God. There was no prohibition on taking the livestock. God was allowing them to take the treasures of Ai as their own. He was rewarding them for their willingness to do things His way and not their own. If only Achan had been willing to wait, he would have enjoyed the blessings of God. But oftentimes, man’s disobedience is fueled by his impatience. We are not willing to wait on God. We seek immediate self-gratification. We want instant results. But God would use wait. He would ask that we place a higher priority on obedience than on personal reward.
There is a well-known verse in the book of Malachi that speaks of this principle of obedience and blessing.
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:10 NLT
At Jericho, God had put the people of Israel to the test, and they had failed. At Ai, God was once again testing the people of Israel, but in a way, they were being given an opportunity to test the faithfulness of God. By doing exactly what Joshua commanded them to do and doing it according to the will of God, they would discover the goodness of God. They would learn that doing things God’s way comes with remarkable benefits.
Achan had stolen from God. He had squirreled away “a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels” (Joshua 7:21 ESV). But his guilt was evident because he had buried them in the ground inside his tent. He couldn’t enjoy what he had taken. His crime had saddled him with a guilty conscience. What he thought would bring him joy, brought him misery and, ultimately, death. But had he waited, he would have had all the plunder he could carry and the clear conscience that comes with living in obedience to the will of God. The Bible has quite a lot to say about ill-gotten gain.
Tainted wealth has no lasting value,
but right living can save your life. – Proverbs 10:2 NLT
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors. – Proverbs 1:19 ESV
1 What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
simply because you have the power to do so.
2 When you want a piece of land,
you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
stealing his family’s inheritance.
3 But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:1-3 NLT
The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). God was calling the people of Israel to have faith in Him, to believe that He exists and that He will reward them at just the right time and in just the right way. They simply must believe. But they must also obey. God gave Joshua very simple, but clear instructions: “Lay an ambush against the city, behind it” (Joshua 8:2 ESV). Their victory at Ai was going to be dependent on their willingness to do things God’s way. Their blessing, in the form of plunder, would be directly tied to their obedience. Just as marching around the walls of Jericho for seven days had made no sense, the battle plan that God gave Joshua for the defeat of Ai would seem illogical and unnecessary. But they were learning the invaluable lesson that doing things God’s way always comes with God’s blessings.
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.