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Basic Bible: The Sin of Achan

Joshua 7:1, 10-12, 20-26

When the camp of Israel took the city of Jericho, Joshua instructed them not to take of the accursed thing. This is exactly what Achan did. Achan took a fine garment, silver and gold and hid them beneath the dirt in his tent. No one in the camp of Israel knew that Achan had done these things. But God knew. God knew Achan, Achan’s father, Achan’s father’s father, and Achan’s father’s father’s father. God knew and God responded by denying Israel an easy victory over the small city of Ai.

Upon the defeat at Ai, Joshua was distraught and fell to the earth before the ark of the Lord. He did not know of Achan’s transgression. Joshua thought that the Lord had turned His back on Israel. God had told Joshua that He would be with him and that He would not fail or forsake him (1:5). Joshua could not understand the reason for defeat.

The Lord told Joshua to get up and asked why that he was lying upon his face. God knew why Joshua was flat on his face. God’s question was not a question. God’s question was a mild rebuke. When we fail God (and Israel had failed God), God does not intend that we should wallow around upon the ground in misery. He wants us to get up and do that which is right. He wants us to do the tasks that He has put before us. In this instance, God wanted Joshua to address the taking of the accursed thing by Israel.

In verses 11 and 12, God tells Joshua the reason for Israel’s defeat at Ai. Israel had sinned. Israel had disobeyed God. The children of Israel could not stand before their enemies because they had become accursed. One should avoid leaning upon human understanding when analyzing God’s actions. One man, Achan, sinned, yet, God punished the entire nation. The sin of one man resulted in a defeat in which 36 men of Israel perished. Those 36 men would never have perished at Ai if God were willing to overlook one sin. God’s righteousness is perfect. He is not blind to a single sin and He does not pretend to be blind to a single sin. Achan’s sin was a secret from Israel but the consequence of his sin (36 deaths) was secret to none.

Because of one man, Israel had broken its covenant with God and God would be with Israel no more. In verse 12, God reveals His mercy; He provides a means by which Israel can be restored to Him. They must destroy the accursed among them. Israel was to destroy an unknown individual in their midst who had secretly sinned and had made the whole nation accursed. How could this individual be identified? Israel could not be restored unless the accursed were destroyed. Israel, of its own power, could not restore itself unto God. Israel was blind. Only God and Achan had knowledge of this secret sin. God, in His grace, revealed the guilty person to Israel.

God instructed the children of Israel to sanctify themselves and He would identify first the tribe, then the family, then the household, and then the very man. The manner in which God would identify tribe, family, household and individual is not specified in the text before us but it possibly involved the casting of lots. The manner in which God identified the guilty was witnessed by the entire nation. When Achan was identified, he promptly confessed to the things that he had done.

The closing verses of Chapter 7 record the execution of Achan. Once the accursed was identified, he was destroyed in the manner that God had specified. Achan and all that he had was destroyed and burned with fire.

Israel obeyed God and did all that the Lord had said to do and God was with Israel again. Israel was restored after they did as the Lord required. New Testament believers fall from fellowship with God and from each other when we sin. The Lord is quick and just to restore us to Him when we confess our sin. There are no secrets from God. Confession by believers is a profession of belief that God is all knowing. We are to confess and to go and to sin no more. We are to trust in Him.

Chapter 8 records the fall of Ai. It turned out that Ai was not as small as first perceived. The men and women of the city were numbered at twelve thousand. The messengers that Joshua sent prior to the initial attack on Ai reported that an attacking force of two or three thousand would be sufficient to take the walled city. With God, two or three thousand can conquer twelve thousand. But God was not with Israel in its first attack because of disobedience. At Jericho, the victory was made easy because God caused the walls to fall. At Ai, the ultimate victory was made easy by the luring of defenders from the city.

God gives the victory when we do things His way and He knows when we do and when we do not do. He knows when we depart from His ways. We fool only ourselves as Achan fooled himself if we believe our transgressions go unseen.

There is bad news and good news. The bad news: God requires a perfect righteousness of all men. The good news: God provides that perfect righteousness in His Son whose righteousness is imputed to all who believe. The really good, good news is that His good news overcomes our bad news.

Let us walk in God’s way so that His righteousness may be seen by all men.

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