Scripture: The LORD said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 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.” Joshua 7:10 ESV
Observation: Having faithfully followed the Lord’s directives in the miraculous victory of Jericho, Joshua sends spies to scout Ai and ascertain how best to defeat this next enemy. The spies return confident that a small force will suffice. So Joshua sends three thousand troops to attack the people of Ai. But to their surprise, the men of Ai fight with much ferocity and soundly defeat Israel’s battalion. When the survivors report their defeat to Joshua, he tears his clothes (as a sign of mourning), falls prostrate before the ark until evening, and then cries out to the Lord, questioning why Yahweh would submit Israel to the shame of defeat and sully the name of their God (vv.1-9). The Lord sharply responds and tells Joshua to get up, for Israel has sinned; they have violated his command to devote all possessions of Jericho except the precious metals reserved for the tabernacle treasury (above verse).
As the story continues, Yahweh instructs Joshua to consecrate the people by exposing the guilty party who had secretly looted valuables from the spoils of war. So Joshua arises early the following day and calls the people tribe by the tribe and man by the man to discern the guilty party (vv.16-18). Ascertaining Achan from the tribe of Judah had committed this egregious sin, Joshua compels Achan to give glory and praise to God through confession. Achan admits his sin and reveals all the items he coveted and hid in his tent (vv.19-21). Joshua directs messengers to retrieve the desecrated booty from Achan’s tent and bring Achan’s family and all his possessions to the Valley of Achor, where all the people stone him and burn his family and possessions (vv.22-26).
Of note, Achor means “trouble,” and Ai means “ruin” in Hebrew. We learn in chapter 8 that the total population of Ai was only twelve thousand, of which about three thousand would be fighting men (equal in number to Israel’s reduced force).
Takeaway: This is one of those challenging texts where we might struggle to understand our Lord’s grace and mercy. There are a couple of points we need to consider. First, the Lord forewarned Joshua that all the people must “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” (6:18).
Secondly, as we have often revisited, sin is like cancer: left unchecked, it metastasizes throughout the entire body of the church. Unaccounted by confession and sincere repentance, sinful behavior can divide a fellowship and shipwreck those young in the faith—particularly when involving leadership.
But what about grace and forgiveness? While our New Covenant of Grace clearly expresses these elements of our faith, we may find it difficult to see their outworking in stories like Achan’s. But Levitical law states that children are not culpable for the sins of their fathers, and only the guilty party will suffer capital punishment (Deuteronomy 24:16). Thus, it stands to reason that Achan’s family knew of his actions and were guilty by association.
So how does this story apply to our lives? We would do well to set aside our pride, fear of failure, or fear of the unknown and seek the help we need from trusted godly leaders and friends to bring our sins into the light of Christ and seek the help we desperately need. Otherwise, the seemingly minor sins that linger will eventually leach throughout all aspects of our lives and cause collateral damage to our loved ones. But if we sincerely confess our sins and earnestly seek help, our Lord will pour out his grace and mercy on us and those who care for us in abundance.
Prayer: Father God, thank you that we can approach your Son’s throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). So would you please help us bring our sins into the light of your Son by sincerely confessing our sins and earnestly seeking the help of those who will support, encourage, and hold us accountable? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling