Scripture Joshua 7
Message: DEFEAT AT AI
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Children's message: Cookie Jar with cookies - invite a child to grab one. (If the child grabs the cookie, can't get their hand out.) We will find today that there are some sins which have a much deeper meaning than just the sin themselves. They are ways that Satan can trap us (similar to trapping monkeys in third world countries with a cookie jar!)
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
As we have studied the conquest of the stronghold Jericho in November and December, we have found that the conquest was a natural demonstration on the physical plain of deeper spiritual truths which clearly come to the surface in the New Testament, where we are called to tear down or overcome spiritual strongholds. This morning we are going to read a passage that is hard to understand unless we see the spiritual significance of what occurs. Let's turn to Joshua 7.
But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things ; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord's anger burned against Israel.
Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, "Go up and spy out the region." So the men went up and spied out Ai. When they returned to Joshua, they said, "Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there." So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell face down to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?"
The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
"Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it. "'In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe that the LORD takes shall come forward clan by clan; the clan that the LORD takes shall come forward family by family; and the family that the LORD takes shall come forward man by man. He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!'"
Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. The clans of Judah came forward, and he took the Zerahites. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was taken. Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. Then Joshua said to Achan, "My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me."
Achan replied, "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath."
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD. Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor.
Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.
Let me begin by making just a few comments on this passage. If you remember back to chapter 6, you will remember that all the contents and the people of the stronghold of Jericho were devoted to the Lord, the actual word there is "herem," the word means devoted to, or banned. Today's word herem, (means a living place for a sheik's wives) comes from this original word.
Second, this is the only record of a defeat and or the death of Israelites in the book of Joshua. All other passages are about strategy, victory, taking the blessings promised Israel through their father Abraham. This passage presses the question upon us who share in the victory of Christ, and according to the scriptures, we have inherited all the spiritual blessings of Abraham, it presses upon us the question: "Why do we experience defeat?" "Where is our defeat coming from?" "Why is it that the strongholds of power that stand against us have their way with us so often?"
The issue in this passage clearly was Achan's sin. Everything in Jericho was to be devoted to the Lord, this was the Lord's command, the Lord's covenant with them. Achan saw, he coveted, he took and he hid his illicit booty in and under his tent. He took what belonged to God alone, and so broke covenant. Now the judgement upon Achan sounds and feels way to severe if we do not recognize that spiritual issues at hand here. After all, who of us has never taken what belongs to another? Who of us has not coveted at one point in our lives? Why is Achan's sin so serious that it halts the progress of Israel, causes the death of 36 men, and causes the Lord's anger to burn against the entire nation?
The first reason is because in Achan's sin, Israel violated the covenant of the LORD. The covenant was a definition or relationship with the Lord. Just as two people enter today into a covenant of marriage, which describes the new nature of their relationship, so the covenant with the Lord described the nature of the relationship between God and Israel. And Achan's sin was not only the sin of coveting, it was the sin of violating or betraying covenant. God promised to be the God of Israel, dedicated to fulfilling the promises of Abraham for them, on the condition that they be faithful and obedient to the covenant relationship they had together. But Achan betrayed that covenant and connected himself to the gods of Jericho, in much the same way as the children, who could hold hands with each other, but in the process of taking what did not belong to them, literally got trapped in relationship with whoever was holding that jar. The thing we have to remember here is that the conquest of the promised land was a spiritual conquest, it was the victory of the God of Israel over the gods of Canaan and Jericho. The god's of Canaan and the people who related to them were under the judgement of God for the sins and atrocities they had committed. Achan, by his theft from God, created a allegiance with the powers of Jericho that were under the judgement of God. In so doing, he himself, his family, in fact, the whole nation of Israel came under the judgment of God.
People of God, we all sin, we have all coveted, but recognize that there are times when sin is clearly a betrayal of our relationship with God, it is a turning to the gods of this age, the gods of this world - and when we betray our covenant relationship with God - the consequences are serious. John, in 1 John 5 (16-18) talks about sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death. Clearly, the distinction is a sin that ruptures our covenant relationship with God.
People of God, with whom do you choose to align yourself with in the practice of everyday life - Jesus Christ or the gods of this age? Before we look at that application further, let's look at two other themes that are especially significant in this passage.
Notice that Achan knew his disobedience, knew his breaking of the covenant, and therefore he kept it secret. This was not the secrecy of shame, this was the secrecy, the darkness of knowing disobedience. There was the assumption that if no one knew of the sin besides Achan, that it wouldn't hurt anyone. There was the assumption that if no one knew of the sin, that God would do nothing about it either.
This secret sin killed 36 men, brought the nation of Israel defeat, brought the wrath of God against the whole nation. God sees it all. There is nothing hidden from his eyes. Secret knowing disobedience has profound consequences that not only affect the one doing it, they effect the whole community. As Proverbs 28:13 says "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." The truth of clearly stated in scripture is that sin, even secret sin, has a way of finding us out, exposing itself through its consequences, through the curse that that sin effects in our lives. Such sin is like a seed sown, and over time, it will grow a harvest of judgement which we cannot escape - judgement that influences, even defeats, not just us, but our families, our church, even our nation.
Third, I would like to point out that this was what might be called a Turning Point sin - a sin that would form a fork in the road for the future of the nation of Israel. Had this sin gone unchecked, it would have shaped the nation of Israel for the future. Israel was to be a nation dedicated, holy unto the Lord. In Achan's sin, there was covenant betrayal and compromise to the Holiness that God wanted. This cancer had to be cut out before it went to far. At this time, when the nation was taking over the promised land, entering into the fullness of the blessing, Achan's actions was a turning point for the nation of Israel - which way would they go?
There is a very interesting parallel in the New Testament to this passage. In the book of Acts, just as the church, which was known for its generosity and its integrity was coming into the blessings of the Holy Spirit, there is a very similar story, the story of Annanias and Saphira. Annanias and Saphira knowingly and secretly kept a portion of the offering that they had dedicated to the Lord to themselves. The actual Greek word in that passage is a direct translation of the Hebrew word (Septuagint) for what Achan did in keeping part of the booty to himself. And if you remember the story from Acts 5, you remember that the Lord judged both of them with death for their secret action. There is a simple reason - would this new community that the Lord established be characterized by generosity and integrity, a holiness with the very character of God, or would the church take the shape of compromise with the world, of allegiance with the principalities and powers?
If we reflect on our own lives, they too have had turning points - turning points that led down pathways of obedience or disobedience. Choices and pathways that shaped the course of our future. These choices not only affect us, they affect all around us.
This morning, I have to bring this message to conclusion. And I will do that by a prayer of confession. Notice that the nation of Israel was set free by means of repentance and confession. So to, in the grace of God, when we confess our sins to the Lord, and seek forgiveness in Christ, the curse of the Law is broken, and once again, we can enter into the blessings of Abraham.
Counter Behaviors - Humility
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.