Bible Focus: Joshua 7
The Israelites, however, were unfaithful regarding the things set apart for destruction. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of what was set apart, and the LORD’s anger burned against the Israelites.
Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and scout the land.” So the men went up and scouted Ai. After returning to Joshua they reported to him, “Don’t send all the people, but send about two thousand or three thousand men to attack Ai. Since the people of Ai are so few, don’t wear out all our people there.”
So about three thousand men went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. The men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of them and chased them from outside the city gate to the quarries, striking them down on the descent. As a result, the people lost heart. Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD until evening, as did the elders of Israel; they all put dust on their heads.Joshua 7:1-6 CSB
This battle against the little city of Ai was Israel’s only loss during Joshua’s entire conquest of the promised land of Canaan. No enemy could defeat Israel while God was with them. But if God withdrew, then even a small army could defeat Israel.
One of the Israelite soldiers, Achan, had disobeyed God and took plunder from the battle of Jericho. Joshua had specifically instructed the soldiers to leave the plunder of Jericho for God alone (Joshua 6:16-19). Joshua did not know of Achan’s actions, and so he made plans to attack Ai next. Joshua was unaware that God was no longer supporting his army.
After their defeat at Ai, Joshua was distraught. He sought the Lord’s counsel. God told Joshua that someone had taken plunder from Jericho. God told Joshua to command the people to prepare for an elaborate ritual the next day in which God would name the traitor. God said that once the guilty man was identified, he and everything belonging to him must be burned.
Of course, God didn’t need the ritual to know who the guilty man was. Why go to all the trouble? Most likely, the purpose of the ritual was twofold: (1) it would give Achan ample time to repent, and (2) if Achan did not repent, it would publicly establish both his guilt and his unrepentance.
I wonder what thoughts went through Achan’s mind that night. His best decision would have been to confess his guilt to Joshua and throw himself on God’s mercy. But Achan kept silent and stayed on his selfish, destructive course. He did not speak to Joshua of his disobedience until the entire selection process played out the next day. After Achan was finally identified as the culprit, he confessed what he had done:
Achan replied to Joshua, “It is true. I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I did: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful cloak from Babylon, five pounds of silver, and a bar of gold weighing a pound and a quarter, I coveted them and took them. You can see for yourself. They are concealed in the ground inside my tent, with the silver under the cloak.”Joshua 7:20-21 CSB
These were the only recorded words of Achan. There was no mention of Achan having any regret, sorrow, or desire for leniency. There was no apology to the families of the 36 men who perished at Ai. There was only his simple acknowledgment of the facts of his disobedience. In response, Joshua and the people carried out God’s sentence against Achan.
Even though we might not want to admit it, we all have something in common with Achan. All of us have sinned against God. We have all acted selfishly, disobeyed God’s commands, and affected those around us in some way by our sins. Each one of us is guilty. If we refuse to admit our sin and guilt, then God’s punishment of death hangs over us, and one day our sentence will be carried out.
But here’s the good news. Although we all start out like Achan, we don’t have to end up like him. We can choose to admit our sin and turn to God. We can ask God’s forgiveness through Jesus who paid our sentence of death at the cross. Jesus won’t necessarily eliminate all the earthly consequences of our sins. But he will gladly forgive our sin, cleanse our guilt, reconcile us to God, and lead us away from darkness into the light.
If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:7-9 CSB
Featured image from Seungwon Choo on Unsplash.