NOTE: These notes are my own, but they are meant to supplement Session 5 of the Spring 2016 Gospel Project Chronological curriculum.
Joshua chapter 6 recounted the incredible display of God’s power through His people at the ancient city of Jericho. The chapter ended with these words:
“So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.”
(Joshua 6:27 ESV)
Yet within the first ten verses of Joshua chapter 7 we find Joshua in a very different place.
“Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!”
Joshua 7:6-7 ESV
What happened in such a short period of time? How can the leader of God’s people see such great success and then crash into this kind of despair? Sin. Sin is what happened. Sin is how God’s people go from victory to defeat.
The story of Achan, found in Joshua 7, is brutal. I really cannot think of another way to describe it. God’s people are coming off the high of a great victory at Jericho. After sending in a couple of spies and realizing the battle of Ai would be an easy win, Joshua sent a few thousand troops to take over the city. As they prepare for the victory celebration back home, the soldiers end up coming home with their tails tucked between their legs and about 36 mens bodies on their shoulders.
What exactly happened between the victory at Jericho and defeat at Ai? Did some pride well up in the peoples hearts keeping them from trusting and listening to God? Perhaps. Should Joshua have consulted with the Lord on how to attack instead of depending on his intellect? Certainly. Most significantly though, someone in their midst had coveted, idolized money, and stolen from God. Achan had been strictly commanded not to take anything for himself from the wealth of Jericho, and he chose to disobey that command. Not only that, he refused to admit what he had done until he got caught. The results were devastating. An embarrassing military defeat, a few dozen dead soldiers, and the death of Achan and his family.
I’m not going to try to figure out why God chose to judge this sin so quickly and harshly. I am going to note that God is holy, and sin always has serious consequences. In fact, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) It’s also important to point out that it wasn’t just Achan that suffered from his sin, it was Achan, his family, and all the people of God.
There are many things that we can take away from this story, but I want to point out one that is applicable to a conversation that is ongoing in our body here at Arlington Heights.
Sin is really serious. It can kill the person committing, it can wreck the people of God, and until it is dealt with, God does not give victory. Michael (our pastor) preached a powerful sermon from 1 Corinthians 5 on church discipline called “Love Hurts” this past Sunday. This story from Joshua 7 points out why dealing with the sin among us matters. What if before the people were defeated at Ai, one of Achan’s friends or family members would have stepped in and confronted him? What if two or three would have gone to him and said, “Brother, your disobedience is dangerous, you must stop.” What if it would have been brought before all of God’s people and with a united voice they would have said, “Stop the insanity Achan, our God is loving, but He is also holy and wrathful, this won’t end well.” What if God would have used one of those moments of intervention to bring Achan to repentance before there was blood on his hands? Or, if he didn’t repent, what if the people had said, “Achan, we can’t let you blatantly rebel against God and live among us.” As tragic as that would have been, it’s better than body bags. It’s better than defeat. Of course, at this time, they didn’t have Matthew 18. Now we do.
The good news is, God is full of grace and always restoring His people. After the sin was dealt with, the people marched into Ai and took it over. If we love our brothers and sisters, and love the church, we will extend grace upon grace as Christ does with us. Yet at the same time, in light of the gospel, we expect grace to be transformative. Let’s be sure we take sin seriously. Let’s be sure we obey Christ’s command to go to a brother in sin and pursue loving restoration in the way He commands.