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Spiritual lessons from Achan!
We should feel great pity for this man who fell and brought disgrace and shame on the tribes of Israel, for who of us has never been tempted by easy material gain? We should remember that 1 John 2:161 tells us, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world." And James 1:14-151: "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." The sin of Achan is a tragically graphic example of these verses of warning and 1 Corinthians 10 shows us that this account is recorded for our warning and instruction to remind us of one of the processes to sin. The process to Achan's sin was a familiar one: he saw, he coveted, and he took. It was the same with Eve (Genesis 3v6) and with David (2 Samuel 11v2-4) and it is the same with us. Joshua's approach was tender, yet firm. He hated the sin, but loved the sinner. Achan's confession while honest, was too late and the product of discovery. It was not an act of repentance or godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7v8-11).
There are many lessons for us here: first, that confession without repentance or a genuine change of mind is hollow. It does not restore us to fellowship, not because repentance is a work we must do to gain God's forgiveness, but because without it we retain a wrong attitude which maintains a barrier between us and the Lord. Secondly, sometimes confession is too late to stop the discipline. The primary purpose of confession is not to get us out of trouble but to re-establish fellowship and turn our life over to God because we want to walk with Him, under His control and in His direction (Amos 3v3). Thirdly, we need to learn the practical lesson illustrated by Achan - the fact that he hid the plunder shows he clearly knew he was doing wrong. So, why did he go ahead and do it? For the same reason Satan sinned against the Lord. In the same way Eve fell for the deceptions of the serpent. Fourthly, we note that Achan took gold and silver, suggesting materialism, but also a beautiful robe from Babylon which not only suggests materialism, but the desire to be fashionable or to gain the admiration of men. These two things represent the various lust patterns we all face and, if not dealt with by faith, they can dominate a person's life. They can include things like the desire for position, power, prestige, pleasure, possessions, praise, and recognition. Unfortunately these are human solutions or defensive strategies used to find security, significance, and satisfaction - while trying to hide the sin factor! Jeremiah calls them Abroken cisterns@ (Jeremiah 2v131):
For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns, That can hold no water.
Achan, as with Satan and Eve, was dissatisfied, impatient, and self-reliant. He was using and trusting in his own protective strategies to get what he wanted out of life. Ironically, God was then in the process of taking all of Israel into the land where each man would have his own land, house, and abundant blessings. But dissatisfaction, caused by failure to find his happiness in the Lord, produced impatience which caused him to covet and run ahead with his own solutions. Though the command against coveting is only one of the Ten Commandments, it is the root sin against which most of the other commandments were given and it is behind most of our sin.
It must also be emphasized that coveting stems from being dissatisfied with our lot in life and from the failure to seek our happiness in the Lord and to trust Him as the source of our needs for security, significance, and satisfaction.
The New Testament defines coveting as idolatry (Ephesians 5v5; Colossians 3v5) which is seeking from other things what only God can give. An idol can be a graven image made of wood or precious metal to which one prays and seeks help. Idolatry may also be materialism, that way of life that seeks security and significance from money, possessions, power, prestige, and pleasure. It may be secularism, a philosophy of life by which men seek to live apart from dependence on God. Or it may be the approbation of men, seeking satisfaction and security from the praise of others. We need to learn Paul=s secret - biblical contentment in the Lord described in Philippians 4:12-131 (cf. Philippians 3v13-14 and 1 Timothy 6v6-19):
12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
When we read of the death of Achan (Joshua 7v22-26), many people ask why God was so harsh on Achan and his family. In contrast to the evidence we see in the New Testament, such as the mercy the Lord demonstrated to the woman at the well who had five husbands (John 4v18) and the woman taken in adultery who, as a Jewish woman, could have been stoned according to the Law (John 8v3f), this seems terribly harsh to many people.
But we are apt to forget a couple of other New Testament passages like the death of Ananias and Sapphira and the awesome judgments of the Tribulation where the blood of men is pictured as flowing up to the horses= bridles in the wine vat of God=s wrath (cf. Revelation 14v18-20; 19v13 with Isaiah 63v1-6). We also tend to either forget or minimize the holiness of God. God is described as holy more than by any of His other attributes - more than even His love, mercy, and grace. As a holy God, He demonstrates perfect righteousness and justice, and, because of His justice, He must deal with sin (cf. Psalm 50v21; Ecclesiastes 8v11-12).
But there is another issue here we are apt to ignore as we think about this passage. Who were these people and what was their purpose? They were a people called of God to be His witness to the world and through whom God would give the Saviour (cf. Exodus. 19v4-6; Deuteronomy 10v15f; with 1 Peter 1v14-19; 2v9-12) - called to be holy and spotless. This, then, involves the principle of protecting the welfare and purpose of the majority by dealing with this sin in such a way that it would strike fear into the hearts of the people and make them realize just how serious sin was. As with the case of Ananias and Sapphira, which was in the early period of the church, so in this initial period of entrance into the land, Achan was put to death to strike the fear of God into the hearts of the people and to form an example of the seriousness of what Achan had done in violating the covenant of God.
Initial possession and enjoyment of the land and its blessings and the Israelite=s ability to fulfill their calling as God=s chosen people was dependent on obedience to God who was giving them the land with all of its many blessings and responsibilities (Deuteronomy 28-30). Further, we should remember that Achan confessed his sin only when forced to by the circumstances. Had he voluntarily cast himself on the mercy of God, his life might have been spared, as in the case of David and his sin. Dr. Donald K. Campbell writes: "In view of the fact that the Law prohibits the execution of children for their father's sins (Deuteronomy 24v16), we assume that Achan's children were accomplices in crime."8 Reading carefully, we notice that no wife is mentioned in the verses dealing with the stoning. Did his wife play no part in this sin, is she included in the description of "all that belonged to him" (v241), or was he widowed? This is a question that cannot be answered without unsupported speculation. So we should not forget this key issue - the trouble this brought on others. God took such severe action because of the serious consequences of his act on others - it was a terrible example, lives were lost, Israel was routed, and God's honour impugned (cf. vs. 25). This became, then, a warning to the people, which is evident by the fact a memorial was erected afterwards to remind Israel of Achan's sin and God's judgment.
Joshua pronounced judgment (vs. 25): "Why has thou troubled us? The Lord shall trouble thee this day. " Achan's behavior illustrates how one believer out of fellowship, pursuing his own selfish desires and agendas, has a negative impact on the rest of the congregation and creates trouble for an entire group. Achan's name, the Hebrew, àa„kan, is a play on the word àa„ko„r, which means "trouble." So Joshua would declare that the Lord would bring trouble (àa„ko„r) on Achan who had become a "troubler" to the nation because of his sin (cf. 7:24-25). As a result Achan, and his whole family, were stoned to death and burned with everything that he owned. A huge heap of stones were then heaped over the place where he died, and they named the place "the Valley of Achor," (Hebrew, àa„ko‚r, "disturbance, trouble"), that is, "Valley of Troubling."7 This principle continues in the New Testament where, for example, at Hebrews 12:15-16 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-13, we learn that, though the crime was committed by one person, the whole nation was considered guilty. The nation was responsible for the obedience of every citizen and was charged with the punishment of every offender. The Apostle Paul saw the same principle of solidarity at work in the church - unjudged sin contaminated the whole assembly: "Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?" (v. 6).1
This epitaph, "The Troubler of Israel," would be the tombstone to remind Israel of the awesome responsibility they held to be obedient to God's commands first. The same sin of lust and greed and failing to get our priorities right remains prevalent to this day and we readily disregard Jesus' instructions in Matthew 6:33: "seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness"
Following the purging of Achan and his sin from the midst of the camp the Israelites were told to return once again brings to Ai, going with God's assurance that they would defeat the inhabitants of the city. But God had now changed the battle plan. The battle was going to be the Israelites and the spoil was going to be theirs because they would partake in the military activity. If only Achan had waited until they went up to Ai under God's direction the thirty-six men would not have been lost and he would not have been executed and would have lived to enjoy the spoil of the very next battle which would have been gained with honour, in a God-approved manner with proper priorities. He and his family would have enjoyed all of this with the blessing of God.
In Chapter 8 Joshua went up against Ai once again, using good military strategy this time. The inhabitants of Ai, thinking they were going to defeat the Israelites as easily as before, left their city and Joshua entered from the other side, burned Ai and defeated the army, taking all the city and twelve thousand men and women [v25]. Thus the psychological advantage was regained!
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