ONE BAD APPLE (JOSHUA 7)
Three churches – Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian – worked together to sponsor a community-wide revival. After the revival concluded, the three pastors were eagerly discussed the results with one another.
The Methodist minister said, “The revival worked out great for us! We gained four new families.” The Baptist preacher said, “We did better than that! We gained six new families.”
The Presbyterian pastor said, “Well, we did even better than that! We got rid of our ten biggest troublemakers!”
The most troublesome, bothersome and wearisome enemies of Israel in their conquest of the Promised Land were not Gentile kings, foreign armies, powerful weapons, the local weather or the rugged terrain, but invisible but stubborn enemies: sin, disobedience and unfaithfulness in the camp. Nothing had created so much havoc, caused so much loss and brought so many tears. The most potent enemy the new generation had ever faced was secret, unconfessed sin, which cost them so much turmoil. The battles before and after Ai were plain sailing compared to the battle of the heart. Crossing the Jordan River (Josh 3), entering Jericho (Josh 6) and battling the coalition of five Amorite kings (Josh 10) or any other allied kings, tribes and armies (Josh 11) was a breeze compared to dueling with sin. Waging war against sin was bruising, but the reward was worthwhile. In fact, Joshua’s army would be unstoppable in their march to the Promised Land after sin was dealt with and the episode settled.
Why is unconfessed sin so odious and reprehensible in God’s eyes? What can a minor offense or transgression do to a successful and unbeatable army?
Sin’s Presence Cancels Prime Performance
7:1 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. 2 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. 3 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.” 4 So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 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. (Josh 7:1-5)
Two travellers were on the road together, when a bear suddenly appeared on the scene. Before he observed them, one made for a tree at the side of the road, and climbed up into the branches and hid there.
The other was not so nimble as his companion; and, as he could not escape, he threw himself on the ground and pretended to be dead. The bear came up and sniffed all round him, but he kept perfectly still and held his breath: for they say that a bear will not touch a dead body. The bear took him for a corpse, and went away.
When the coast was clear, the traveller in the tree came down, and asked the other what it was the Bear had whispered to him when he put his mouth to his ear. The other replied, “He told me never again to travel with a friend who deserts you at the first sign of danger.” (William J Bennett, Book of Virtue 272-273)
It’s been said, “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.”
Achan was not a friend or comrade in the true sense of the word. His ally was mammon. The trouble with caving in to sin is that it reverses all the good that has been done, undermines all the progress that one has made and imprisons those guilty or innocent in its path. Somebody paid the price for Achan’s sin, suffered the consequences and took the fall. Israel’s past success counted for nothing, her celebration was muted and her victory turned to defeat. Others were casualty when God withdrew His protection from Israel for the violation of God’s covenant.
This was the only time the new generation had provoked the anger of the Lord and the results were disastrous. Sadly, the first casualty was not the thief, but the warriors. Thirty-six warriors (v 5), maybe the best of the lot and the cream of the crop, died because of Achan’s self-centeredness, greed and indulgence. The warriors were hunted like deer, rounded like sheep and slaughtered like pigs. They were not outmaneuvered, outnumbered or outfoxed but they were definitely outran and out-fought.
The Israelites suffered a heavy emotional drain and mental toll even though the physical loss, number dead or casualty rate was not that high. Only thirty-six of the three thousand fighting men died, but how they died was traumatic. The Hebrew text noted that they fled from the men of Ai (v 4), who chased them down and struck them (v 5) from behind (v 12). They ran and ran for their lives until they ran out of breath, room, and luck. All the while, they had a target on their back. Their necks (v 8, 12) felt the blades of their enemies who were breathing down their throats. The warriors’ plan to capture the city failed miserably. They did not reach farther than the enemies’ gates and were mercilessly slaughtered at the slopes (v 5), where their bodies tumbled down the hill.
The Israelites’ hearts melted like water (Josh 2:11, 7:5). Even so, the Lord’s grace was upon Israel. The death toll could have been higher than the slightly over 1% fighters dead.
What could have so devastated Israel? Was the report on Ai inaccurate? The report was correct. Even Gibeon, a greater city than Ai (Josh 10:2), was no match for Israel’s army. The spy report rightly stated that Ai’s residents were few, insignificant and outmatched (Josh 7:3). Ironically, Israel lost the battle and suffered the loss not because their army was short of soldiers or their enemies were strong in force but because Israel was weakened by sin. External might did not overwhelm them, but internal sin undermined them.
Sin, whether in secret or in the open, if not dealt with immediately, ruthlessly and truthfully, will lead to continual suffering, hardship and disasters.
Sin’s Presence Cancels Present Peace
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown 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. 7 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! 8 O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 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?” 10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 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. 12 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. (Josh 7:6-12)
A man flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?” The man below says: “Yes, you’re in a hot air balloon, hovering 30 feet above this field.” “You must work in Information Technology,” says the balloonist.
“I do,” replies the man. “How did you know?” Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but it’s no use to anyone.” The man below says, “You must work in business.” “I do,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?” “Well,” says the man, “You don’t know where you are, or where you’re going, but you expect me to be able to help. You’re in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault.”
The easiest thing to do is to gripe against the Lord. Joshua and the elders never asked the people or each other, “Who sinned?” Until evening, Joshua did not investigate, but later threw a fit and made his accusation. He issued three questions to God: (1) “Why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?” (2) “What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?” and (3) “What then will you do for your own great name?”
Moses had instructed and warned the new generation against the snare of coveting the silver and gold on the idols (Deut 7:25-26) and taking it for themselves or into the house. The silver and gold were previously used on the idols, which meant that they were demonic, unholy and abominable to the LORD. Later the Israelites were warned again that none of the banned things should be in their hands (Deut 13:17).
Previously, Joshua also warned the Israelites that they must keep away from the devoted things to avoid their own destruction, as well as Israel’s, and to put silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the Lord’s treasury shortly after they had conquered Jericho (Josh 6:18-19), but Achan did not take seriously or care for or listen to Moses, Joshua or the Lord’s repeated warnings. Their defeat was not due a common mistake or a freak accident, but a purposeful violation, a willful disobedience and an active rebellion. Achan was invasive, evasive and deceptive. He sprung into action after the Israelites had put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house after the last battle (Josh 6:24). He did not just keep some for himself or refuse to surrender some. He stole (v 11) after the fact. He had sneaked in unnoticed. No one saw what he did, detected what was missing or suspected a fellow brother, soldier or countryman was stealing things from right under their nose. He hid the stolen goods in the ground inside his tent (7:21). He knew what to hide, when to hide and where to hide.
God’s pronouncement in verse 11 was swift: “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.”
Achan’s sin was active, successive and compulsive. It was well-conceived, well-executed and well-disposed.
Sin’s Presence Halts Possible Progress
19 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.” 20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 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.” 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD. 24 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. 25 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. 26 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. (Josh 7:19-26)
A story from Italy tells about a villager in a mountain hamlet who kept a modest number of ducks behind his house. One afternoon, having decided to end his Lenten fast with a roast duck for supper, he selected a plump bird and, in view of the flock, he chopped off its head. However, the farmer had been particularly fond of this particular duck. As he stooped to pick up the carcass, tender soul that he was, tears filled his eyes and coursed down his check.
“Oh, see the tears of remorse in his eyes,” cried a young duckling. “I am sure he will never harm one of us again.” “Never mind his tears; observe his deed,” corrected an older and wiser duck that arrived at the scene. “You will notice that he did not throw away his axe, but carried it into the house with him.” (Adapted from A Treasury of Italian Folklore and Humor 27, Henry D. Spalding , NY: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 1980)
There is a difference between admitting a mistake and confessing a sin. Confession is acknowledgment, disclosure and repentance before you are caught or discovered. Even when others died, when the families were picked, up to the last minute, Achan did not confess. Achan’s profession was no different from King Saul’s (1 Sam 15:24-25). When Achan was caught, he admitted it. Admitting a mistake is the easy way out. Politicians, businessmen and all sorts of cheaters from all walks of life admit they made a mistake after investigators, eyewitnesses or clues fingered them.
The Chinese have a saying, “Go to the mountain a lot, and you will surely meet a tiger.”
Achan’s sin was the sin of covetousness (v 21) – he saw it with his eyes, he coveted in his heart and he took it in his hands. All the material, worldly, glittery things of the world cannot satisfy the heart’s voracious appetite for more. Achan wasn’t poor; he had cattle, donkeys and sheep to his name (v 24). His greed had no parallel in Old Testament history. Up to now he was the only one attested to break the sin of covetousness (v 21). Achan had an exquisite taste for Babylonian products. Achan knew its quality, value and cost. The Chinese say, “You can be poor, but you cannot be greedy.” The Israelites, too, were not poor by any means. They had sheep, cattle, donkeys and gold articles to offer to the Lord (Num 31:42-50). They also had the freedom to use the silver they have to buy what they want (Deut 14:25-26)
The Chinese say, “You cannot wrap fire with paper.” Even when he was found out, Achan stood like a deer in headlights and buried his head in the sand like an ostrich, standing there without budging and refusing to say anything until Joshua addressed him. He did not break into sweat, spare everyone’s time or save the family from embarrassment. There was no remorse, gallantry or sacrifice on his part, not even crocodile tears. He did absolutely nothing and showed no remorse. Even when confronted, note that he did not beg for mercy or plead for forgiveness. The translation for the word “disgraceful” (7:15) is interesting. Sometimes it is translated as “foolish” (1 Sam 25:25) or speaking (Isa 32:6), but when acted upon, it is translated as vile (Judg 20:10), outrageous (Jer 29:23) or wicked (Judg 19:23, 2 Sam 13:12).
Conclusion: Nothing is more underestimated, understated, undetected or undermining than sin. Sin is enslaving, unsatisfying and punishing. It is self-deceiving, disruptive to groups and loathsome to God. A friend of sin in an enemy of God. Are you harboring a secret, unconfessed sin? Is sin controlling you to make you obey its evil desires? (Rom 6:11-13) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
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