The Trouble of Sin Among God’s People
Go ahead and turn to Joshua chapter 7, but we’’ll start at the last verse of chapter 6, verse 27, in order to review everything that we’ve seen from Joshua 2-6 in our series: “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land” (6:27).
Up to this point, the land of Canaan was put on notice. Joshua, followed by Israel, has entered to conquer the land, starting with the demolition of Jericho. As a result, this fame spread to all the land. This was not a good kind of fame—to describe this verse more accurately, it essentially says that Joshua was infamous in all the land.
As the spies back in chapter 2 confirmed, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us” (2:24). So far, so good. Yet, the author suddenly provides a plot twist in the beginning of chapter 7 by saying, “but.” Here’s the first and most obvious hint of trouble.
So our first observation/point this morning is simply going to be: The Trouble, in verse 1.
“But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel” (7:1).
Why are these “devoted things” a big deal? Last week we talked about this, God commanded Israel to devote everything to destruction in 6:17: “And the city and all that is within shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.”
But here’s the thing: no one would’ve known about Achan’s actions here—at least not yet. So as good readers of the Bible today, let’s see what was going on in the minds of Joshua and Israel by pretending (for a while) that verse 1 wasn’t there. After crossing the Jordan and annihilating Jericho, and Joshua being infamous in the land because of these, verse 2 bring us to our next point of observation: The Trouble Unknown.
The Trouble Unknown
“Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, ‘Go up and spy out the land.’ And the men went up and spied out Ai” (7:2).
So here we see Joshua doing the same thing that he did in preparation for Jericho; he sent spies to scout out the land. Yet, in verse 3, we immediately find out that the spies return and give a report. So the author doesn’t see this spy mission to Ai is important to record as the spy mission to Jericho with Rahab. What’s deemed more important, however, is their report:
“And they returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few’” (7:3).
So the spies are saying, Ai is no big threat, not even numerically. So don’t bother working everyone and just send a mini cavalry. Easy pickings. However, we find out that that is not the case. Verses 4-5 bring us to our third point when we see The Trouble Realized.
The Trouble Realized
“So about 3,000 men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (7:4-5).
With the trouble of verse 1 unknown to us right now, this begs the question: Is this the result of arrogance? Overconfidence? Before they even entered the gate of Ai, they started to retreat as they were chased off and lost 36 men. But what’s even more significant is that “the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” The last time this language was used was to describe the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites. Now it’s being used for the Israelites... somehow the tables have suddenly turned, unexpectedly.
Again, think about it: if you were Joshua or one of the Israelites, you wouldn’t have known about verse 1. You had major expectations to conquer this little city of Ai with zero problems (because you had YHWH on your side), and then boom.
It’s like being the best team in a sports league, and every other team in that league knew that you would dominate the league with little to no problems. And when it was your turn to play the worst and weakest team in the league, you fully expected to breeze by them, even with less people—yet you suffer a crushing and convincing loss. In the sports world, that’s called an upset. But in the context of physical warfare, where the stakes are much higher, that’s called demoralization—as evidenced by verse 6-7.
“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!” (7:6-7).
Do you notice how Joshua sounds here? He sounds like Israel after crossing the Red Sea: “Why did we come out of Egypt?” (Numbers 11:20).
“O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” (7:8-9).
While Joshua shows genuine concern about Israel potentially losing its reputation and tarnishing the name of YHWH since the Canaanites will gain confidence and know that Israel is not unbeatable, Joshua’s plea seems to come off wrong. Joshua seems to doubt God’s faithfulness now as he questions God as to why they crossed over the Jordan only to be destroyed; it seems as if Joshua forgot YHWH’s promise to be with him wherever he went, as well as the command to be strong and courageous.
In response, God seems to rebuke Joshua in verse 10 when we find out what the trouble is, our fourth point—the trouble of sin:
The Trouble of Sin
“The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction” (7:10-12).
Do you realize the gravity of this statement for Israel? Again, without the knowledge of verse 1, put yourselves in the shoes of Israel: You who were once tasked to devote to destruction these Canaanites, now suffer the same fate as these Canaanites—because of your sin.
Where does this come from—6:18: “But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.”
And if this wasn’t bad enough, listen to the next statement in verse 12: “I will be with you no more...” (7:12). Now think about the gravity of this statement on Joshua, the one to whom God promised: “I will be with you wherever you go” (1:9). It is quite evident that God was absent when Israel went up to fight Ai. In chapter 6, we see the Lord saying to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand” (6:2).
Later on in chapter 8, we see the Lord saying to Joshua, “See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land” (8:1). Nonetheless, the point here is clear. Joshua, and all of Israel, have disobeyed God and are now devoted to destruction. YHWH will be with them no more...unless they destroy the devoted things from among them.
How are they supposed to do that? We find out starting in verse 13, when we see our fifth point (which is actually what I titled this sermon): the trouble of sin among God’s people.
The Trouble of Sin Among God’s People
“Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate [set apart] yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you. In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man” (7:13-14).
Here we see that the process of consecrating or setting apart Israel as a holy people is no simple process. This process is called casting lots, which was used in the OT to determine God’s will in specific situations. More importantly, we see the Lord directing this process of casting lots , not Joshua. The lord takes is repeated three times. As Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” And what is the result for the one who is taken? Verse 15.
“And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel’” (7:15).
Suffice it to say, that this person who has done this outrageous thing will face an outrageous consequence. We see this when we find out who this person is, when the one who brought trouble upon Israel is taken. The sixth point: the troubler taken.
The Troubler Taken
“So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken” (7:16-18).
Here we see the troubler taken as verse 1 reveals it (you are now permitted to remember verse 1 again)! In fact, Achan is referred to as the “troubler of Israel” (1 Chronicles 2:7). What’s more interesting is that this phrase is eventually used for King Saul (1 Samuel 14:29) and King Ahab (1 Kings 8:17-18) in their sin. Nonetheless, the troubler is taken in front of Joshua, Israel and the Lord.
“Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me’” (7:19).
Joshua’s initial words to Achan here might seem strange at first, but it makes sense given what’s happening. The Lord has just “taken” and revealed the troubler of Israel, so Joshua calls for the praise and glorification of YHWH. How does he do that? Joshua calls for the confession of Achan. God is given glory and praise in the confession of sin, which is what Achan does.
“And Achan answered Joshua, ‘Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath’” (7:20-21).
Note that while Achan does confess, he does so out of defeat. He had the chance to confess willingly for a whole day, and even during the process of casting lots, but he waited to see if he can keep his sin hidden. And in his confession, seemingly genuine for the most part, he mentions that he saw “among the spoil.” Yet, they were told that all this “spoil” belonged to the Lord—thus, Achan stole from the Lord himself.
“So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord” (7:22-23).
What Achan stole and hid for himself, Israel returned and laid down before the Lord. In doing so, they took all that is within the city of Jericho and devoted it to the Lord for destruction.” Yet, along with the destruction of the silver and gold, what we see next is our seventh and final point: the troubler destroyed.
The Troubler Destroyed
“And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, ‘Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.’ And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor” (7:24-26).
Now, we know that sin has a consequence. Some greater than others, depending on the level of offence. We have no problems with the consequence of the culprit’s sins here. But where people stumble regarding this passage is, the extent of the consequence. Why did his family die with him when Deuteronomy 24:16 says that “fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin?”
I came across some explanations to this as I studied this week. The first one includes a concept called “federal headship,” which means that the actions of one man as the representative head of a group, affects the rest of the group that he’s the head of. But Deuteronomy 24:16 seems to contradict this idea as well as the fact that Achan was not the “head” of Israel; Joshua was.
Another explanation was that maybe his family was an accomplice since Achan would’ve likely needed help hiding the loot. There’s some good argument to this, but again Deuteronomy 24:16 seems to counter this idea.
The explanation that made the most sense to me was the warning in Deuteronomy 7:26 that employs the same language as Joshua 6-7:
“And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction” (Deuteronomy 7:26).
Because Achan took of the things devoted to destruction, “all that he has” (7:15)—meaning his household—became “devoted to destruction like it.” Thus, the troubler of Israel and his household all became devoted to destruction, like the city of Jericho and all that was in it. And with this righteous judgment, the Lord turns from his burning anger—which was significant enough to be remembered by the heap of stones and it’s name—the Valley of Achor (trouble).
Jesus Took The Trouble Of Sin Among Us
Why does this matter to us today? Well, this is a passage that shows us how seriously God views sin and how he expect his people to take it just as seriously. Is this how we view sin today? Or are we surprised by this? Maybe horrified? That God would devote Achan and his household to destruction because of stealing and lying? Isn’t this a bit harsh?
Last week, we talked about how terrible these events are, yet that the persistence of the sin is more terrible yet. We shouldn’t be surprised that God deals with Achan and all that he has in this way because that is what sin deserves. We who know and quote Romans 6:23 quite often, should not be surprised that “the wages of sin is death.”
Even more so, what should surprise us is the fact that God didn’t kill Adam right there and then—because that’s what he and sinful humanity deserved—it’s the fact that God spared Adam’s life despite his deadness in sin, to eventually make him, including you and I today, alive. How? In Jesus Christ. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” By
crediting our sins to Jesus, God credits Christ’s righteousness to us, “so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
So in light of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, how do we deal with the trouble of sin among us today?
Lesson 1: Achan
From an individual perspective, the first lesson we can learn today is from Achan. He had the chance to willingly confess his sins, but he waited to see if he can get away with it—in the same way that sinful Jericho and the land heard about what God has done, yet failed to repent unlike Rahab. Thus, their destruction.
So if you’re struggling with the disease of private and unconfessed sin here today, don’t let that sin spread like cancer and destroy you. As John Owen famously writes, “be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” How do you do that? “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). It is only by Jesus’ wounds that you can be healed from your sin, since the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Confess to God (1 John 1:9), and confess to His people. Maybe it’s someone you trust in the church, but someone who would hold you accountable. Maybe in public like we saw a few weeks ago! Confessing sin to someone else is one of the most effective ways to kill sin, because sin is exposed and brought to the light instead of thriving in the darkness. Don’t think that you are alone, and that you are a worse Christian than John Smith who has way less private sin to confess. As one person who keeps myself accountable told me, “that’s lies from the pit of hell.” Confess to God, and confess to His people.
Lesson 2: Joshua & Israel
From a corporate perspective, as the body of Christ, the second lesson we can learn today is from Joshua and Israel—how God’s people in Joshua 7 dealt with the ‘troubler’ who indulged in private, unconfessed sin among them.
“Joshua and all Israel with him” (7:24) took Achan and all that he had, “and Joshua said, ‘Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.’ And all Israel stoned him with stones [and] burned them with fire” (7:25).
Now, I’m not suggesting that we stone people and burn them at the stakes. But what I am suggesting is that we deal with unrepentant believers among our church body—who persistently indulge in private, unconfessed sin—with the same intensity as we are taught in the New Testament.
Listen to the language in 1 Corinthians 5 when Paul tells the Corinthian church to remove the incestuous man from their fellowship: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
Essentially, Paul is commanding the church to deliver this man to the realm of Satan (outside the church, Eph. 2:2) for the destruction of his flesh, his body. The goal? So that his spirit may be saved. The destruction of his sinful body is so that his soul would be delivered to Jesus. How do they practically do that with the incestuous man in their midst?
Paul tells them “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). God judges the outsiders, but we are commanded to judge (with discernment) our brothers and sisters who are living in persistent sin by not associating with them.
Similar language is found in 2 Thessalonians 3: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). The means of destroying the flesh leads to the end of saving and restoring the soul. We have nothing to do with these people right now, so that we would have everything to do with them later on when they realize that they need Jesus and his church.
Lesson 3: The Lord
As read in Isaiah 53 earlier, Jesus took our sin and shame for us and bore our sorrows, so that by his wounds we are healed. This is the basis by which we can confess or deal with the trouble of sin among us today. Thus, we should have no shame in confessing or dealing with persistent sin in our midst. Nor should we fear what man would think, say or do when we do confess our sins: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).