The sin of Achan. Israel's defeat at Ai. The ensuing investigation. As many times as I've read this story, it just doesn't get any easier.
As Israel moved into the Promised Land, they had very specific instructions from God: certain of the booty of conquest belonged exclusively to God. Hands off, guys, this stuff is devoted to the Lord.
After the stunning defeat of the fortified city of Jericho, the small town of Ai looked like a piece of cake. "No need sending the whole army up there," spies reported to Joshua. "We can take this place with only a handful of men."
Unbeknownst to Joshua, one of the spies had pilfered a little loot while on that initial fact-finding mission - a snazzy jacket, a handful of silver, a bar of gold. No big deal, right?
Well, the small force sent to take Ai was routed. Devastated and perplexed, Joshua fell on his face before the ark of the Lord and lay there pleading with God until evening. Finally, God spoke to Joshua and told him Achan's dirty little secret.
One soldier out of thousands, out of a nation of millions. So little treasure that it could be hidden beneath his cloak. Is it really that big of a deal? Apparently so, because God tells Joshua that, on account of Achan's sin, "I (God) will be with you no more..." Now we have a crisis of cosmic proportions.
God tells Joshua how to ferret out the thief. Achan finally stands before Joshua and confesses, "Truly, I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did..."
Now, as a New Testament believer, this is where I want to quote 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Pshew! Achan confessed! Okay, now God is going to smile and say everything is okay, and Israel can get back to the business of moving into the Promised Land.
Wrong. Yes, Achan confessed - and just from reading the passage, I have to assume that his confession is backed with genuine remorse for his sin. But his confession did not exempt him from the consequences of his sin. Terrible consequences. Achan, his wife, his sons and his daughters, his livestock, his tent, and the loot he had stolen...they were all taken outside of the camp and destroyed. Burned, and then buried under a pile of stones. (Just as a side note here - Dads, if you are prone to excuse and make light of your personal sins, consider the horrible consequences to your children. Sobering stuff here. ...he did not perish alone for his iniquity. Joshua 22:20)
Joshua 7:15 describes Achan's seemingly-insignificant sin this way: ...he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD...he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.
Okay, that's some nasty business going down there outside of Ai - but that's the Old Testament. Sure, I transgress the covenant of the Lord, like Achan - but I'm a New Testament believer. Living under grace, right? What does his story have to do with me, sitting here in 2011?
Reading through this passage in Joshua last week, a couple of things came to mind that I think are imminently relevant to Christians today. First, Christ's atoning work on my behalf saves me from the judgment and eternal wrath of a just and holy God. That is no guarantee, however, that God will make me immune to the nearer consequences of my sin. The Christian who abuses his health is not exempt from high blood pressure or diabetes. The Christian who is unfaithful to his spouse is not exempt from marital strife or even divorce. The Christian who is prone to gossip should not be surprised to find herself excluded from the confidences of her sisters in Christ.
Grace is not a blank check to "transgress the covenant of the LORD." Scripture seems very clear - even as believers, our sin carries with it very real, often devastating, consequences. But, thankfully, the eternal weight of God's judgment of my sin has fallen to Another. Like Achan, I am guilty of the outrageous. I should be completely destroyed because of my disobedience. However, Christ has born that sentence on my behalf.
God, let me never make light of my sin, dismissing it as insignificant because I do not feel the full weight of its offensiveness to You. Rather, when faced with my own sinfulness, cause me to see it as truly outrageous. Bring to my mind my own Valley of Achor - let me remember Calvary. Then, tasting anew the wine of the Gospel of Christ, let me sing with fresh vigor the praises of so great a Savior!
2 months ago