An Achan Heart
Text: Joshua 7
Proposition: The cost of deceit is always much higher than what we think.
Introduction: Last week we read about the fall of the city of Jericho, we heard how the whole taking of that city was predicated upon faith, a crazy faith that trusted in God’s way, timing and purposes. Tucked into that account was this ominous warning given to the people not to take any plunder from the city. Let’s look at the language used in that warning in Joshua 6:18, 19. “And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the LORD; they shall come into the treasury of the LORD." It’s that word ‘accursed’, used three times here, that catches my attention. The word is ‘cherem’, it can refer to something that is devoted as in Lev. 27:21, “…but the field, when it is released in the Jubilee, shall be holy to the LORD, as a devoted field.” But it can also be used to describe that which is devoted to or set apart for destruction, as in Lev. 27:29, “'No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death.” That was what the warning was saying to the people in Joshua 6, ‘Don’t take anything from Jericho because it has been devoted to God, it belongs to Him, it is set apart for destruction.’ The people of Jericho aren’t some kind of random object lesson, they have been known by God for hundreds of years, He has made Himself known to them yet they have rejected Him and done horrific things in their worship of the demonic. The destruction of Jericho was done by God, the entire city was ‘cherem’ and was not to be taken into Israel’s possession. If we could use the term ‘radioactive’ to describe Jericho’s sin then that was how God wanted them to handle the people and possessions of that city. ‘Cherem’, we’re going to run into this word 7 more times in the chapter 7, a word that has extreme consequence. Turn to Joshua 7.
I. The Sin of Achan Was Unbelief, Seeing Outcomes As the Result of Self.
It was John Piper who once said, “The root of all sin is unbelief.” What aspect of unbelief was going through Achan’s mind, in Achans heart, when he saw this piece of fine Babylonian clothing, the silver coins and the wedge of gold? Certainly there was temptation but in what aspect of unbelief did he sin? Likely it was an unbelief in the wisdom of God that said ‘Don’t touch’. Achan’s heart heard what the righteousness of God said and in unbelief chose to do what would seem right in his own eyes. In short he trusted in his own righteousness rather than in God’s righteousness. There is within each of us an Achan heart, a heart that is ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it’, that was the way Jeremiah put it (Jer. 17:9). Unbelief happens when we deceive ourselves into thinking that what happens in life does so because I made it happen and all the outcomes are just the result of my efforts. So it doesn’t matter what God said in terms of good and evil, it’s what I say that matters, I determine what is good or evil. What Achan wanted and took was ‘Cherem’, it was set apart to God, it had God’s purposes and ownership written on it. The consequences of violating that truth went beyond Achan, it cost 36 men their very lives.
II. When It Comes to Sin, God Is Not Slow in Judging, He’s Merciful.
It’s the morning after Jericho has been defeated. Things look good, Joshua sends a team to check out Ai, the next conquest. The report comes back positive, they’ll only need about 3000 men to take this city. The attack is planned but soon the news comes back that they have been defeated, 36 have been killed. Ai stands and Israel trembles. Joshua spends hours on his face, prostrate on the ground in front of the ark of the covenant, the elders of Israel with him. It’s been maybe two days since Achan took what belonged to God and no one but him seems any the wiser. Perhaps Achan is thinking that he pulled it off and though things are going poorly for Israel that isn’t related to his actions. And it doesn’t seem to occur to Joshua that the disaster at Ai might be connected to someone actually taking plunder from Jericho. Joshua knew what taking something accursed meant, he knew that the people knew it too. Who would ever put the entire camp at risk by doing so because in reality they would be putting themselves at risk. Nobody would ever want their own destruction in exchange for a handful of silver, would they? So Joshua doesn’t see human sin as the cause, instead he questions God’s wisdom and integrity, “…why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all--to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?” He does the could’ve, should’ve shuffle… “Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan!” Then comes the ‘What will people think of me? How do I explain this failure?’. Joshua even says that all this will cast a poor light on the very name of God to the unbelieving peoples that stand on the edges watching. That’s when God tells Joshua to stand up, the real problem here is sin (Josh 7:11). Someone has taken ‘cherem’ and unless they are exposed and dealt with, all the camp will be lost and Joshua’s role as a leader with it. Then comes this peculiar proposal. Because it would be impossible for Joshua to know who the thief is, God will expose them. He tells Joshua to do this by bringing tribe, then family, then household and finally the man. All this process, all this time, didn’t God know who it was that sinned, what they had done and when? The answer can only be YES. Then why the slow process… it must be mercy. If mercy is defined as God not giving us what we do deserve, then mercy is what was being shown to Achan and to Israel. In Deuteronomy 13:17 it says, “So none of the accursed things shall remain in your hand, that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of His anger and show you mercy, have compassion on you and multiply you, just as He swore to your fathers”. But an Achan heart doesn’t see the mercy of God, it hopes against hope that no one knows what they know. It hears God’s invitation to turn and reason with Him but unbelief in the cost of sin gets in the way. God is not slow, that’s what 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Right up to the last moment the mercy of God waited for Achan to step forward.
III. The Magnitude of Sins Destruction Is Seen in the Magnitude of Judgment. An Achan heart only confesses sin when it is no longer able to be hidden and the cost of that delay is greater than what was ever anticipated. Not only are the things that were coveted taken away but so is all his other property. Then not only things but lives also are part of the cost, Achan’s children and his own life and the memory of his family are all part of the magnitude of the judgment of God against him. When people read this account of Achan’s sin they often feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. After all Achan didn’t murder anyone, he didn’t attack or abuse or even accuse anyone, why such a harsh judgment? Perhaps the New Testament counterpart to this account is the story of Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife who said they were going to give this huge offering to God but then held back a portion of it for themselves and as a result were judged by God with a death penalty. I think the principle in both cases is the same, they took what belonged to God at a time when it was critical for the entire body to know the importance of faith. Perhaps that’s the greatest oversight of an Achan heart, it doesn’t see the magnitude of sins destruction. The thing is we all have an Achan heart don’t we, we call good, evil and evil, good. We too fail to see the magnitude of sins destruction until we see the magnitude of judgment against it. That’s why the cross was so bloody, so intense, so horrific, the magnitude of it pointed to our sin. Do you remember those verses in Galatians 3:13, 14, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree", that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Jesus was set apart by God to become our sentence of death, our curse because of our sin. It was Martin Luther who once wrote, “Whatever sins I, you, all of us have committed or shall commit, they are Christ’s sins as if He had committed them Himself. Our sins have to be Christ’s sins or we shall perish forever.” It was as Christ hung on the cross, on the tree as it were, that the curse of God against sin, against our sin was placed upon Him as if He had done the very things Himself. The Son of God became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The magnitude of sin is seen in the magnitude of God’s judgment against it. An Achan heart is what Christ came to ransom, redeem and set free. It’s in the River of His forgiveness that Christ now does what was once impossible for every man who took that which belonged to God.