As I have mentioned previously, for many years I struggled with pornography. There is much shame that goes into addiction. You feel bad for what you have done, and you often hate who you are. Added to that pain is the problems you feel have been created around you.
No matter how private your sin, the story of Achan is often used to guilt you into more shame. While what Achan did was wrong, I believe too much blame is focused on him. Our prejudice to hate sin makes us miss God’s heart of this story. I hope to remove some of that shame and release a fresh view of the love of God.
Sin in the Camp
Before the miraculous victory of Jericho, the Israelites were commanded not to take any of the spoils that would come from the victory – all the gold, silver, and other precious things belonged to God. Everything was to be killed or left buried. Achan saw Jericho fall, but then coveted some of the riches in the plunder. He must have seen an opportunity and took some.
Nobody else knew what happened, and the Israelites kept moving forward into the next battle. The only problem was God decided not to go with them this time, and the Israelites experienced a big defeat to the city of Ai. Joshua and the elders wept before the Lord and sought His face, and God told them He didn’t go with them because there was sin in the camp. God gave Joshua instructions of what to do.
Joshua parades the Israelites around narrowing them down to the tribe of Judah, then to the clan of Zerah, then to the family of Zimri. Finally Joshua had each member of the Zimri family come before him until Achan was chosen. Achan confesses his sin, and the Israelites check to make sure he is telling the truth. Once they are convinced of what Achan did, the Israelites stone Achan, the spoils, his family, and his possessions in the Valley of Achor. They pile the stones up so high it became a lasting memorial in Israel of what happened.
A Greater Sin in the Camp
For someone struggling with sin, this passage terrifies you. It appears to offer no hope and is often taught this way. “Your sins are keeping those around you of God’s blessings.” Or, “we will never accomplish what God has called us to with sin in our midst.” These statements are true to some extent, but they are not the purpose of God’s story. Achan’s sin did not cause Israel to lose the battle of Ai. There was a more grievous sin in Israel’s midst that God was trying to root out.
Achan may have cause God’s presence not to go with Israel into the battle, but the responsibility was with Joshua to follow the presence. The Bible makes it clear that Joshua did not inquire of the Lord before the battle. The Israelites investigated the city of Ai and determined that it would be an easy battle. They made a rationale conclusion and didn’t seek the Lord’s direction. The point is that Joshua should have known God’s presence would not go with them. He was supposed to seek the Lord.
This is highlighted even more in the Gibeonite deception that happens in the next story. They didn’t inquire of the Lord again and thus were deceived into making a treaty with people they were commanded to destroy.
The point I believe God was making with these two stories and with the battle of Jericho to some extent was that God wanted the Israelites to follow His lead. Yes, they were being given the land, but they were to follow God to know that He was the One giving it to them. He had a specific way for them to take the land, and He wanted them sensitive to His presence. Achan’s sin didn’t lead to the defeat of Ai; it was that Joshua’s sin of not inquiring of the Lord before sending Israel into the battle.
Achan was Framed
It is easy to read God’s hatred of sin, but also I don’t think God’s plan was to kill Achan. If that was the case, God could have told Joshua, “Psst, Achan stole some of the plunder. Go to his tent and you’ll find it buried underneath.” Instead, God had Joshua parade Israel all around. Each step closer to Achan was another opportunity for Him to confess.
However, our fear of punishment keeps our problems hidden. Sure we all want freedom, but all we can see is the strong hand of punishment coming for our heads. The truth is we don’t see God telling Joshua to kill Achan. Joshua was told to destroy the plunder, not the person (Joshua 7:12). Why have Achan confess if the plan was to kill him? Our familiarity with God frequently gets us out of step with His Spirit because we assume how He wants us to act.
God Was for Achan
Later on in the Old Testament, God says that the Valley of Achor has become a door of hope (Hosea 2:15). Sin does keep you from God’s best for you. It hinders you from seeing God’s love for you. The Valley of Achor, that place where your sins are exposed, that place where you only see death and punishment, … that is the place you will find hope for your freedom. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Let’s allow those around us to come clean and find love and hope in our eyes. Let us love others as God loves us.
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