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In this chapter we see the consequences of sin in the people of God. There is one man in Israel who has sinned, but God says that the whole people have been unfaithful and have transgressed (Jos 7:1; 11). If sin is present in His people, God cannot go on with them. Israel discovers that to its loss. Ai is so small in their eyes, that according to them the whole people do not have to go up against it. Their previous victory over Jericho and the sin committed in their midst make them self-confident and independent of God.
By their defeat Joshua goes to the LORD to ask Him for the cause of it. The answer is that it comes from sin in their midst and that it must first be removed. Even in this day and age we can only count on the presence of the Lord Jesus in the church if we respond to the instruction: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1Cor 5:13b).
The difference between Joshua 6 and Joshua 7 is that in Joshua 6 we see the power of God and in Joshua 7 we see the weakness of man, also of the believer. The weakness of the people is expressed in two ways: Achan takes from what is under the ban and Joshua under-estimates the enemy.
The walls of Jericho did not fall by the power of man, but by faith in the power of God. They had to experience for a week that a victory does not depend on them, but on God. This has been an encouraging start. But the impression that the people gained there was short-lived.
It is with it as with us. We can have a beautiful religious experience one day and fail the next. The presence of Him Who gives the victory also asks for holiness.
The Sin of Achan
The people are only just in the land and sin reveals itself. That is how it happened in the church when it has only just come into being: Ananias and Sapphira cheated the church and lied against the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-3). This is how it has always gone with everything that God has given to man for good and in grace. When something is entrusted to the responsibility of man, he has corrupted it after a short time. We see this, for example, in paradise and at the institution of the Priesthood.
Achan violates the commandment (Jos 6:18) and does not think about the consequences for his family and for the people. When sin is committed, others are often dragged into its consequences. You do not go away from the way of God alone. Often the condition of the believer is also a reflection of the family from which he originates. He is formed by it. Maybe that is why the whole family of Achan is mentioned.
We can also remember that in Achan the whole people commit this act of unfaithfulness. Anger burned against the whole people. The principle is that what one of us does is not without consequences for others. The mass must pay if such evil is present among the people. It defiles the whole people.
This evil appears when the whole people are weak. These things are connected. Where there is weakness, evil gets a chance and when there is evil, the power is gone. The previous day’s trust in God is no guarantee of trust for today. Achan can do this because the whole people are weak. When evil manifests itself, we must ask ourselves how it has been possible, for the way in which we have failed.
The Defeat at Ai
Joshua gives a command without consulting the LORD. He also sends men out from Jericho and not from Gilgal. Is this already an indication of the cause of sin? The sinful flesh comes to light, also in Joshua. Here we read what happens to the people when they are not led by the LORD. The lesson for us is that we often pretend not to need prayer when, in our eyes, there are small problems. But then we forget that behind small problems lie enormous powers. The humiliation does not fail.
Ai means ‘mess’. It is at Beth-aven that means ‘house of evil’. After the spying out of Ai a conclusion of the human mind follows. Did they not learn from Jericho that everything depends on God? Has the enemy now become so weak that they can handle it themselves and need little effort to do so? No one is killed in Jericho, but in this small city a great defeat is suffered. They lose the battle against Ai which also costs the lives of about thirty-six of their men.
In the number thirty-six we can recognize the government of God. Thirty-six is three times twelve. Three is the number of the triune God and twelve is the number of government. We can apply this to the abuses in the church in Corinth of which Paul, in view of the reign of God, says: “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1Cor 11:30). Nor are they necessarily the most to blame. It is about learning from our failure, a failure that sometimes kills others.
Now the hearts of the people of God and not of the enemies melt (cf. Jos 2:9; 11; Jos 5:1). Fear melts the heart if we do not go our way with the Lord.
Joshua Calls to the LORD
In the conquest of Jericho the ark took the central place. When attacking Ai we hear nothing of the ark. After the defeat Joshua seeks the ark to humiliate himself before the LORD. He lies before the LORD in humility and prays till the evening, if the LORD will make it clear what is going on.
Yet his prayer also shows some reproach, as if God is responsible for the defeat. This does not come from faith. As if God does not have the best for His people, but wants to kill them. In the same way, we can also react to difficulties that affect us, which is due to going our own way.
Joshua also speaks of the name of Israel as an important name, although He also points to the “great name” of God (Jos 7:9). What happens by our name is our own fault, but it is only truly embarrassing when the Name of God is also insulted by our behavior. The enemies may think that God is not strong enough to help His people.
The Answer of the LORD
Joshua receives an answer while he is still speaking (cf. Isa 65:24; Dan 9:20). God tells him to rise up. The matter has become clear, as has Joshua’s mindset. Now is the time to act. God is going to reveal evil. The people have sinned and must get rid of evil from their midst.
Sin is never just a matter for the person alone. If sin is not judged, it defiles the whole. We are not only dealing with ourselves. The Lord’s Table is precisely the expression of unity. Therefore, the evil must be removed (1Cor 5:13b), otherwise the Lord can no longer be in the midst of His people. If they let the ban exist in their midst, God can no longer be in their midst (Jos 7:12).
Sin is present and therefore the power of God is no longer found with them. God cannot make Himself one with sin. God does not say that they will remain weak, but that Israel will not be able to stand before their enemies. This is a sad change, for God has said before: “No man will [be able] to stand before you” (Jos 1:5). Removing sin means standing on God’s side in relation to evil. When that happens, the relationship between God and the whole is restored to its normal state.
Again Joshua, as we regularly read of him, arises early (Jos 7:16; Jos 3:1; Jos 6:12; Jos 8:10). There should not be any waiting with this case. What happened in Israel can also happen in our conscience. If God makes something clear to our conscience as sin, it will paralyze us if we do not condemn it immediately.
To reveal evil, God goes a certain way. By the way He does so, each member of the whole people is personally placed before God. We see this in the “man by man” (Jos 7:17). We also see it with the disciples, after the Lord has said that one of them will betray Him. They then ask, each one of them personally: “Surely not I, Lord?” (Mt 26:21-22). When there is evil in the church I have to ask: ‘What is the situation with me? Is there also evil in our house?
To make sin public Joshua follows exactly the directions the LORD has given (Jos 7:14). Achan cannot escape his discovery. From the beginning he had the opportunity to come up with his evil instead of waiting for the moment he had to confess it. Now there is no longer a question of any voluntary action. He is forced to do so. Therefore the confession of Achan has not much value.
While each time the lot is cast, Achan follows its course. He sees how his indication as the guilty one is coming ever closer. Yet he waits till the lot points him out personally. Sin hardens and blinds us to the infallible course of God’s righteousness. Sin will always think that there is a way out to prevent sin from being made public. Sin does not take God into account and even believes that God does not see sin (Psa 94:7).
Achan belongs to the royal tribe of Judah. The fact that this sin has happened among them will save them from boasting of their importance. Blots in families that are held in esteem must work a humble mind.
Achan Acknowledges His Sin
If the lot has appointed Achan, Joshua doesn’t ask if Achan did it. It is clear, for God has spoken. But Joshua doesn’t start cursing him, nor does he address him with ‘thief’. It is not appropriate to approach in this way a member of God’s people who is deluded by sin and even hardened. Such an approach reveals a total lack of self-knowledge. Indignation over sin must not lead to a loss of self-control.
By addressing Achan as “my son” Joshua lets hear the connection in which he sees himself to Achan. He doesn’t feel better than Achan. Yet sin must be acknowledged and judged. If Joshua urges Achan to give God the honor, it is more a command than a request. God is honored when the whole truth is confessed. Every human being will be forced to do this (Phil 2:10-11).
In the confession of Achan we see the way on which one comes to sin. It is ancient history: seeing, coveting and taking (Gen 3:6; 1Jn 2:16; Jam 1:14-15).
The LORD only says that there is stolen (Jos 7:11), but He does not say what has been stolen. He wants the transgressor to do this. Achan mentions the stolen goods by their name (Jos 7:21). God does not want a general confession, but He wants us to mention sin by its name. In this way someone is forced to give back to God what he has stolen from Him (Job 20:15).
What belongs to the LORD, Achan has stolen for himself. Just as it was in the wrong hands with Jericho, so it is in the wrong hands with Achan. Just like the world, the people of God can also use the things that belong to the LORD for themselves. The Lord gives gifts, abilities. He wants us to use them for Him, to add them to the treasure of the LORD (Jos 6:19). The sin of Achan can also be found with us. Then we adorn ourselves with what belongs to the Lord, we draw attention to ourselves, seek our own honor, we want to please people and not the Lord.
The first thing Achan names, is “a beautiful mantle from Shinar”. His words seem to reveal that even now he still regrets having to return this mantle. Although he does not apologize, there is no evidence anywhere that he regrets his act. This kind of people worries more about the fact that they have been discovered than that they see what they have done. They also have no eye for the harmful consequences that their actions have for others.
Pride and haughtiness are connected with Shinar or Babel. We can see that from the city and the tower that was built there (Gen 11:4; 9). In Babel also lies the origin of idolatry: she is “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev 17:5). The term “abominations” refers to idols. The “mantle from Shinar” speaks of a religion that is practiced only for the satisfaction of the flesh. It has a beautiful appearance, but there is no life out of and for God present. We cloth ourselves with a “mantle from Shinar” when we give our religion a beautiful shape that is attractive to people of the world.
The second thing Achan names, is silver. The atonement money is half a shekel of silver (Exo 30:15; Exo 38:25). Silver refers to the price paid for redemption. In the hands of Achan this means that there is a profession of being saved, while there has been no repentance of sins and no conversion to God. It applies to Christians who presumptuously claim to have been saved by virtue of fulfilling certain institutions, such as baptism and Supper, or by belonging to a certain denomination or covenant.
The third thing Achan names is a bar of gold or ‘a golden tongue’. Gold represents the glory of God. To ‘a golden tongue’ the thought of speaking about the things of God without the heart having a part in them is connected. Liberal theologians have “a golden tongue”, but “With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips” (Rom 3:13). It sounds pleasant and biblical to speak of a God of love, but if one does not speak of God as being light, one speaks with a ‘golden tongue’.
Achan has “concealed” these things “in the earth”. This speaks of a use of things for oneself, in connection with life on earth, without seeking the rights of the Lord. He resembles the unfaithful slave, about whom the Lord Jesus speaks in a parable (Mt 25:18). Achan also suffers the fate of that slave, who the Lord calls “wicked, lazy slave” and also “worthless slave” (Mt 25:26; 30).
All of Israel is defiled and must now clean itself. That can only happen because all exercise judgment. In the same way, the removal of the evil from the midst of the church is a matter for the whole church (2Cor 2:6; 2Cor 7:11b). All are responsible for it; each must act accordingly after personal exercise before God and ask Him how to do things as to their own mind and their own life.
It is good to keep in mind the difference between discipline in Israel and Christian discipline. Christian discipline always has the recovery of the soul in mind. Even if the evil person is to be surrendered to Satan by Paul, it is “for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus“ (1Cor 5:5). This is a powerful reason to exercise discipline according to the measure of our spiritual strength because we cannot go beyond that. We always have to humble ourselves before God, before and so that evil is removed.
Achan has the stolen stuff concealed in his tent. Because all his family members have to die with him, they will have known about it and therefore become co-responsible. Everything that is connected with Achan is judged. The execution of the judgment takes place in the valley of Achor, which is named after this event. Achor means ‘misery’. This is what Achan brought among the people. Achan means ‘he who brings confusion, restlessness’. He was “the troubler of Israel” and brought misery upon the people (1Chr 2:7).
But in Hosea the LORD speaks about how He will give “the valley of Achor as a door of hope” where the people will sing “as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt” (Hos 2:15). Where judgment has been exercised, the door is opened to a hopeful future. In the future God will spiritually bring His people back to that valley. The people will judge themselves, acknowledge their sins and be accepted again by God as His people. Hope is always present where people are aware of their misery and take refuge in the Lord Jesus.
We must fear sin, but let us never fear the bitterness of its discovery, nor the discipline. For from that moment on God wants us to receive His blessing again. If there is faithfulness and obedience, God will never fail to reveal and take away what prevents the blessing of His people.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Joshua 7". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13