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But the children of Israel committed a trespass
This is here attributed to the whole people, which was really the act of but one man or one family.
This is not because of any guilty participation in this trespass by others; there is no intimation that any others of the people were involved in a like crime. Nor is there any implication that others were privy to the crime of Achan, and by concealment of the fact became its abettors and sharers in its guilt. In all probability his act was not known or suspected beyond the limits of his own family. Nevertheless, Israel was one people, and it is here dealt with as one corporate body. There was criminality in the midst of them. And it was necessary that it should be disavowed and punished, in order that the people might be freed from all complicity and connection with it. (W. H. Green, D. D.)
Destruction a duty
Many a thing which is attractive in itself ought to be destroyed; and if it ought to be destroyed, it ought not to be preserved. The contents of a saloon, or of a gambling-house, books and pictures which are harmful in themselves, which are, by their owners or by the public authorities, devoted to destruction, ought to be destroyed. To preserve any portion of them, under such circumstances, would be a wrong on the part of him whose duty it was to destroy them. To preserve a private letter which is entrusted to one to destroy is not in itself an act of theft, but it is an inexcusable breach of trust; and if no one else in the world is ever harmed by it, the one who preserves the letter is the worse for so doing. The destroying of that which ought to be destroyed is as clearly one’s duty in its place, as the preserving of that which ought to be preserved. (H. C. Trumbull.)
They fled before the men of Ai.
The true measure of strength
In every estimate of work to be done by men, or by money, the moral element ought to be taken into account as an important factor. Napoleon’s thought was that “God is on the side of the heaviest battalions.” But Napoleon did not consider the relative weight of battalions by God’s method of weighing them. One man’s strength may be as “the strength of ten, because his heart is pure”; and where two thousand righteous men would be more than sufficient for a work of God, twenty thousand wrong-hearted men may fail. The true measure of the strength of any local Church is in the number and power of its godly men and women, not in the show of its men and women of wealth and intellect and social standing. One good teacher in a Sunday-school has more real power there than a score of unworthy ones. And it is with money as with men. The need of the Church in both the home and the foreign field to-day is not so much mere money, but better gifts. Ten dollars with a blessing will count for more in God’s work than ten thousand dollars without a blessing. It is not true that one man’s money is as good as another’s, nor that money gained by one means is as good as money gained by another. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Joshua’s lesson after the defeat at Ai
Jericho, according to the Divine promise, had fallen before Israel. It was evident that this remarkable event had happened through the direct interposition of the power of God. It is scarcely to be wondered at that such a triumph bred self-confidence. And, flushed with their recent and easily-gained success, the victors were in haste to add to their laurels by the conquest of Ai. Sere was an unlooked-for catastrophe. The Lord’s chosen people discomfited and dispersed in their second battle, a ground of insulting and contemptuous rejoicing given to the idolatrous Canaanites. And thus the Divine purpose stood, apparently, in danger of disgraceful frustration. Such thoughts were evidently jostling each other, like a medley crowd, in the mind of Joshua. And, confused beyond the possibility of calm reflection by their influence, he casts himself in despair before the ark of the Lord. With what wonderful illuminating power must the answer have come to him, “Get thee up; wherefore liest thou upon thy face”! What a call to common-sense action on the lines of faith is here! A little reflection might have shown to Joshua that the fault, whatever it was, could not lie at Jehovah’s door. In place of useless whimpering over the past, vigorous examination was needed to remove the lurking evil. Sanctification, as before Jericho, was urgently required. And as for the honour of the name of the Lord, it was never in danger. This first defeat would give caution to the warriors of Israel, while, under the improved conditions about to be set up, it would act as an unfailing lure to the victors of Ai. Now this leaf out of the life of a good servant of God is well fitted to teach us many useful lessons.
I. A lesson as to the right treatment of a divine mystery. It is easy to conceive of Joshua as emulating the example of a rationalist, had the prototype of that much-belauded school existed in his time. In that case he would have called the leaders of his army together, and subjected them to severe cross-examination. He would have proposed a long list of questions as to the condition of the arms of the people, the manner of their leadership and its blunders, the time and apparent causes of the panic. And having exhausted his critical powers in the vain endeavour to discover some adequate cause for the catastrophe, he would have proceeded to distribute blame all round. At the same time, sapiently shaking his head over the problem, he would decide to “rest and be thankful” without further efforts at the conquest of the country. Or he would set himself to prove conclusively that after all the success at Jericho was due to accident, or purely natural causes, and that the whole scheme of Canaan conquest was based on a mistake. In this he might, not improbably, easily find scientific heads to help him. There would be sages who would invoke the aid of the discoveries of their time to show that the Jordan was divided, and the walls of Jericho fell from the operation of ordinary physical laws. The phenomena were special, but not supernaturally so. Or Joshua might have chosen a third course, and abandoned himself to surly grumbling or useless repining at the hard lot of a popular leader under a so-called “theocracy.” Joshua’s primitive faith--or, as some would say, simplicity--was far wiser and more useful. And just as, turn the compass as yea may, the needle will point to the pole, so, let circumstances be what they might, Joshua’s trust always drew him towards God’s oracle. The man of the world might call it childish, fatalistic credulity. At all events the issue proved it to be the right, the wisest thing to do. In like manner our true wisdom lies in taking our difficulties to God. Second causes, in the shape of natural law, human ignorance or frailty, have their sphere in the economy of the Divine government, but God is supreme over all.
II. It is not always safe to trust our zeal for the divine honour. Doubtless Joshua thought with Elijah in later times, “I have been very zealous for the Lord of hosts,” while he was really only fathering Israel’s sin upon Jehovah. And similar mistakes are not unfrequently made by godly men, and often with the best intentions. There are some facts which exist, and some which are threatened, which seem to reflect upon the nature and government of God. And in order, as it is supposed, to conserve Jehovah’s honour, infinite effort is expended to cast doubt upon the facts or to qualify the declarations. Could we but touch the bottom of such “zeal for God” we might be surprised to discover that after all there is more in it which--unconsciously, it is true--tends to conserve human weakness and sin rather than the glory of our Divine Ruler. A similar remark applies to very much in our own estimate of the success of the gospel. Often we hear, and perhaps oftener are tempted to indulge in our hearts, doubts as to the power of the glorious gospel. Progress is so slow that men are quick to discover that the machinery of evangelical ministry has become obsolete, and its teachings effete. But the lesson ought rather to be earnest inquiry as to our fitness or otherwise for the success we crave. Is the cause in ourselves, or our easily improvable methods? Or does the hidden mischief lie in those with whom we work? There needs but the removal of “the accursed thing” for success to return to us, and our despondent dirge shall then speedily become a song of victory.
III. The narrative, moreover, suggests to us the sight method of regarding afflictions. It is wise here to have a fixed belief in an overruling Providence, but we must not allow this to hinder our full cognisance of second causes. And it will be well for us if in any special trial, while we are ready, with all submission, to bow to the Divine decree, we carefully ask what there is in us of indiscretion or sin which has procured, or been accessory to, our sufferings; and then, in earnest reliance upon Divine grace, let us seek altogether to remove it.
IV. Sanctification for God’s service often involves the searching out and removal of hidden and unsuspected sins. There was only one Achan in the camp, and his offence was known only to himself and God. Nevertheless, no success can rest on the arms of Israel until he is found out and destroyed. Let us not forget the important lesson which this is so well fitted to teach. Sin comes to us in such insidious ways, and uses agents so dear to us, that it succeeds in taking up its abode in our hearts before we are aware of its presence. Have we an Achan in the camp? If so, let us seek to extirpate the evil. (J. Dann.)
Israel defeated at Ai
I. The divine displeasure at human sin. This was not a new lesson to the Israelites. At Sinai, at Kadesh, at Peor, it had been taught them; but, under new temptations, they needed renewed instruction. Sin unrepented and unforsaken provokes God’s changeless displeasure. Such displeasure is a part of eternal justice. We magnify the grace of God, but grace is only a fragment of His character; it co-exists with justice.
II. The many may be punished for the sins of one. God does not deal with men as individuals only. There is a corporate unity of the family, the Church, the State, which He regards; and, as the good deeds of one benefit all, the sins of one bring evil upon all. In this matter, God’s thought is often not as ours. No modern leader, after the sack of a city, would be surprised to find an Achan in every tent. Might not, then, the one have been pardoned for the sake of the self-restraint of the many? At least, might not the guilty one have suffered all the consequences of his crime, without involving his innocent fellows? Such questions we are not competent to decide. Only a far-seeing Wisdom, which can fully fathom motives and forecast all the results of individual sins, can tell when to be gracious and forgiving, and when to punish. The war against the idolatrous races of Palestine was not to degenerate into pillage, a school for covetousness and selfishness for the victors; and so, at the beginning, such a lesson was needed as would make each afraid of private transgression, and also watchful of others.
III. The defeat at ai illustrates the difference between human sagacity and divine guidance. The Israelites were so strangely unteachable that they did not clearly distinguish between the two. The victory at Jericho was clearly not theirs, but God’s. But, in the flush of victory, this was forgotten. Israel rejoiced in her own success. Prosperity brought presumption, out of which grew the ill-advised expedition against Ai. It is easy for the Church to repose confidence in the stability and strength of her own organisation, and in smoothly-running ecclesiastical machinery, to find the sure augury of her success. Then some spiritual Ai must needs recall us to the truth that the victories of the kingdom of heaven are “not by might nor by power,” but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts.
IV. There is great danger in underestimating the power of an adversary. The easy success at Jericho made Israel over-confident. A Southern historian of the rebellion has recorded his opinion that the first battle at Bull Run was a serious misfortune to the Southern cause. It led to mistaken confidence. Great numbers of volunteers left the Southern army and returned home, believing the war ended. Thoughtful writers at the North agree that it helped the Northern cause, for it taught us not to despise the enemy, and set clearly before us the magnitude of the conflict. And this has its parallel in the conflicts of the spiritual life. After Jericho, Ai. There is no commoner mistake than the belief that following some great victory will be peaceful conquest, the rest of Canaan. There is no earthly Canaan.
V. It is folly to trust in past experiences. The three thousand men who went up against Ai were full of confidence which grew out of the successes at the Jordan and at Jericho. They assumed the presence and guidance of God because of His past deliverances. They knew what had happened; from this they formed a doctrine of probabilities of what would happen. They learned the truth of the maxim, “It is a part of probability that many improbable things will happen.” We cannot measure our present relation to God by the past. The past may give us ground for hope, but there is no science of spiritual probabilities. “There are factors in” the spiritual life which can change,, the face of things to any extent, and which hide from all calculations of the probable. Christian progress is by “forgetting the things that are behind.” Have we a living faith to-day? (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
The diseases that stop England’s mercies
In this chapter you have a treatise concerning Achan’s sin, branching itself into three parts; one concerning the commission of the sin, the second concerning the discovery of it, and the third concerning the punishment thereof. Oh, what unexpected ways and means hath God to bring out men’s sin to light. Three thousand men flee before the men of Ai, and thirty-six men are slain, and this was made the means of discovery of Achan’s sin; who would have thought that there should have been such a discovery as this? The work was hindered by this defeat, and that sets them on work to search out the cause, and shows--
1. That afflictions should set us on work, to search out our sins, and the cause of them.
2. That sins shall not always be pocketed up, but shall be discovered, though never so secret.
3. That God hath strange ways to discover men’s sins. First, where God is in a way of mercy towards His people, there sin does make a stoppage in His proceedings; so here God was in a way of mercy towards His people, carrying of them into the land of Canaan, but in the way they sin, Achan plays the thief; mark what a stoppage this made in the way of mercy; so you have it in Joshua 24:20, Jeremiah 28:9. Sins committed when God is in a way of mercy are a slighting of mercy. Again, those mercies that come unto God’s people come unto them in the way of a promise, and therefore if men do not keep the condition, God takes Himself free, and will turn Himself out of the way of His mercy. You have an expression to this purpose (Numbers 14:34). God never gives His people any mercy, but He gives it them in a way of mercy. He does not think it enough to give them that which is mercy, but He will give it them in a way of mercy. But now if God should be in a way of mercy towards His people, and they sin against Him, and He should go on to give them the mercy, they would be hardened in their sin, and so it would not come unto them in the way of mercy. Therefore, if God be in a way of mercy towards His people, and they sin against Him, He will break off the course of His mercy, and go another way, and there shall be a stoppage made in these proceedings. Why should this be, that so small a sin should turn the great God of heaven out of the way of His mercy? Achan commits but a small sin, and what a mighty stop is made in the way of mercy! For answer three things--
1. There is nothing between God and us. I may boldly say thus much, that men sin a great sin in saying their sin is small.
2. Sometimes what falls short in the greatness of the sin is made up in the number of sins. It may be that the number of your little sins amount to the greatest sin.
3. God will make good His name to the utmost, and His name is, “A jealous God.” But what evil and hurt is in this, if final stoppage be not made? Is it nothing in your ears, and in your hearts, that the Lord should turn out of a way of mercy? If there be a stoppage made in England’s mercy, though but present, there is an obstruction in all your comforts: you arc sensible of the obstructions of your body, will you not be sensible of State obstructions, of Church obstructions? Again, when a man does not rely and live upon God’s all-sufficiency, when God hath appeared in that way. Abusing of God’s instruments which He raiseth up for to do His work by, doth exceedingly provoke and make a stoppage in the mercy of God. Carrying on the work of reformation, and the great affairs of the Church, upon the shoulders of human prudence, will make a stoppage in the way of mercy. As prayer and humiliation do exceedingly further the work of God in the hands of His people, so the falling and slacking of the hands in these two works doth make a stop in mercy, and hath done in our mercy. An unthankful receiving of the mercies that God’ hath given us, and a slight beholding of the great works He hath done before us lately, is another sin that hath made a stoppage in our mercy. The last sin that makes a stop in England’s mercy is a worldly disposition, whereby a man hangs back unto the great work of God, and the glorious reformation that is news-doing. I shall show you it is a hard thing to appease God’s anger when it is gone out. It must be done, and that quickly. I shall show you what you shall do, that you may do it. Therefore it is an exceeding hard thing and very difficult to appease God’s anger. If the sea break over the banks, and there are but few to stop it, it is hard to do; if fire hath taken two or three houses in a street, and but few to quench it, it is hard to do: the fire of God’s anger is broken out, and there are but few to quench it: it is a hard thing, therefore. Again, God seems to be engaged in the way of tits wrath. Oh, it is a hard thing to turn God from His anger! But it must be done, and done quickly. There are six things that Joshua did here, when they fled before the men of Ai.
1. He was very sensible of God’s stroke that was given to them, for he says, Lord, would we had been contented in the wilderness.
2. He was humbled under God’s hand, for it is said, he rent his clothes, and fell down upon the earth.
3. And he prayed, and cried mightily unto God, as you read in the chapter.
4. And he put away the evil of their doings.
5. And he punished Achan, the offender.
6. tie made a holy resignation. And there must be a concurrence of all these six things if we would bring God back into the way of His mercy towards England. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
Sources of weakness
1. Here is a Church with all the outward elements of strength, prosperity, and efficiency. The mass of members are orderly and in good standing. But it has a “name to live while it is dead.” God frowns upon it. And why? There are notoriously unworthy members in it--perhaps rich and influential--and they are tolerated year after year. And there is not spiritual life and conscience enough in the body to cast them out I And so the whole Church is cursed for their sake!
2. Here is a city numbering 800,000 strong, with hundreds of Churches and able pastors, and scores of thousands of respectable members, and education and schools and wealth, and all the elements that should insure social virtue and general thrift, and God’s abundant and abiding blessing. But there is a moral blot upon it. There is an “accursed thing” winked at. A handful of corrupt officials are suffered to rule it and curse it. Gambling, drinking, crime, are suffered to run riot. There is power in the mass, in the Christian element, to put it down, stamp it out. But it is not invoked. And so the whole city has to suffer the shame and ignominy and loss. The pulpit, the Church, virtue, law, are all shorn of their strength. For God will not wink at such things, if His people do; and so “Ichabod” is written on that city.
3. Here is a community in which a horrible crime has been committed--a man shot down in cold blood for his fidelity to truth or virtue or the public welfare. The blood of that man God will require of that entire community, unless they exhaust every resource of law and society to bring the guilty to punishment! We may narrow the circle to the individual, and the principle will still apply. One sin in the heart will neutralise a thousand virtues in the life. One secret offence will make a man a coward in the face of the world. One moral weakness will spoil a whole character. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
Defeat through miscalculation
This old story of the battle at Ai is paralleled in all its essential features in every age and country. Some unrecognised weakness, some unforeseen turn of events, confuses the most careful calculations and neutralises the most elaborate preparations. Probably the splendid military strategy of Napoleon was never more clearly illustrated than in his plan of the battle of Waterloo; and yet a little strip of sunken road, which was overlooked in the preliminary survey of the engineers, threw all his calculations into disarray and lost him the battle and the empire of Europe. Some unnoticed defect in the machinery negatives the skill of the captain and the seamanship of the crew of the Atlantic steamer. It was only an insignificant bubble of air, overlooked in the foundry when the steel was wrought, but it resulted in weakness in the core of the main shaft, and in the supreme hour of trial there is failure and disaster. Some lack of fibre in character, and the time comes when the man who supposed himself sufficient for anything finds himself unequal to the emergency. And these unforeseen interferences and checks are nowhere so common and so potential as in the department of religious life. A low type of piety is not necessarily or probably the result of a resolution to be satisfied with a certain level of spiritual attainment. I believe that at heart the majority of Christian men and women desire and attempt to be and do the best and most possible, but there is some defect of will, some infirmity of temper, some unwillingness to surrender to God what may be considered an unimportant particular, and so long as that hindrance is in the way, our prayers and struggles for better and larger growth are unavailing, and the influence of that obstacle continually makes itself more and more felt for evil. And what is true of the individual Christian life is true also of the life and progress of the Christian Church as a whole. That Church has made great advances and won not a few triumphs at various periods and in certain directions. At the same time it is true that the Church ought to have accomplished greater things, ought to be doing far more than it is to-day. It is God’s Church, and He abides in it, and that of itself is a warrant for imperial greatness. What conquest is too vast to be expected when the Lord of hosts marshals the forces that are enlisted to win it? With such portents and prophecies of triumph, why should there be any discouragement, or half-heartedness, or laggard marches, or unwilling hands, or partial successes? Why was not the promise fulfilled long ago, that “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ”? A great deal is said in our time about the need of a working Church. There is another need quite as great--the need of a Church through which God Can work. It is not the method and spirit of the working of the Church, so much as the way and the extent in which and to which it is wrought upon of the Divine Spirit that determines its efficiency. It is the folly of the Church of this age that it spends so much ingenuity in devising machinery and too little time in preparing the way of the Lord and making His paths straight. No wisdom, nor eloquence, nor marvel of contrivance can make good the lack of a devoted and submissive spirit that waits and waits and still waits with the inquiry: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Let us have that in the Church, a singleness of union with God, and then, through the membership, the converting energy from on high will flow unhindered, and men be reached and transformed. (E. S. Atwood.)
Hindered by sin
1. As a matter of fact, there are unexplained checks in human progress. We wonder why we do not advance more surely and quickly.
2. Such checks bring Divine providence under criticism and suspicion (Joshua 7:6-9). This is an easy refuge for men. Providence has had to sustain many a slander. It seems the handiest of all things to blame the mysteriousness of the Divine way. Who ever says, “The fault must be within the house itself; let every man in the house be examined; somebody is to blame for this mystery--who is it?” But it is easier to sit down under the supposed comforting doctrine that all this is meant for our good; it is chastisement; it is part of the mysterious process of human education At the same time it must be remembered that the sufferer himself may not be personally guilty. Certainly Joshua was no criminal in this case; yet Joshua suffered more than any other man. Here we may find the mysteriousness of the Divine action. This is not an action of mere virtue, as it is socially understood and limited; it is the very necessity of God: He cannot touch “the accursed thing”; He cannot smile upon fraud. A new light is thus thrown upon sovereignty and God’s elective laws. God elects righteousness, pureness, simplicity, nobleness. He will forsake Israel if Israel forsake Him. The Lord gives the reason why we are stopped. We must go to Heaven to find out why we are not making more money, more progress, more solidity of position. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Joshua . . . fell . . . before the ark of the Lord.
Joshua’s plea before the ark
The ark was the centre of mercy to Israel, and the glory of the tabernacle, their refuge in trouble, their security in danger, and their deliverance in distress. Here they mourned, and made supplication, where the cause only could be known, where relief only could come. From hence had proceeded all their pardons, their conquests, and possessions. But for the ark and the mercy-seat above, its propitiatory covering, Israel had been a lost people, and long had perished in want or conflict. No such seat of grace and habitation of mercy in At. The God of glory was still in the sanctuary of His people, though an accursed thing was in the camp. And where but to God in Christ, the true ark of the covenant and token of His gracious presence, can the afflicted, the oppressed, or the convicted go? This is their peculiar privilege, their constant need, and their never-failing resource. The pleadings of Joshua are a fine specimen and example of a true supplicatory spirit. It was before the ark, that grand and expressive type of Christ. Nothing in the worship of the spiritual sanctuary, no act of prayer or praise, no penitential pleadings or humiliations, can be acceptable, but as offered in the name, and through the mediation, of our Divine and glorious peace-maker, the Lord Jesus. Though the fears and apprehensions of unbelief mingle some infirmity with the pleadings of this great intercessor for Israel, yet there is impressive beauty and strength in his expressions, but in none so much as those which discover a mind tenderly affected for the glory of God, the honour of His name, and the prevalence of His truth. “What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” Oh! this was the grand point, the highest consideration, and beyond which pleading could not go. This failing, no other could avail. And still here is all the force of pleading, as from it all the cause of prevailing. This name, with all its glory and honour, is in Christ known to the Church and published to the world, a name ever dear to God, and dearer than a thousand worlds. This will prevail above all the distresses of the Church, all the triumphs of her enemies. Peace and pardon, and every blessing of providence, grace and glory, are insured to the believer, so that he who rests here can never perish or be conquered. (W. Seaton.)
When Achilles heard of the death of Patrocius his grief was so great that he cast himself on the ground as one that could not be comforted.
“With both his hands black dust he gathers now,
Casts on his head and soils his comely brow,
Foul ashes cling his perfumed tunic round,
His noble form lies stretched upon the ground.”
Here we have a grief similarly expressed, but more pathetic and noble. Joshua shows here again that he was a perfect leader. In all the affliction of the people he is afflicted. All the feeling of dismay in the camp is concentrated, as it were, in him. His great capacity for leadership gives him greater capacity for suffering. Thus is it always. He who is most interested in the cause of Christ, he whose heart is most enthusiastic, will be most east down by defeat. The man whose soul is most sensitive to sin, most fully alive to the commandments of God and the demands of truth, has the keenest sensibility, and therefore suffers most in a region of rebellion. That is to say, the more real spiritual life there is in the soul, the more suffering must there be. The sorrow of Jesus is the deepest because the love of Jesus is the highest. Joshua’s sorrow, it is very plain, was sincere and unfeigned. There was no acting here. And his grief was as unselfish as it was sincere. His chief sorrow is for the people. Their fate, their prospects, are his chief concern. Joshua’s perplexity is very great. This indeed is the biggest element in his trouble, and two parallel questions manifest it--“What shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies?” (verse 8), and “What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” (verse 9). If things continue as they are, and lead to their natural issues, in regard to Thy ways. What shall I say? What conclusion am I to come to? What construction am I to put on this event? Joshua makes no allowance for defeat. The chances of the glorious game of war have no place in his reckoning. Joshua cannot reconcile this defeat, unimportant though it may seem to some, with three grand facts wherein lay his chief confidence. The fact of the Divine presence--“Is God with us after all?” he might ask. The fact of the Divine promise--“Has God indeed spoken?” The fact of the Divine power--“Is God able to give unbroken victory?” The sad fact of defeat seemed to go in the face of these other facts. But to Joshua these other facts were as patent as that over which he mourned; hence his consternation. He is dumbfounded. And surely this noble sorrow, this believing consternation of Joshua, should be a reproof to many. We believe that there are individuals and congregations who would be more perplexed and confounded by a spiritual victory than by a spiritual disaster. But Joshua had a second question, which is the expression of a still deeper cause of perplexity. His first question, “What shaft I say?” rose from his faith in God. His second question, “What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” arose from his fidelity to God. Thus Joshua’s second question becomes a powerful plea before God, commanding His attention and drawing forth a reply. And it is well to notice here for our encouragement in any spiritual emergency that in the very trouble of Joshua’s soul there exists the germ of good hope. Joshua, just because he knows, feels, and owns his trouble before God, is every moment helping forward the solution of the difficulty. To know that we are beaten may be a bad thing in ordinary warfare; hence Napoleon’s complaint against the British troops; but it is not so in the spiritual fight; rather is it essential to continued success. Let us imitate Joshua in his godly sorrow. But trouble came upon Israel as well as upon their leader. As a single grain of colouring matter will tinge gallons of water, so one sin will affect a whole people. Achan’s transgression influenced for evil the whole of that nation. His little leaven leavened the whole lump. No man can confine the effects of any sin within the small compass of his own personal experience. Just as in the heart of a rich city a collection of squalid and filthy dens may spread disease and death in its finest mansions, so the wicked, wherever found, become centres of spiritual infection, and no soul near them is safe; hence, just as men wisely seek in self-defence to improve the physical conditions of the poorest dwellings, so should we, if for no other motive than the preservation of our own spiritual health, labour in all directions, and in every possible way, to improve and elevate the masses. And if this principle holds in the body politic, much more powerfully does it manifest itself in the body mystic, i.e., the Church of the living God. Here the influence of sin is most acutely and quickly felt. Hence the constant care that should be manifested in casting out every particle of the leaven of sin. He who takes heed to his own heart and life, keeping them clean and pure in the sight of God, edifies the brethren, and is health and strength and joy to all the body of Christ. He who is careless and sinful, must, like Achan, be a troubler of the house of God. Yes, and he himself must be miserable. What joy had Achan in all his ill-gotten gains? The rust of gold, like some strong Satanic acid, ate into his soul, to his unspeakable torture. Every transgressor sooner or later will find, like Achan, that in every sin lies its own punishment, and therefore escape is impossible. And Achan’s act had an evil influence upon the Canaanites as well as on himself and Israel. The effect of this defeat at Ai would be to harden their hearts, to make them persist in their rebellion. How often does the success of the wicked turn out their destruction. Applying these things to the work of the Lord in our days, we are reminded by the effect of Achan’s sin on these Canaanites of the evil that is brought on the world through the unfaithfulness of professing Christians. We must remember that not only the honour of the Master and the prosperity of the Church are connected with our faithfulness, but also, to no inconsiderable extent, the spiritual state of the world around. Therefore let us take heed as we name the name of Christ to depart from all iniquity, and perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord. (A. B. Mackay.)
Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?
Get thee up
To trust God is manifestly our duty. We are commanded to put our trust in Him. Trust in God is also a crowning means of safety and prosperity. Exceedingly great and precious promises are made to confidence in God. Watch over and cherish your trust in God. Cherish it by the study of the promises of your God. Cherish it by intercourse with God; and make this trust in God strong by giving it plenty of work to do. The more you exercise this principle, the stronger will it become. Trust in God is a manifest duty. But there are other obligations. We are under obligations to personal exertion. To trust is one duty; to exert ourselves is another: and although some persons would think that these two things cannot work together, they not only can, but they do work together in the experience and in the life of every man who is really walking with his God. Joshua, as you know, was leading the people forward to the entire conquest of Canaan. God has shown Israel’s captain marvellous deliverances, and, as is common in our own life, after these wonderful deliverances there comes a check. And so entirely does this prostrate him, that God his helper has to rebuke him, and say to him in the language of rebuke, “Get thee up: wherefore liest thou upon thy face?” Now, it strikes me that there are not a few who are in the position of Joshua.
1. In the first place, there is the doubter, depressed and paralysed by his doubts. I say to that man, “Get up--get thee up, and inquire--get thee up, and call upon God--get thee up and search the book of God--get thee up and think, and meditate--get thee up and converse with sober, intelligent, wise, kind-hearted, Christlike disciples.” Follow out your beliefs, and speak of that which you know. Then deal with your doubts. Do not let these doubts tarry. Do not let them become normal and constitutional. Regard them as a something to be taken away from your heart if possible.
2. We might, also, address these words to those who have fainted under the struggles of life. The words of those who have fainted in the day of adversity are such words as these, “All things are against me.” “I shall one day fall by the hand of mine enemy.” “Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.” Well, under depressing thoughts like these, those who have become weary in the struggle of life sink into prostration; and we say to such, “Get thee up.” Out of most troubles there is a present way of escape, and a future way out of them all. Your trouble may be poverty. Why conclude that God means you to be poor all your days? Get up, and look if there be a way out of that poverty. Your trouble may be bodily weakness and sickness. Why conclude that you are to be an invalid all your days? Get thee up, and look. See if there be a way of escape from this bodily infirmity. Out of many of our troubles there is, I say, a way of escape; but we require to get up, and to look for the way of escape. All that we require in such circumstances is strength to wait. The working together of the various events of life is of course a process. That very idea of working together involves a succession of effects and of results. The good must come.
3. Perhaps, too, there is that class of person known by the common name of backslider. It is a serious thing to go back. But the man who has gone back is not in a hopeless state. He ought not to despair. Thanks be to God, I can appeal to your hope. I can in the name of God say, “Return unto the Lord, and He will return to you.” He will heal your backsliding; He will love you freely; He will be as the dew to you, and you shall revive as the corn and grow as the vine. Only, only, return to the Lord.
4. Those who are hindered and disheartened in their godly enterprises, as were many of the companions of Nehemiah, in connection with the work of rebuilding the city and rebuilding the temple. Now God sent Haggai to say to the people, in substance, just what He said to Joshua, “Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?”--for by His prophet God spake thus: “Is it time for you to dwell in coiled houses while God’s house lies waste?” “Get thee up: wherefore liest thou upon thy face?” Now, just see that self-prostration and inertness are wrong. For, in the first place, it is God who speaks to us thus: “Get thee up”; God, whose power is almighty; God, whose resources are unsearchable riches; God, who is ever working to keep us up, and to lift us up, and who, when He has helped us ten thousand times, has His hands stretched out to help us still; God, who proffers His interposition to the weak and to the needy. And He speaks, observe, to our will, and to our hearts. By the use of these words He is seeking to work confidence, resolution, and determination. “Get thee up.” He is appealing to our hopes, that He may comfort us by hope. There is no evil for which there is no remedy. The position, therefore, of a man of God is not that of prostration. Even when he is confessing his sins, his position is not that of prostration. Prostration is not his posture. His right position is to stand up like a man before God. Oh! do not thus lie prostrate on your faces. Do not yield to your despondency and despair. I speak to you men of God, and I may say to you, “All is right. All is right in Heaven concerning you: and if there be things wrong down here, Heaven can set them right.” It may be, too, that there is some accursed thing that is producing your present perplexities and your present difficulties. I know not what that accursed thing may be. Perhaps it is sinful trust in yourselves; perhaps it is undue reliance on your fellow-creatures; perhaps you have done wrong ill endeavouring to obtain an instrumentality to assist you that is not holy, and that is not heaven-approved. What the accursed thing may be a little honest inquiry will soon discover. By the power of God, I say, get rid of it; but, even before you get rid of it, get up. You cannot see the accursed thing while you are thus spiritually prostrate. You cannot see what you ought to do while you are thus spiritually prostrate. Whatever may be the cause of your present difficulty and depression, it is your duty to get up, and stand before God upright as a man. (S. Martin.)
God’s voice to the desponding
I. Despondency sometimes overtakes the greatest men.
1. Examples: Jacob, Elijah, David, &c.
2. The causes of despondency are numerous: remorse, disappointment, forebodings, failure, &c.
II. Despondency must be struggled against: “Get thee up.”
1. Regrets for the past are useless. What is done cannot be undone.
2. There is urgent work to do. Resolute, earnest activity is required.
3. Despondency exhausts strength and unfits for work. Despair unstrings nerves, relaxes muscles, prostrates energies.
4. Effort will shake off the oppressive load, and give fresh energy to your soul. (Homilist.)
Israel hath sinned, . . . stolen and dissembled.--
The sinfulness of sin
I. The successive stages of sin. “When Achan longed, he ought to have resisted; when he planned, he ought to have stopped before taking; when he had taken, he should have cast it away instead of stealing; when he had stolen, he should have freely confessed it; and when it was buried he ought to have dug it up again.”
II. The aggravated guilt of sin.
1. It was a transgression of righteousness: “Israel hath sinned.”
2. It was a transgression of the law of gratitude. Achan ignored the covenant altogether.
3. It was a transgression of God’s word: “Which I commanded them.”
4. It was the transgression of good faith. Under the specific condition of not touching the spoil, the victory had been granted, and Achan had “even taken of the cherem.”
5. It was a transgression of honesty and truth: “They have stolen and dissembled also.”
6. It was a transgression of Achan’s own conscience. Had he not felt it wrong to put the devoted things “among his own stuff,” he would not have hidden them.
III. The wide-reaching evil of sin.
IV. The connection between sin and unbelief. Achan had no real faith--
1. In Divine omniscience. Had he really believed that God saw him, he could not have taken of the spoil.
2. In Divine punishment. Had he been convinced that he would have been “devoted,” he would have resisted the temptation.
3. In the Divine Word. To disbelieve in the punishment was to disbelieve Him who had threatened to destroy. (F. G. Marchant.)
We have a mournful interest in sin. Three characteristics of sin are seen in Achan--
1. Sin is secret; that is, from men, not from God.
2. Sin is gradual. Captivates the senses: “I saw.” Captivates the desires: “I coveted.” Captivates the soul: “I took.”
3. Sin is the herald of a curse: “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked.” Note its effects.
I. On Joshua--the leader.
1. Changed the hero into a coward. His heart became as water.
2. Changed the man of faith to a doubter (verse 7).
3. This in spite of his Divine call and his great ability. So secret sin affects the leaders of the Church to-day.
II. On Israel--the church.
1. Changed victors into victims. They fled from before At. Sin is weakness as well as wicked ness. Sin deters the progress of the Church.
2. This in spite of the Divine covenant. That covenant was to give the land to the true sons of Abraham- the faithful: “If ye be willing and obedient,” &c.
3. This, too, in spite of previous victory at Jericho. They won at Jericho, for they were all sanctified. They failed at Ai, for there was sin in the camp. One secret sinner may ruin a Church’s worth.
III. On achan--the sinner. Did not sin gain for him much spoil? Yes--and more. He got gold and brave apparel, but he also got for his secret sin--
1. Public shame.
2. Public punishment. Sad as are the effects on others, the secret sinner feels them most of all.
The remedy is--
1. Not inactive grief: “Wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” (verse 10).
2. Active search for hidden sin (verse 13).
3. Entire sanctification of all (verse 13). (James Dunk.)
Secret sin discovered
Sin as a rule is committed under a false and pernicious impression, namely--
(1) That it will never be known, or
(2) if found out, in some way punishment will be avoided.
If sinners did not deceive themselves on these points there would not be half the sin in the world there is.
I. There is and can be no secret thing in God’s universe. Every sin, though no human eye or ear takes cognisance of it, is seen as soon as conceived by the all-seeing eye. That sin a secret when high Heaven knows it all!
II. There is in sin itself the element of exposure and retribution. Sin, like every other natural and moral force, works out certain results, physical, spiritual, and moral, and those results are not under man’s control; they are the developments of law. The transgressor is impotent. He cannot stay the Almighty Hand, which, by means of the law of cause and effect, has its firm grip upon him. He is no longer master of himself, much less of his secret. And a thousand influences are working upon him and closing in upon him, all tending to disclosure and final retribution.
III. All the laws of God’s universe are put in requisition to expose sin and bring it in due time to punishment.
1. His physical laws. They even cry out against sin, as in the case of the inebriate, the glutton, the adulterer, &c. The heavens and the earth conspire to track and fasten guilt upon the murderer.
2. His moral law. Under its flashes and thunder peals many a guilty soul has quaked and been driven to confession or suicide. Conscience, echoing God’s law, makes cowards of sinners; makes life an insupportable burden, drives them from home and makes them wanderers on the earth, as Cain was.
3. His providential law. A thousand agencies and forces are set to work to expose and punish transgression as soon as it is committed. Earth, air and water, science, art, and human law, all furnish evidence to point out and convict the criminal and bring him to judgment. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
The punishment of sin
1. How necessary to Christian success is the presence of God.
2. When that presence is withheld, there is generally a cause.
3. When the presence of God is withheld, the Christian should be humbled and make inquiry before God.
4. Sin is the cause of the Divine displeasure, and must be searched out.
5. Mark the progress of sin. He who parleys with sin is half-way towards embracing it.
6. Behold the fatal termination of sin. (J. G. Breay, B. A.)
Sin a reproach and hindrance
Sin, that accursed thing which God hates is a hindrance and a reproach to any people, viewed either as a nation or as individuals.
I. Let us look at the sin of the jews, as a nation, in persisting to despise and reject Jesus of Nazareth. Now, what a shame and reproach are the Jews exposed to for their sin in rejecting Christ, the anointed of God! From what rich blessings also are they excluded in consequence of their not admitting Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the world! What an accursed thing, too, is the sin of idolatry to any nation! Those people who are ignorant of the one living and true God, through Jesus Christ whom He hath sent, and who are bowing down to stocks and to stones, are in the lowest state of misery and degradation. But further. Those nations which are professedly Christian nations are frequently seen to encourage some great evil, which operates against their prosperity, and which is a reproach to them. In no country which is called a Christian country should any laws be enacted which are likely to be detrimental to the religion of Christ. Now, whenever this is the case, it is a reproach to any people, and a great hindrance to their prosperity and comfort.
II. We come now to A closer application of our subject, and to consider it in reference. To individuals. You are all Christians by profession. But remember, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly.” Are ye living in the commission of gross sins and scandalous vices, while ye claim, in virtue of your baptism, to be the children of God, and heirs according to the promise? Ye are a reproach to the Lord’s people, and a cause to them of much sorrow and anguish of heart. Remember that a day is coming when He, who is at present waiting, on thy true repentance, to be gracious unto thee and to save thee, will appear as thy terrible adversary to destroy thee. But further. May not sin, the accursed thing, in some degree be found among the real servants of God as well as among His enemies? How important, then, and necessary is it that believers should be continually aiming to mortify the remains of inbred corruption, and to be fortifying themselves against the inroads of sin by following after righteousness and holiness of life. (W. Battersby, M. A.)
Neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.
God’s part in the war
I. Success in war is a blessing which is given by God. By this I mean that it does not depend only on the armaments which are fitted out, or the perfection of our war machinery, or the number of our troops, or the sagacity of our leaders, or the power of our enemy, whether we shall be successful in the end. It is clearly told us in Scripture--so clearly that there is no excuse for the man who disbelieves it--that God keeps the ultimate results of war entirely in His own hand. Perhaps there is no other department of human affairs in which Jehovah has so frequently in Scripture asserted His prerogative as that of war. “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” And once more we find that Jehovah retains for Himself the name of Commander over all the armies of the earth.
II. So long as we cherish sin, we cannot expect God to grant us success in war. I do not mean to say that success is always given to the holiest--that victory is the guarantee of rectitude and defeat the sign of sin; for God ofttimes tries His people by afflictions, and permits the wicked for a time to prosper. We are not sufficient judges of these things. But the only ground on which we can well expect the blessing of success from God is, surely, that of walking uprightly before Him; and when we cherish sin wilfully and consciously within our breasts, neither this nor any other blessing can we expect Jehovah to bestow upon us. It was the sin of one man in the camp. It is the same with us. For public and national sins we are indeed called to mourn this day. They form a long black roll. They are too many for enumeration. But we have also our private, our individual sins to mourn. They are concerned in our disasters. There has been a vainglorious boasting--a self-sufficient confidence in the prowess of our soldiers, and the irresistible force of our arms, as if we could not fail. We thought we were presenting to the world an unequalled spectacle. We have not been relying, as a nation, upon the help and sufficiency of Jehovah. Until we come to a more fitting state of heart--till our self-confidence be less--till our recognition of Jehovah be more--till we feel that we are less than nothing and vanity--till we feel that all our sufficiency is of God--we can by no means look that the Omnipotent should scatter our foes before us and humble them in the dust. (J. E. Cumming, D. D.)
Covetousness in the Church
I. A heinous transgression was committed. Some pursue the acquisition of wealth with quiet plodding industry, not appearing to be the subjects of much excitement, but associating greediness with wariness and caution, never permitting themselves to swerve from the contemplation of the end, or the employment of the means for attaining to it. Others, again, in the emphatic language of Scripture, have “hasted to be rich.” The appetite has been suddenly and uncontrollably kindled, either by a combination of internal suggestions or by the fatal facilities and opportunities which of late have been so signally multiplied. It must, however, here be remembered that there are other forms of covetousness besides that which consists in the craving and the pursuit of wealth. The love of fame, the love of power, and the love of sensual pleasure--all these constitute covetousness; and such covetousness also we conceive to have intruded itself much into the hearts of the professing people of God.
II. A mournful consequence was incurred.
1. Observe the consequence, as relating to the individual himself. God, by virtue of His essential omniscience, was aware of the perpetration of the sin; notwithstanding its concealment He saw it done, and He instantly arranged a series of events, by which, in the most impressive manner, there might be immediate detection, and then condign and adequate punishment. There is nothing but what is naked and manifest before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do; and as God knows the sin, so also God punishes the sin. Sometimes He punishes covetousness, when it is remarkably revolting in its operations, by judgments similar to the one which is recorded here--the abrupt termination of life, either by the hands of men or by judgments from His own power, which cannot be misapprehended or mistaken. Or, frequently, God punishes covetousness by mental anxiety and dissatisfaction; by the loss of that for which they have craved, so that it becomes to them as though it had never been; by social disgrace, contempt and dishonour; by the ruin of bodily and intellectual health, and by an abandonment to remorse and despair. Always God punishes covetousness, when it constitutes and is cherished to the last as a master passion, by an exclusion from His favour, and from the abodes of His celestial glory. Ye professing Christians see to it that, under the cloak of your religion, you hide nothing and cherish nothing of a spirit which is deadly wherever it is indulged. And let us all endeavour, with constant anxiety, to remember that “God will not be mocked”; and that “it is a fearful thing” to fall into His hands.
2. Again, we are also to trace the consequences, as relating to the community to which the individual belonged. For important reasons, the welfare of the whole people of Israel was affected by the individual transgression. You will now be prepared for the statement we have simply to advance--that the prosperity of the Christian Church has been much checked, and that its progress has been grievously retarded, by the covetousness and by the worldly conformity of those who have professed to be connected with it.
III. A momentous duty was required. It was that the people should “put away the accursed thing” from them.
1. There is comprehended here uncompromising separation from all that is polluted and pernicious.
2. There must also be devoted engagement in direct effort for the advancement of the Divine glory. There ought to be, throughout the whole of the Christian Church, one spirit of devoted, unwearied, and incessant activity in the proclamation of the unsearchable riches of Christ. And, in connection with personal labour, there must be pecuniary contribution. The property which has been vouchsafed to man as a stewardship is to be taken away from the service of mammon, and devoted to the service of the Saviour, is to be taken away from the service of Satan and devoted to the service of God, and of souls, and of salvation. There must also be prayerfulness--incessant and persevering prayerfulness--prayer involving matters as wide as the universe can supply; that our own souls may be spiritually established, and may prosper; that the souls of our fellow-saints may be aroused, revived, and preserved. (James Parsons.)
Achan . . . was taken.
1. Look at it in itself. It was sacrilege--a robbing God of what He had directed to be devoted to His glory and appropriated to the use of His sanctuary.
2. View it in its circumstances. It was committed immediately after the offender, together with the rest of the people of Israel, had solemnly renewed their dedication to God in the ordinances of circumcision and the Passover, and after the most signal display of almighty power; and it was committed when God had declared that the person who should be found guilty of such a sin should be accursed.
3. Look, too, at Achan’s sin in its effects. In consequence of it, God had withdrawn His favour and His help from His people; they had sustained a humiliating defeat, in which six-and-thirty of their number had been slain; and had the sin not been punished, it would have procured the destruction of the whole nation. (W. Cardall, B. A.)
A vessel in full sail scuds merrily over the waves. Everything betokens a successful and delightful voyage. The log has just been taken, marking an extraordinary run. The passengers are in the highest spirits, anticipating an early close of the voyage. Suddenly a shock is felt, and terror is seen on every face. The ship has struck on a rock. Not only is progress arrested, but it will be a mercy for crew and passengers if they can escape with their lives. Not often so violently, but often as really, progress is arrested in many a good enterprise that seemed to be prospering to a wish. There may be no shock, but there is a stoppage of movement. The vital force that seemed to be carrying it on towards the desired consummation declines, and the work hangs fire. In all such cases we naturally wonder what can be the cause. And very often our explanation is wide of the mark. In religious enterprises we are apt to fall back on the sovereignty and inscrutability of God. “He moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” It seems good to Him, for unknown purposes of His own, to subject us to disappointment and trial. We do not impugn either His wisdom or His goodness; all is for the best. But, for the most part, we fail to detect the real reason. That the fault should lie with ourselves is the last thing we think of. We search for it in every direction rather than at home. It was an unexpected obstacle of this kind that Joshua now encountered in his next step towards possessing the land. Hitherto Joshua had been eminently successful, and his people too. Not a hitch had occurred in all the arrangements. The capture of Jericho had been an unqualified triumph. It seemed as if the people of Ai could hardly fail to be paralysed by its fate. The men of Israel were not prepared for a vigorous onslaught, and when it came thus unexpectedly they were taken aback and fled in confusion. As the men of Ai pursued them down the pass, they had no power to rally or retrieve the battle; the rout was complete, some of the men were killed, while consternation was carried into the host, and their whole enterprise seemed doomed to failure. And now for the first time Joshua appears in a somewhat humiliating light. He is not one of the men that never make a blunder. He rends his clothes, fails on his face with the elders before the ark of the Lord till even, and puts dust upon his head. There is something too abject in this prostration. And when he speaks to God, it is in the tone of complaint and in the language of unbelief. Like peter on the waters, and like so many of ourselves, he begins to sink when the wind is contrary, and his cry is the querulous wail of a frightened child! After all he is but flesh and blood. Now it is God’s turn to speak. “Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” Why do you turn on Me as if I had suddenly changed, and become forgetful of My promise? Then comes the true explanation--“Israel hath sinned.” Might you not have divined that this was the real cause of your trouble? Is not sin directly or indirectly the cause of all trouble? What a curse that sin is, in ways and forms, too, which we do not suspect! And yet we are usually so very careless about it. How little pains we take to ascertain its presence, or to drive it away from among us! How little tenderness of conscience we show, how little burning desire to be kept from the accursed thing! And when we turn to our opponents and see sin in them, instead of being grieved, we fall on them savagely to upbraid them, and we hold them up to open scorn. How little we think, if they are guilty, that their sin has intercepted the favour of God, and involved not them only, but probably the whole community in trouble! How unsatisfactory to God must seem the bearing even of the best of us in reference to sin! The peculiar covenant relation in which Israel stood to God caused a method to be fallen on for detecting their sin that is not available for us. The whole people were to be assembled next morning, and inquiry was to be made for the delinquent in God’s way, and when the individual was found condign punishment was to be inflicted. The tribe is taken, the family is taken, but that is not all; the household that God shall take shall come “man by man.” It is that individualising of us that we dread; it is when it comes to that, that “conscience makes cowards of us all.” But before passing on to the result of the scrutiny, we find ourselves face to face with a difficult question. If, as is here intimated, it was one man that sinned, why should the whole nation have been dealt with as guilty? We are to remember that practically the principle of solidarity was fully admitted in Joshua’s time among his people. The sense of injustice and hardship to which it might give rise among us did not exist. Men recognised it as a law of wide influence in human affairs, to which they were bound to defer. Let us think of Achan’s temptation. A large amount of valuable property fell into the hands of the Israelites at Jericho. By a rigorous law, all was devoted to the service of God. Now a covetous man like Achan might find many plausible reasons for evading this law. “What I take to myself (he might say)will never be missed. Nobody will suffer a whir by what I do--it cannot be very wrong.” Now the great lesson taught very solemnly and impressively to the whole nation was, that this was just awfully wrong. The moral benefit which the nation ultimately got from the transaction was, that this kind of sophistry, this flattering unction which leads so many persons ultimately to destruction, was exploded and blown to shivers. That sin is to be held sinful only when it hurts your fellow-creatures, and especially the poor among your fellow-creatures, is a very common impression, but surely it is a delusion of the devil. That it has such effects may be a gross aggravation of the wickedness, but it is not the heart and core of it. And how can you know that it will not hurt others? Not hurt your fellow-countrymen, Achan? Why, that secret sin of yours has caused the death of thirty-six men and a humiliating defeat of the troops before At. More than that, it has separated between the nation and God. Many say, when they tell a lie, it was not a malignant lie; it was a lie told to screen some one, not to expose him, therefore it was harmless. But you cannot trace the consequences of that lie, any more than Achan could trace the consequences of his theft, otherwise you would not dare to make that excuse. Is there safety for man or woman except in the most rigid regard to right and truth, even in the smallest portions of them with which they have to do? Is there not something utterly fearful in the propagating power of sin, and in its way of involving others, who are perfectly innocent, in its awful doom? Happy they who from their earliest years have had a salutary dread of it, and of its infinite ramifications of misery and woe! (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
A great crime
I. The crime of Achan was marked by disobedience. And the remembrance of the solemn covenant between God and His people rendered the disobedience very aggravated. The act of Achan was a glaring breach of its conditions.
II. It was also an act of theft, a breach of the eighth commandment. There was, on the part of Achan, a definite and deliberate breach of trust; as much so as if the crime had been embezzlement or forgery. And it is very plain that this act was deliberately planned and carried out. Achan’s action was not that of a man suddenly overcome by temptation. His act was most deliberate. It was also inexcusable. There was no pressing want or demand upon him to coerce right principle.
III. Deceit also characterised Achan’s conduct. So is it always. Lying and stealing are twin brothers, inseparable. The words “committed a trespass” might be more literally translated, “deceived a deceit.” The whole transaction occurred under cover of a cloud of guile. He not only stole, but also tried hard to cover his offence with craft.
IV. Achan’s conduct also revealed unbrotherliness. He wished in an underhand way to get the better of his brethren, and that was bad enough; it showed how utterly selfish he was. But he had also been warned that such conduct would be visited not only on the perpetrator himself, but on all the people (Joshua 6:18). Accordingly his act was unbrotherly and unpatriotic. The real enemy of God’s people is not opposing strength but inner corruption; not the quibbles of the infidel but the carelessness of the Christian. Achan’s wedge of gold was a more formidable weapon against Israel than all the swords of the aliens. The grand lessons here taught are, that while the holy are invincible, the defiled must be defeated; and “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house.”
V. Still further, Achan’s conduct revealed ingratitude. And this was all the more sad, because Jehovah was no hard master, eager to gather all to Himself and leave His servants as little as possible. Each of them will have plenty in good time. There is sufficient for each and all, and for their children after them. Surely He may well demand the firstfruits as His due.
VI. Achan’s deed betokened impiety. It was the act of a godless heart. Could Achan have believed that God spoke true, when He warned the army of the evil that would come upon them if they disobeyed His command? Nay, he did not believe the Divine word. Neither did he believe in the Divine knowledge. Whom did Achan conceive the God of Israel to be? One like the blind and deaf deities of Canaan--a god who could not see and understand. His act was an invasion of God’s rights before His very face; the alienation of His property under His very eyes; the devoting to private use that which He had devoted to His glory, and therefore it amounted to daring and impudent sacrilege. Is such a sin as Achan’s extinct? Is there no unjust getting in these days? no “getting of treasures by a lying tongue”? Is there no undue grasping in these days? Has God no claim on any portion of what we possess? (A. B. Mackay.)
One man spoiled the unity, spoiled the success. It is put in plain English: for the sin of one man the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and they all suffered. For that unity, that solidarity, is a reality far more than we think. God counts a great deal upon it. If one member suffer, the whole body suffers. If there is health, there is general health. If there is sickness, we are all enfeebled and hurt by that sickness. It is somewhat like what takes place in connection with our electric telegraph system. Messages and communications are flying to and fro, say, between the different parts of an army in a foreign country engaged in foreign campaign, one being in complete accord and close communication with the other, when suddenly there is a breakdown. Suddenly the generals in each host cease to be able to communicate with each other. United movement is impossible: united counsel is impossible. Why? Because, at some one place the enemy, by means of a spy, has tapped the wire; and all this communication of theirs is being turned not for them, but against them. At some place the wire is tapped and the communication is taken off and is used by the enemy. So with Israel. At one point the tide of the Spirit’s power that was circulating through them all was deflected. By one unfaithful man the whole tide of God’s energy was shed helplessly down to the earth. The problem on that day was this. There was one man who had broken the chain. A leakage was taking place at one point, at one particular man, an ordinary man, a man who but for his sin would never have been heard of in the world. Oh, see how staring, glaring, conspicuous a man becomes by sin; not by cleverness, not by intellectuality, not by wealth, not by culture, not by rank, not by wearing clothes, and taking positions, but by this dirty thing--sin. Sin makes a man conspicuous who otherwise, as I have said, would not have been heard of--an ordinary man in the ranks of men. There is that missing link; there is that break; there is that leakage; there is that sinner. The problem is, how to find him out--how to have the damage repaired, how to have that man detected, and either put right or put out. And the problem is intensified thus. The man knows what he has done, and the man will not tell. We have the same thing still. This accursed thing is in us, namely, that our heart shall depart from the living God; our heart shall forget its purpose; our heart shall turn aside to sin, and outwardly we shall brazen it out with our very Leader and defy Him, and deny so far as we are concerned, that we are responsible--that the blame lies at our door. There was no confession. The Lord was not helped in the least. He had to take judgment in hand. Joshua was nonplussed; and if God Himself had not come, Israel’s history as a successful people would have come to a close at this very point. We talk in our homely proverb of the difficulty, the impossibility, of finding a needle in a haystack. That familiar phrase receives a moral illustration here. What God has to do is to find out the one sinner among these assembled thousands, when he is keeping as dark as the grave. God could have come and simply taken that unclean thing, Achan. He could have taken him “neck and crop” without all this process. God could have gone straight to him, and put His hand upon his shoulder, and hurled him out into the outer darkness at once. Why take all this time--tribe by tribe, family by family, man by man? Surely that was mercy. That was in Achan’s interest. He gave the poor, infatuated fool time, space, place, room to repent; and as he saw Nemesis evidently on his track he had time to cast himself down before Joshua, and to exclaim, “Stop! I confess! I am the man.” Had he done so, this story, I am convinced, would have been one of the brightest stories of mercy in God’s book, instead of one of its darkest, almost without a ray of light. Achan was taken. That same God is the God of the New Testament Church. I do not know how it may be with you: but this is the kind of preaching I was brought up under, and I have seen no reason to turn from it--a God of inflexible righteousness and holiness, who will not allow sin to go unpunished. Now do not stand up blatantly and ask whether I have ever heard of the Cross and the New Testament. I have been to the Cross. This story is intensified by the Cross. At the Cross we behold at once the goodness and the severity of God. At the Cross we learn the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the dazzling, blinding holiness of God, as well as the mercy that is intershot through all. Sin is no metaphysical abstraction. It is not a mere arrangement of the letters of the alphabet. It is not a mere thing of theology or of philosophy. It is a deep, dark, abominable thing found in the hearts of men; and if God spared not the angels that sinned, how shall He spare us? No, it was no exaggeration. It was no “trouble for nothing.” It was no mere cry. God was justified. There was a stone in the machine, and God found out the stone and took it away; and then the wheels ceased to grate and jar and move heavily. There is a stone in the machine yet, in the moral machinery of God’s Church and of God’s world. I may be that stone, and I may be concealing what I am--concealing it behind the profession of the ministry, concealing it behind preaching to you on this very subject. You may be concealing it behind the office of the elder. You may be concealing it behind a great anxiety to keep the table of the Lord and the communion roll pure; and I say that this is needful, and it is a good sign and a good thing that the Church should conserve and be anxious about her purity before God and man; and yet it may be part of the dress that we put on, to look as Achan looked. For while the judgment processes were going on Achan, very likely, held up his head and looked round. “It is not I, at any rate”; and the nearer it came the more brazen he looked; “It is not I.” So our very scrupulosity and care in connection with God’s house and book and day may belong to the Pharisee within us, the Achan, the hypocrite. God Almighty alone could have detected this man, and God Almighty Himself had to take the judgment work in hand. I am speaking to Achan here, and I want to let you know that you will get all you are working for. The day comes when the sweet gales of mercy no longer shall blow--when you will hear no more about cleansing blood--when there will be nothing but “a fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation that shall devour the adversaries”--when your sin shall be proved on you, and in you, and to you, and before an assembled world, with no chance for ever of getting its curse and its power lifted away. It is coming. God will here lead us now to confession, or there to too late confession and doom beyond remedy. (John McNeill.)
Achan a representative man
There is nothing old in these words. Achan is “taken” every day. Achan is sure to be “taken.” If we are practising the policy of Achan, the fate of Achan we can never avert. What a representative man is Achan! Does he not represent those, for example, who are continually taking great risks? What a life some men lead I But the mystery of it is that Achan represents also men who have no need to take risks. They have plenty; they have sweet homes. They need not go out of their own doors for a single pleasure. Yet they covet just a little more: it is only one acre to complete the estate. Achan committed a sin which is common to us all, in so far that he felt it extremely difficult to subordinate the personal to the communal. He might have said--and in so saying he would have talked good, round English”--What can a wedge of gold matter in all this great heap of wealth? What is the difference one Babylonish garment more or less? Who will be the worse for my taking it? Nobody need know. I want a relic of this event, I want a keepsake; this has been a very wonderful miracle, and I want to keep in my house some memorial of it; I could turn these things into good, moral uses: I could preach sermons upon them, I could derive lessons from them. It cannot make any difference where thousands of men are concerned if I take one wedge of gold, two hundred shekels of silver, and a goodly Babylonish garment--they are all but a handful, and who will miss them? In fact, there will be no reckoning; things in connection with a battle are done so tumultuously and so irregularly that none will ever think of looking up such a handful of spoil as I may seize.” That is the exaggeration of individualism; that is the lie which man is always telling to himself. It is the falsehood which enables him to cheat the body politic: “What can it matter if I do not vote? There are thousands of people who want to vote, let them enjoy themselves, and I will take mine ease. What can it matter if I do not keep the laws of the company--the municipal or other company? The great majority of the neighbours will keep them, and as for any little infraction of them of which I may be guilty, it is mere pedantry to remark upon it. Who cares for the body politic--the body corporate?” We are being taught to respect that so-called abstraction; but the lesson is a very difficult one to learn. When shall we come to understand fully that there is a corporate humanity, a public virtue, a body politic, with its responsibilities, laws, duties--a great training-school in which individualism is subordinated to the commonwealth? Does not Achan represent those who create unnecessary mysteries in the course of Divine providence? It is the concealed man who could explain everything. It is the thief behind the screen who could relieve all our wonder, perplexity, and distress. We have to search him out by circumstantial evidence. If he would stand up and say, “Guilty!” he would relieve our minds of many a distressing thought even about the Divine government. We wonder why the people are delayed, why the battle goes the wrong way, why the heathen pursues the chosen man, and beats him down, and scorns his assaults. We speak of God’s mysterious way. It is a mistake on our part. The silent man, skulking behind the arras, could explain the whole affair, and relieve Divine providence of many a wonder which grows quickly into suspicion or distrust. Look at the case in one or two remarkable aspects.
1. Consider Achan, for example, as a solitary sinner. He was the only man in the host who had disobeyed the orders that were given. “Why arrest a whole army on account of one traitor? Let the host go on.” So man would say. God will not have it so. He does not measure by our scale. One sin is a thousand.
2. Think of Achan as a detected sinner. For a time there was no prospect of the man being found out. But God has methods of sifting which we do not know of.
3. Then look at Achan as a confessing sinner. He did confess his sin, but not until he was discovered. And the confession was as selfish as the sin.
4. The picture of Achan as a punished sinner is appalling. Who punished the sinful man? The answer to that inquiry is given in Joshua 7:25, and is full of saddest yet noblest meaning. Who punished the thief? “All Israel stoned him with stones”--not one infuriated man, not one particularly interested individual, but “all Israel.” The punishment is social. It is the universe that digs hell--the all rising against the one. (J. Parker, D. D.)
My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord.--
Kindness to the sinner
There was infinite kindness in that word “my son.” It reminds us of that other Joshua, the Jesus of the New Testament, so tender to sinners, so full of love even for those who had been steeped in guilt. It brings before us the great High Priest, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, seeing He was in all things tempted like as we are, yet without sin. A harsh word from Joshua might have set Achan in a defiant attitude, and drawn from him a denial that he had done anything amiss. How often do we see this! A child or a servant has done wrong; you are angry, you speak harshly, you get a flat denial. Or if the thing cannot be denied, you get only a sullen acknowledgment, which takes away all possibility of good arising out of the occurrence, and embitters the relation of the parties to each other. But not only did Joshua speak kindly to Achan, he confronted him with God, and called on him to think how He was concerned in this matter. “Give glory to the Lord God of Israel.” Vindicate Him from the charge which I and others have virtually been bringing against Him, of proving forgetful of His covenant. Clear Him of all blame, declare His glory, declare that He is unsullied in His perfections, and show that He has had good cause to leave us to the mercy of our enemies. No man as yet knew what Achan had done. He might have been guilty of some act of idolatry, or of some unhallowed sensuality like that which had lately taken place at Baal-peer; in order that the transaction might carry its lesson it was necessary that the precise offence should be known. Joshua’s kindly address and his solemn appeal to Achan to clear the character of God had the desired effect. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Confession of sin to God
God’s omniscience should indeed make us ashamed to commit sin, but it should embolden us to confess it. We can tell our secrets to a friend that does not know them; how much more should we do it to Him that knows them already? God’s knowledge outruns our confessions and anticipates what we have to say. As our Saviour speaks concerning prayer, “Our heavenly Father knows what you have need of before you ask,” so I may say of confession, your heavenly Father knows what secret sins you have committed before you confess. But still He commands this duty of us; and that not to know our sins but to see our ingenuity. Adam, when he hid himself, to the impiety of his sin added the absurdity of s, concealment. Our declaring of our sins to God who knows them without being beholden to our relation; it is like opening a window to receive the light which would shine in through it howsoever. Now there is no duty by which we give God the glory of His omniscience so much as by a free confession of our secret iniquities. Joshua says to Achan, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him.” (R. South.)
Achan answered . . . I coveted and took.
The eye, the heart, and the hand
I. The eye an occasion of sin. We will suppose that Achan came into contact with this Babylonish garment in the course of his duty. He could not help seeing it, and therefore there was no harm in seeing it; in the simple contact of this garment with his eye, and of this silver and gold with his eye, there could be no wrong; this was a permission of Divine Providence. The sin was in the looking at it. He saw; and instead of turning his eye away from the temptation, he continued to look, and he looked until he coveted, and he coveted until he took. And we will suppose that you cannot help seeing things which suggest the thought of doing wrong, and which excite the desire to do wrong; but you can help fixing your eyes upon them, and keeping your eyes intent upon them.
II. Mark the progress of sin. It was an evil thing to continue looking; it was a greater evil to desire to take. The desire springing up, what did Achan with respect to it? Instead of trying to quench it, he fed it. He let imagination fly and work, and, under the influence of that imagination, and the thinking connected with that imagination, the desire to possess this garment, and to lay hold of this silver and gold, became in his heart exceedingly strong, and mastered him. Under the power of that desire he stretched forth his hand and took. Just see here the progress of the sin--I saw, I coveted, I took; I first took that which was doomed to be destroyed, and then I took that which was devoted to the service of my God.
III. Look at the deceitfulness of sin. When Achan saw, and coveted, and took, the taking promised him great things. There is nothing in the universe so deceitful and so treacherous as doing wrong. Doing wrong always promises some good result, and doing wrong has never yet realised it, nor ever can.
IV. Look at the cowardice of the transgressor. He hid these things. He first put them among his furniture. I dare say he thought that there would be no notice taken of it. Then, when a stir is made about the matter, and the lot begins to be used, what did he? Instead of having the courage and manliness to remove suspicion from his fellows, and to say, “I am the sinner,” he hides in the earth, in the midst of his tent, the treasures and the garment which he has taken. This seems to be a general fact in connection with sin: “The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
V. Look at the folly and the madness of persisting in transgression. The wages of sin, what are they? You see this illustrated here. “The wages of sin is death.” Achan, instead of gaining anything by this transgression, lost all. He lost net only the spoil he had taken, but he lost even life itself. Now this is God’s arrangement, that he whose transgressions are not pardoned shall die, and shall die a second death. Tell me, then, what is a man profited if he gain the world, and die that second death? (S. Martin.)
Achanism; or, self-seeking a hindrance to tits victories of Christianity
I. This principle applies to the efforts of men to promote their own individual christianity. It is common to hear Christians mourning their spiritual barrenness; regretting their little progress in the great work of self-discipline and personal sanctification. They refer the cause sometimes to the circumstances in which they are placed, and sometimes to the profitless ministry which they attend, whereas there is some Achan within--some unholy principle or passion that is neutralising every effort, and rendering the spirit powerless to strike one conquering blow.
II. This principle applies to the efforts which individual churches make to promote christianity in their own neigbourhood. Some sweeping system of discipline must come before your efforts to evangelise will be of much avail. The tares must be plucked from the wheat.
III. This principle applies to the efforts which the general church is employing to promote christianity throughout the world. The self-seeking spirit hinders the spread of the Gospel.
1. By preventing that agency which is indispensable for the purpose. Self-sacrifice.
2. By prompting that agency which must necessarily neutralise its aim. Priestcraft. Slavery. War. (Homilist.)
I. The gradual progress of sin.
II. The deceitful nature of sin (Job 20:12-15; Habakkuk 2:11).
III. The certain detection of sin.
IV. The awful penalty of sin.
V. The only way of forgiveness of sin.
VI. The uncertainty of a later repentance. (T. Webster, B. D.)
I. The glance: “I saw.”
II. The greed: “I coveted.”
III. The guilt: “I took.” (Thomas Kelly.)
I. The fascination: “Babylonish garment.”
II. The feeling: “I coveted.”
III. The felony: “I took.”
IV. The fear: “I hid them.”
V. The fate: “Israel stoned him.” (Thomas Kelly.)
Achan and his sin
I. The tempting sight: “A goodly Babylonish garment,” &c.
II. The covetous heart: “I coveted them.”
III. The grasping hand: “Took them.”
IV. The crafty action: “Hid.”
V. The judicial search: “Joshua sent,” &c.
VI. The lawful seizure: “They took them.”
VII. The religious ceremony: “Laid them out before the Lord.”
VIII. The merited retribution: “Stoned him.”
IX. The admonitory memorial: “Raised over him a great heap of stones.”
X. The appeased avenger: “So the Lord turned,” &c. (J. Henry Burn, B. D.)
God, who looks deeply into the hidden springs of human conduct, is careful to lay a special emphasis upon the more subtle evil of covetousness. ‘It deserves attention that, along with murder, theft and lying, it has one entire commandment to itself. Drunkenness, violence, sensuality, luxurious living, corruption and bribery are doubtless making havoc with reputations, with human life and with immortal souls. But who shall say how often these open vices draw their inspiration or the means of gratification from “the love of money, which is,” in very deed, “a root of all evil”? Many of the more violent sins are like fire in dry stubble--they burn out rapidly. But avarice is like those fish which can best thrive in Arctic seas--it flourishes in the chilly blood of old age.
I. In turning our attention to the dealings of God with Israel concerning Achan’s transgression let us briefly review the facts.
II. These dealings of God with Achan’s family and with Israel because of one man’s sin bring before us in a startling shape that great mystery--fellowship in guilt and in suffering. Bishop Butler states a fact of daily experience when, in his irrefutable reply to objections against the mediation of Christ (“ Analogy” pt. 2 Chronicles 5:0.), he reminds us that nearly the whole of what we enjoy or suffer comes to us through our relation to other men. Every thinking man can see for himself that the conduct of parents shapes the destiny of their children. Drunkenness, sensuality and gluttony stamp themselves upon the offspring that is yet unborn. The more obvious operations of the law are visible to our feeble eyes. How much farther it extends is known only to God or as He reveals it to us. When the attempt is made to break the force of this analogy by saying, “It is all natural,” that same sagacious thinker reminds us that “natural” means are appointed by Him who is the Author of nature. So it appears that, explain the facts as we may, deny them if we dare, we cannot get rid of the principle so long as we hold to a belief in an almighty Creator.
III. From this discussion, notwithstanding our imperfect apprehension of its great theme, certain conclusions seem to follow which are of immense practical importance.
1. How vain to hope for escape from punishment so long as sin remains unrepented of!
2. A wise regard to our own happiness will make us deeply interested in the welfare of our neighbour. God holds us accountable in this regard to an extent that many seem not to dream of.
3. It especially becomes parents to consider the influence which, in the nature of things, they must exert over the destiny of their children. Not miserable Achan only, but far better men, as Noah, Lot, Eli, and David, are sad examples of this. “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, but He blesseth the habitation of the just.”
4. Among other duties it is incumbent upon such parents to consider well what place shall be made in their plans for “goodly” garments and for shekels of gold and silver. There may be, there often is, a place for such things, but it becomes us to consider the text upon which our Lord preached that wonderful sermon, the parable of the rich fool: “Take heed and beware of covetousness,” &c. (W. E. Boggs, D. D.)
Achan’s crime, confession, and punishment
In the progress of the evil, temptation entered by the eye, that chief inlet of corruption to the heart. He might be characterised by all that was evil: an evil eye, an evil heart, and an evil hand. Correct imitator of the first transgressor! David’s distress and dishonour originated in the same course; and so did the covetousness of Ahab, who could not see Naboth’s vineyard without conceiving the purpose of making it his own. Thus the eye, exquisitely nice in construction, beautiful in form, and precious in use, formed too for purposes of purity and pleasure, is pressed into the service of sin, and has opened to the heart, that deep and rising fountain of evil, that spring of moral corruption, endless forms of sin and allurement. In the advance of sin the temptation laid hold of his affections, those strong ties of inward life, and too frequent controllers of outward action. The first conceptions of evil, and its last impressions, are in the heart: the eye is but as a servant in its employ. When I saw, &c., then I coveted them. The only thing that remained was to make them his own, for which we may conceive many palliating considerations were admitted, matured by unbelief. Oh! to what cruelties and outrage have forbidden desires, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, impelled on many who, in love of power, wealth, and pleasure, have not only laid hands on what God has prohibited, but, with property, taken away the very lives of its owners! “I took them.” The hand, as the eye, now became the servant of the heart to perfect its evil wishes. Ah! little did he consider that the whole progress of this action was marked with a curse--the sight, the desire, and the act of sin, and that therein he had even appropriated a curse from which he would never be able to free himself. “And, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent.” What perplexities did these riches bring! a thousand embarrassments felt, before a place could be found for their deposit!--at last, his tent; not among the things seen, nor were they deemed safe in the privacy of his most concealed possessions, but, as though dead to his heart, and never again to see the light, he gave them burial beneath his tent! Neither friend, nor wife, nor children, could be entrusted with the secret. Oh! that any should transact what fear or shame induces them to conceal from the observation of others, and even sometimes what they could not endure their nearest friends should know! But what can all avail when men cannot hide themselves, or any of their actions, from the eye of infinite purity, which sees into every dark recess of infidelity and corruption. In this instance of confession one melancholy reflection arises--it was out of the order of mercy as to this life, and therefore unavailing. Instead of preceding detection, it was after conviction, and but the desperate necessity of his case, wanting the ingenuousness which ever characterises the sincere penitent as the hater of his own offence. Whatever his situation in the next world, it may be viewed as a faint picture of their ineffectual confessions and unavailing miseries who shall appear convicted and condemned at the bar of God. The awfulness of the sentence naturally throws our reflections upon the aggravations of the offence. “He that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath.” The reason assigned vindicates the severity of justice. “Because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel.” Achan acted against the mightiest displays of vengeance and love, the obligations of favours received, and the awful severities of justice executed upon idolaters. To all the wonders of providence and grace displayed through many years, the interposition of power so recently experienced in the destruction of Jericho, added new claims of obedience. The covenant relation in which he stood to God as one of His professing people, and the instructions of revelation with which he was favoured, gave an aggravation to his offence, beyond whatever could characterise the sin of idolaters. The ruinous consequences that followed. Many the evils which had resulted to others, but the most awful fell upon himself and family. To the loss of men, the distress of the camp, the triumphs of the enemy, and the dishonour cast upon the Divine name, ensued the execution of a sentence the most exemplary. How terrible this scene of judgment, more awful than the burning of Jericho. For how small a portion of ill-gotten gain, and how short a time, did he lose life, and all the good to be enjoyed in the land of Canaan. All Israel concurred in the execution of the sentence: it is so spoken of as though every man had cast a stone, and every one thrown fuel to the fire. How awful their case, and how aggravated their crimes, when even those they have lived among are employed by God, as the executioners of His justice. (W. Seaton.)
The Babylonish garment
I. We find, in the case of Achan, that the wandering and wanton eye was the first avenue of mischief. Yet this is the very function to which the great Teacher appeals as the first guardian against sin: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” There is an eye in the heart as well as in the head, and Christ, knowing how easily the one is decoyed, enjoins wakefulness upon the other. Keep both open, and let the eye of the conscience supervise and test all that the eye of sense may contemplate. I once went into a garden where a lady and her little child were engaged in putting in some spring roots and seeds. By some mischance, the little plants had got mixed up with some which were only worthless weeds. The child, anxious to be busy, was thrusting all alike indiscriminately into the soil, till the mother checked the little eager hand, and said, “Bring them to me, and let me see them before you put them in, that I may tell you which to plant and which to throw away.” And there was an added pleasure in this work of testing and submitting which made the child not only more useful but more happy. And thus, when the child-eye of the sense beholds something which seems goodly and fair, let it be brought to the inspection of the mother-eye of the conscience before it is taken and sown and assimilated into the soil of character. “I saw.” The spirit of these times, and of modern habits, addresses itself to this avenue of the heart. The eye of the voluptuary is opened to let in the comely procession which turns the world into a huge Babylonish seraglio. His life is a closing dalliance among houri, till the fever of ignited lust attains its climax of delirium, and then, having conceived its progeny of illusions, brings forth its only permanent offspring--death (James 1:15). The eye of the man of luxury is opened to turn the world into one vast Babylonish kitchen, and the great problem of living is, “What shall I eat? What shall I drink?” We know the guerdon and the result of all such entrail-worship. The meat turns to worms within the pampered lips, and the consequential sequence is--“whose god is their belly, whose end is destruction.” The eye of the slave of commerce looks at the world as one great Babylonish mart. There is the wedge of gold, appearing and re-appearing in a thousand shapes. Now it is a lump of solid bullion, now it is melted, minted, stamped into coin; now it is bartered for scrip, now cropping up in consols, now in coupons, now in debentures (a coffin and a grave being the simple end of all the race and turmoil); but through all the changes the wedge is at its wedge-like work, splitting asunder, as it is driven home into the fibres of the life-character, all that gives life its buoyancy, or character its weight, until the whole fabric of the manhood is shivered and destroyed, and the mart becomes a mausoleum, as sin, perfected, brings forth death. And the eye of the proud or the votary of fashion turns the world into a vast Babylonish shop. Life is one interminable Regent Street. There is the goodly Babylonish garment folding and unfolding, and as it rustles while the smiling courtiers hold it up, first in this light, then in that, it seems to whisper a silken accompaniment to the anxious duet of prudery and foppery which the dolls of fashion are for ever singing,” Wherewithal shall I be clothed?” Lust! Luxury! Commerce! Fashion! They all come like besiegers to this gateway of the eye, and try to storm it. It is the first and the last of these, perhaps, which most hotly assail young men--lust and fashion, both kindred evils, both sore enemies of the soul. The lust of the eye and the pride of life. Beware of them!
II. Seeing is wanting. There is a covetousness of the sense which looks and craves; there is a covetousness of the soul which looks and learns. The first is the lust which consumes itself to death; the second is the patience which watches unto life eternal. Be yours the wiser choice. Don’t shut your eyes upon the beauty of the garment or the richness of the gold, but look, that you may adorn the spirit with the beauty, and enrich the soul upon the wealth.
III. Fatal graduation--the eye, the appetite, the act. The glance, the greed, the gathering. The look, the lust, the larceny. I see a man before me in this place who has looked upon the office and position of another, and who has longed for it, and has begun to take it, by falsehood and innuendo against his character. I see another who has grudged a neighbour his good fortune, and has tried to steal his wedge of gold by driving in the wedge of scandal and detraction to destroy his credit.
IV. The same path must ever lead to the same end. The lust is soon satiated, and then begins to crave and rage again. The Delilahs who charmed can charm no more; all they can do is to point the white and taper fingers with which they beckoned in derision at your shame, and part the coral lips that smiled you into sin to hiss the taunt, “The Philistines be upon thee.” The tresses that you played with are stiffened to Cassandra’s snakes, to sting you into fiercer pain. The luxury is soon gone. The Babylonish kitchen is soon empty, and all that is left is but the reek of the past banquet, which sickens and repels. The gold is soon spent, and only emptiness remains. The Babylonish garment is soon threadbare and worn out, and shabbiness, nakedness, and chill are all that linger now. The path along which you look with wanton eye leads to lust, and the lust to sin, and at the end of all is nothing but a grave. The last garment is the shroud--the last shekel is the funeral fee--the last beckoner is death. (Arthur Mursell.)
The man in the text, in one view, it should seem at first sight, was an object of pity; for gold and silver and fine clothes, to be had for carriage, formed a great temptation. Hence arises a question, why doth providence put in our way such agreeable objects, and yet forbid us to touch them? Let us give glory to God by acknowledging that by such means we are exercised, first as creatures to discover the natural grandeur of our own passions, the incompetence of the world to make us happy, and if reason be not asleep the all-sufficiency of God. Next, these exercises try us as servants, and by the emotions of depraved passions we become acquainted with the natural rebellion of an evil heart, that disputes dominion with God. By an habitual deadness to these, because God commands it, we discover the true religion of a renewed mind, and enter on the enjoyment of conscious rectitude, a preference of virtue, the felicity of heaven. Why, then, do we blame Achan? Because he was not a boy, for none but men above twenty bore arms, and he was old enough to know that he ought not to have disobeyed his general, or his God. Because he was a Jew, and of the tribe of Judah, and had been brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Because he must have heard what mischief, the golden calf, the iniquity of Peer, and the murmuring at Kadesh had brought upon his countrymen. Because he knew God had expressly forbidden plunder. Had he exercised his understanding, some or all these reasons would have cooled his passion for perquisites. In like manner we say of ourselves. We have temptations and passions; but we have reason, too, to resist them. We have passions; but we have had a Christian education, and have been apprised of the danger of gratifying them. We have passions; but we have eyes and ears, and live among people who daily die for gratifying the same passions which we feel. We covet; but God says, “Thou shalt not covet any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” To covet is to desire beyond due bounds. God hath set these due bounds. He hath bounded passion by reason, and reason by religion and the nature of things.
1. Covetousness is unjust. Let the prince enjoy the privilege of his birth; let the man who hath hazarded his life for wealth possess it in peace; let the industrious enjoy the fruit of his labour; to transfer their property to myself without his consent, and without putting something as good in the place, would be an act of injustice. Only to covet is to wish to be unjust.
2. Covetousness is cruel. A man of this disposition is obliged to harden his heart against a thousand plaintive voices, voices of poor, fatherless, sick, aged, and bereaved people in distress; voices that set many an eye a-trickling, but which make no impression on a covetous man.
3. Covetousness is ungrateful. Shall the whole world labour for this old miser, one to feed him, another to guard him, and all to make him happy, and shall he resemble the barren earth that returns nothing to him that dresseth it? This is a black ingratitude.
4. Covetousness is a foolish vice; it destroys a man’s reputation, makes everybody suspect him for a thief, and watch him; it breaks his rest, fills him with care and anxiety, excites the avarice of a robber, and the indignation of a housebreaker; it endangers his life, and, depart how he will, he dies unblest and unpitied.
5. Covetousness is unprecedented in all our examples of virtue. It is Judas, who hanged himself, and not such as Peter, whom covetous men imitate.
6. Covetousness is idolatry. It is the idolatry of the heart, where, as in a temple, a miserable wretch excludes God, sets up gold instead of Him, and places that confidence in it which belongs to the great Supreme alone. Achan, and all such as he, cause a great deal of trouble, and to pass everything else let us only observe what covetous men do with their wealth. “Behold, it is hid in the earth in the midst of my tent.” Observe a miser with his bag. With what an arch and jealous leer the wily fox creeps stealthily about to earth his prey!
He hath not a friend in the world, and judging of others by himself, he thinks there is not an honest man upon earth, no, not one that can be trusted.
1. Remark his caution. He turns his back on his idol, trudges far away, looks lean, and hangs all about his own skeleton ensigns of poverty, never avoiding people in real distress, but always comforting himself with the hope that nobody knows of his treasure, and that therefore nobody expects any assistance from him.
2. Take notice of the just contempt in which mankind hold this hoary mass of meanness. He thinks his wealth is hid; but it is not hid, his own anxious side-looks betray the secret. People reckon for him, talk over all his profits, omit his expenses and losses, declare his wealth to be double what it is, and judge of his duty according to their own notions of his fortune. One lays out his good work for him, another rates him at so much towards such a charity, and all execrate him for not doing what is not in his power.
3. Mark his hypocrisy. He weeps over the profligacy of the poor, and says it is a sad thing that they are brought up without being educated in the fear of God. He laments every time the bell tolls the miserable condition of widows and orphans. He celebrates the praise of learning, and wishes public speakers had all the powers of a learned criticism, and all the graces of elocution. He prays for the downpouring of the Spirit, and the outgoings of God in His sanctuary, and then, how his soul would be refreshed! What a comfortable Christian would he be then! Tell him that the gratitude of widows, the hymns of orphans, and the blessings of numbers ready to perish, are the presence of God in His Church. Tell him all these wait to pour themselves like a tide into his congregation, and wait only for a little of his money to pay for cutting a canal. See how thunderstruck he is! His solemn face becomes lank and black; he suspects he has been too liberal already, his generosity has been often abused. Why should he be taxed and others spared? The Lord will save His own elect; God is never at a loss for means, no exertions will do without the Divine presence and blessing; and besides, his property is all locked up, “Behold, it is hid in the earth in the midst of my tent!” Let us respect truth even in the mouth of a miser. This ignoble soul tells you that he would not give a wedge of gold to save you all from eternal ruin; but he says God is not like him, God loves you, and will save you freely. This is strictly and literally true. There have been thousands of poor people besides you who have been instructed and animated, converted and saved, without having paid one penny for the whole; but this, instead of freezing, should melt the hearts of all who are able, and set them a-running into acts of generosity. I conclude with the words of Ambrose. “Joshua,” said he, “could stop the course of the sun; but all his power could not stop the course of avarice. The sun stood still, but avarice went on. Joshua obtained a victory when the sun stood still; but when avarice was at work, Joshua was defeated.” (R Robinson.)
“I coveted.” What multitudes of sinners of that class are to be found--revenge, theft, adultery, murder, carried on in the feelings. This is the secret of the sudden falls and failures in society. Achan must have had a weakness for at least looking at questionable and unlawful things before this trouble. Woe to the man who cannot confront a bad impulse with the solid masonry of a good character! Unless we thus fence ourselves off from evil, our downfall will be only a matter of time. Only character, evolved from the principles of truth and righteousness, can withstand the seductive influences of the world and the attacks of the powers of darkness. The influence of home and friends is all that keeps many people straight and respectable. Like coopers’ casks, they are held upright and in shape by the hoops of external influences that surround them. Woe to the man whose restraints are all on the outside! The internal, more than the external, should suggest our conduct, and shape our activities. It is the Japanese, I think, who say that a snake is quite orderly and straight so long as you keep it in a bamboo stick, but the moment it gets out it begins to wriggle and act snaky. So there are many who are quite decorous and respectable while in the bamboo of home influences who show the old serpent and act snaky enough when such restraints are taken away. (T. Kelly.)
Jericho was one of the largest and richest cities in all ancient Canaan. At one time, indeed, and but for the terrible ban pronounced by Joshua, Jericho might have taken the place of Jerusalem itself as the chief city of ancient Israel. Jericho was an excellently situated and a strongly fenced city. There were great foundries of iron and brass in Jericho, with workshops also in silver and in gold. The looms of Babylonia were already famous over all the eastern world, and their rich and beautiful textures went far and near, and were warmly welcomed wherever the commercial caravans of that day carried them. “A goodly Babylonish garment” plays a prominent part in the tragical history that now opens before us. The rich and licentious city of Jericho was doomed of God to swift overthrow and absolute extermination, but no part of the spoil, neither thread nor shoe-lachet, was to be so much as touched by Joshua or any of his armed men. Nothing demoralises an army like sacking a fallen city. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life.” And Joshua and all his men received a crown of life that night--all his men but one. Who is that stealing about among the smoking ruins? Is that some soldier of Jericho who has saved himself from the devouring sword?
1. Everybody who reads the best books will have long had by heart Thomas a Kempis’s famous description of the successive steps of a successful temptation. There is first the bare thought of the sin. Then, upon that, there is a picture of the sin formed and hung up on the secret screen of the imagination. A strange sweetness from that picture is then let down drop by drop into the heart; and then that secret sweetness soon secures the consent of the whole soul, and the thing is done. That is true, and it is powerful enough. But Achan’s confession to Joshua is much simpler, and still closer to the truth: “I saw the goodly Babylonish garment, I coveted it, I took it, and I hid it in my tent.” Had Joshua happened to post the ensign of Judah opposite the poor part of the city this sad story would never have been told. But even as it was, had Achan only happened to stand a little to the one side, or a little to the other side of where he did stand, in that case he would not have seen that beautiful piece, and not seeing it he would not have coveted it, and would have gone home to his tent that night a good soldier and an honest man. But when once Achan’s eyes lighted on that rich garment he never could get his eyes off it again. As a Kempis says, the seductive thing got into Achan’s imagination, and the devil’s work was done. Achan was in a fever now lest he should lose that goodly garment. He was terrified lest any of his companions should have seen that glittering piece. He was sure some of them had seen it, and was making off with it. He stood in between it and the searchers. He turned their attention to something else. And then when their backs were about he rolled it up in a hurry, and the gold and the silver inside of it, and thrust it down into a hiding-place. His eyes were Achan’s fatal snare. It was his eyes that stoned Achan and burned him and his household to dust in the valley of Achor. Had God seen it to be good to make men and women in some way without eyes the Fall itself would have been escaped. In his despair to get the devil out of his heart Job swore a solemn oath and made a holy covenant with his eyes. But our Saviour, as He always does, goes far deeper than Job. He knows quite well that no oath that Job ever swore, and no covenant that Job ever sealed, will hold any man’s eyes in; and therefore He demands of all His disciples that their eyes shall be plucked out. He pulls down His own best handiwork at its finest part so that He may get the devil’s handiwork destroyed and rooted out of it; and then He will let us have all our eyes back again when and where we are fit to be trusted with eyes. Miss Rossetti is writing to young ladies, but what she says to them it will do us all good to hear. “True,” says that fine writer, “all our lives long we shall be bound to refrain our soul, and to keep it low; but what then? For the books we now forbear to read, we shall one day be endued with wisdom and knowledge. For the music we will not listen to, we shall join in the song of the redeemed. For the pictures from which we turn, we shall gaze unabashed on the Beatific Vision. For the companionships we shun, we shall be welcomed into angelic society and the communion of triumphant saints. For all the amusements we avoid, we shall keep the supreme jubilee.” Yes, it is as certain as God’s truth and righteousness are certain, that the crucified man who goes about with his eyes out; the man who steals along the street seeing neither smile nor frown; he who keeps his eyes down wherever men and women congregate, in the Church, in the market-place, at a station, on a ship’s deck, at an inn table, where you will; that man escapes multitudes of temptations that more open and more full-eyed men and women continually fall before. You huff and toss your head at that. But these things are not spoken for you yet, but for those who have sold and cut off both eye and ear, and hand and foot, and life itself, if all that will only carry them one single step nearer their salvation.
2. Look at the camp of Israel that awful morning! It is the day of judgment, and the great white throne is set in the valley of Achor before its proper time. Look how the hearts of those fathers and mothers who have sons in the army beat till they cannot hear the last trump. Did you ever spend a night like that night in Achan’s tent? A friend of mine once slept in a room in a hotel in Glasgow through the wall from a man who made him think sometimes that a madman had got into the house. Sometimes he thought it must be a suicide, and sometimes a damned soul come back for a visit to the city of its sins. But he understood the mysterious noises of the night next morning when the officers came in and beckoned to a gentleman who sat at the breakfast-table, and drove him off to a penal settlement, where he died. Groanings that cannot be imitated to you were heard by all Achan’s neighbours all that night. Till one bold man rose and lifted a loop of Achan’s tent in the darkness, and saw Achan still burying deeper and deeper his sin. O sons and daughters of discovered Achan! O guilty and dissembling sinners! It is all in vain. It is all utterly and absolutely in vain. Be sure as God is in heaven, and as He has His eyes upon you, that your sin wilt find you out. You think that the darkness will cover you. Wait till you see!
3. The eagle that stole a piece of sacred flesh from the altar brought home a smouldering coal with it that kindled up afterwards and burned up both her whole nest and all her young ones. And so did Achan. It was very sore upon Achan’s sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had. But things are as they are. God gathers the solitary into families for good, and the good family tie still continues to hold even when all the members of the family have done evil. Once a father, always a father: the relationship stands. Once a son, always a son, even when a prodigal son. Every son has his father’s grey hairs and his mother’s anxious heart in his hands, and no possible power can alter that. Drop that stolen flesh! A coal is in it that shall never be quenched.
4. Make a clean breast of it, then. Go home to your tent to-night, go home to your lodgings, take up the accursed thing out of its hiding-place, and lay it out before Joshua, if not before all Israel. Lay it out and say, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done.” And if you do not know what more to say, if you are speechless beside that accursed thing, try this; say this. Ask and say, “Is Thy name indeed Jesus? Dost Thou indeed save found-out men from their sins? Art Thou still set forth to be a propitiation? Art Thou truly able to save to the uttermost? For I am the chief of sinners,” say. Lie down on the floor of your room--you need not think it too much for you to do that, or that it is an act unworthy of your manhood to do it: the Son of God did it for you on the floor of Gethsemane. Yes, lie down on the floor of your sinful room, and lay your tongue in the dust of it, and say this about yourself: say that you, naming yourself, are the offscouring of all men. For “thus and thus,” naming it, “have I done.” And then say this
“The dying thief rejoiced to see
That Fountain in his day”--
and see what the true Joshua will stand over you and say to you.
5. Therefore the name of that place is called the valley of Achor to this day. Achor; that is, as interpreted on the margin, “Trouble”--the valley of trouble. “Why hast thou troubled us?” demanded Joshua of Achan. “The Lord shall trouble thee this day.” The Lord troubled Achan in judgment that day, but He is troubling you in mercy in your day. Yes; already your trouble is a door of hope. You will sing yet as you never sang in the days of your youth. You never sang songs like these in the days of your youth, or before your trouble came--songs like these: The Lord will be a refuge for the overwhelmed: a refuge in the time of trouble. Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us?
the Lord shall trouble thee this day.
The troubles of sin
I. That sin is a very troublesome thing.
1. The load of guilt by which it oppresses us.
2. The shifts, subterfuges, and tricks resorted to for the purpose of concealing our sins, or transferring the blame to others, are convincing proofs that sin troubles us.
3. Sin troubles us by its corrupt and restless influence on the tempers and dispositions.
4. But it is chiefly into futurity that we are to look for the troubles of sin (Proverbs 11:21; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23).
II. However artfully concealed, sin must be exposed.
1. The most secret sins are often revealed in this world.
2. Those sins that escape detection here, will be manifested in the last day (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
III. When the sinner is exposed, he is left without any reasonable excuse. Joshua said, “Why hast thou troubled us?” What could he say? Could he plead ignorance of the law? No; it was published in the camp of Israel. The weakness of human nature? No; he had strength to do his duty. The prevalence of temptation? No; others had similar temptations, and yet conquered. And what shall we have to say when God shall summon us to His bar?
IV. That punishment treads upon the heels of sin. “The Lord shall trouble thee this day.”
1. God has power to trouble sinners. The whole creation is a “capacious reservoir of means,” which He can employ at His pleasure.
2. God will trouble sinners. He will either bring them to repentance, when they shall “look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn,” or He will vex them in His wrath, and dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel.
1. What a powerful preventive this should be to deter us from committing sin.
2. See the madness of sinners, who, for the sake of a few sordid despicable pleasures, which always leave a sting behind, will desperately plunge themselves into an abyss of troubles which know no bound nor termination.
3. Since sin is so troublesome, let us all seek a deliverance from its dominion and influence.
4. Learn what ideas you should entertain of those who seek to entice you to sin. They are agents of the devil, and you should shun them as you would shun perdition. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire.
The punishment of Achan himself offers no difficulty. He knew the decree, and chose to stake his life against a few valuable articles which excited his rapacity. The maintenance of discipline in an army is at all times of first importance. In the Peninsula War two men were shot for stealing apples, pilfering having been proclaimed a capital crime. The Duke of Wellington was a humane man, but he knew the need of obedience to law and the value of a striking example. The Israelites were a nation and army in one. Regard for the general welfare, above all private aggrandisement, had to be encouraged. The sense of a common interest would soon be undermined, if a pilfering spirit set in and a greedy selfishness received any countenance. Moreover, at all costs, reverence for their Deity had to be upheld. His majesty must be vindicated. Disastrous results could only follow upon a diminution of the religious sentiment among the people. But the association of Achan’s family in his terrible penalty, as a calm judicial proceeding, sends a thrill of horror through our hearts. But then, we are “the heirs of all the ages, in the foremost files of time.” We enjoy the inheritance of millenniums of Divine education. We could not expect Joshua to act in advance of the spirit of his time. The ancient world was deficient in its conception of what a man was. It was long before it came to regard him as an individual, a being complete in himself. So long as one man continued to be considered as part of another, or in any sense the property of another, so long fathers might pledge the lives of their children, and whole families expiate the crimes of a single member without shocking the public sense of justice, But is it not said that the destruction of Achan’s family was by the express command of Jehovah? Is not this the explanation? The command, shaping itself within the mind of Joshua in the form of an overmastering conviction, would be that justice should be executed. Joshua could only understand justice in the sense in which his contemporaries understood it. His moral sense would give the character and colour to the justice to be dealt out. His inmost conviction, which was, in truth, the inspired message of his God, forced upon him the necessity for a signal vindication of the majesty of loyalty and uprightness, and he acted up to the light which he possessed. (T. W. M. Lund, M. A.)
The troubling of Achan
Two questions present themselves. Why should all Israel have been put to shame and defeat for the sin of one man? And why should God have required the whole congregation in this dramatic way to take part in the execution of the offender? To our minds at first thought it would seem likely to brutalise the hearts of the people, that all should be required to take part in that bloody vengeance. For the sake of example, God might wish the whole congregation to be present at the taking of the lot. He could have pointed out the criminal to Joshua in some simple and direct way, but He chose to give all Israel a most salutary warning. That the unerring finger of Jehovah should thus single out the guilty man was a striking object-lesson concerning the truth that no sin is so secret as to be hidden from the all-searching God. But this does not explain why all the people should have been made to suffer shame and defeat because of Achan’s sin, for the great investigation might have been made just as thoroughly before the defeat at Ai. We might say, perhaps, that Israel needed the lesson of this defeat to teach them their dependence upon God for the smallest as well as the greatest victory. We fancy we can detect a little vein of boastfulness in the words of the scouts (verse 3). And if we ask concerning the thirty and six men who perished while Israel was receiving this lesson in humility, we may reply that such matters must be left, and can without disquietude be left in the hands of God. We cannot know about individual lives. God certainly in all cases deals wisely and mercifully. Yet we have not progressed very far in our solution of this difficulty, that God permitted all Israel to suffer for the sin of one man. And it is a difficulty worth trying to solve, because it is of the same sort as that which meets us every day of our lives, and makes heedless men question the justice and fairness of Almighty God. Who is there that has not suffered hurt, or trouble, or unhappiness, from the misdoings of his neighbours? The embezzler gets the money of hundreds of poor and unsuspecting people invested in his dazzling schemes, and then goes off with his booty, leaving desolation and misery behind. How many people suffer from the malignity or hatred of their fellows, because they have innocently offended them. Aye, how many suffer, often most cruelly, from the heedlessness and thoughtlessness of others, who never meant to do harm, but talked foolishly and excessively about things they did not understand. We think of the mischief we have endured at the hands of others, knowing that we deserved nothing of it; and we say, “Why does God allow the innocent thus to suffer for other men’s sins?” Perhaps, indeed, it is to remind us that we are not so guiltless as we fancy. We dwell upon the harm done us by others, and we seldom think of the many ways in which we do others harm, it may be quite thoughtlessly, but still very mischievously. Our hasty and ill-considered words, our unlovely examples, how much mischief these may do our fellow-men, while we are quite oblivious of it. A young man is dishonest, and makes off with large sums of his employer’s money; we condemn him heartily, and yet it may be in the sight of God that the very atmosphere in which he was brought up in our midst was so filled with the praise of wealth and the excellence of shrewdness and business ability, the power of capital, and the good things which money can bring into one’s life, that our words and views have been the teachers which fostered in the transgressor’s heart the very sin we now so unsparingly condemn. May it not be that the very wrongs we so often have to suffer undeserved]y at the hands of others are the merciful agencies of God, to let us endure a little of the penalty our own careless words and evil examples deserve, which constantly, all unsuspected by ourselves, are doing mischief to our neighbours? We have no right, then, even to complain of injustice in the fact that we have to suffer for other men’s sins, unless we can be sure that our sins do not cause as great injury to the souls, if not to the bodies, of many of our fellow-men. There is a deeper sense yet in which we may take this lesson of all Israel suffering for Achan’s transgression. God thus taught His people the solidarity of their national life as His people. In other words, that men have responsibility for their neighbours. No one in Israel might say, “This is none of my affair,” for God showed them that the sin of one man affected the whole community; therefore the whole community had a certain responsibility towards individual transgression. Civilised nations all admit this responsibility of humanity, at least to a certain degree. Men hear of flood or famine or pestilence in some far-off part of the world, devastating populous districts in India, or China, or some distant island of the Pacific. Immediately the sentiment of humanity opens their purses, and relief goes forth generously to the sufferers. Why should we concern ourselves to help those savages, who would as likely as not murder us if we went among them as travellers? Because they are men; they share in our common humanity, and we may not forget our brotherhood of race. Why should European nations send war-ships to the Red Sea and the East African coast to stop the Arabian slave trade? What right have they to interfere? You reply that the slave-trade is brutal and inhuman, and the sentiment of humanity compels those who have the power to interfere, to save the poor blacks from their fiendish persecutors. Carry the same thought a little further, and you get the higher Christian conception of man’s duty to all his fellow-men. What is the greatest evil in the world? You reply sin, because sin is the root of all other evils. Well, then, we Christians owe it to humanity to do all that lies in our power to take sin away from the world. That is the great principle of Christian missions. No matter if the missions do not seem to be very successful, we shall not have missed this lesson of the sufferings we have to endure for other men’s sins if we have bravely done what was in our power to make known to our fellow-men the efficacy of the precious blood of Christ. Our other question was, Why did God require the whole congregation to take part in the stoning of Achan? There are evils of ignorance, there are also evils of wanton defiance of the known law of right. So long as men sin in ignorance and superstition we may be moved only by compassion to help them. The missionary spirit must always be that of Christlike pity for them that are ignorant and out of the way. England sends her heroic missionaries into the heart of Africa and of China while at the same time she patrols the Red Sea with warships to stop at the cannon’s mouth the slave trade, and sends an army up the Irrawaddy to conquer the monster King Theebaw of Burmah, and so to put a stop to his terrible cruelties. Is there inconsistency in this? No. It was quite as much the duty of Israel to stone Achan as it was to teach their children with loving assiduity the enormity of disobeying Jehovah. We owe it to God to do what lies in our power to put down flagrant iniquity. We are much too careless about this in our Christian lives. We may not punish individuals, for God commits that authority to the State; but we are bound to confront and denounce all iniquitous principle, to stand up and fight against God-defying sin. No matter if we do not succeed in slaying Achan. No matter if men tell us to mind our own business, and not to interfere with them. It is a great thing to have thrown a stone for the Lord, even if it has seemed in no wise to hurt the enemy. (Arthur Ritchie.)
They raised over him a great heap of stones.--
Again we stand beside a heap of stones. Again it will be profitable to put and to answer the question, “What mean ye by these stones?” This is the third occasion on which such a question might arise. The first heap of stones was raised on the brink of Jordan; the second lay some miles distant; the third is still further in the land. The first heap was a token of Jehovah’s might; for taken from the river-bed by twelve stalwart warriors, they told to all succeeding generations that by a strong hand and a stretched-out arm Israel was brought into Canaan. The second heap, stretched far and wide, the ruins of a famous city, was the token of Jehovah’s judgment. This third heap in the valley of Achor, the cairn erected over the dead body of Achan, was the token of Jehovah’s discipline. The twelve stones speak of Jehovah’s relation to the sin of those who trust Him and accept His leadership. He buries all their iniquities, He brings them into His promised inheritance, and gives them a permanent place therein. The ruined city speaks of Jehovah’s relation to the sin of these who stubbornly resist Him. He smites them with a rod of iron. This rugged pile speaks of Jehovah’s relation to the sin of those who profess to obey Him, but who in their deeds deny Him. If He judges the world, much more must He judge His own house. The twelve stones on Jordan’s bank were a monument of Israel’s hope. He who had led them over, and brought them in, would assuredly bless them with all earthly blessings in His fair heritage. The ruins of Jericho were a monument of Israel’s faith. For nothing but faith could have been so patient, so docile, so mighty, so victorious “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.” The heap in the valley of Achor was a monument of Israel’s love. They heaped up this cairn of condemnation to show their detestation of the crime of which Achan was guilty. Thus this act revealed their love to God in the strongest light. By this third heap we stand, and as we do so, let us ponder the discovery of Achan’s crime, its confession, and its punishment. Joshua gave himself no rest till he got to the root of this matter. Though appalled by such severe tokens of the Divine displeasure, he did not murmur against God, but persistently made inquiry of God. He did not complain of God, he complained to God; and his faithful persistency was rewarded (verses 10-12). “Get thee up. My mind has not changed. My arm is not shortened. My word is not broken. Get thee up, for the discovery and punishment of this sin.” The discovery of Achan’s sin was, therefore, the result of Divine directions. It was God who set everything in motion for the detection of the hidden criminal. The discovery was undertaken most solemnly, as a deeply spiritual and religious act (verse 13). Three times in the course of their history had the children of Israel been thus called solemnly to sanctify themselves. On the first occasion, it was at the foot of Sinai, in prospect of the giving of the law. On the second occasion it was at Jordan, in prospect of entering into the land. On the third occasion, it was here, in prospect of the discovery and punishment of the transgressor. To receive God’s will, to enter into God’s inheritance, to purge away transgression, such things demand the most thorough consecration. It is plain from the Divine record that Israel went about this solemn work in the right way. There was no burst of ungovernable excitement and blind popular fury. With judicial calmness and religious reverence, the terrible drama was begun, continued, and ended. It was also prosecuted deliberately. There was no unseemly haste or confusion. A proclamation was made in the evening previous as to the manner of procedure on the following day; and then the carrying out of the process of casting lots must have been slow and deliberate. What a night must that have been for Joshua l How thankfully must he have laid himself to rest in the blessed consciousness that as surely as the darkness of night would fly before the dawning day, so all his difficulties would vanish, and all the disgrace of Israel would be blotted out. And what a night must that have been for Achan! He would feel as did another whose mental torture a great poet has described--
“Macbeth hath murdered sleep, the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care,
Balm of hurt minds.”
Oh! what a long, black, miserable night was that. The voice cried, “Sleep no more,” and on the morrow, as with bloodshot eyes he took his place in the ranks of his tribe, what must have been his terror! And then to mark the circle of condetonation closing upon him, growing less and less at each casting of the lot, he rooted meanwhile to the dark spot, its centre, till at last, pointed out by the finger of God, he stood alone, the incarnation of disaster and disgrace, the hateful object for every eye in Israel, the awful focus of their fiery indignation, burning into his soul one thought, one agony, “We have found thee, O our enemy.” The method of discovery was most impressive for the people, revealing so marvellously the finger of God. Whatever the precise process of the lot may have been, and that is hard to discover, there was no difficulty, hesitation, timidity, uncertainty, or partiality in its carrying out. The method of discovering the crime was also the most merciful that could have been adopted for the offender. It gave him time to think; a blessed space for repentance; an opportunity, if there was any spark of spiritual life within, to cast off the incubus of iniquity. Every step would serve to convince him how utterly foolish it was to promise himself secrecy in sin, and how certainly at the last God would discriminate between the innocent and the guilty, however for a little while they were involved in the same condemnation. Thus Achan stands exposed in the sight of all Israel. Joshua, filled with unutterable compassion for the trembling sinner, though absolutely certain of his guilt, has no harsh word to utter, but only seeks to win him to a right frame of mind. Nothing could be more touching than this venerable leader’s words. He deals with him as a grey-haired father with a wayward son, urging him to the only course that in the circumstances could yield one spark of consolation (verse 19). Achan breaks down under this unexpected kindness. He had looked for nothing but harsh reproof and unmitigated severity; therefore in broken accents he replies, “Indeed I have sinned,” &c. This confession is worthy of notice, and has some features which relieve the darkness of the scene. To begin with, it was voluntary. There was here no extortion of a confession from unwilling lips. Joshua spoke in love, calling him “my son.” It is evident that he has no personal ill-will, no hard spirit of revenge. He appealed to the glory of God. Thus Joshua brought forth this free confession of Achan’s guilt. His confession was as full as it was free. The miserable man kept nothing back. He made a clean breast of it. His full confession shows that penitents cannot be too particular. His confession was also personal. He felt that it was first of all, and above all, a matter between himself and God, and therefore, though others, in all likelihood, were sharers in his guilt (for he could not well have hid these things in his tent without the cognisance of his family), still he made no mention of them, he condemned none but himself, for he felt himself the greatest sinner. Also Achan’s confession was sincere. He did not attempt in the faintest degree to excuse himself. He pleaded no palliation of his offence. Surely, therefore, in this confession we have a gleam of light thrown across the gloom of this narrative. Just as in a picture of this dark valley and its black pile of stones, we have seen one white bird hovering amid the gloom, so this confession is the white bird of hope hovering over Achan’s grave, and relieving somewhat the blackness of its darkness, His punishment trod swiftly on the heels of his confession. This punishment was at once a solemn expression of the evil of sin, a vindication of God’s truth and justice, a prelude to future victory, and a monument to all succeeding ages, declaring, “be sure your sin will find you out.” We are also told that all Achan’s substance was destroyed, that which he possessed, as well as that which he stole. What a poor prize had Achan then in the things he so much admired. No good ever comes of ill-gotten gains. In regard to this punishment of Achan, the fate of his family deserves to be noticed. What happened to them? Two explanations have been offered. The first is that they shared Achan’s sin and therefore shared his punishment. Another explanation is that Achan’s family were spared. This rests on the fact that there is a change from the plural in verse 24 to the singular in verse 25. Joshua took Achan and all his possessions and all his family to the scene of execution, but the punishment fell only on Achan, for Joshua said (verse 25): “Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord will trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them (his cattle and goods) with fire after they had stoned them with stones.” Whichever is the true explanation we may rest assured that the demands of justice were not ignored. Thus we leave Achan, and surely as we stand by this heap of stones and consider his sad end, these words come to mind--“the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Looking again at this event, we are struck with the parallelism between the early history of Israel as recorded in the Book of Joshua and the early history of the Church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The taking of Jericho corresponds in its mighty triumph to the Day of Pentecost and the casting down of the walls of rebellion and prejudice through the proclamation of the gospel. Then the sin of Achan is strikingly paralleled by that of Ananias and Sapphira. The cause of transgression was the same in both, and the punishments present a striking resemblance. It was a salutary lesson taught both to Israel and to the Church. It showed that the God who dwelt among men was a consuming fire, that His judgment must follow shortly and surely on the heels of sin, and that holiness is the only source and secret of success in the work of the Lord. (A. B. Mackay.)
The valley of Achor.--
The valley of Achor
I. We should grieve more for sin than for its results. As soon as we have committed sin, we look furtively round to see whether we have been watched, and then we take measures to tie up the consequences which would naturally accrue. Failing this, we are deeply humiliated. We dread the consequences of sin more than sin; discovery more than misdoing; what others may say and do more than the look of pain and sorrow on the face that looks out on us from the encircling throng of glorified spirits. But with God it is not so. It is our sin, one of the most grievous features in which is our failure to recognise its intrinsic evil, that presses Him down, as a cart groans beneath its load. The true way to a proper realisation of sin is to cultivate the friendship of the holy God. The more we know Him, the more utterly we shall enter into His thought about the subtle evil of our heart. We shall find sin lurking where we least anticipated, in our motives, in our religious acts, in our hasty judgment of others, in our want of tender, sensitive, pitying love, in our censorious condemnation of those who may be restrained by the action of a more sensitive conscience than our own from claiming all that we claim to possess. We shall learn that every look, tone, gesture, word, thought, which is not consistent with perfect love indicates that the virus of sin has not yet been expelled from our nature, and we shall come to mourn not so much for the result of sin as for the sin itself.
II. We should submit ourselves to the judgment of God. “And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” It was as if He said, “Thou grievest for the effect, grieve rather for the cause. I am well able to preserve My people from the assaults of their foes, though all Canaan beset them, and I am equally able to maintain the honour of My name. These are not the main matters for concern, but that a worm is already gnawing at the root of the gourd, and a plague is already eating out the vitals of the people whom I have redeemed. With My right arm I will screen you from attack, whilst you give yourselves to the investigation and destruction of the accursed thing.” Whenever there is perpetual failure in our life, we may be sure that there is some secret evil lurking in heart and life, just as diphtheria breaking out repeatedly in a household is an almost certain indication that there is an escape of sewer gas from the drains.
1. In searching out the causes of failure we must be willing to know the worst, and this is almost the hardest condition. Ostrich-like, we all hide our heads in the sand from unwelcome tidings. It is the voice of an iron resolution, or of mature Christian experience, that can say without faltering, “Let me know the worst.” But as we bare ourselves to the good Physician let us remember that He is our husband, that His eyes film with love and pity, that He desires to indicate the source of our sorrow only to remove it, so that for Him and for us there may be the vigour of perfect soul-health and consequent bliss.
2. When God deals with sin He traces back its genealogy. Notice the particularity with which twice over the sacred historian gives the list of Achan’s progenitors. It is always, “Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah” (verses 1, 16-18). Sin is sporadic. To deal with it thoroughly we need to go back to its parentage. A long period will often intervene between the first germ of sin, in a permitted thought or glance of evil, and its flower or fruit in act. We generally deal with the wrong that flames out before the sight of our fellows; we should go behind to the spark as it lay smouldering for hours before, and to the carelessness which left it there. We only awake when the rock disintegrates and begins to fall on our cottage roof; God would lead us back to the moment when a tiny seed, borne on the breeze, floating through the air, found a lodgment in some crevice of our heart, and, although the soil was scanty, succeeded in keeping its foothold, till it had struck down its tiny anchor into a crack, and gathered strength enough to split the rock which had given it welcome. And by this insight into small beginnings our God would forearm us against great catastrophes.
3. It is a good thing at times to muster the clans of heart and life. We must make the principal tribes of our being pass before God. The public, and private, our behaviour in the business, the family, the church, until one of them is taken. Then to take that department and go through its various aspects and engagements, analysing it in days, or duties; resolving it into its various elements, and scrutinising each. This duty of self-examination should be pursued by those who have least relish for it, as probably they really need it; whilst they who are naturally of an introspective or morbid disposition should not engage themselves in it to any large extent. And whoever undertakes it should do so in reliance on the Holy Spirit, and give ten glances to the blessed Lord for every one that is taken at the corruptions of the natural heart. It is looking off unto Jesus which is the real secret of soul-growth.
III. We should hold no parley with discovered sin. God never reveals an evil which He does not require us to remove. And if heart and flesh fail, if our hand refuses to obey our faltering will, if the paralysis of evil has so far enfeebled us that we cannot lift the stone, or wield the knife, or strike the flint stones for the fire, then He will do for us what must be done, but which we cannot do. Some are cast in a mould so strong that they can dare to raise the hatchet, and cut off the arm just madly bitten, and before poison has passed from it into the system; others must await the surgeon’s knife. But the one lesson for all the inner life is to be willing for God to do His work in us, through us, or for us. So the valley of Achor becomes the door of hope. From that sterile, mountain-guarded valley, Israel marched to victory; or, to use the highly-coloured imagery of Hosea, it was as though the massive slabs opened in the cliffs, and the people passed into cornfields, vineyards, and olive-yards, singing amid their rich luxuriance as they sang in their youth in the day when they came up out of Egypt. Ah! metaphor as true as fair! For all our inner life there is no valley of Achor where the work of execution is faithfully performed in which there is not a door of hope, entrance into the garden of the Lord, and a song so sweet, so joyous, so triumphant, as though the buoyancy of youth were wed with the experience and mellowness of age. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20