the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
ACHAN OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH WAS TAKEN
JERICHO was one of the largest and richest cities in all ancient Canaan. 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. Broad and lofty walls ran all round the city, and the only way in and out of the city was by great gates which were scrupulously shut every night at sundown. There were great foundries of brass and iron 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. Balak's gold had long before now brought Balaam the soothsayer across the plains of Mesopotamia, and the gold and silver of Jericho had also drawn toward that city the travelling dealers in the woven work of the Babylonian looms. 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-latchet, was to be so much as touched by Joshua or any of his armed men. Nothing demoralises an army like sacking a fallen city. To spring like a tiger at a wall that reaches up to heaven, and then to extinguish all a tiger's thirst for blood and plunder, that is the high ideal of a true soldier's duty. And it is a splendid certificate to Joshua's discipline, and to the morality of his army, that only one of his men gave way in the time of temptation. And the swift and heavy fall of Joshua's hand on that one man must have still more consolidated Joshua's authority, and transformed his wilderness hosts into true soldiers, where other soldiers would have been thieves and robbers. The army of Israel crossed the Jordan, entered the devoted land, besieged its cities, and marched from victory to victory under the banners of their respective tribes; very much as a modern army is made up of companies of men compacted together under the colours and the denominations of their respective clans and nationalities. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel had its own regiment, as we would say, marching and camping and entering battle under its own ensign; and thus it was that when the armies of Israel marched round Jericho on the way to their miraculous conquest of that city the standard of the tribe of Judah led the sacred host. Every single soldier in all Israel Had heard Joshua's proclamation ahout Jericho; both what his men were to do till the walls fell, and how they were to demean themselves after the city had been given of God into their hands. But war is war; and the best of commanders cannot make war a silken work, nor can he hold down the devil in the hearts of all his men. In the hearts of many of them he may, if he first does that in his own heart; but scarcely in the hearts of them all. Night fell on the prostrate city, and the hour of temptation struck for Joshua and all his men. 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 the 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? When the night wind wakens the embers again these are the accoutrements and the movements of one of Joshua's men. Has he lost his way? Has he been half dead, and has he not heard the rally of the trumpet? He hides, he listens, he looks through the darkness, he disappears into the darkness. No one has slept for joy in all the camp of Israel that night. And no one has slept for sorrow in one of Judah's tents that night. For, what is the fall of Jericho to them in that tent when it has cost them the life of their husband, their father, and their master? When the door of that tent is suddenly lifted, and the face of a corpse comes in, takes a spade, and buries a strange burden in the earth in the midst of the astounded tent. God giveth His beloved sleep. But-
Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep co more!
Macbeth doth murder sleep, the innocent sleep!
And still it cried, Macbeth doth murder sleep!
So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout the whole country. But the men of Israel fled before the men of Ai, wherefore the hearts of the people melted and became as water. And the Lord said to Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou upon thy face? Up, sanctify the people, for there is an accursed thing in the midst of them. And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken; and he brought the family of Judah, and he took the family of Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites, man by man, and Zabdi was taken; and he brought his household, man by man, and Achan of the tribe of Judah was taken. My son, said Joshua, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him; and tell me what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed, I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoil a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it And all Israel raised over him a great heap of stones to this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Achor unto this day.
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 much 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 men's 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 were 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 wrapped 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 and ashes 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. It was at Adam and Eve's eyes that the devil came into man's heart at first. 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 from sin; 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. It is better to go to heaven like a blind man led by a dog, says our Lord; ten times better than to dance all your days down to hell with Babylonian bangles on and all ornaments. Miss Rossetti is writing to young ladies, it is true; 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 mortified 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 railway-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, 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 to their salvation.
So Joshua rose early in the morning,-Joshua, like every good soldier, was an early riser,-and he brought all Israel by their tribes, and their families, and their households, that the Lord Himself might make inquisition, and might put His finger upon the marked man. 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 as if it were the last trump! Did you ever spend a night like that 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 surrounded by the luxuries of the breakfast table, and drove him off to a penal settlement. Groanings that cannot be uttered 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, that He has His eyes upon you, and that your sin will find you out. You think that the darkness will cover you. Wait till you see! Go on sowing as you have begun, and come and tell us when the harvest is reaped how it threshes out and bow it tastes.
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. 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 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! There is a coal in it that shall never be quenched.
Achan, after all, as is sometimes the case, had all the time the root of the matter in him. Achan made a clean breast of it, and gave himself up to Joshua before all Israel, and walked out to the Valley of Achor without a murmur. But Joshua had no choice. Joshua could not help himself. Joshua was a man under authority. And Achan had to die. But the point and the proper end of the whole story to us is this: that a greater than Joshua is here. Joshua bore a Name greater than his own, hut that only brings out all the better the blessed contrast between Achan and you. Make a clean breast of it, then. Go home to ysour tent tonight, 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 room, lay your head 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 will say to you.
Therefore the name of that place is called The Valley of Achor to this day. Achor, that is, as it is 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; be sure, in mercy. If I were suddenly to open your door tonight, and find you on your face, I would clap my hands with gladness. I would lie down on the spot beside you, and would share your trouble, and you would share mine, and I would lift you up and share your joy. It is not possible, you say. Look at your Bible again, and see. 'And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for the herds to lie down in, for the people that have sought Me,' And, again,-'And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the Valley of Achor for a door of hope; and she shall sing there, as in the day of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.' Your soul, that is. Your soul shall sing there. There, in that Valley of Achor. There in that room. There where your sin found you out. There where I found you on your face. Yes; already jour 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. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honour him. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow. Though I walk in the midst of trouble Thou wilt revive me, and Thy right hand shall save me. O the Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in the time of trouble! You will sing that song in your Valley of Achor till this song shall be taken up over you by saints and angels,-These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Achan'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​a/achan.html. 1901.