In my regular Bible reading with the Ouldlets we have reached Joshua. It’s a cracker of a book, beginning with the approach to Jericho, its defeat, and the subsequent conquest of the Land.
At the start of chapter 7 we came across Achan…
Josh. 7:1 But the Israelites disobeyed the command about the city’s riches. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, stole some of the riches. The LORD was furious with the Israelites.
This was, of course, against God’s express command…
Josh. 6:16 The seventh time around, the priests blew the rams’ horns and Joshua told the army, “Give the battle cry, for the LORD is handing the city over to you! 17 The city and all that is in it must be set apart for the LORD, except for Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But be careful when you are setting apart the riches for the LORD. If you take any of it, you will make the Israelite camp subject to annihilation and cause a disaster.
Achan was going to spell trouble for Israel.
Almost literally. The Hebrew for trouble is “achar” (and, interestingly) the LXX rendering of his name is “Achar”) and Achan’s disobedience brought achar upon the people. They sent out a relatively small raiding party of 3,000 from Jericho to take the town of Ai (Jos. 7.3). More than enough for the job, except that they get thrashed…
Josh. 7:4 So about three thousand men went up, but they fled from the men of Ai. 5 The men of Ai killed about thirty-six of them and chased them from in front of the city gate all the way to the fissures and defeated them on the steep slope. The people’s courage melted away like water.
Achan’s trouble is now trouble for the whole people. This is, indeed, Joshua’s assessment of the situation:
Josh. 7:25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble (“achar“) on us? The LORD brings trouble on you today.”
But how do we go from the defeat to Ai to identifying Achan as the source of the trouble? Joshua, in response to the defeat at Ai, prostrates himself before God and gets this answer:
Josh. 7:10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.
One man’s sin is now the sin of the nation. It is as though Achan represents them all and brings them down with him. One thing’s for sure, this sin cannot be hidden away. It needs to be brought out into the open and dealt with.
Josh. 7:16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the LORD. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.
You can imagine Achar standing there. He knew it was about him. As he watched the microscope zoom in from tribe to clan to household he knew. But he doesn’t step forward. He waits. Finally he is taken and only then, when there is nowhere to go and he is clearly the guilty man does he confess.
One man. One grevious sin. The whole nation in trouble.
One man picked out. No owning up until his guilt is fully established. A terrible punishment and the nation is once again free.
So what do we learn? Well of course there is the obvious – that we ought not to toy with God’s commands and we certainly ought to take responsibility for our sin rather than hiding away and waiting to see if we will be found out.
But surely there’s more here. For more than a thousand years later another man comes from the tribe of Judah. The nation is in terrible trouble but that’s the tip of the iceberg for the whole of humanity stands under sentence of God’s judgement. Our destruction is assured because of our sin (1Thes. 5:3; 2Thes. 1:9 etc.).
But this time a man steps forward. We know exactly where He comes from (Matt. 1:1-18) and yet He does not wait until He is called out. Nor is He guilty. Here is the innocent man who rather than waiting for the judge’s gavel to fall and condemn a guilty humanity steps out of the crowds and gladly accepts the punishment. Our punishment.
Guilty Achan’s one sin was trouble for the whole nation.
Jesus’ innocence removed the trouble for an entire new humanity.