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Joshua 7-8 Ai, Ai and Amen

Sun, Oct 25, 2020
Duration:24 mins 58 secs
This is a hugely confronting episode in Israel’s life. But it highlights for us an amazing opportunity. To leave the guilt of our sin behind every time it happens. For us to confess our sin. To take up by faith in Jesus the fresh start he offers us by the sacrifice of his life.

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Message text

Let’s pray as we begin.

Heavenly Father,

This is a challenging passage. It raises so many questions that seem difficult to answer. Help us to face the questions honestly. Help us to listen well without preconceived ideas closing our minds to you. Help us to be open to your word and your Spirit. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Well here we are today in the unfolding saga of the book of Joshua. And it really is a saga!

Verse 1 of Joshua 7 introduces us to today’s episode. And it’s also a great summary of the chapter:

But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan ….  took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

Maybe we could paraphrase Joshua 7 a little differently to this. A guy took some stuff. And God got really, really, really angry. Perhaps we even think he over-reacted. A battle was lost. The guy was killed. God settled down. Is that the story of Achan? If so, what do we learn?

And if that’s the story of Achan, how did we even get here?

Because last week we were with the Israelites in the triumphant territory of Jericho! Trumpets sounding. People circling. Following the ark of the Lord. And on the seventh day shouting, and the walls came a tumbling down, as the old song says.

The final verse of Joshua 6 wrapped up the battle of Jericho:

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.

Jericho was glorious! But the glow didn’t last long. The Israelites were unfaithful. Achan took some of the devoted things. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

God’s anger is probably not one of our favourite qualities of God. And anger in general isn’t something most of us like to think about. Or to feel. A few years ago I was trained as a facilitator of Tuning into Teens. It’s a great parenting course – I’d highly recommend both Tuning into Kids and Tuning into Teens for all parents. And at the training I had a lightbulb moment. The trainer asked us how anger had been dealt with in our families of origin. And then to reflect on how that shaped our current reactions to anger. I realised that anger scares me. I was the kid in the house who ran to my bedroom when anyone got angry. I didn’t grow up in an abusive family, it was all fine. But the different expressions and responses to anger in my family growing up have impacted my ongoing reactions. I still don’t like it when people get angry. And I find it hard to think about God being angry. Especially when that anger seems extreme as in this episode. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

You may find this chapter difficult as well. But the whole word of God is written for us and for our instruction. So stick with it this morning and let’s together hear what God has to say to us.

Sin brings judgment

First, we hear from God in Joshua 7 that sin brings judgment.

We’ve heard the story in our Kids’ Spot and the Bible reading. But let’s recap for a moment and draw it together.

After the great victory against Jericho, Joshua directs his attention to the city of Ai. But the 3000 strong Israelite army he sent in were crushed. 36 Israelites died. And in response: ‘…  the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.’ (v5).

What had happened? Why had a victory won with trumpets, marching and a final shout been followed by a shellacking at the hands of a few men in Ai? Was Jericho the only city they would defeat? What did this mean for their conquest of the so-called ‘promised land’?

In verse 6, Joshua falls facedown before the Lord and asks some of these questions. Why did you bring us here, Lord, if we’re going to be destroyed? What about the honour of your great name?

And then Joshua finds out from the Lord what we already know. Verse 10 -

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

Achan later confirms the Lord’s account. Verse 20 –

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

Coveting, stealing, lying. Three of the ten commandments smashed.

And God had been very clear to Israel before they took Jericho. Joshua 6:17-18

17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. … 18 keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them.

The idea of devoting things to the Lord, either by destroying them, or by putting goods into the Lord’s treasury was to safeguard the holiness of Israel. To prevent them from worshipping the gods of the nations they defeated. It also meant that the conquest of the promised land was a true, one-off, holy war. It wasn’t merely a plundering bonanza to enrich Israel. And the destruction of these nations was an expression of God’s long-withheld judgment on them.

So Achan disobeying this direct command of the Lord, and three of the ten commandments, is clearly much bigger than just – a guy took some stuff.

Sin is serious. Jesus also makes this very clear. Matthew 5 -

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 5:29-30

This is kinda gross if you think about it literally. But Jesus is making a point. Sin is serious. And sin brings judgment. God simply follows through here what he’d flagged in Joshua 6. And verse 15 makes clear what that judgment is:

15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’”

And that is exactly what happened. Achan and his family were destroyed.

Now even though sin is serious, that seems like a really extreme reaction, doesn’t it? And stories of swift and severe judgment are rare in the Bible. They occur at key moments of salvation history. It’s interesting that there’s a similar account in Acts 5. There a couple called Ananias and Sapphira sold a property. As was the commitment of the early church, they brought the money to the apostles. Except – they secretly kept some back for themselves. And both Ananias and Sapphira fell down and died when Peter confronted them about lying to the Holy Spirit.

At the birth of the nation Israel in the promised land, God was jealous for their holiness. And at the birth of the early church, God was again jealous for their holiness. Sin left alone in these infant communities would have charted a destructive course for their future.

When Toby was younger, I read a parenting book called ‘1,2,3 Magic’. It seemed like a ridiculous title. But surprisingly, it was great. It was about a discipline strategy for kids. And a key part of the strategy was to make sure kids know ahead of time exactly what the consequence would be if they disobeyed. 

God is a great parent. He was totally upfront with Israel. And he’s totally upfront with us about what happens if we disobey him.

Just as Achan’s sin brought God’s judgment on himself, our sin brings us under God’s judgment too. We tend to minimize the impact of human evil in our superficially civilised western world. But the effects of sin are devastating and far-reaching. Sin wreaks havoc. And so sin deserves God’s judgment.

The Lord brought judgment swiftly on Achan. For us, the time frame is different. God tells us in Hebrews 9:27 -

‘people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’

This isn’t a popular message. But God is absolutely upfront with us.

The strategy of 1,2,3 Magic sounds crazy. First, teach your child exactly what their consequence will be if they disobey – favourite toy confiscated for an hour, time out in the corner, .. Whatever is age and child appropriate. And then, when they disobey (not if, but when of course), you count. That’s a 1 (wait 3 seconds). That’s a 2 (wait 3 seconds). That’s a 3. And if you get to 3, the child knows exactly what happens next. It sounds crazy, but it works. As long as you always follow through as a parent.

God’s told us exactly what happens when we sin – we face his judgment. At this point in history, we’re somewhere between a count of 1 and 3. All of us. The count of 3 will happen when we die or Jesus returns.

So we have a problem. Just like Achan had a problem. And not just Achan – Israel also had a problem. Because sin isn’t just about me. Sin is about me and us!

Sin is about me and us

Many of us have been watching covid numbers all year, haven’t we? Here in Victoria. In Australia. And around the world.

I read an interesting article this week about how Asian countries are currently going with covid. You may have read that covid case numbers are surging in both Europe and the US at the moment. But for months now, life across Asia has mostly returned to normal. A Singapore public health academic said this: ‘Independent actions will have consequences on the health of others, and this is very well appreciated in most Asian societies’. (The Australian, 22/10/20)

Achan’s independent actions had consequences for Israel. What we learn from Joshua 7 is that Achan’s sin isn’t his alone. It’s Israel’s sin too.

There’s this amazing interplay, between Israel and Achan all the way through Joshua 7. You may have noticed it when Ivan was reading.

But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan …  took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

Achan took, which meant Israel was unfaithful.

11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant … They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; … they have been made liable to destruction. (v11-12).

15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord … 
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. … I saw … I coveted … and took …. (v20-21)

Achan’s sin is his. But it’s also Israel’s. His sin is about him and them. Both he and they are held responsible. His actions bring consequences on them. And on him. And once Achan had been killed, the Lord turned from his fierce anger against Israel.

We learn in fact through the whole Bible, that my sin isn’t mine alone. It’s yours too. My sin and your sin always affect others.

In some ways this is obvious. If I’m selfish, that will impact some of you. If I gossip, that impacts others. If I’m impatient, if I’m greedy, if my speech isn’t pure – you’ll be affected. God makes it clear that we’re to think about sin corporately as well as individually. He spotlights favouritism in the church towards the wealthy in James 2. In James 4, fights and quarrels in the body of Christ; and slandering another brother or sister in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, we are family. My sins are your sins and yours are mine. God calls us to hold each other accountable. To not just ask, ‘how am I going with Christ’, but also ‘how are we going with Christ?’ We often think we should ‘mind our own business’ when it comes to sin. But my sin isn’t just my own business – it’s yours as well.

As the Israelites came into the promised land, God called them repeatedly to answer the question:

who will we be as God’s people into the future?

That’s a question that simmers all the way through the book of Joshua. And it’s a question that’s before us right now. COVID has re-shaped much of who we are as church. It’s disrupted and interrupted many things. But it’s also given us a pause that we can take advantage of. There’s an opportunity for us and all churches to ask this question. Who will we be as God’s people into the future?

So who will we be, as God’s people, St Hils? Who have we been? What do we need to change? What do we need to repent of? Who will we be as God’s people going forward?

St Hil’s, God calls us, through Joshua 7, to be a church that deals with our sin. Let that be part of our answer to the question: ‘who will we be as God’s people into the future’. Let’s commit together: we’ll be God’s people who deal with our sin. Who confess our sin, both for our own sake, and for the sake of others.

But how do we do that?

God gave Joshua and Israel a process for dealing with the sin in their midst. Thankfully we don’t have to follow the same process.

God told the Israelites to consecrate themselves. He told them the devoted things had to be removed. And that the next day Israel would be called forward by clan, then by family and then by man until they found the one who had violated the covenant of the Lord.

At this point, Achan’s a bit like a kid who’s smashed a window. Pretending there’s nothing to see, or that he wasn’t there. Even at this point, Achan doesn’t confess. Only when God exposes him does he finally admit his sin.

How foolish. How foolish to think silence about sin could fool the God who sees everything. Even our thoughts! God makes this abundantly clear for us in 1 John 1, verses 8 and 10. 

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. … 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

God knows our sin! We don’t confess for his sake. We confess our sin for our sake.

God’s offers forgiveness for sin

You see, as hard as it is to confess our sin. Individually. And corporately. As hard as that is, we have an absolutely beautiful promise from God if we do.

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

We all have a choice about our sin. We can hide it, as Achan did. But then we sit under God’s judgment somewhere between a count of 1 and 3. Knowing that one day we’ll stand before him and be found guilty.

Or we can confess our sins. Holding onto God’s promise that he forgives and purifies us. That he gives us a new start. God gave Israel a new start, after Achan’s sin had been dealt with. The Lord turned from his fierce anger at the end of Joshua 7. And in Joshua 8, he delivered the city of Ai into their hands.

God also gives us a fresh start every time we confess.

The reason he does that is Jesus.

1 John 2:1-2

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

When Toby was much younger, when we’d get into an argument or have a problem, we had a pattern we developed. We’d get to the point where one of us would apologise. The other person would accept the apology. And then we’d say – fresh start? The relief of leaving the mess behind, and of starting afresh was always palpable.

In a much more profound way, Jesus makes it possible for us to have fresh starts with God whenever we need them. Whenever we confess our sin, trusting that Jesus is indeed the one who’s dealt with our sin.

Brothers and sisters, this is a hugely confronting episode in Israel’s life. But it highlights for us an amazing opportunity. To leave the guilt of our sin behind every time it happens. For me to confess my sin. For us to confess our sin. To take up by faith in Jesus the fresh start he offers us by the sacrifice of his life. My hope and prayer for us, St Hils, is that we’ll constantly be a church of fresh starts. That we’ll constantly be a people of fresh starts. And that we will always be a people who, like Israel at the end of the book of Joshua, stand and say ‘we will serve the Lord’.

We’re going to pray a prayer of confession now. Please let this prayer be a commitment to move forward with confession as a key part of your and our ongoing life with Jesus. I’ll give you a moment to reflect on what you need to confess to God. Perhaps what we need to confess to God. And then the words of the prayer will be on the screen.

God of all mercy,
we humbly admit that we need your help.
We have wandered from your way.
We have sinned in thought, word and deed,
and have failed to do what is right.
You alone can save us.
Have mercy on us,
wipe out our sins and teach us to forgive others.
Bring forth in us the fruit of your Spirit
that we may live the new life to your glory.
This we ask in the name of Jesus our Saviour. Amen.