Updated: Mar 26
Achan’s Secret Sin Brought the Curse upon Israel (v. 1)
Although Achan committed the sin of taking from the accursed spoil of Jericho, his sin was imputed to the entire nation. This principle of covenant solidarity was set in Adam and extends to Christ, so that the two parts of the human race, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, have an identity and a destiny determined by their heads, Christ or Satan (Rom. 5:12-19; 2 Cor. 6:15). We are either children of the devil or children of God (1 John 3:10). Within the camp of the godly, individual sin effects the whole body. We in the body of Christ are bound to one another. If we dabble with false doctrine, private lusts, and worldly covetousness, we are touching the unclean thing and cannot but bring God’s chastening hand upon the church (1 Cor. 10:22).
Israel’s Overconfidence and Defeat (vv. 2-5)
Jericho guarded the plain across the Jordan River. Now, the mountain pass would need to be ascended and captured in order to descend down into the broader Canaanite plains. This pass was guarded by two smaller settlements: Ai, pronounced Ay-ee, and Bethel. Ai came first. Joshua’s spies reported that only a few thousand would be required to capture it. Was there presumption in this? Had Jericho brought an unwarranted self-confidence? When Israel attacked Ai, the men of Ai fought back and killed 36 Israelites. The rest of the Lord’s army was chased away from the city, and the people were struck with confusion and fear. This sudden setback was devastating. They expected an easy victory, but they did not know about Achan’s sin. Already, then, we are reminded that no matter how strong we are with God in our midst, because the Ark is in the camp – Jesus Christ is present in his church by his Word and Spirit – he is offended by our sins. Without holiness, defeat is certain.
The Temptations of Sudden Setback and Trials (vv. 6-9)
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, "Alas, Lord GOD, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all -- to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! 8 "O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? 9 "For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?"
To Question God’s Actions and Purposes (vv. 6-7)
Joshua was devastated. He tore his clothes and fell on the ground. “What are you doing, Lord? Why have you brought us over the Jordan to do this to us?” When sudden setbacks and trials occur, we question the Lord’s actions and purposes. We should instead trust him and wait upon him to make things clear. Joshua and the leaders of Israel forgot God’s promises. God promised to be with Joshua – his promises to Joshua were the motivation to rise up and cross the Jordan in the first place (Josh.1:6-9)! To question God was to question his promises. It is a very serious sin to allow sudden trouble to make us doubt the Lord’s faithfulness. Our troubles are bad enough, especially when their causes are unknown, but unbelief makes them unbearable. Joshua was a godly man and good leader, but he was not a perfect man. In fact, the dark shadows from forty years earlier creep from his mouth – why have you brought us here? Why did we not remain where we were?
To Fear Consequences and the Opinions of Others (vv. 7-8)
How wildly our soul screams when the Lord disappoints or rebukes us, or when hard things suddenly happen to us! Strong emotion is not in itself sinful, provided it remains in the bounds of faith and submission to the Lord’s providences. Job is a beautiful example to us in this. When all the bitter calamities descended upon him at once, he fell on the ground, stung to his soul, but he also worshipped the Lord. This will help us not fear the consequences of our troubles or wonder what others will think. Wait – I am no longer to be in good health and able to care for my family? The church in our land no longer has recognized religious liberty but has fallen under the wrath of secularism? Calamities will evoke strong emotional responses. If we no longer enjoy legal protection in our lives and livelihoods, faith and worship, what will happen to us? Has the end of the world come upon us? Are we going to be cut off? Everyone is going to laugh at us. When sudden trouble comes, our hearts quickly race down the highway of fear and unbelief. We are weak, so some of this is to be expected, but let us not excuse our sins before the Lord but learn from Joshua’s collapse that even the strongest heart can be utterly overwhelmed by troubles. We should not presume upon our strength to endure these hours or judge others too harshly when their hour comes. We must instead not expect him to give us an easy path to his kingdom and learn to take all matters to him, so that we live praying and trusting him. Then, when sudden calamity strikes, we may fall to the ground, crushed and dazed, but we will worship. The Lord has done it. Blessed be his name.
To Doubt Survival and even God’s Name (v. 9)
Joshua is concerned about the Lord’s name, his honor and his promises. Joshua is not consumed with personal consequences. When he brings up the shame of Israel running away from her enemies (v. 8), the modern church should be deeply convicted. She does the same when she apologizes for reading the Bible historically and categorically rejecting egalitarianism, the queer movement, religious and political polytheism, abortion, and hypocritical warmongering against Russia. This is to turn our back upon the Lord’s plain word and to make peace with the Canaanites of our day in order to make the gospel more acceptable to unbelieving men. No wonder we are ridiculed by the world and provoke the Lord at the same time. It is true that he has bound himself to us in covenant, so that how it goes with the church forms the world’s opinions of the Lord. At the same time, we should not make too much of ourselves. The Lord can remove the candlestick here and make it shine brightly in darkest Africa or China. God’s name is bound to his promises, but in fulfilling them, his ways are beyond our ability to conceive. We should never fear that if we perish, his kingdom will fail. He will successfully build the kingdom of his Son even if for our sins against him we justly suffer.
Get Off the Ground, Joshua (vv. 10-15)
10 So the LORD said to Joshua: "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? 11 "Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. 12 "Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you. 13 "Get up, sanctify the people, and say, 'Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the LORD God of Israel: "There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you." 14 'In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes shall come according to families; and the family which the LORD takes shall come by households; and the household which the LORD takes shall come man by man. 15 'Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.' "
Israel Has Sinned, and Therefore Suffered Defeat
The wisest course for us to follow when troubles suddenly come is to examine ourselves. “In many things we offend” (James 3:1). Not that all calamities are directly due to sin, but all our trouble in this world – whether the trouble itself or the responses we make to the trouble that often make the trouble worse – are due to sin. Why did not Joshua ask, “Lord, have we sinned against you?” The Lord’s promises are far more stable than we are. If things are amiss in the world or in our lives, it is laughable that we think the Lord has blown it or lost control. The fault lies not in heaven but in us. Get up, Joshua. Israel has sinned. They have taken of the accursed stuff and put it among their own stuff. They have brought the world’s filth into my holy camp, and therefore the world’s curse has been brought into their camp. Sin’s progression and evil are clear: transgression (breaking God’s command), taken and stolen, lied and hidden their sin. Sin is nasty, dangerous, and devastating to the whole church. Offences will come, as our Savior said (Luke 17:1), but woe to the offender. Woe to us if we do not handle sin’s offence honestly and humbly. The church’s defeat is inseparable from the church’s sin, of participating in the world’s filth by bringing it into our lives. God is in our midst. He hates an unclean house.
Remove the Curse Immediately (vv. 13-15)
Get up Joshua and deal with the sin! Sanctify yourself and the people – tonight, by prayer and supplication for mercy, and tomorrow by getting rid of the accursed thing. The Lord gives him a plan to identify the culprit – by lot, which was a way he then made known his will in specific and hidden instances that his people needed to know. When the lot falls upon the sinner, take him and all he has outside the camp and burn them. He has broken the Lord’s covenant. He has made my dwelling place unclean. He has brought disgrace upon my people and upon my name (Gen. 34:7; Deut. 22:21; Jdg. 20:10). The Lord commands that the doom of Jericho fall upon the man who brought Jericho into his holy people. This may seem overly harsh to us, but we are more informed by enlightenment obsession with human feelings than by biblical concern of God’s holiness and the upholding of his righteous law and government of the world. We have the Holy Spirit of our Savior in our midst, his completed word, and a Bible full of warnings against compromise with the world. And we are still bringing Jericho into Israel, the world’s filth into the Lord’s holy house. How patient he has been with us. For those fretting about nuclear bombs, if we had any conviction of his majesty, his holiness, and his mercy to us in crucifying his only Son for our sins, we should not be in the least surprised that the living God would chasten his church in this land for her nasty worldliness, fear of man, doctrinal compromises, and moral filth, all of which break his holy covenant and provoke him to wrath. Let us turn to him immediately and burn out the sin in our lives through honest confession, mortification of our sins (Col. 3:5), and “pursuing holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor. 7:1).
Achan’s Transgression, Confession, and Death (vv. 16-26)
16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 He brought the clan of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 Then he brought his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Now Joshua said to Achan, "My son, I beg you, give glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me." 20 And Achan answered Joshua and said, "Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done: 21 "When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it." 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it. 23 And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD. 24 Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day." So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. 26 Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.
Exposed: Be Sure Our Sins Will Find Us Out (vv. 16-18)
Any dramatization today of the “Life of Achan” would focus upon the travesty of restrictive laws – do not soldiers have a right to a little spoil? – Achan’s feelings as the lot moved closer to his family and then fell directly on him – and then the injustice of Joshua not pardoning him. Hey – I confessed my sins. Let it go at that. Neither the Lord as the righteous Judge nor his word looks at things from the perspective of the sinners. The sinner has no “side of the story” to tell that will excuse him. But one thing we learn is that “our sins will find us out” (Num. 32:23). Achan must have squirmed when he heard what the mustering was all about, and when the lot came close to him, his heart raced – sin leaves us few and fewer beats, if only we believe the Lord. But we cannot hide from the Lord, for he knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts. All things are open to him (Heb. 4:12). We may keep our sins secret from others, but the day is coming when all the secrets of men will be judged by the righteous Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:16). Our one relief from this terrifying thought is to arraign ourselves before him now and confess our sins and seek his pardon through the cleansing work of Jesus Christ. Confession without atonement will avail nothing; tears without repentance mock the Lord of glory. We must confess the sins we have committed against one another and make no excuses for them.
Confession: I Saw, I Coveted, I Took, I Hid (vv. 19-21)
“My son, give glory to God.” The purpose of this confession was not to obtain Achan’s pardon. He had brought the ban upon himself and his family; there would be no public pardon or restoration. His theft was more than a theft but a rejection of God’s sovereign lordship and his covenant. Whatever Achan’s intent, it was tantamount to apostasy, which was a capital crime under God’s law. Nevertheless, Joshua dealt gently with him, not torturing him to obtain a confession but appealing to him as a professing son of the covenant, and recently circumcised, it should be added. How quickly he turned from the grace of covenant signs to the horror of covenant rebellion! Joshua urged him to glorify God by telling all the truth. Our confessions of sin do the same – vindicate God’s righteousness (Ps. 51:4). I have sinned, Achan confessed – “against the Lord God of Israel.” Some confessions are made too late to be saving, but they should be made nonetheless, so that we may even with our dying breath magnify the goodness and holiness of God, taking upon ourselves the guilt for all the misery we see in our lives and churches, rather than allowing the luster of his righteousness to have the slightest smudge.
Achan has but a few more minutes of earthly life, but heed his autopsy of sin. “I saw” – the Babylonian garment was beautiful, whatever the Lord may have said – sounds like Eve, does it not? To live by our eyes and their cravings will be the ruin of us. “I coveted” – Achan knows a bit about his heart – I wanted these things, never mind that the Lord forbids covetousness and has promised the entire land to us. I wanted these things, this gold and silver. Do we hunger for God’s grace and glory, or to have the longings of our sinful heart gratified? Some say you are what you eat. I think it is truer to say we are what we crave, what we hunger for in the depths of our soul. “I took and hid” – I would not restrain my hand and brought cursed things into my tent. The lust of the eyes will lead us to some very bad places. Make seeing Jesus Christ on the throne of his glory the craving of your heart, and you will let the birds of lusts fly over without gazing longingly at them.
Burned: The Cursed Removed by Death (vv. 22-26; Rom. 9:20)
Immediately the cursed items were retrieved from Achan’s tent. Achan – all his family and possessions – were taken outside the camp to the nearby Valley of Achor (re: trouble), stoned, and then burned. A pile of stones were raised – an anti-monument over against Jordan – the twelve rocks at Gilgal that said, “Here is what the Lord has done for us!” The awful pile at Achor – “Here is what sin did to us.” Joshua called Achan the “troubler of Israel.” It was a bitter conclusion to a wasted life. The anger of the Lord was pacified by the removal of the man who had brought the curse into Israel’s holy camp. It is pointless to question the severity of the punishment, for the Lord can do what he will with his own, especially with his own holiness. To question his righteousness is to slap him in the face – “who are you, O man, to respond against God” (Rom. 9:20). It is ours to wonder at his mercy, that though the whole people were polluted, the Lord was satisfied with the death of Achan and his family. The offence was removed, and peace was restored, the same as genuine repentance does for us. If we question the children being put to death for the sins of the father, I suggest that the Lord never violates his own law or does anything but absolute righteousness (Gen. 18:25). Beyond this, we should observe a respectful silence and examine our hearts for sins that are bringing ruin upon our land and its churches.
Lord, Is It I? Achan in the Camp
No Secret Sins (Num. 32:23; Amos 9:3; Eccl. 12:14; Heb. 4:12)
The disciples in the Upper Room were struck dumb by the Lord’s declaration: “One of you will betray me.” Leaving Judas aside, the eleven each felt in his heart that he was capable of betraying the Lord. Could I be the one who would do this? The most common lesson drawn from Achan’s sin is undoubtedly the most important – no one gets away with anything in this life. The Lord knows all. “Though they dig into hell, there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down; and though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and taken them out of there” (Amos 9:3-4). We live before the face of the holy God, and there is no escape from his gaze. He knows our every thought before we have it, every motive, even those hidden from us. Our culture speaks of victimless crimes – there are none. If no one else knows, if you never tell another soul, and if you never repent, it will be brought back up for repayment on the last day. The secrets of every heart will be made open. Flee to Jesus Christ from the wrath to come.
No Victory but in Holy Fellowship (Rom. 12:5; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15)
And on earth, there is no victory but in holy fellowship. The whole people suffered for Achan’s sin. We are one body in Christ (Rom. 12:5), and our lives and destinies are intertwined. It is together that we run the race, fight the good fight, and serve as a kingdom of priests. And without holiness, we cannot overcome the enemy before us. The Lord is holy, and he calls us to be holy, for he has restored us to his image through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit. One application of this to our times is made by the apostle in 2 Cor. 6:16. Do not touch the unclean thing. I have no doubt he was thinking of Achan. Do not touch the world’s loves and lusts, priorities and pluralisms. God is in our midst. Steer clear of words that are close to blasphemy, fantasies that breed lusts, and attitudes that enslave to fear, anxiety, and anger. Do not touch. Stay away. Do not look at sin. Young and old men, learn a holy hatred of impure glances. Young and old women, learn a holy hatred of covetous glances.
No Holiness without Death to Sin in the Death of Christ (Rom. 6:1-6)
But holiness is to be found only in union with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. How can we humbly confess and forsake our sins, rather than hide them, unless we trust in the name of Jesus Christ and his cleansing blood? He has died to the power of sin, thus freeing us from its guilt and power. He has risen to new life, thus empowering us to live in holiness. The only way not to be Achan is to be Christian – a man, woman, and young person who believes in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Holy One. If we walk with him, he will help us put sin to death, lies, covetousness, and hiding. In union with him, we can die to our worst, most besetting sins and replace them with hard-fought holiness. In our righteous, holy Savior, our victory is certain. See that he has already made us righteous and pure. He has washed us. We are clean in him. We already have crowns and are seated with him. Let us learn to be who we are in Christ, and we shall be stronger as his body on earth. Let Achan’s impurity make us hunger for greater holiness, for this hunger invites the Lord into our homes and churches. It is sin that drives him away; our worldly lusts provoke them. If we hold on to our sins, we cannot win. If he is near and fighting for us, we cannot lose.