One of the most tragic characters in the Old Testament is the man called Achan, whose story is told in Joshua 7. The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan and entered into the Land of Promise. God had just miraculously razed the fortified city of Jericho. And one of the greatest victories of the Old Testament had just been won. God was, indeed, bringing about His promise to grant His people vineyards that they had not planted, wells that they had not dug, and houses that they had not built. But there was one stipulation. In Jericho, the first city to be captured, all the spoil of the city was under “the ban.” Livestock, in this city, could not be taken by the Israelites as plunder. Houses could not be moved into. And treasure could not be distributed among the victorious soldiers as spoil. In other cities to be captured, these rules would not apply. But in this first conquest, all of the booty was the Lord’s, and His alone.
So the people of Israel defeated the city, destroyed its buildings, eliminated its inhabitants, and put the spoil in the treasury of the Lord. Then, fresh off this victory, they sent a detachment to overtake the much smaller city of Ai, but were chased away like stray dogs, with their tails between their legs. Why? How could they defeat a fortress like Jericho, and not a tiny village like Ai? Because the Lord had not gone up with them to Ai as He had done at Jericho. And why had He not gone up? Because someone in the camp of Israel had ignored God’s instructions regarding “the ban” in Jericho. Someone in the camp had stolen from the Lord and buried some of Jericho’s treasure in the ground inside his own tent! By casting lots, it was discovered that a man named Achan was the culprit. And, by the end of the day, Achan himself was buried like his treasure, beneath a pile of stones.
You can read the whole story yourself in Joshua 7. But let me suggest three important lessons from the downfall of Achan.
1. Covetousness. Why did Achan take the spoil that he knew well belonged to the Lord? Why did He deliberately break a known commandment of God? Well, he didn’t march into battle that day, intending to break God’s law. Rather, he got sucked in. “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar” he said, “and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold … then I coveted them” (emphasis mine). Do you see? Achan did not wake up that day with his heart set on disobedience. But when he saw the silver and the gold, he was carried away into it just the same … because he had given place to covetousness in his heart. And the same can happen to any one of us. We don’t always set out on our day, intending to do something really sinful. But covetousness has a way of sucking us in. So be on guard against it, before you ever see the silver shekels and the bar of gold!
2. Community. One of the saddest parts of Achan’s sin is the way it affected the whole community of his people. The armies of Israel were abandoned by God and put to flight because of one man’s covetousness. Some of the men were even struck down, we are told. And Achan’s entire family was executed alongside him … all because he could not control his own sinful heart. What damage to the whole community was done by this one man! And this scenario is not uncommon. Your sins and mine always affect many more people than just ourselves – even when, like Achan, we think we have them safely hidden. Indeed, Achan has become proverbial. Whenever God’s blessing seems to suddenly depart from a church, the question is always whether their might be an Achan in the camp. Let it not be so at your church! Guard your heart against every form of evil … on behalf of your family and your church community!
3. Consequences. Sin is serious. Achan stole some goods that normally would have been his for the taking, but this time were off limits. He committed what we might think of as a ‘small sin’. And, not only did it have dire effects for his whole community, but for Achan himself. God’s command was that he be executed … and he was, with great pain! “The wages of sin is death” – Achan’s sin, and our sin. Even a single ‘small sin’ is worthy of death in God’s sight. And, while we are eternally grateful that Jesus died the death that we deserve, we ought not continue doing that which so heinously provokes the Lord; that which necessitated such an awful fate, not only for Achan, but for our Lord Jesus.
So put aside any known sin in your life! Don’t be an Achan in anyone’s camp. Don’t give in to covetousness, or any other secret lust. And most of all, when you do fall … always look to Jesus, who died the death of millions of Achans, including each of you who believe.