The Sin of Achan

And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: 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.” -Joshua 7:20-21

The story of Israel before Ai, with it’s initial defeat, repentance from sin, purging of sin, and finally taking the stronghold, is one of the most fascinating in the entire tale of the conquest —even more so than the falling of the walls of Jericho, or the many lists of kings defeated and cities taken. Here we have a tale of desire followed by taking which impacted the entire nation of Israel.

The words Achan uses when he admits his sin before the Lord are exactly the ones Adam and Eve used in the Garden. They saw, they desires, they took, and then they hid. But the similarity doesn’t just end there; it stretches into our current world, with implications for our own spiritual lives.

What was it about the few simple items Achan took that were so important? It’s not the value of the objects that are emphasized in the Scriptures, but rather their status. These items were under the ban of destruction; the robe should have been burned, and the silver and gold given to the treasury of the House of the Lord. Why did Achan take them for himself?

I believe it’s because he didn’t have faith.

Israel is entering a new land, a new place. Here they will settle, and make their lives, and the lives of their children. But what if God isn’t good to me? What if I don’t get the best piece of land? What if I don’t have enough to build a farm in the first few years? We left Egypt with gold and silver, and over time we’ve lost that gold and silver through various sins. We have the shoes on our feet, and the clothes on our back, and the blessing of God, but what if these aren’t good enough?

So, look, there, there’s a chunk of gold, and some silver, and a nice new set of clothes. Those would certainly be enough to get my family’s feet on the ground. Those would certainly be a good guard against the future for my wife and children, for my aging parents and my sisters. No-one is looking, so I’ll just wrap it up and take it back to camp. I’ll bury it, and no-one will ever know…

Achan’s sin cost 36 men their lives at the first battle of Ai, and his entire family their lives in the ensuing days. Achan reached out for security from this world, “just a little, in case God doesn’t come through,” and he found death.

The lesson for today? We should not be afraid of honest gain to make a life for our families into the future. We should not be afraid to work hard and make something of ourselves. But we should be on our guard, for it’s all too easy to reach one step too far, to reach beyond faith, and to take that which God hasn’t given.

To count on the world, rather than God.

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