Read: Joshua 7
Achan went down in history has the man that disobeyed the ban that God had given Israel concerning the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:17-21). He kept for himself some of the things that he was not supposed to keep, and this ended up costing the life of him, his family, and all he owned. Among the things were gold, silver, and the “mantle of Shinar” – perhaps an elaborate robe of Babylonian origin. The significance of the robe is not explained, but it was perhaps a mantle used by priests during the occult worship of the Canaanite gods. Achan’s misdeeds caused the death of some of the men who went up to take Ai as well. When the spies went out from the Israelite camp, they came back confident that it would only take part of the men to take Ai. They apparently assumed that God was working in their favor when they took the city of Jericho, but he was not with them when they sent men to Ai. Instead of a complete route like they had seen at Jericho, the men were sent high-tailing it back to the Israelite camp. That, and God did not hold just one person accountable for the sins of Achan, rather the whole nation. The gravity of the ban was made apparent by how God dealt with Jericho, but Achan for some reason did not take it seriously and fell to the temptation God had warned them against in light of the ban. In response to this, Israel destroyed Achan in the Valley of Achor which was named after Achan and Achan’s name came to synonymous with the word “trouble” in the Hebrew language.
It is difficult for modern readers of Joshua to fully understand why God would “burn” against an entire nation because of one man’s sins. Achan’s sin seems rather private, but the effects of sin are hardly ever contained to an individual. Sin has a ripple effect that touches all areas of a person’s life and community. God wanted Israel to understand this, and even more so consider what would happen if even a little sin were allowed to germinate and take root among the people of Israel. James 1:13-15 describes sin in these terms – temptation gives rise to lust, lust gives birth to sin, and sin leads to death. Romans 5:12 describes how sin entered the world through one man and spread to every other man. Sin is like a disease: a small infection usually is harmless, but unless the infection is treated immediately, it can grow and become untreatable or even fatal. Jesus talks about maiming one’s self when something causes one to stumble in Matthew 18:7-8 and Matthew 5:29-30. The point here is that a small part can drag down the whole of an individual or even a corporate body.
Sin is as serious an issue today as it was for the Israelites. Christians can learn many things from the Israelites concerning sin and its implications. God was doing mighty works among them – so much so it seems they were getting pretentious about how God was going to act. But the sins of a one man brought God’s action to a screeching halt and instead Israel was humiliated and Joshua was grieved by this. God told Joshua to act decisively and deliberately concerning sin and he purged sin from Israel. Rather than assume that God will work mightily, Christians ought to be humble and seek God’s face at every turn. And in this humility, Christians should also remember to constantly confess sin and purge sin from their own lives to that it does not have a chance to germinate and spread like a ravenous disease. God is faithful to forgive sin and cleanse one from unrighteousness!
Lord, I am a sinner! Please forgive me and cleanse me from unrighteousness!