There is always somebody in the church who does not think that God’s commands are serious. There are always people in the church who think that they can sin, and they think that this is their private problem - and not the church’s problem. In this study we want to do some serious reflection upon the effects of our sin upon others. We will learn that that our private sins always have public effects. It is true that some of our sins will have less visible impact than others - but they will always have an impact to a greater or lesser degree.
UNDERSTANDING THE BACKGROUND
Chapter 7:1 starts on a solemn and disturbing note. “Achan took some of the devoted things. And the Lord’s anger burned against the people of Israel“ . This is the central verse and concern of this chapter. There is an individual sin … and there is God’s wrath on a nation .
What happened? The story is described in terms of (i) A Cause (ii) A Cure and (iii) A Consequence
(i) THE CAUSE : (7:1-9)
One of the men of Israel, Achan, did not take God’s commandments seriously. He disobeyed the explicit order of 6:17 – 19 . The order could not have been clearer. But, there is always someone who thinks that “no!” means, “try your luck”.
Well, what happened? As Israel was poised to take the next city in the promised land, Ai, they not only encountered stiff resistance, not only were thirty six of their men killed in the battle for that town, but they were decisively beaten, “and their hearts melted and became as water“ (7:5). Joshua’s reaction in 7: 6 – 9 shows that he is utterly grieved and perplexed. You and I have already been given a ‘sneak preview’ in 7:1 as to why this happened. But Joshua has, as yet, no clue as to what had caused this setback. As far as he was concerned nothing could go wrong right now. The God of Israel had assured them of His presence [see Chapter 1: 3,5,6,9,11,13,15]. He had already caused the waters of the Jordan to dry up, so that they could walk into the promised land on dry foot. God had already given Jericho into their hands. But notice too, that the gift of the land is connected to their obedience- see 1:7b - 8,17.
So, this defeat at Ai is devastating! What on earth is God doing? Can you appreciate Joshua’s despair in v.7? Joshua feels humiliated and mocked (7:9) “What will the Canaanites think of us? What will the Canaanites think of Israel’s God?“ The glory of God is at stake. Will God now be humiliated before the Amorites?
(ii) THE CURE: 7: 10-23
Joshua’s desperate prayer is heard by God (7: 10 -13). Mourning over the fact will not do. “Get up!” The problem is not with God. It is within Israel! “Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant… they have taken some of the devoted things (referring to 6:18,19)! The reason is given why they cannot stand against their enemies. God says, “get rid of that problem among you by destroying it.”
God does not give Joshua the name(s) of the offender(s). He simply says: “Assemble the people. Then you take them one by one, and you question them. You’ll soon find the guilty party”. It doesn’t take long before the matter is in the open (7:20).
The anatomy and progression of Achan’s sin is powerfully displayed in 7:20-21 : I saw – I coveted- I took” ( cf. James 1:14,15)
[Note: seeing is no sin ; but coveting and taking are both forbidden in the 10 commandments]
(iii) THE CONSEQUENCE: 7: 23 -26
Achan was judged guilty, and in consequence his family and all his belongings were destroyed. This is a very graphic illustration and severe application of Romans 6:23 : “The wages of sin is death”.
This judgement no doubt comes as a great shock to a 21st century reader of the Bible. Why did Achan’s family have to die with him? It doesn’t sit easy, does it? But that is precisely what sine does. It produces pain, it produces grief because it produces death.
Perhaps your understanding grows somewhat more when you understand what the selfish sin of Achan had accomplished: 36 wives had perhaps lost their husbands, and many children would have lost their fathers at the battle of Ai. But even more significantly, the honour and the Name of God were assaulted by a man who thought that God did not mean what He said. Private sins have consequences!
The penalty is so severe because the sin is so serious!
The problem is that we have such a poor understanding of the nature of sin and what it does to God and man. We think that it is a little thing to sin against God’s explicit commands! But it is no little thing to sin against God. Perhaps you will now appreciate Jesus’ strong words in Matthew 5:29ff to “ If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out… if your right hand causes you to sin , cut it off… it is better for you to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
We cannot treat cancer with plasters or vitamin pills - it requires radical surgery. Sin is a spiritual cancer. It needs radical treatment.
The primary lesson from this text is that private sin has public consequences. Think through some biblical examples and then through some everyday examples:
- In Joshua :
- The effects of Achan’s private sin on Israel : (i) Loss of life (ii) Loss of blessing (iii) Loss of courage (iv) Loss of protection
- In the rest of Scripture
(i) Adam’s ‘private sin’ caused the whole human race to inherit the ‘sin virus’ and be cut off from God.
(ii) David’s ‘private‘ sin with Batsheba (2 Samuel 11) caused the death of her husband Uriah, and the death of the baby born to him and Batsheba. It also ultimately cost him the kingdom.
(iii) David’s “private vanity” in 2 Samuel 24, where he calls for a headcount of all the fighting men, causes the Lord to burn with anger. It caused the death of 70 000 people from Dan to Beersheba.
(iv) King Herod’s private fears about the announcement of a “king to be born in Israel “ causes a baby boy genocide (Matt. 2:16). Also, his loose private words and promises cause the death of John the Baptist (Matt. 14: 1-12)
(v) The private selfishness and man-centeredness of the Corinthian church causes great divisions in the church.
(vi) Supremely, your, mine and everyone else’s ‘private sin‘ took Christ to the cross. The holy, sinless Son of God and Son of man had to be destroyed by death. He had to die in our place, so that our sin could be forgiven.
EVERYDAY EXAMPLES :
(i) A husband cheats on his wife. Wife, children, family, friends suffer. If he is a church member, the church also suffers.
(ii) The private “sex life” of people who pass on AIDS has horrifying upon our country (25-30 % infected?) Many children born in such relationships are affected. families, employers, health care systems and economies are affected.
Your sin is no private affair.
Your sin does not happen in isolation, just as little as cancer or Aids manifests itself in isolation to the rest of the body. The nature of cancer, AIDS or flu for that matter is that it affects the whole body. It eventually kills the body. And the church is a body. And Israel is a body.
Achan is part of Israel and therefore Achan’s sin is her problem.
The same is true for sin in the church. Your sin becomes the church’s problem. The Holy Spirit is grieved. It hurts everyone to varying degrees. The church cannot advance with sin in her midst. Subsequent Church discipline is always painful. Sometimes people have to be cut off. It always leaves people grieving.
Think about that!