I was reading recently about Dr Li Wenliang, the Chinese Christian ophthalmologist who warned his peers at Wuhan Central Hospital about the existence of the coronavirus. Despite being admonished by the police for ‘making false comments on the Internet', he had acted with integrity in informing others of the need to deal with the virus, knowing that if it wasn't deal with promptly, it would spread and people would die. Sadly, he wasn't listened to and at the time of writing over 64,000 people have been infected and 1300 people have died, including the brave doctor.
What relevance does this have to today's reading? Sin is like a virus – it can soon affect and involve innocent people. When Achan chose to steal the ‘devoted' things, he was not simply pocketing a few mementos. Firstly, he was disobeying a direct order from God not to touch the objects used by the Canaanites in their worship of demonic gods. In Joshua 6:18 on the final day of the Israelites marching around the besieged city of Jericho, that is, on the day of its destruction, Joshua had said: “But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.” Jericho and everything in it were doomed to destruction because they had sunk so far in their debased practices that nothing was to be spared apart from Rahab and her family. By stealing the booty, Achan had brought what was meant for destruction into the Israelite camp, rendering that a place also destined for destruction. The outworking of this was that when the Israelites attacked Ai, what should have been a simple battle against a weak people, turned into a rousing defeat and the death of 36 Israelite soldiers. Stepping outside of God's will has serious consequences and harms innocent people! Secondly, Achan didn't just steal from the people of Jericho, he stole from God! Joshua 6:19 says “But all silver and gold and every vessel of bronze and iron are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” God had promised to give the land to the Israelites and this was their first conquest after crossing the river Jordan. The spoils of silver, gold, bronze and iron were to be the firstfruits, like our tithes, and as such were due to the Lord. Achan stole what rightfully belonged to God.
The consequences of Achan's actions reverberated around the camp. He caused God's anger to burn as his individual actions made the whole community unholy. God cannot condone sin because he is a just and holy God. Achan's sin removed God's protection from the Israelites and caused the death of the 36 soldiers. It didn't just impact him; it impacted those around him! It also impacted his whole family who lost their lives because of his ill-judged actions.
God dealt swiftly and decisively with Achan's sin in order to prevent it from spreading and others becoming infected. He required that the children of Israel sanctified themselves, that is, presented themselves before him with a pure heart before he dealt with Achan. Taking time to examine our hearts is an integral part of our relationship with God. Ultimately Achan confessed his sin and deception and he and his whole family were destroyed to eliminate the possibility of contamination!
The saddest part of this narrative for me is that when God commanded the army to attack Ai (for the second time and with his authority) at the beginning of the next chapter, he expressly tells them to take its spoils for themselves! If only Achan had waited!
Through the blood of Jesus, shed for us on the cross, we live under the mercy and grace of God, so when we sin, we can ‘admit it and quit it' without any consequences to our relationship with him. However, if we continue in sin, we put up a barrier between ourselves and God which prevent us from living in all the fullness of God's love for us. If we have something we need to address, let's do it today, and get back into that precious flow of the love and goodness of God.