After the massive victory achieved by the Lord at Jericho, it appears that is all going to go well. The people showed faith in following all that the Lord commanded. So we would expect that it will be smooth sailing for the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan. At least that is what we thought was the case. Look at the first verse of Joshua 7. “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things.” What looked like a complete success at Jericho turned out to not be success at all. The people were unfaithful regarding the things that were set apart for destruction. In particular, Achan of the tribe of Judah took some of the devoted things. Therefore, the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel. This is important background information because no one knows that this has happened. No one knows that Achan has done this. This sets the stage for what we see in the rest of Joshua 7.
Joshua continues the process of taking possession of the land as God promised (1:2). He sends men from Jericho to Ai to spy out the land. It is not much of a city so the spies report that they do not need to send the whole fighting army against them. So about 3000 men are sent to attack Ai. But rather than enjoying victory, the men of Ai killed about 36 Israelites and sent the rest running for their lives. This failure at Ai causes the hearts of the people to melt. Now there are many who want to give a lot of reasons for the failure at Ai. Some say the failure is in Joshua because he did not ask God first. But I made the point back in Joshua 1 that God said he would give the whole land to Joshua, everywhere he walked and no one would stand against him (1:2-5). Joshua is being strong and courageous just as the Lord told him to be. Some say the failure is because the presumption that they would only need a few thousand to win at Ai and did not send the whole fighting force. The problem with this is to remember that God does not need any soldiers to win. He did not need soldiers to destroy Egypt. He did not need soldiers to make the wall fall at Jericho. Sending more soldiers was not the problem. The problem was clearly stated in the first verse and we must pay attention to it. The problem is that there is a person named Achan who directly violated what God said and took some of the possessions from the Jericho attack.
If we did not have verse 1 then we also have the rest of the account to tell why this failure occurred. After the failure, Joshua tore his clothes and fell on his face before the ark of the covenant for the rest of the day, along with the elders of Israel. They put dust on their heads and Joshua implores the Lord. Joshua cries out to God, asking why he has brought them over the Jordan if we are going to be destroyed by the Amorities! If this is what was going to happen, then we should have stayed on the east side of the Jordan River. Consider what Joshua is saying. Joshua is looking for God’s faithfulness. God said that this land was to belong to Israel and now it does not look like this is the case. Further, Joshua prays on behalf of God’s glory and name. Israel’s failure in Canaan will only cause God’s reputation to be ruined. If Israel fails at taking this land, God will not be glorified.
Look at God’s response to Joshua in verses 10-15. God tells Joshua to get up. Joshua, you should not be on your face before the Lord because the problem is not with God but with the people. Israel has sinned. Israel has transgressed the covenant (7:11). They have stolen and lied and put the devoted things among they own belongings. This is the reason for the failure at Ai (7:12). God will not be with the people and give them victory unless they destroy the things that were to be devoted to destruction. God does not walk with us in our rebellion. This has been an important message that God delivered to Israel in the wilderness and must deliver to them again. God does not walk in our rebellion.
Further, death is deserved for transgressing the covenant of the Lord. This is the message in verses 14-15. Each tribe will stand before the Lord and the Lord will choose the tribe. Then the clans in that tribe will stand before the Lord and the Lord will choose the clan. Then the families will stand before the Lord and the Lord will choose the family. Then the people of the family will come near the Lord and the Lord will choose the person who did this. The person who is identified is to be destroyed by fire because he has violated the covenant and has done an outrageous thing in Israel.
The narrowing down by tribe, clan, family, and people occurs until the person standing before the Lord is Achan. Joshua implores Achan to tell the truth and he confesses that he sinned against the Lord. He took a beautiful robe, 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels. Listen to what Achan says in verse 21. “I coveted them and took them.” Achan says that hid these things in the ground inside his tent. So Joshua sends messages to the tent and found these things hidden there. So they take Achan, his children, his possessions, and the stolen things to the Valley of Achor. They stoned him, stoned the rest, and burned all of it. Listen to verse 26: “Then the Lord turned from his burning anger.”
With sin dealt with, notice how chapter 8 begins. The Lord tells Joshua to not be afraid and to not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men and go up against Ai. The Lord had given the king, the people, the city, and the land into their hands. Ai is to be treated like Jericho with one exception. The spoil and the livestock of Ai can be kept as plunder for the people of Israel. Then God gives directions for the ambush of the city of Ai and chapter 8 records the victory God gave to Israel. The chapter ends with a renewal of the covenant. Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal just like Moses said to do. The Law of Moses was read before the people and the copy of the law was written on the stones. The blessings and curses of the covenant are declared from the mountains. We need to ask what is thrust of this passage? What is God teaching Israel? What is God teaching us?
First, hidden sins are not hidden. Achan thought that no one would know what he did. Achan thought he could hide what he stole in his tent. He even buried some of the things he took so that no one would ever see. But God saw. God saw what Achan did. No one else in all of Israel saw what Achan did. But God did. Our hidden sins are not hidden. What we think no one can see is seen by someone. Our hidden sins are seen by God. It is pretty surprising that we act this way about our sins. It is pretty amazing that we think the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Lord does not see what we are doing. It is amazing the sins we will commit because we think that because no human sees that the Lord does not see. But the first message God is communicating is that God sees all things. He sees our sins. He sees what we are doing. He knows what we have done.
What this means for us is that the faith we must have is a faith that obeys even when no one is watching. We must have a faith that obeys when we think that no one will know about our disobedience. We have the faith to obey even when we can get away with what we are doing because we know that we are not going to get away with it with God. How would this change how we behave as husbands and wives if we had the faith to know that God sees exactly what we said and how we acted in the closed doors of our homes and cars! This would change what we do on our jobs knowing that God sees exactly what we are doing. This would change what we are doing on our phones, on our devices, and on our computers when we have the faith to know that God sees exactly what we are looking at, who we are talking to, and the things we are doing that no human can see. Saving faith is a faith that obeys when no human is watching. We will have the faith to know that our hidden sins are not hidden at all.
Second, our sins affect others, even catastrophically. It seems that this is a hard lesson for us to learn. It seems it was a hard lesson for everyone to learn in the scriptures. Our sins do not hurt just ourselves. This is the false narrative that the culture has taught us. They ask what does it matter what we do as long as we are not hurting others. Friends, sins always hurt someone. In Joshua 7 we see all kinds of people hurt by the sin of Achan. In the attack against Ai, about 36 soldiers died because of Achan’s sin. The hearts of the people lose courage in the Lord because of Achan’s sin. We do not know if Achan’s children knew what Achan did or not, but either way they are judged for death because of Achan’s sin. Our sins directly affect others. Sometimes our sins directly affect others catastrophically. We know this. How many times do we have to hear of people become drunk and then driving only to kill someone because of their drunkenness? How many times do we have to hear the pain inflicted due to sexual immorality in a marriage? How many families have been destroyed because of people’s sins? Children are directly affected by the sins of the parents. Parents are directly affected by the sins of their children. We are even directly affected by each other’s sins in the church. The hurts we inflict on each other cause lasting damage to others. Innocent people suffer for the sins we commit. Spiritual harm is always caused on others by our sins. Sometimes even physical harm is caused on others by our sins. Our sins affect other people, even people we do not know or did not consider.
Third, there cannot be victory without rooting out of our hearts rebellion and hidden sins. There cannot be victory if we are not dealing with the sins in our lives. We cannot let our hearts be swayed by sin and think that we are going to enter the promised land. We cannot think that sins we commit are acceptable to God. Not only does God see our sins and not only do our sins hurt others, but our sins will find us out and will keep us from enjoying the riches found in Christ. God’s repeated message has been that there are severe consequences for rebellion. Further, I want you to notice something. Achan confessed his sin before Joshua when he is found out. Is that not enough? No, it is not enough. God wants a contrite heart that does not rebel against him. God cannot be with us if we are in rebellion. Achan saw all the miracles of God in the wilderness and in crossing the Jordan River as he is part of the second generation. His parents died in the wilderness for rebellion. Yet he also rebels against the Lord. We are all going to sin. We are all going to fall down. But if we choose to stay down then we are rebelling against the Lord. It is one thing to slip as we all do. It is another things to slip and choose to stay in mud and mire of sin. There cannot be victory without cleaning rebellion and hidden sins from our hearts.
Finally, faith waits for the Lord. Did you notice how the text went out of its way to point something out in Joshua 8:27, which also stated by God in Joshua 8:2? Now the people can take the spoil and livestock as plunder from the city of Ai. The people were not allowed to do this with Jericho, but they could with Ai. All Achan had to do was wait for the next city and he could have had the things that he desired. But his desire turned to covetousness for he would not wait for the command of the Lord. Rather than operating on God’s time, he operated on his own schedule. Rather than wait for God to provide, he decided he would provide for himself. The heart of covetousness was that he would not wait for God to give to him in God’s time. He wanted what he wanted on his time and he lost his life for it. Faith waits for the Lord. Faith waits for God’s provision. Faith waits for God’s commands. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).