Are you watching the Winter Olympics? Niki, the kids and I have been excited to watch the ice skating, snow skiing and snowboarding! I was disappointed to hear how the poor behavior of a few of our American athletes in past Winter Olympics that affected the rest of the athletes. An article by the Associated Press told of one skier who bragged to the media that he often competed drunk, and of a free-style skier who was sent home after punching a friend in the mouth so hard he lost a tooth. It described a major feud between two speed skaters. USOC Chief Executive Jim Scherr noted that these incidents “affect how the world views our country.” The majority of the over 200 member US team had no problems, but, Jim Scherr summed it all up by saying, “a few color the rest of the delegation.”
The “moral” of this true story is this: the actions of a few can have negative consequences for hundreds. Our verses from Joshua provide a tragic illustration of this principle.
Jericho had been a major and miraculous victory, but it was God’s victory. Normally, the spoils of war were considered a soldier’s pay, their reward for victory. But not this time, because the soldiers didn’t win this battle. God did! And as a way of making sure they understood this fact, God had them give all the valuables to Him. He also told them that if this law was broken, the entire nation would suffer. The vast majority of the Hebrews understood and obeyed this clear instruction from the Lord. Everyone listened to God’s command and obeyed. Everyone that is but one man, a man named Achan from the tribe of Judah.
Joshua 7:1 says, But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan …of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel. (NIV)
This verse tells us that Israel acted unfaithfully when in reality it was one man Achan and his family who did so. “Achan” means trouble in Hebrew and I’m not sure if that’s his real name or a nick-name. Have you ever called your children trouble? Either way he lived up to his name!
While the smoke was still rising from Jericho, Joshua (who, like everyone else, was ignorant of Achan’s sin) began to make plans for the next city of conquest. And following his usual custom he sent spies to scope it out, a little city called Ai, which was an outpost east of Bethel, located up in the hill country about 15 miles from Jericho. The spies came back and assured Joshua that only a few thousand warriors were needed to take care of this puny little opponent. Their report is in Josh. 7:3, “Not all the people will have to go Up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.”
“It will be a piece of cake,” the spy’s could say. It was a piece of cake for Ai! The 3000 Hebrews marched confidently up there to attack but were soundly defeated and ran in terror back down leaving 36 dead soldiers behind them. And please understand, this is the only defeat of the invading Hebrew forces recorded in Joshua and the only report of Jews actually being slain in combat.
Joshua and the elders are beside themselves, they hit the ground in prayer, sprinkling dust on their heads which was a sign of humility. (Joshua 7:6)
Then Joshua starts singing the blues. (Joshua 7:8-9) We’ve heard this song before. He learned the lyrics in the wilderness with the children of Israel. Joshua did not sing this song in the wilderness, but he is singing now. He cannot understand why he lost the battle.
God told Joshua to get up off the ground and then He said the reason for their defeat was the fact that God had been robbed! Someone had taken what belonged to God and lied about it. (Joshua 7:10-12)
Now, God could have just told Joshua who the guilty party was, but He didn’t. He had Joshua and the people go through a long two day one night process. (Joshua 7:13-16) And I think the reason He didn’t was to give Joshua, the leaders and the people time to pray and reflect. And it gave Achan time to repent. God was giving him a chance to admit his wrong and show that he realized what he had done to his people. In fact, I think if he had come forth earlier, perhaps the night before when Joshua said they would draw lots or the next morning or even at the beginning of the lottery process. I think if he came forward then that God would have forgiven Him but he didn’t. Achan was rebellious until the very end which is very sad.
Have you separated yourself from God due to some sinful stash of your own? Have you stolen from God? Have you taken what belongs to God? Has some hidden sin taken the joy out of your life? Is a hidden sin keeping you from victory? It’s time to confess and make it right before it’s too late!
We’ll look at what happens to Achan and what caused him to do what he did in a future post, but here’s a few more truths to apply…
Because of one man’s poor choice there were 36 wives and children who would never see their husband and daddies again.
How many families suffer because one member struggles with alcohol, gambling, greed, an addiction or an affair?
As a nation we have seen more than one president’s “private” sin corrupt an administration. And, how many churches and even entire ministries have we seen become powerless and ineffective because of the sins of a few people? How many kids grow up to be bitter, selfish, greedy, unforgiving, or dishonest because that’s the example their parents set for them? How many third world nations go hungry because of the greed and opulence of the dictator that rules them with an iron fist? How many hundreds of thousands are suffering from AIDS because of the sin of others? How many children are born with illness because of the indiscretion of their parents? How many people don’t have retirement because of the greedy actions of a few executives?
We are living in an age of hyper-individualism in which we think, “What I do is my business. What you do is your business. Let’s just mind our own business.” But that is impossible to do because our lives are intricately intertwined. We can either bring strength to one another or we can bring weakness.
This is why God said, “Israel has sinned.” instead of singling out Achan. He did it to remind us that we all pay a price when one of us sins. I am not an island, you are not an island, let’s not lie to ourselves. Our life can give other people strength and confidence and courage and the ability to be much more successful in life. Or, our life can weaken them and cause them to fail. We make an impact everywhere we are. We’re connected with other people. We are not just individuals. If we make bad decisions individually then we create weakness in those around us.
So when a brother or sister sins we could accurately ask him, “How much is your sin going to cost me?” In fact we all need to ask ourselves, “What are the shortcomings, failings and the seeds of disobedience in my heart that may grow into actions that embarrass or hurt my kids, my spouse, my church?
In the next post we’ll look at how to stop our patterns of failure.