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When we think of the Old Testament character Joshua, one of two things usually comes to mind: he was the successor to Moses in leading the nation of Israel into the Promised Land (Joshua 1:2); he led the Israelites to victory at Jericho (Joshua 6).

Most of us can remember, I’m sure, singing the lyrics, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho! Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came a-tumblin’ down!”

That’s usually where our familiarity with Joshua stops.

No doubt, Joshua was a great leader.

In fact, countless books have been written about leadership lessons that can be learned from him.

But, the book of Joshua holds much more for us than the “stories” we were told as children attending Sunday school or precepts for corporate executives about organizational leadership.

In fact, one of the more profound and unappreciated lessons from the book of Joshua has nothing to do with Joshua, but with a man named Achan, the son of Carmi.

Interestingly, or, perhaps ironically considering the backstory involving the man (Joshua 7), the name Achan (known also as Achar) means “one who troubles.”

Achan is significant because of the egregious sin he committed during the Israelite conquest of Jericho.

Achan’s sin involved violating God’s unambiguous decree that all the spoils taken from the city – the silver, gold, bronze and iron – were banned. That is, they were to be set aside and placed in the treasury of God as His own possession (Joshua 6:15-19).

There are no “secret sins”

Fresh from their victory at Jericho, the next target of conquest for the Israelites was the city of Ai. But because of Achan’s disobedience things did not initially go as planned Joshua and the Israelites, as 36 of them were killed in the initial attempt to take the city. All of a sudden, God’s chosen people, who to this point had not known defeat, found themselves retreating from their adversaries in fear.

Achan deliberately hid his sin from Joshua; but what he failed to realize, apparently, is that his sin was not hidden from God (Joshua 7:1).

Devastated after their defeat at Ai, Joshua cried out to God to try to make sense of it all. It was then that the omniscient God of Israel made Joshua aware that His decree had been violated (Joshua 7:11).

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:13

If we learn anything from Achan, it is that sin is never singular in its impact. It is always plural.

Sin is never singular

God’s command to set aside the banned items applied to the entire nation of Israel. As such, if one person violated the command, the entire nation would be subject to His wrath.

“But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.” – Joshua 6:18

We often make the mistake of thinking the sin we commit affects only ourselves and not others.

When, for example, a spouse chooses to engage in an adulterous extra-marital relationship, the illicit pleasure he or she experiences is only momentary. But, once discovered, the consequences can be devastating and lasting, not only to those directly involved, but also those who are indirectly involved, such as children.

If we learn anything from Achan, it is that sin is never singular in its impact. It is always plural.

And though the effects of sin may not be immediately noticeable, keep in mind, as I quote my former pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, “Sin will always cost you what you sow, more than you sow, later than you sow it.”

“Sorry” doesn’t cut it

To say that God was “angry with Israel” as a result of Achan’s sin would be a gross understatement. In Joshua 7:1 we read that, “the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.”

The Hebrew verb “burned” (charah, חָרָה), speaks of God being in a state of zealous rage.

Clearly, Achan’s sin was no small matter to God.

In fact, God was so angry with Joshua and the people that He threatened to depart from their presence altogether unless the matter of Israel’s disobedience was dealt with immediately, saying, “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst.” (Joshua 7:12b)

God takes our sin no less serious than He did Achan’s; and where there is sin in our life, there must also be atonement, as was the case with Achan (Joshua 7:13).

We like to think of confession of sin as simply saying “I’m sorry” to God, but “Sorry” doesn’t cut it with Him. We like to view God as loving, merciful and forgiving, and though He possesses all those attributes, and more, He has not ceased to be a God of holiness, righteousness and wrath. As such, when we disobey God, He expects us to say the same thing about our disobedience as He does.

God is, after all, still the same God of whom the Bible says, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil; and You cannot look on wickedness with favor.” – Habakkuk 1:13.

Confession 101

Notwithstanding Achan’s disobedience and the subsequent consequences to him, his family, and Israel as a whole, we find in him a textbook example of what genuine confession looks like.

Having been lovingly implored by Joshua to acknowledge his sin (Joshua 7:19), Achan, having been found to be the guilty party according to God’s specific instructions (Joshua 7:14-15) confessed, and he did so in very specific terms:

So Achan answered Joshua and said,

“Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.” (Joshua 7:20-21)

Notice that Achan didn’t refer to his disobedience as a “mistake” or an “indiscretion” or “bad judgment.” No, Achan called it exactly what God called it. “Truly, I have sinned…”, he said.

But, his confession didn’t stop there.

Not only did Achan publicly acknowledge that he had sinned, he willingly outlined – in very explicit detail – both the impetus and nature of his transgression: “…and this is what I did…when I saw…I coveted …and took…they are concealed…inside my tent…”

This is what real, genuine, sincere confession looks like:

  • Views disobedience as God does.
  • Doesn’t try to gloss over or make light of sin, but takes it seriously because God takes it seriously.
  • Speaks of the sin committed in very specific terms.
  • Takes no account of the consequences.
  • Motivated by a heartfelt desire to glorify God (Joshua 7:19a).

The account of the sin of Achan is not an easy one to digest. I realize that. But when there is “sin in the camp”, it must be dealt with in a way that brings honor and glory to God. A “camp” can be a heart, a home, a marriage, an attitude – anything and any place where sin abides.

That God makes forgiveness and restoration available to us doesn’t mean the removal of the consequences of our actions. Nevertheless, we must confess our disobedience and call it what it is, regardless what the consequences might be.

I thank God for the lessons Achan’s life teaches us about what genuine confession looks like.

Think about it.


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