A Tough Chapter to Swallow-Joshua 7:14-26
Introduction: Last week we looked at the first half of the seventh chapter of Joshua. We used the first half of the chapter to consider three different examples where pride caused people to put something/someone before their obedience to God. I acknowledged that the second half of the story has a very challenging ending and that is what we look at today together. The reason I wanted to come back to this chapter is that this could be a passage of scripture that without proper understanding could cause confusion and misunderstanding to both the Christian and especially the non-Christian. I recently came across a study by George Barna research group from 2019. As they surveyed thousands of people, they found in their survey group the percentage of Americans that are actively engaging their Bible has decreased from 21% to 17% and even worse is the number of people who report being skeptical about the Bible has increased from 10% to 21%. (Barna Group, Changing Perceptions of the Bible) Stories like we are about to read could easily be used to discourage people about God and the value of the scriptures. I want the message today to challenge you to be more thoughtful of what you would say if you are asked the questions about scriptures similar to what I am about to read. I know the answers I give today won’t resolve all questions, but I hope they give some direction toward answers and motivate you to do your own study. I also want to stress the questions and skepticism always needs to be confronted respectfully and thoroughly, not with answers like “because the Bible says so.” Let’s begin with Joshua 7:14-26. I am reading the entire passage then offering my take-away points of meaning. v.14 In the morning therefore you shall come forward tribe by tribe. The tribe that the Lord takes shall come near by clans, the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households and the household the Lord takes shall come near one by one. v.15 And the one who is taken as having the devoted things shall be burned with fire, together with all that he has, for having transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and for having done an outrageous thing in Israel. v.16 So Joshua rose early in the morning, and brought Israel near tribe by tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. v.17 He brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites, family by family and the Zabdi was taken. V.18 And he brought near his household one by one, and Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. v.19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and make confession to him. Tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” V.20 And Achan answered Joshua, “it is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. This is what I did; v.21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekel of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” V.22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent: and there it was, hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. v.23 They took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites; and they spread them out before the Lord. V.24 Then Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan son of Zerah, with the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, with his sons and his daughters, with his oxen, donkeys and sheep, and his tent and all that the land had; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor. v.25 Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord is bringing trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, V.26 and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, that place to this day is called the Valley of Achor. Take-a-ways for Today Let’s quickly consider some principles we can take away from this passage and how this story is relevant for us and does not under-mine the integrity of God or the Bible. Protection and purity of the believing community. The action that was taken was for the purity and protection of the people of God. What we need to appreciate from our 21st century mindset is the unique people God was seeking to raise up that would live differently than the surrounding culture. There was a need to protect the believing community from the toxic pagan ways of the surrounding culture. For the sake of time, one example is that the pagan cultures would use children as sacrifices. Deuteronomy 12:31 stresses that as a reason it was crucial the people of God did not get entangled with false gods of the Promise Land. One O.T. scholar explained it like this. (Interpreter’s Commentary of Joshua, pp. 587-589 “Achan had deliberately disobeyed the command of God and so imperiled the whole nation. A very strong community sense existed among the Israelites. They regarded sin primarily in its communal aspects.” P.588…The extension of guilt to the entire family was characteristic to the ancient world that had a strong sense of corporate identity. pp.589-90 “…God’s expressed order had been violated…It may be a crude conception of God but nevertheless it contains very profound and farreaching truth. Anything at all which stands in the way of the fulfillment of God’s commands must be exterminated, (principles over personalities) regardless of cost. The cancer which endanger whole nations and eat into the very lifeblood of people must be completely removed from the very start. Evil must be stopped at its source or it will spread and grow.” pp.589-590 The punishment was because what affects one affects many. The story of God involved in humankind is a messy story. The story of God working in people isn’t neat and tidy; its complicated and messy. I am glad it is because in every church I have served including here, sometimes situations and issues aren’t always worked out in a way that is neat and tidy. Is it possible the punishment Joshua handed down in the name of God was the best Joshua understood to do at the time? Some might say they are too modern to tolerate a story of violence like this and believe God could still be active in Joshua and his leaders. But what about how there can be a tolerance and lack of out-cry in our modern society, including us to various forms of human suffering? • Remember how long it took for something to be done about the ethnic cleansing in eastern Europe, in places like Serbia in the 90’s? • Remember how long it took for something to be done about the Rwanda genocide? • I watched Friday’s news and saw two law enforcement leaders and one social action leader go on camera and plead with the Memphis community for information to help solve the recent murders of 3 youth ages 16 and younger. Why aren’t the tips rolling into the police? • What about the number of abortions that continue to be performed in our nation? I would venture to guess that many who might say any type of abortion is a woman’s right; might also say it was wrong for God to punish the entire family. I am not trying to dive into too much today, but every civilization can have its hands in the cookie jar of contradiction. My point is there are times God is offering us truth to follow but we either resist God and or our best effort to comprehend God fall short. Let me illustrate it quickly another way from a congregational level. Illustration: Pastor John Ortberg has written several books and is really a good communicator. Two years ago, he confronted a long-time friend and colleague in ministry named, Bill Hybels. The two of them had served for years at the Willowcreek Community Church near Chicago that Hybels had founded. Hybels has influenced great pastors like Pastor Andy Stanley. Stanley credits Bill Hybels with being a major influence to help Stanley develop a hugely effective church ministry that would attract the un-churched. But two years ago, Hybels was accused of sexual and ethical indiscretions with his female staff. He denied all accusations. John Ortberg, who was no longer on staff at Willow Creek and pastoring on the west coast was still serving in an advisory capacity to Willowcreek. Ortberg was one of the key folks who stepped forward and called for a deeper investigation because Hybels’ explanations were not clearing up matters. Hybels eventually took an early retirement. Now hang with me, news just came out this past week, Pastor John Ortberg was ordered to take a leave of absence by his church’s elders. The reason, his adult child confided in the elders of the church, that Pastor Ortberg was allowing a person in the church to work with kids but, this person had also confessed to Pastor Ortberg they have battled with thoughts of sexual attraction to children. According to Ortberg, the person of concern is treating themselves about the issue and Ortberg was permitting that person to serve in the kid’s ministry and had not made other church staff or elders aware of the situation. How is it that Ortberg would rise to the occasion to confront a long-time friend and colleague; but allow a potentially dangerous situation to go unchecked? I know one thing. It would be wrong to say well God should be doing more to intervene with Pastor Ortberg. So, my point is just as we see modern day examples where the human response can fall short even when trying to do right; it’s unfair to blame God or dismiss the reality of God in these ancient stories. The story of God working in people is at times messy. One label for this process of how God works but we can fall short of comprehending is called “progressive revelation.” God’s truth was not completely comprehended by Old Testament followers but revealed most completely in Jesus and New Testament times. Therefore, we interpret what is true and right for today through the life of Jesus and New Testament teaching. God’s autonomy Some would say this story illustrates that there are some decisions that are only God’s to make and we are to trust God. We need to honor God’s autonomy. There is always that gap between our wisdom and God’s wisdom. Pastor Les Beauchamp explained it like this. We love our pets like dogs and cats. They can become like family members. But no matter how much they mean to us that doesn’t change what they are, they are still cats and dogs. They love you but they also might bite you if you try to touch them when they are in pain. They might damage parts of the household just being a dog or a cat, it’s what they do. There is always going to be a gap they can never get passed and become fully human. God’s nature is such that his permission or will for some things to happen or allowing life to unfold in a process that develops is difficult for us to understand at times because we are the creation and God is the creator. God’s nature is different, and there is a gap between us and him. He looks at all that takes place and sees it from a viewpoint that we just do not possess. It’s why Isaiah the prophet once said speaking on behalf of God, “My ways are not your ways, says the Lord.” It is why Jesus waited four days to come to his friend Lazarus even though he knew Lazarus was ill and Jesus knew he could have healed him. Nope, instead, Jesus waited for Lazarus to die, be placed in a tomb, even pass the three-day mark. Some Jews at that time thought the soul could still return to the body within three days of death. According to John 11:17, Jesus waited until day four! Only God raises someone to new life and would be given the glory on day four and only God could be seen in Jesus pulling off a miracle like that on day 4. We sooner or later in life have our day four experiences, don’t we, when we know something has happen that came by divine involvement; not just our abilities. Therefore, God is God and it is God’s call to make and we are faced with a choice whether we will trust God is good or not. God is not limited to what is fair. Maybe the objection of a story like this is that we want God to always be fair and be consistent. God couldn’t order punishment of an entire family like this for the sin of one and then still be known as a God of love and justice, that is not fair? One, we don’t have all the information. • We don’t know how old Achan’s children were. • Maybe the children were adults and involved. • Also, Achan admits to the sin but doesn’t necessarily repent or have remorse. Also, are we sure we want God always to be fair because what if we always received what we deserved and was fair? Greater appreciation for Jesus as the fulfillment. Last of all, remember Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God and it is through Christ we decide how we live. He came in the fullness of time when the world was as a ready as it was going to be to receive the good news of both his truth and grace, then Jesus came. And now we have to take a story like this and consider what is taught in both old and new testaments, then decide and walk by faith. Faith is necessary because we still don’t have all the answers, but we have God who speaks to our hearts.