Lesson 5, Joshua 7-9
Sin in the Camp

Suffering for sin in the body
An Exposition by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Part of a study on the Book of Joshua

If you find Joshua chapters 7 through 9 rather strange, you're not alone. But understanding the concepts here is vital to understanding God, and how he deals with us even to this day.

In chapter 7, Achan, from the tribe of Judah, takes plunder from the city, plunder that belongs to the conquering King's treasury, in this case, God's treasury. As a result God does not bless the nation in battle and some soldiers are wounded when they try to take the city of Ai (pronounced "eye").

Joshua is devastated. If they can't keep winning battles to conquer Canaan, the word will quickly spread, Israel's enemies will gang up on her, and ultimately destroy her. God reveals to Joshua that sin is the reason that God did not fight for Israel against Ai.

The sinner is selected by lot, confesses, and is punished by stoning. Now God fights for Israel once again, and they easily take the city. A strange story.

The Sin of One

The strangeness begins with first verse of our passage: "But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan ... took some of them. So the LORD'S anger burned against Israel" (7:1).

We find it strange that God should blame the whole nation -- "the Israelites acted unfaithfully" -- for the sin of a single man. If they had half a million troops involved in the conquest of Jericho, you might reason, you can't expect perfection. One of them, at least, will disobey orders. Why should the whole nation suffer for the greed of one?

Why indeed? But in time of war, you must agree, one soldier who fires prematurely can alert the enemy and destroy the whole army. One person who shares a secret can expose an entire nation to defeat. Real life demonstrates that all can suffer for the sins of a single man.

The second strangeness we observe in this passage is the sense of solidarity or unity or oneness that Achan has with the whole people. This might not be foreign to a citizen of Japan who has the importance of the group instilled in him from early childhood. But to Americans, perhaps the most individualistic people on earth, it's hard to fathom. "Every man for himself" is much more familiar to us than "the good of the many."

Unity of the Body

We see a similar sense of solidarity with others in the New Testament.

"But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body." (1 Corinthians 12:18-20)

It extends to the relationship of "oneness" between a husband and wife:

"In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- for we are members of his body.... This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:28-32)

While there is a strong sense of personal responsibility in both Old and New Testaments, the sense of solidarity is still present, including sin in the body.

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you.... Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? ... But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. ... God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you'" (1 Corinthians 5:1, 6, 11, 13).

Look also at 1 Timothy 5:22 where Paul advises, "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure."

Come Out from Among Them

In the theocracy of Joshua's day, a sinner could be brought to justice and punished. But that was then and this is now. How do we deal with sin in the body? The scripture enjoins us to discipline the offenders and if they do not repent, expel them (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5).

But what happens when a church or its leaders refuses to discipline gross sin? How do we keep from being tainted with the sin ourselves? Doesn't this make the church powerless? Doesn't it place us the wrath of God?

These are difficult questions. I think that it's too easy to merely quote "Come out from among them and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17), and then begin a new denomination. We Baptists have done that, and last time I heard we numbered 212 separate Baptist denominations.

Rather we are called to "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Daniel did not separate himself from his people; rather he identified himself with them, and confessed their sin to God as if it were his own, and sought God's mercy for them (Daniel 9:4-19). We are to do the same. Strive to keep the unity of the faith, confess our sins, and seek God for his revival and restoration of his body. And provide for discipline within our own fellowships, as difficult as that is to accomplish.

Taking Sin Too Lightly

Have you ever rationalized your own sins as minor? I've sometimes wondered how God could have used me if I had repented of some sins earlier. How would I be different? How would the people to whom I minister be different? How would the world be different? If only ... if only.

Sin dulls our spiritual edge. It keeps us from wanting to listen keenly and carefully. It loads us with guilt that is the enemy of bold faith. Sin is like hobbles on our legs so we can not run when we need to. One of the lessons of Achan's sin is that we must take sin and disobedience very seriously if we desire God's favor and blessing.

The world longs to see sin-free Christians. Oh, it complains of "holier than thou" when it sees our self-righteousness. But if it could just see humble, Christ-loving people who have repented from their sin and now struggle to live free, what power there is in that! No, none of us is perfect in this life, and we must all confess our sins (1 John 1). But God intends us to live free, yet we settle for so much bondage and call it normal Christianity!

This passage indicates that sin affects not only us, but also the people around us. Instead of constantly pointing out the sins of others, we need to examine our own hearts and ask God to root out our own sins so we might not injure others in the body and in our families.

The Sin of Greed

The particular sin that Achan committed was the sin of greed and stealing. He saw something of great value that belonged to another and took it. Wasn't it just plunder from battle? you ask. Yes, it was plunder, but it belonged to the King, the Lord. Achan coveted what belonged to God and kept it for himself, and buried in the floor of his tent.

There is too close a parallel here not to mention the passage in Malachi 3:8-9:

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse -- the whole nation of you -- because you are robbing me" (Malachi 3:8-9)

Achan robbed from God and was under a curse, too. This is not the place to debate whether we New Testament saints "owe" God the tithe, and thus to withhold it puts us in Achan's shoes. Or perhaps we are just to acknowledge that everything we have is God's, and to resist the greed that puts us into debt so we cannot give generously to God. Few of us can say we've never been where Achan was. There, but for the grace of God, go we. If God took Achan's greed this seriously, how does he view ours?

Once while Jesus was teaching, a man called out, "Make my brother give me my share of the property." Jesus took this as an occasion for public warning: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). The man thought he was asking for justice, but Jesus saw the real motivation -- greed -- and called it what it was.

Lord, free us from the sin of greed, when we cling to that which belongs to you and you only. Amen.

We'll skip the Battle of Ai and the renewal of the covenant at Mount Ebal (chapter 8). I want to touch on two more important lessons in chapter 9

Gibeonite Deception

When the inhabitants of Canaan saw the Israelites win victory after victory, they were terrified. Some formed a military alliance to attack the Israelites in force (chapter 10), but the citizens of Gibeon took a different tack.

They took elaborate measures to appear as if they were on a long journey, far from their homes, down to the details of moldy bread and cracked wineskins, tattered clothes and worn-out sandals. Hollywood couldn't have done better. And the Israelites were utterly fooled. The Gibeonites lied about their identity and asked for a treaty or covenant of peace and the leaders of the people ratified the covenant with an oath in the name of the LORD.

Sanctity of the LORD'S Name

Three days later they discovered their error, but it was too late.

"We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them" (9:19-20).

Now if it were us, we'd go to court to have the agreement annulled on the grounds that it was entered into fraudulently. But the Israelites honored the LORD'S name, even over being cheated.

Suzerain-vassal treaties, covenants between a greater and lesser power, were ratified by an oath in the name of the nation's God. When Israel's leader's swore in the name of the LORD, Yahweh, they could not go back on it.

You see, they took seriously the Ten Commandments, number three of which is, "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7, KJV) This commandment means that if they swore by the LORD they could not break their oath, for if they did they would be guilty before the LORD himself.

Swearing in the LORD'S name was so binding on them, that it prevented them from fulfilling the LORD'S command to destroy the Gibeonites as they did the other peoples of the land. And when the Gibeonites themselves were attacked by a coalition of five Amorite kings, Israel, as the protector in the treaty, was obligated to come to their rescue.

Compared to the high honor in which they held God's name, we regard it little. We take it lightly on our lips in order to sound pious. We are constantly hearing his name uttered as a swearword to the point that we are conditioned to ignore this blasphemy. The story of the Gibeonite deception teaches us how seriously we ought to take his name.

By Jesus' day, Jews considered God's name to be so holy that they never uttered it at all for fear of blasphemy. Even when reading the Hebrew Bible, they would substitute the word "Lord" when the text read "Yahweh." Instead of saying "In God's name" they would say "for heaven's sake." But by Jesus' day the matter of taking oaths had become a devious science, with oaths being more or less binding depending upon which holy thing they were sworn upon. Jesus taught his disciples, "I tell you, Do not swear at all.... Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:34, 37; James 5:12).

On the other hand Jesus taught his followers about the power of the Name, of praying in his Name to the Father, of casting out demons in his Name, of healing in his Name. May the Lord curb our tongues so that when we utter his Name we do so with meaning and gravity and power.

Inquiring of the Lord

The final lesson of these chapters I would like to comment on is the only serious leadership flaw we see in the nation's leader Joshua:

"The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath" (9:14-15)

The same error is implied in 7:1-5 where Joshua sent 3,000 men to take the city of Ai where they met a humiliating defeat. It appears that Joshua was in the habit of making important leadership decisions without consulting with the Lord. Oh, he consulted with other trusted military and tribal leaders. But he forgot to consult with the Lord himself, and it got the whole nation into trouble.

It may seem a bit pious to you to answer someone, "Let me pray about it and I'll let you know later," but this is the path of wisdom. There's truth in that old gospel song, "... Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."

This is another reminder that "the battle is the Lord's." God will not fight our battles unless we consult him and then are obedient to do what he directs. It was that way 3,500 years ago, and it is that way today, too.

The secret to Jesus' success was his constant communication with the Father. He wasn't so interested in the adulation of the crowds as in spending time with his Father. He would rise early in the morning to pray and consult. When he selected the 12 Apostles he spent all night in prayer. He said, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does" (John 5:19). He is our Model and Mentor in life and ministry. He is our Leader, and we are to do likewise.

Reality Check

Now when I think about these three chapters I find them vaguely depressing. Where's the unbroken string of victories that ought to follow a godly leader? Give me the excitement of winning rather than losing, I mutter.

But the book of Joshua is a slice of real life. The truth is: we often learn more from our failures than from our successes. It appears that Joshua did learn from his failures, for after the deception of the Gibeonites, we see him moving from victory to victory.

Our Father, we have often made these same errors. Our sins have hurt others in our church and family. We have taken major steps in our lives without consulting you. We have made rash promises we shouldn't keep. And we have too often spoken your name so casually. Please forgive us, Lord. Cleanse us from our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. And teach us how to follow you. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Copyright © 1985-2016, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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