“Clean Out the Old Leaven:” Confronting Sin
INTRODUCTION: For a slightly more detailed treatment of how the book of Joshua fits into the flow of the history of redemption, see the June 3rd study guide. The book of Joshua tells us the story of God’s people working to accomplish God’s mission in fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham. God promised Abraham to make his descendants into a people and to bless them with a land in which to dwell and serve Him. Ultimately, the promise to Abraham to gather a people, bless them with his presence, and bless the nations is fulfilled through Christ. Nevertheless, the giving of the land was a significant moment in Israel’s history and a significant act of grace on God’s part. God gave Israel a mission: take the land I have promised you. The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s efforts to fulfill that calling and God’s sovereign grace that made it happen.
The people were called upon to prepare themselves and were challenged to exercise faith in order to follow God’s call. They are also challenged to obey. This is the storyline of chapters 7-12. These chapters detail the remainder of the campaign to take the Promised Land. After the defeat of Jericho, Joshua and his men took out the cities of Bethel and Ai, led a successful campaign against the major city-states of the south, defeated the feared Anakites, completely destroyed the key northern city of Hazor, and wiped out a coalition of forces from around the northern part of Canaan assembled to assist the King of Hazor. The narrative runs through these events quickly, but the reader should probably understand that all of this took a while to accomplish. The two themes that run throughout this section are that 1) God’s people expected to obey his Word in order to experience blessing, and that 2) God is sovereign and must be trusted.
Chapter seven is the key chapter in this section, for here the narrative challenges us to confront the reality of sin in order to accomplish God’s mission and experience his blessing. If we are going to obey and are going to experience the blessings that flow from obedience, we must confront the sin that so easily entangles us (Heb 12:1).
1: Secret Sin. The campaign against Jericho went extraordinarily well, but verse one tells us that not everything went according to plan. The Lord commanded the Israelites to set apart the articles of silver, gold, bronze, and iron for the treasury. One man, Achan, a Judahite, greedily kept some things for himself and hid them in the ground under his tent—about 5 pounds of silver, a pound of gold, and a beautiful cloak from Babylonia. This raises two issues for consideration:
a) The importance of obedience. God’s clear commands must be followed without exception. Thankfully, by the grace of God, we are not left wondering what God commands. His word provides us with clear teaching regarding his will. We must understand the consequences of disobeying it. God will be angry, and his anger brings judgment.
b) Corporate solidarity. The text indicates that Achan sinned, no one else. Only Achan’s family was condemned in the end, so therefore Achan must have been the only soldier to transgress. Yet all of Israel was held accountable. Notice that the text indicates that “The people of Israel broke faith.” To many modern readers, this point may be problematic. Yet in Scripture, it is clear that God deals with guilt corporately, not just individually. God dealt corporately with all of humanity in Adam and Eve. All are held guilty because of the transgression in the Garden, just as God deals corporately with his people through Christ. The doctrine of Original Sin is integrally tied to Jesus’ work of atonement. At numerous times throughout Scripture God considers an entire people guilty for the transgressions of some. Achan’s sin was a stain upon the people of God. We cannot be so individualistic that we fail to see that we are guilty because of Adam’s sin. And secondly, must recognize that the sins of one or a few within the body will affect the entire church. Secret sins become public problems.
2-5: Public Shame. Not knowing what had transpired with Achan, Joshua prepared a reasonable battle strategy. Ai was small, so why put stress on the entire army? His strategy was not at fault. However, he discovered that though man can make his plans, God determines the course of action. The loss was heartbreaking, not only to Joshua, but to the entire people. God makes it clear through this defeat that sin brings consequences. The blessing of God is not an entitlement. It is experienced by God’s gracious gift, and sometimes that blessing is removed as a consequence of sin.
6-9: Public Grief. Joshua was devastated by the loss. The grief he and his leaders expressed was profound. We might be inclined to criticize him for questioning God: “Why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all?” (verse 7). Remember, however, that Joshua knew that victory would only come if God was with them, and he knew God had promised to be with them. Finally, he was completely unaware of Achan’s actions. Failure was not something Joshua expected to occur, especially if the people followed God’s instructions. Joshua’s grief, however, reveals the zeal for God that burned in his heart. Yes, he feared that Israel would be wiped out by the Canaanites if God were not with them, but he also recognized that God had planned to glorify himself through Israel. Everyone knew that it was by the Lord’s power that Israel successfully fled Egypt and defeated the kings east of the Jordan (remember the conversation with Rahab)? If Israel failed, what would that say about God’s power? Joshua was concerned first and foremost for the glory of God. Let this love for God shine brightly in our hearts, no matter the darkness of our circumstances.
10-15: Public Repentance. Here, God graciously informed Joshua of that key piece of information he had been missing—the defeat was because of Achan’s sin. He makes clear what we have detected through the course of events already: “I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things among you.” God will not bless his people in the midst of willful disobedience. If the people are going to experience restoration, they must prepare themselves again to assemble before the Lord and must allow God to reveal the transgressor and punish him. The punishment would be harsh—the transgressor, all of his family, and all of his things. This brings up a couple of issues:
a) Church discipline. God’s people must deal corporately with the sin that is in their midst. Paul discusses this issue in 1 Corinthians 5 and commands us to clean out the old leaven. We must follow the teachings of the Word of God in order to know how to handle such situations and in order to determine what sins must be dealt with corporately, but we cannot afford to overlook sin.
b) Achan’s wife and children. Why did God punish Achan’s family? Remember again the principle of corporate solidarity. God held the entire family guilty. More than that, however, the book of Joshua is concerned with the issue of inheritance. If Achan’s children lived, his sin, in a sense, would have gone unpunished. Achan’s sin disqualified his entire family from the blessing of inheritance.
16-26: Public Punishment. The awful deed was carried out faithfully. To his credit, Achan admitted everything, but this did not spare him the consequences. Sin must be punished. Note Joshua’s last words to Achan in verse 25: his deeds had troubled the entire people. The saddest consequence of sin is that other people are deeply affected. For this reason, a church cannot afford to overlook sin, but must deal graciously and courageously with it. We have all known entire families affected, sometimes for generations, because of a father’s sins. Let us not forget that the same applies to churches.
Consider the serious consequences of sin, for the individual and for the body of Christ.
Consider God’s instructions on how to deal with the presence of sin, both personally and corporately.
How does sin disrupt the mission God has given his church? How do we move beyond our failures to the place of obedience once again?