Me – So, Achan’s sin – not my favorite Bible story. It’s one of those texts where I squirm in discomfort as the pastor reads it. Like, “Man, I wish that wasn’t in the Bible…” Man takes robe and gold and silver, man is executed – people throw rocks at him until he dies. Part of me says: it seems too harsh a punishment that a man dies over some loot. And part of me says that even more loudly when I remember that it seems like they also executed his children… One would assume if Achan’s children died too, it was because they were complicit in his sin, but still…I’m tempted to say, “Why? Was that really necessary God? Do we have to have this kind of thing? How could God do such a thing?” See, I know there are temptations. And I have to admit, it’s a trouble for me – temptations all over, of all kinds, just like Achan. But, you know, sometimes I feel like the trouble with temptation…is really God.
We – You ever have that trouble? You might feel like it’s safe to leave the question far off – that maybe God was the problem back then, maybe all that punishment wasn’t necessary – that it was the old testament and we live in the new. But in truth, it’s a question that’s really near at hand every day with temptations – that maybe the trouble with temptation is God! Because Satan is nasty. Doesn’t he tempt you just like he tempted Jesus in the gospel? He brings temptations that seem necessary: Jesus is hungry – turn some stones into bread – fill your belly, flash your credentials – win/win. Satan says to you, “So, it’s not right that you get slandered by your friends – you need to right this – you just spread around what kind of person your ‘friend’ really is to damage your reputation like that – it’s only fair…needs to be done, really.” Sometimes the temptation is a good thing: Jesus could be king of the world – that’s what Jesus wanted anyway right? – here’s the shortcut – just one, teensy little dow-down to Satan…and some worship – end-around all that suffering and death, right? He says to you, “Look, you want A’s, they’re hard to get, all you have to do is peek over Bill’s shoulder – he’s smart – nobody gets hurt…”, “You want to advance at work, you just need to undercut somebody else – Jack is kind of arrogant anyway and he could use to come down a notch or two.” Sometimes the temptation seems godly – jump off the temple, see if God really loves you, considers you his own – if you’re really his Son, won’t he save you? And you follow along and say, “If God really loved me, life would not have gone like this and like this…” or “If he really loved me, he’d help me find love or he’d give me a better spouse…and maybe I ought to…”
Maybe Achan assured himself that others must be doing the same – stealing loot; maybe he said that it wasn’t a big deal, nobody’s property anymore really; maybe he had a family need, some poverty or difficulty. Doesn’t this logical thing happen sometimes to us, then? This reasoning where if I can justify my action, my sin…doing what God has forbidden, it begins to seem like the trouble is really with God. Maybe a little unfair that God should forbid this thing or that thing, much less that he should punish me for it. Really, it’s just a call to find all the glory in myself – to keep it for myself – and to consider that anything else is really trouble.
God – Well, the thing about Joshua 7, is that it’s a straightforward reminder that the trouble with temptation is actually God – as in, when sinners give into temptation and sin God is the trouble they will finally meet. Achan’s a special case. He took from the city of Jericho things that God had commanded no one should take. All Jericho;s plunder was to be a sort of sacrifice to God – holy to him, under a ban – really, a way for Israel to express their special relationship with God – to glorify him. Israel was God’s covenant people – they lived with the promise of God’s love and salvation and with the promise of his power to lead them to victory over all the land of Canaan – not because they were holy and great (in fact he called them stiff-necked stubborn), but because he was merciful.
But, after Jericho’s walls tumbled down and Israel enjoyed stunning victory, they went on to humiliating defeat at the small town of Ai – maybe 40 Israelites died as they retreated. V.1 of our chapter lets the reader know it’s because of Achan, but the perspective on the problem is interesting: “the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to [those] devoted things”. That word “unfaithful” – in Hebrew it’s never used of things unbelievers do – it’s only a sin believers commit – it’s probably something like “treachery”, being a traitor. And that’s the thing… Achan’s sin is treachery against the undeserved love of God so freely applied to Israel – to give them a land and a name and even finally salvation. Achan confessed it well: he found the stuff, it was nice, he liked it, he wanted what he knew he couldn’t have, he took it and he hid it – and in so doing, he “sinned against the Lord God of Israel…” And for treachery against God, Good comes with trouble… Joshua said to Achan, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.” Achan died for his sin – he disregarded how much blessing God had brought on him because it was too much trouble to resist what God had forbidden.
If Israel was the covenant people of God who waited on his love in a Messiah only promised, aren’t we who have seen that Savior arrive even more a covenant people – a people living on the basis of God’s gracious promises? For us too, the warning stands. The writer of Hebrews put it pointedly in ch.10, “If we deliberately keep on sinning [you might say, “continue to give into temptation”] after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” And you feel that personally: for people who understand how often there is temptation, how often they fall into sin, how sometimes they might wish to blame God for his rules or his threats…people like that might wonder how they could ever do what our second lesson encouraged, to “approach [God’s throne] with confidence…”
You – But it is no trouble for you to approach God’s throne just that way because of his grace and mercy. It’s the kind we find in the gospel where Jesus confronts Satan’s temptations and simply lays out God’s Word – “Satan, the Word of God says – man isn’t only controlled by his physical urges but is satisfied in God’s word and will; the faithful do not put the Lord to the test to satisfy their curiosities or desires; the righteous give glory to God alone – they worship him.” And Jesus did – exactly always that – all glory to God in thought and word and deed – he “was without sin”. Which is why Hebrews calls us to hold firmly to our trust in God – because all the love he has promised us is secured by the Son of God. Though without sin, Jesus bore all the trouble God could bring as punishment for sin, and after his death he went through the heavens to bring all his perfection to stand between God and you.
Jesus, who was tempted in every way just like you, sympathizes with you as you are tempted day by day. God’s undeserved love and mercy for sinners is applied to you as you turn from sin in sorrow and repentance, as you confess your sins together in worship or to a friend or to God in prayer. Jesus’ intercession brings forgiveness and peace for troubled consciences. He promises mercy and grace “to help us in our time of need” – be it forgiveness after the fact or strength to persevere.
We – And on that note… What could we together take away from a troubling story like Achan’s? How about its straightforward beauty? We ought to be careful about judging Achan’s eternal fate – God doesn’t tell us. But I’d like to think that Achan’s confession, so straightforward and honest, was exactly what Joshua asked for: “Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done…’” It’s interesting – “give him the praise” can also be translated “make confession”. What a wonderful thought for us! Countless temptations befall us each day. Many times we give in. We sin. Sometimes we feel like we ought not approach our God. But reality for God’s covenant people is different: sorrow over our sins and confession of them is acknowledging that God is true, his will is good, and that all the glory belongs with him. Confession is praise and that’s exactly the kind of thing a heart of faith does all the time.
Faithful people of God, let us not be so troubled with temptation that we give in again and again, but like our Savior, let us flee it and fight it with the Word of our mighty fortress God. But when we fall, let us not be so troubled by our temptations that we turn from God in fear – rather, let us give all his glory back to him, confess our sins, and in forgiveness and peace give glory to the Lord and give him the praise, because our Lord Jesus lives and rules for us. Amen.