7 Achan’s Sin

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And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. Joshua vii. 20, 21.

AFTER the signal triumph of Israel in the conquest of Jericho, with its strong walls and numerous population, the army was elated, and buoyant, as they well might be. With so striking an evidence that the Almighty was with them, they readily concluded that they must be victorious: nothing could stand before them. So long as they were obedient no doubt this was true. The divine promise had been given, and was always maintained. The Lord shall establish thee a holy people unto himself as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in His ways. And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee. How soon they were to learn that the golden thread of obedience was the bond of all their success. That broken, and they were not only weak as other nations, but weaker than they. Long sojourn as slaves in Egypt had made them slaves in soul. They were especially subject to panic. They fled almost when not pursued. They had trembling hearts, failing eyes, and sorrow of mind. With God, none so strong; without Him, none so weak as they. This was speedily exemplified in their shameful retreat from before Ai.

About twelve miles from Jericho was that royal and ancient city, a stronghold of the Amorites, in a strikingly beautiful and mountainous region, of what afterwards became the province of the tribe, of Benjamin. We read of it in the time of Abraham. It was about five miles east and south of Bethel. It was glorious with ancient recollections, but now filled with a polluted though resolute race.

Joshua, like a skillful general, lost no time in surveying the neighborhood of Ai.

While the impression of the fall of Jericho was fresh, he sent forward spies to view Ai and its neighborhood, who reported that it would be an easy prize. Three thousand men they said would be quite competent to take this city, and more than that number would be unnecessary. Three thousand men were sent, but instead of effecting their object, or finding the men of Ai daunted, the latter turned out vigorously, and though only thirty-six of the three thousand were killed, the whole body were driven in cowardly and headlong flight, wherefore the hearts of the people melted and became as water. Judge what must have been the feelings of the valiant Joshua. He fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide. He was bowed down with shame and sorrow. The success he had so recently gloried in was wrested from him; and the most appalling calamities threatened the whole host. The great cause of which he was the leader would fail unless this tide of defeat could be speedily rolled back, and the cause of so great a disaster be discovered.

He lay before the Lord; where the sin-stricken and sorrowing should ever lie, until they learn why they have been chastened, and where is the offending evil, and what is the repentance required.

It was revealed to the humbled and sorrowing chief that the divine ordinance concerning Jericho had been broken by some concealed traitor, and instead of the devoted goods of Jericho all being destroyed, this greedy traitor had concealed a portion. Instead of the gold and silver being all brought into the treasury of the Lord, and consecrated to sacred uses, a base person had secretly held some back. To give a salutary lesson to the whole host, an examination of the whole, according to their tribes and households, was to be made by lot, until the guilty individual was found, and the sin entirely put away by his destruction.

Early the next morning the faithful Joshua roused the camp, and the Divine Will was stated. An examination was made from tribe to tribe, from family to family, and from man to man, and at length the lot fell upon Achan, whom Joshua charged to confess his guilt, which had thus periled Israels safety, and brought such shame upon them. Achan did confess in the words of our text: I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them and took them. Joshua sent messengers, and verified the confession. The objects were found hidden in and under Achans tent.

They were brought out, Achan and his family were stoned to death, and the whole of the objects and the dead bodies were burned with fire. A great heap of stones was raised upon the spot, and the place was called the valley of Acher (trouble), it name which marked the spot for centuries of after time.

It seems at first sight as if the punishment was extremely severe. But we must remember that Israels existence as a nation depended upon obedience. Israel’s existence, as the representative of a Church, until the coming of the Lord, was essential even to the existence of mankind, for unless there was a Church among the human race, that race would perish. It was essential, therefore, that, the Sin of Achan should be thoroughly rooted out, by condign chastisement; and, consequently, it was permitted by Him who sees and knows all things and whose mercy endureth for ever. To destroy one offender whose sin endangers millions is no doubt truest mercy.

But, when we consult the spiritual import of what Achan did, it will open to us the counsels of Divine Wisdom still more fully, and enable us to gather lessons of instruction for ourselves, and for every age of the Church.

Achan, the troubler, as the name implies, the covetous one, being so soon discovered in Israel, brings strongly before us the truth, that only by degrees can regeneration be effected. Israel has just accomplished a signal victory. They would, no doubt, suppose that now all would be easy; but almost directly afterwards they discover evil in their very midst.

How often is this the Christians experience! One day he feels he has accomplished a glorious triumph, but the next he is humbled, even to the very dust. In the morning he will be full of gratitude, thanksgiving, and heavenly emotions; but ere the day is over some trouble arises, and reveals how little progress he has made in heavenly advancement, and he almost despairs of solid success.

The overthrow of Jericho, as we have previously seen, represented the overthrow of that system opposed to all true preparation for heaven, which makes salvation consist in making the Lord merciful, who is ever merciful, instead of in making man pure, good, and heavenly. This system is a very compound one. There is a mixture of good in it, as well as of evil; of truth as well as of falsehood. There is apparent humility, and real pride of heart. There is lip worship, and form worship, and much talk of religion, and sometimes much apparent zeal, even fiery zeal.

The effect of the whole is to prevent the soul overcoming one inward sin, and at the same time to flatter itself that all is right, and that it has great earnestness for God. It often makes up for its want of innocence, sweetness of temper, devout love of truth, and inward justice, by a great disposition to condemn others for trifles, and slight differences of opinion; while its own want of charity, the very essence of heaven, is entirely overlooked. It strains at gnats, and swallows camels.

This disposition to trouble Israel is in every heart. n merely external religion it can do with very well. It even likes it. It can deck itself out in forms, and march about, self-seeking in its ceremonies, by which it aims at displaying itself and gratifying its lust of power, instead of promoting the dominion of truth, of goodness, and of the Lord. Achan saw a goodly Babylonish garment, and he coveted it. The garment was probably a handsome robe, a splendid product of the Babylonian weavers, renowned for their skill, but is named in the Word for its spiritual meaning and correspondence.

Babylon is a symbol of a ceremonial religion full of the lust of power. It was an ancient papacy. We read of it in the earliest times (Gen. x. 10). Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord; and the beginning of his kingdom was Babel. Babylon developed itself to be a system of ambition, with a hierarchy of many grades, and its monarch, a sort of pope. Its restless ambition to override all other kingdoms is marked throughout the sacred pages, and attained its summit, probably in the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and in the days of Daniel. The pride of heart in this empire is described by the prophet Isaiah, when he says of the king of Babylon, Thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High–xiv. 13, 14. This awful power, which made the world a wilderness in the long centuries of its reign, even in its ruin, left its name and its history to be a symbol of a system in any age, by which the lust of power is united to the forms of religion.

Long after ancient Babylon had brought ruin on herself, and been trampled in the dust, her empire utterly lost, her name only retained in books, and her ruins buried in the mighty mounds of the desert, scarcely more than guessed at by the learned traveler, her name is used by John in the Revelations as the symbol of a similar system in the Christian Church. I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.–Rev. xvii. 3-5.

This system, which is a subtle and elaborate scheme, substituting the priest for God, and ritual for regeneration, is the most terrible foe humanity has to encounter. In its despotism all other despotisms have their rise. Its supposed mysterious power overawes the soul and paralyzes the reason. It is the mother of ignorance, superstition, and persecution. Disobedience to the Church it is keen to mart, and terrible to punish; while with disobedience to God, or to high principles of virtue and truth, it is extremely tolerant, end has indeed great difficulty in seeing. It is an ever-restless, power-hunting cabal, which vitiates the very fountain of right, and substitutes mysterious mummery for intelligent worship, morbid monks and nuns for Christian fathers and mothers, driveling superstition for true human virtue, winking pictures for a wise love of God, and a kind charity to man and turns glorious regions of the earth, which are almost as fair as Paradise, into Spains, and Irelands, and Mexicos.

When Jericho has been overthrown, and the soul has determined to apply religion to the inner man, and extirpate its lusts, thus entering on the true work of regeneration, to have an Achan come forth and covet, and seize a goodly Babylonish garment is to endanger the whole work again: it is to admire and to substitute ceremony and parade for mercy, faith, truth, and love. It is again to begin playing at religion, instead of driving the ploughshare of divine truth through the thorns and briers of the heart. It is to divert the attention from the one great aim of the Word of God, which is to transform the hell in man into a, heaven, to abolish bad temper, and infuse angelic sweetness; to destroy all impurity of heart and mind, and to implant noble affections, leading ever to happy homes, and to all the developments of art and beauty, which can elevate and dignify mankind.

The Achan, then, who secretly covets the goodly Babylonish garment, and takes it into the midst of his tent, represents a, principle in the heart of the most subtly dangerous kind, and one that must be extirpated, or no further progress can be made in real regeneration. It is the disposition to use the forms of religion for secretly selfish ends.

It is the act of a spiritual thief, stealing, that he may still more dangerously impose. It is profanation, and involves mixtures of good and evil, truth and falsehood, fatal in the highest degree to the souls well-being. Achan took two hundred shekels of silver (value 22, 16s. 3d.), and gold one-fourth in weight, to the value of 91, 15s., and hid them in the earth beneath his tent, the silver being placed lowest of all (ver. 21). The gold, called in our version a wedge of gold, is denominated in the original, perhaps from its shape, but very significantly for its spiritual meaning, a tongue of gold.

Silver corresponds to spiritual truth in the Word, and gold to heavenly goodness, both these significations being indicated in the divine declaration concerning the Lords coming into the world. I the Lord am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob. For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness.–Isa. lx. 16, 17. The words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.Ps. xii. 6. I counsel thee, said the Lord, to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.—Rev. iii. 18. But it tongue of gold would seem to imply goodness only in doctrine and profession. The fervor of charity which appears in discourse may exist while there is no real charity in the heart, or love in the sight of the Lord. The numbers five and fifty are used in the Scriptures chiefly to denote what is small. The two hundred shekels of silver would imply much truth in proportion to the good, and both being hidden in the earth would correspond to their being used for earthly purposes, and having only earthly ends in view.

There must be a reason for the expression twice used, the silver under it. It would probably imply truth ever ready in the conversation and profession. The three things, the Babylonish garment (or garment of Shinar), the tongue of Fold, and the two hundred shekels of silver, thus arranged and hidden in the earth in the midst of the tent, represent a state of mind disposed to piety, but for selfish ends. No spiritual victory can be attained while the soul is in such a case.

We may pray, we may praise, we may profess, but while a selfish desire reigns, and we are really hypocrites, in vain shall we go forth to fight the Lords battles. We shall fall in the very first temptation.

We may pride ourselves on our Babylonish garment, we may be very correct, and even beautiful in our robes of ceremony, but, if we are not animated by the desire to sympathize with our fellow-men and do them good, to root out, in ourselves, every unjust desire, and unhallowed temper, our profession is vain, and there is iniquity in our solemn meetings. We shall want heart in all our spiritual enterprises, and where we expected signal triumph, we shall sustain disasters and defeat. The time of judgment will come, represented by Joshua examining Achan, and investigating his whole case. The Lord Jesus is the judge. We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. For judgment I am come into this world, said the Lord Himself (John lx. 39). Happy are they who have their judgments in this world, and do not wait for the terrible disclosures of eternal truth, in the world to come.

The assembling of Achan and all belonging to him, the silver, the garment, and the tongue of gold, his sons and his daughters, his oxen, his asses, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, to be judged and condemned by Joshua and all Israel, represents the repudiation of this evil, with all the ideas and affections produced from it, and all that is subservient to it. The whole is to be utterly rejected. But first Joshua said to Achan very tenderly, Why hast thou troubled Israel? No doubt the great chieftain would speak full of sorrow to see such wickedness and folly arresting the onward march of the whole nation, and bringing ruin on the unhappy head of the offender. The Lord Jesus addresses such unworthy followers in the expostulatory terms, Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say? Why hast thou troubled Israel? Why hast thou troubled thyself, and thy whole house?

If we were wise enough to ask ourselves, when feeling the promptings to wrong, why should I do this, how salutary such inquisition would be! Why should a man go against the dictates of right? Why should he imagine that he can do well, and go against the laws of the All-wise? What would it profit a man if he could gain the whole world and lose his own soul? But he call gain nothing. Should he clutch unrighteous riches he loses all true enjoyment of them. Death is always in the pot. Is there less famine in having abundance when you cannot eat it than in having nothing at all? No happiness is possible separate from God. In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

What hollow grimace, what soulless worship, what monotony and hypocrisy must be there! Piety without peace; restraint without religion; holy offices to do, with no holy motives.

A masquerade and an inward curse, such is the penalty of soul which attaches to one who makes a fair outside, with an inward spirit like the whited sepulchre of which the Lord speaks, beautiful without, bad within, full of dead mens bones, and all uncleanness.

Why then hast thou troubled Israel? Why not be genuinely good? What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God. Why not walk with God, do His will, and by promoting heaven and happiness below, prepare for heaven and happiness above.

The life of one who is truly religious is not a bitter, but a noble life. With little, the good man is content; with much, he is conscientious; in all things grateful, wise, and humble. Such a one walks the earth, as the threshold of His Fathers palace, and looks to heaven as the home of higher ministries.

The stoning of Achan, and all he had, with stones, and the burning of them with fire, which formed the sad climax of their lot, represented the ruin which comes upon all who profane religion for selfish ends. Their condemnation by all truths was represented by stoning them with stones. Their being given up to the fires of lust, passion, and hateful feelings was represented by burning them with fire.

The pain, the agony, the despair of such a state, is placed before us when it is said, Wherefore, the name of that place was called the valley of Achor [or trouble] unto this day. How sad the lot of those who continue Achanites until they are so made one with their deplorable evil that their capacity of repentance is gone, they are oil Achan. On the other hand, when, like the Israelites under Joshua, a soul has suffered defeat, and in dismay has entreated the Lord for light, and lain, like Joshua, before the throne until revelation come and it beholds its Achan, and condemns and repudiates it; then the tribulation leads to health, to purity, and to joy, and in the language of another part of the Divine Word, The valley of Achor becomes a door of hope, and a place for the flocks to lie down in. The soul sings there, as in the days of youth, and as in the day when we came out of Egypt (Hosea ii. 15).

Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)