Nobody likes problems. The fact is, though, that problems and struggles may make us more dependent on God. They force us to turn to Him for help. When my finances are low, I pray for help. When my body is broken by illness or injury, I ask the Lord for healing. Whenever there is a crisis or struggle, I am reminded to turn to the Lord.
On the other hand, there is also a danger in success. Success may breed carelessness. When everything is going smoothly, I get the mistaken idea that I can handle things in my own strength, and I forget to trust in the Lord. One man described the danger of success in these words: “For every thousand who can handle adversity, only one can handle success.”
The book of Joshua illustrates this truth. God had helped Israel to defeat the kings of Sihon and Og, established Joshua as the new leader, stopped the flow of the flood-swollen Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross on dry ground, and finally, defeated the powerful city of Jericho by miraculously collapsing its fortified walls. All of this was a sign to the nation of Israel that God was with them. One victory after another had boosted their confidence to dangerous levels. Here is the first lesson we need to learn:
I. WE’RE EXTREMELY VULNERABLE TO TEMPTATION IN MOMENTS OF APPARENT SUCCESS.
The next city on the Israelites’ agenda was Ai. Joshua sent men to spy out Ai, and they sent back the message (7:3): Ai was a weak city. This would be an easy battle. But look what happened. About 3,000 men went up, but they were routed by the army of Ai, who killed about 36 of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes (7:4- 5). Notice the sequence of events: The hearts of the people melted and became like water (verse 5). Joshua fell down and prayed to God (verse 6). Read Joshua’s prayer (verses 7-9).
Sometimes we can be victorious over some of the strongest and most powerful temptations imaginable, but we allow the weakest, smallest, most insignificant temptations to eventually become our downfall.
The defeat at Ai brought Israel to their knees before God. Their confidence in God, which had produced their earlier success and victory, had all too quickly turned to self-confidence.
Notice God’s reply to Joshua’s appeal (verse 10): Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? God would not tolerate Joshua’s discouragement and pessimistic attitude. God had given victory after victory to the Israelites, and after one defeat, they were down on their knees. Do you know somebody like that? We need to hear God’s words to Joshua again: “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?”
Yesterday’s victory is not an assurance of victory today, but one defeat doesn’t signify the end. Get up, brush yourself off, and find the reason for the defeat. That’s what God was trying to tell Joshua. There was a reason for the defeat (verse 11). “Israel has sinned.” God doesn’t wink at sin. Sin corrupts. Jesus warned His disciples what is done in private has a public effect.
II. THE DISOBEDIENCE OF ONE INDIVIDUAL CAN HAVE A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON THE WHOLE COMMUNITY.
To uncover the identity of the one who sinned, God told Joshua to line up the people, tribe by tribe, family by family, household by household, man by man. Sanctification and purification were needed. The household of God had been dirtied, and it was time for the mess to be cleaned up.
Achan was eventually indicted as the culprit (verse 20). Achan epitomizes the dark side of every individual and every community. All of us have within us the potential to fall and fall hard. Achan admitted to having stolen three things that were supposed to have been destroyed or turned over to the Lord’s treasury: a beautiful Babylonian coat, 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels.
Notice the way Achan describes the sequence of events that led up to his sin:
1. “I saw . . .” (verse 21). This is the beginning of all sin.
2. “I coveted them . . .” (verse 21). There’s no doubt that Achan didn’t need any of those things. What would he do with them? He couldn’t use them. Achan said, “I saw . . . I coveted . . . I took . . . They are hidden . . .” This is the sequence of events that we all follow when we fall into sin.
A much deeper truth about Achan’s sin is also evident: disobedience to God is a malignancy that has serious effects on the whole community of believers. Thirtysix men lost their lives because of Achan’s sin. The nation was defeat in battle with Ai because of Achan’s sin.
My sin cannot be isolated from you, and your sin cannot be isolated from me. Our sins, even those that are hidden from the eyes of men, have corporate consequences. A church family can be defeated by the malignancy of an individual’s unconfessed sin.
III. GOD’S JUDGMENT IS NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY.
Achan’s story is one of the saddest in the Bible. It is the story of a good man who was overcome by the evil desires of his heart. It’s a story that has been repeated throughout history. Good people, godly men and women who are intent on doing God’s will, who have been blessed with success because of their godliness, in one moment can be brought low by succumbing to the temptation of Satan.
I’d like to sugarcoat this story and tell you that when Achan confessed his sin, God forgave him and everything was all right—but that isn’t what took place. Achan, the coat, the gold and silver, his family, and all that he owned were taken to the Valley of Achor, and there they were stoned, burned with fire, and finally buried under a great heap of stones to remind the Israelites of Achan’s sin.
All around us we see evil men committing terrible atrocities and never seeming to suffer the consequences of their sins. At the same time, good men, godly men, by one act of disobedience, appear to suffer with consequences that seem overwhelmingly unjust.
IV. GOD CAN TURN DISASTER INTO HOPE AND VICTORY.
The place where Achan was stoned was called the Valley of Achor as a reminder of the disaster that came to Israel because of his sin. Many years later, however, it was given a new meaning. In the book of Hosea (2:15), God says that the Valley of Achor, which means “trouble or disaster,” will become a “door of hope.”
This story shows us how one man’s sin brought a nation to defeat. But it also shows us how, through humble repentance and dependence upon the Lord, this defeat was turned into victory. God tells Joshua that instead of facing defeat, this time there is victory (8:1).
General Conference Ministerial Association