Joshua had just led the Israelites to a supernatural victory over Jericho. They had done exactly as the Lord had commanded, marching round Jericho with the Ark of the Covenant, blowing their trumpets (Joshua 6). But unbeknownst to Joshua and the rest of Israel, Achan, an Israelite from the tribe of Judah, had disobeyed the Lord and had taken a beautiful Babylonian robe, some silver and a bar of gold and had buried the plunder in the ground inside his tent (Joshua 7:21). Achan knew the Lord’s command that all the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron were to be considered sacred to the Lord and were to go into His treasury. He had heard the warning that disobedience would not only bring about his own destruction but also bring trouble upon Israel. The name Achan however means “trouble” or “troublesome” so now by his actions he would bring trouble upon Israel just as had been declared over him all his life whenever anyone had called his name!
When Joshua and the Israelites set out to capture the city of Ai, they were expecting to take it easily. The men that Joshua had sent to spy out the region had reported back:
“Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” Joshua 7:3
So Joshua sent only about three thousand Israelites to take the city but the men of Ai expelled them killing thirty-six of them. Unsurprisingly, this made the Israelites fearful and discouraged, including Joshua himself. Now Joshua should have inquired of the Lord before he attempted to attack Ai, but hot on the heels of one victory, he had become complacent and fully expected the next one to come just as easily. Perhaps this was because the Lord had previously told him:
3I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. (Joshua 1:3-6, NIV)
But this promise was conditional upon Israel’s obedience:
7“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9, NIV).
So when they were pushed back from Ai even experiencing some casualties, Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the Ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. Finally Joshua spoke to the Lord:
7And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” (Joshua 7:7-9, NIV)
Joshua made the mistakes we so often make when we experience failure – he blamed God, he looked to the past, wishing he’d never taken that step of faith and stayed where he was and he allowed his imagination to wander into all sorts of disastrous scenarios! He’d known that if Israel sinned in the matter of the “devoted things” and took plunder, it would cause trouble but his first thought was that this was all God’s fault!
Now thank God that under the New Covenant of Grace, all our sins, past, present and future have been paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice once for all time and we have been made perfect forever:
For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. (NLT)
For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. (NLT)
And thank God that Jesus kept the Law perfectly so that everyone who believes is made righteous:
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (NIV)
The Promised Land (also called “rest” see Psalms 95:11) was referred to as the Israelites’ “inheritance” (Numbers 26:53) and it is symbolic of the inheritance we receive by faith in Jesus (see Hebrews 4). So when we look at what happened to the children of Israel while they were taking possession of their inheritance and the problems they faced in the Promised Land we can learn from them. Today if we fall into sin like Achan, praise God, we don’t lose the gift of righteousness (because Jesus became a sin offering for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in Christ 2 Corinthians 5:21) nor do we lose our salvation (which we received by faith alone and not by trying to earn it through our efforts Ephesians 2:8), nor the blessing of God on our lives (Ephesians 1:3) but burying our sin like Achan did, can prevent us (and others) from enjoying the fullness of our inheritance.
So what did God say to Joshua in response to his complaint?
So the LORD said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? (NASB)
God went on to explain to Joshua that someone had sinned, bringing destruction upon themselves and trouble on Israel and that Israel needed to root out the sin before they would experience victory again. He also told Joshua to say to the people:
“Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the LORD, the God of Israel, has said, “There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.” (NASB)
When we fall into sin or come across an obstacle or fail in some way, just as the Lord told Joshua to rise up, we also need to rise up! We need to rise up from discouragement, from blaming God or ourselves, from longing to return to the past and from negative thinking. God also told the people to consecrate themselves. For the Israelites, consecrating themselves was external involving washing and putting on clean clothes (Exodus 19:10) but for us today, we simply remember that we have already undergone an inner spiritual consecration- we have been washed and sanctified (consecrated or made holy) by Jesus through His Spirit:
1 Corinthians 6:11
“….But you were washed, you were sanctified (consecrated), you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify (consecrate) her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
For God’s will was for us to be made holy (consecrated) by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. (NLT)
So back to Joshua and Achan. It was revealed by casting lots that Achan was the one who had taken the devoted things. His end was not pleasant. He, his family and all his possessions were taken to the Valley of Achor (which also means trouble) and they were all put to death by stoning and then burnt.
24Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”
Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since. (Joshua 7:24-26)
So what does Achan represent for us today? Firstly and most importantly, we do not need to fear the punishment that Achan received because Jesus already took it in our place:
1 Peter 3:18
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
Achan represents the sin in our lives that prevents us from taking hold of our full inheritance. Just as Achan and his family (representing the consequences (or fruit) of his sin) were totally destroyed, so Jesus has totally done away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself:
Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
The original Greek word translated “do away with” in Hebrews 9:26 is athetēsin which comes from the root word athetésis (ἀθέτησις) which means a setting aside, an annulment, nullification, or abrogation. Jesus has nullified our sin. We’ve already mentioned that Achan means trouble, so his destruction also represents the destruction of all our troubles, even those not caused directly by us.
So how do we practically deal with troublesome sin in our lives or just the troubles we face which are not necessarily the result of our own sin, that bring us failure and discouragement. Well we can learn from Joshua’s experience. We need to rise up out of discouragement, stop blaming God, stop looking back and stop our negative thinking. Then we remember we are holy, set apart and consecrated. We can trust the Lord to reveal the source of the trouble and then thank God that He has already dealt with it in the body of His Son Jesus. And we thank Him for the victory that lies ahead. Then like Joshua, we will also need to press on and fight the enemy again.
After the Israelites dealt with Achan, God was no longer angry and once more encouraged Joshua “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Joshua 8:1). He gave Joshua a strategy for attacking Ai and this time they were victorious. In fact both the prophets Isaiah and Hosea looked forward to a time when, for those who seek Him, God would transform the Valley of Achor (representing their troubles) into places of rest and hope:
“Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me” Isaiah 65:10
“There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” Hosea 2:15
Now we live in the day Isaiah and Hosea foretold: we can have rest and hopein our times of trouble through Jesus who said:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
Jesus warned us of the trouble – or the “Achan” – we would face in the world but praise God, Jesus has overcome it all!
And our victory strategy can be found in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans:
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Beloved if you are facing fear, failure and discouragement then the Lord’s word to you today is “Rise up!” Don’t blame God, don’t look back and stop your negative thinking! Remember that you are consecrated and set apart for God and He has annulled your sin. In the valley of trouble, seek the Lord and He will give you rest, and hope. You can face the future in peace and confidence because Jesus has overcome the world! Persevere patiently and prayerfully in joyful hope because victory is ahead and the best is yet to come!Make a decision today to follow the example of Paul who said:
…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.