‘…thus says the Lord, God of Israel, ‘There are devoted things in your midst O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.’
It can be painfully frustrating to read through the accounts of the people of Israel. They seem to make the most obvious mistakes and at times have total disregard for the miraculous events that take place in their midst. Reading Joshua chapter 7 felt like one of these frustrating chapters to begin with but as the narrative began to unfold it suddenly felt significant and then incredibly relevant. It will never cease to amaze me how God does this time and time again through scripture.
In this particular chapter the people of Israel are now finally within in the long-awaited Promised Land and have just taken the city of Jericho by a pretty incredible act of God. They really are a chosen and blessed people. But no sooner has this happened than Achan decides to take for himself devoted items from Jericho that God had specifically commanded were for the treasury of the Lord. As a direct result Israel lose the battle to Ai, a battle that really should not have been lost, and Achan (and all belonging to him) are destroyed.
It’s a pretty dramatic narrative and it can be all too easy to disregard these Old Testament passages, yet the lessons contained are often still so valuable today.
The Devoted Things
It’s incredible to think that after all Achan had seen he even felt any inclination to take them. How could he possibly doubt God’s goodness?
Given that there was a whole city full of items it may not seem like such a big deal for Achan to have taken a few but it was the action over the items that was the problem – God had given a clear and simple command to Joshua but Achan had chosen to disobey. This was not an accident, it was a conscious act of rebellion against God’s direction, further reinforced by the fact that Achan had tried to hide the evidence in his tent.
Two things are striking about these items that Achan took.
Firstly, the items had come from another culture. It’s frighteningly easy for us to take attitudes from culture now and allow them to affect and shape how we function as the Church, the Bride of Christ. Attitudes and mentalities can be deep set but God’s word tells us to “not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12). Our lives should be dictated by God’s Word alone and not the whims of culture.
Is the Church unable to defeat its spiritual enemies today because we lack conviction about the things God calls ‘devoted’?
Secondly, these were valuable and precious items. Achan’s heart had been corrupted by them and he valued them above his relationship with God and the people that he belonged to. It’s incredible to think that after all Achan had seen he even felt any inclination to take them. How could he possibly doubt God’s goodness?
It appears unfair somehow that God had commanded the death not only of Achan but of all his family and possessions too. However, Achan clearly had a lax attitude towards God’s commands and only admitted his sin once he’d been caught. God knew that these attitudes could be passed down through generations and that the people of Israel simply did not have the strength of faith to withstand this kind of contamination. Jesus similarly challenged his disciples regarding sin in a startling way; “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matthew 5: 30)
Why Do We Not Stand?
Finally, because Israel had broken covenant with God, they became weak and could not defeat their enemies at Ai. Is the Church unable to defeat its spiritual enemies today because we lack conviction about the things that God calls ‘devoted’? Do we still allow “Jericho” to have an influence? Do we consider trivial and changeable the things that God says are major and eternal?
Jesus’s death and resurrection means that Achan’s fate would never be repeated today but this doesn’t mean that God has changed. He really is the same yesterday, today, forever! He has never broken his covenant with his people and his love for us even brought Jesus to the cross. It’s clear to see that the book of Joshua would have looked very different if Israel had simply obeyed God. No pestilence, war, famine or disease would have touched them.
But do we, the Church, learn from this? Seeking God with all of our hearts, minds and souls seems like an impossible task but how different would we look if we became a people fully devoted to God without any compromise?
Mairi works as a French Teacher in Edinburgh and can be often found doodling, reading, sipping tea, lifting weights, looking beautiful and trying to bake.
Follow her on Twitter & Instagram