The story of Achan’s sin in Joshua 7 is one of those Bible stories that makes us squirm. Yes, Achan sinned. But in our modern western eyes the consequences don’t seem to fit the crime. We forget that sin is costly.
Achan forgot that too.
From the beginning, we as readers know more than the characters in the story do. It’s like those moments in movies when you find yourself yelling at the hero not to turn on the car because you know there’s a bomb under the hood. The narrator drops a bomb right there in Joshua 7:1. “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan, son of Karmi, the son of Zimri,the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.”
Israel is getting ready to go into battle against Ai. Compared to Jericho, Ai looks like a cakewalk. Joshua doesn’t even send the whole army up to Ai–only about 3000 men. But what we know that Joshua and the army don’t is that God is angry with Israel and has withdrawn his favor from them because of Achan’s sin. God’s presence and power do not go with Israel into battle, and the Israelite army is routed. 36 soldiers are killed, and the rest flee. Joshua and the elders of Israel fall on their faces before the Lord, and God reveals to Joshua what we already know: there is sin in the camp.
A process of casting lots reveals Achan as the guilty one. During the battle of Jericho, God had commanded that all the wealth of the city be dedicated to the Lord–a kind of first fruits offering of the plunder of the land. Achan knew this, but he saw in the city some beautiful things. A beautiful robe. 200 shekels of silver. A bar of gold. He saw. He wanted. He took. Achan hid the objects in his tent and lied to cover up his sin. Achan deliberately and deceitfully took what God had claimed for his own. Achan sinned, and he paid the price. So did his family. Achan, his family, and all his possessions were stoned and then burned with fire. It is a terrible, tragic scene.
We struggle with that ending because it seems unfair to us. Achan sinned, but did his family have to pay the price? It feels wrong to us because we so strongly value individual responsibility and autonomy. The Hebrew culture had a more corporate, community-based understanding of sin and responsibility. In their worldview, Achan’s sin was shared by his family. His sin affected his family. It affected his nation. It affected the families of the 36 men who died in battle. The wages of sin is death, and Achan received what he had earned.
Thankfully, we live on this side of the cross. In his death, Jesus paid the price for our sin. But we should take note of Achan’s story and remember: sin always has a cost.
We know sin costs us, but our sin costs those around us as well. Like ripples spreading from a stone cast into a pond, our sin affects everyone it touches. When a husband commits adultery, it costs his wife suffering and anguish. When a pastor falls, it costs his congregation a measure of their faith and trust. When I’m irritable and short-tempered, my children pay the price. When we tolerate sin in our lives instead of pursuing holiness, it costs our congregations a measure of God’s presence and power when we gather in worship. That’s why God calls his people to revival. Sin is costly and when we sin we are not the only ones who pay.
The good news is that God is gracious. The valley where Achan was stoned became known as the “Valley of Achor,” the “Valley of Trouble.” In Hosea, God promises his people that he will turn the “valley of Achor into a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15). We know the trouble and the terrible price of sin. But God has graciously given us a solution: confess, repent, and cast ourselves on Jesus. The cross transforms our valleys of trouble into doors of hope. It is in those broken places the power of God’s redemptive love flows through.
Maybe you’ve stood like Achan and watched as the ripples of your sin went farther than you’d ever dreamed. Your sin has cost you. It’s cost your family. Maybe it’s even cost your community. Know that there is hope. Confess. Repent. Return. Jesus stands waiting for you. Let him be your door of hope.
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