Lessons in Defeat: Part 2

Joshua 7  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The cause of Israel's defeat was given by Jehovah: "Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed." Terribly solemn words!-Israel "accursed," God's own people under His ban. Such is the effect of sin-such its inevitable consequences. Terrible is the sinfulness of sin before our holy God who is a consuming fire.
The corporate responsibility of the nation is here shown unmistakably. That great principle lies written upon the earliest dealings of God with Israel, and God changes not. Christian corporate responsibility cannot be ignored, unless God Himself be defied. Christians cannot regard themselves as isolated units in the army of God. The acts of one affect others. "One sinner destroyeth much good" (Eccles. 9:1818Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good. (Ecclesiastes 9:18)). The sin of one works harm in a multitude; and, because of the evil of one, all are defeated, and become as weak as water.
The promise of prosperity in the wars in Canaan was contingent upon Israel's obedience. Now in Achan they had not only sinned, they had transgressed a plain command. The accursed, or devoted, thing had been taken in contravention of the command of God, laid upon Israel before the destruction of Jericho-"The city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD:... and ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the Loan." Josh. 6:17-1917And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord. (Joshua 6:17‑19). Not a shred nor a shekel from Jericho did God allow Israel for their personal glory or wealth. Nothing was to be appropriated by those who were called to execute the ban of God on the Canaanite. Now Achan had laid hands both upon the garment and the gold, both on that which was accursed to the fire, and that which was devoted to Jehovah's treasury. Achan was a prince in Israel; and it is often through the leaders, and not through the rank and file of God's army, that sin and sorrow are introduced. Achan coveted the garment of Shinar, the silver, and the wedge of gold, and he hid them in his tent; and thus were found in the midst of Israel the very things God commanded not to be touched.
The embroidered garment was desired for self-glorification, the silver and gold for self-advancement; all were surreptitiously introduced into the camp-coveting, taking, dissembling, being mingled in the sin.
The garment was of Shinar. See verse 21. The place Babylon occupies in the ways of men toward God, and in the great judgments of God on men, must not be overlooked. Babel was the first organized attempt to establish a name for man, and a center of human union, in opposition to divine authority. Babel, in the plains of Shinar, was the resolute apostasy of man from God. There God came down, scattered the race of man, and turned their power of greatness into confusion. And this will He do in the latter day, when spiritual Babylon once more rises into power!
The plain of Shinar had its manufactories when God destroyed Jericho, and Satan did wisely in bringing, through Achan's covetousness, the cloak of Babylon into the camp at Gilgal. At the very moment Israel was being used as God's executive to destroy the stronghold which was the key to Canaan, then the accursed thing, the princely robe in its attractive form, was being secreted in their midst! Just at the hour of the baring of Jehovah's mighty arm, and when His treasury should have been honored, He was being robbed by His own people. Thus the camp of Gilgal, Israel's place of separation to Him, was leavened with the accursed thing, and Israel was made thereby a curse.
The exceeding solemnity of divine holiness commands us in this scene, and we can but inquire, What in our day answers to the accursed thing which caused the camp of Israel to be a curse? The garment was obviously for purposes of self-glorification. Being a robe from Shinar, it was characteristically an emblem of that early apostasy in which man exalted himself in opposition to God. Israel, in Canaan and circumcised, were separated to Jehovah, their strength. Our, circumcision, the putting off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, and our separation to God, are in Christ risen from the dead. Now when a believer, warring for his risen Lord, seeks his own glorification, even by reason of the Lord's using him, he is really exalting himself. He covets to adorn himself in the very things of the flesh upon which he knows God has passed the sentence of fire, and thus in measure he is in spirit like Achan. And, if he would use the silver and the gold belonging to the Lord's treasury for his own advantage, he is again like Achan, and -will pierce himself through with many sorrows. Our sins must sooner or later find us out.
Longings after the goodly Babylonish garment, after self-glorification, and thereby robbing God of His glory, are common enough, alas! Too many soldiers of the Lord in heaven have this buried in their tents. How exalted I am! is the secret name of this robe. In the tent, in the inner life, in the home circle, the truth of our desires comes out. And God sees us as we really are. Achan certainly never wore the garment for all Israel to admire. Whether his own personal friends extolled its glory, or whether he never so much as flung it over his shoulders, was of no difference before God, to whose eye the sin was manifest.
The greater the profession of holiness and separation to God a Christian makes, the more urgent upon him is God's demand for practical resemblance to Jesus our Lord. If we recognize our blessings in the heavenly places in Christ being over the Jordan of death and judgment, and if we assert that we are dead with Christ to the world, and risen with Him and alive to God, all the more terrible will be our reaping day, should we do the very things our doctrines deny; such behavior is in absolute contradiction to the Christian profession, and such as practice it are like Achan.
It is remarkable how allied in spirit are the two great marks of God's displeasure with His Jewish and Christian people, at the commencement of their respective careers on earth. In the early days of Israel's history in Canaan, as in the early days of Christianity, we find God swiftly judging evil among His people, and bringing out into the light the secret sins of those who were seemingly for Him on the earth. Ananias and Sapphira, as Achan, "dissembled." But God is not deceived. It is for us to open our eyes upon our own actions, and to seek to see ourselves as God sees us. God's moral laws can never be tampered with by His people with impunity. Our secret sins are all bare in the light of His countenance; "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:1313Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13)). Dissembling also will sooner or later be published from the housetops. Let servants and soldiers of Christ study their own secret objects, lest by self-seeking they, in the end, trouble not only their own souls, but defile and trouble the cam,'
In the solemn lessons to be gathered from this scene, let not these words of the Lord to defeated Israel, "Sanctify yourselves," be neglected. His word was not, Look to your arms, but, Look to the state of your hearts. Holiness is the requisite for victory. "There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, 0 Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you." Their hands were to cast out the sin from their midst; they themselves were to put it out from among themselves ere they could again wield the sword. All Canaan, and its contending hosts, might know, it mattered not, how the army of God lay under the ban, and could never triumph more till the glory of Jehovah's great name was re-established in the camp; and the casting out of the evil from their midst was the only way whereby God would again be among them. Most Christians, who have lived to middle life, have lived sufficiently long to see men once valiant for God and used by Him, lying, under His stern hand of government, withered and practically worthless, as servants unused and disowned, because they have not heeded His word, "Sanctify yourselves."
In his energy, "Joshua rose up early in the morning," and brought Israel by their tribes before the Lord. Sifting from tribe to family, from family to man, the transgressor was in due course manifested. Where men are honest in their desire to clear themselves from iniquity, God will enable them to sift out till the seeds of the sin are discovered; and when He begins, He will make an end. And more, the force of God's presence draws out from man the confession of sin. If the root of bitterness be not discovered, the reason is, God is staying His hand because of the carnal state of His people. Wherever sin lies unconfessed, God is afar off in our thoughts. It is utterly impossible to be before God, and not to be absolutely truthful, down into the deepest depths of the soul.
At the seat of judgment, God will bring every secret thing into the light; everything now covered will be revealed; and at this hour, those hidden souls among God's people, which bar the manifestations of His presence, would be exposed, confessed, and cast out, were His saints truly before His face.
Achan confessed his sin, pronounced publicly what had been in his breast. The messengers ran, dug up the accursed thing, and laid it out in the broad daylight before Jehovah. None of the shame of the sin was hidden, no hushing up of iniquity for the sake of peace dreamed of; the truth, not policy, prevailed; for the question on that solemn day of heart searching was, Jehovah or man?
As all Israel were involved in the dishonor done to Jehovah by their prince, so all Israel joined hands in clearing their camp. "All Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire." And more, Israel was at that hour in no mood to smooth the memory of their sorrow. "They raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor [that is, trouble], unto this day."
The valley of Achor is the door of hope for God's people still. Through that valley, where stands the witness of iniquity cast out, and the memory of our shame, remains to this day the pathway to blessing. Weeping over our pride, and putting away from us our sins, ever lead to renewed victories. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:99If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).
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