“Real Characters –Joshua” Joshua 7
We have talked many times about the cycle that is seen so often in the Bible. This cycle starts with the people being obedient and then God blesses and then what happens? Satan attacks. You see it over and over all through the Bible and we have even seen it in our own lives and in the life of this church. We are obedient to what God tells us to do, then we see God bless us but then Satan always attacks. I’ll be real honest with you and tell you that part of me is thinking it’s starting to get old.
I mean, I just wish that for once we could be obedient and be blessed without Satan coming around wanting to rip out our jugular vein. Why does it have to be that way? I know that realizing that there is a cycle is helpful. It helps us to be aware and not be taken off guard but Satan is very powerful and sometimes even knowing that he is about to attack doesn’t make the battle any less intense. Do you know what I mean? It seems to me that since God is more powerful than the devil that God could just allow us to enjoy being blessed for a while. In fact, maybe it means that we are doing something wrong. Maybe we have displeased God somehow and so He allows Satan to attack. Oh, wait, I know. I bet it’s because God doesn’t love us very much that He allows those attacks.
How could He love us as He says He does and allow us to be ravaged by Satan’s schemes? That’s just not fair! He must just be a big old meanie-head up there getting His kicks watching us struggle. Do you believe that? Don’t tell me it’s never crossed your mind. If you are honest and you have been on this planet for more than a few months you would probably admit to thinking something along those lines. “God’s not fair!”
Well, let me address this real quickly with 2 thoughts. #1, God never promises that life will be fair, but #2, we can’t see the whole picture so we have a skewed version of what is fair.
So, why would God allow us to be tempted and seduced and attacked by Satan? Is it to punish us? Is it to make us suffer? Is He too busy to help or too powerless? The apostle Paul knew the answer to this question. He knew from experience what it was like to be attacked, to be tempted, to have Satan go for his jugular and in Ephesians 1:17 he says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” So that you may know Him better! He wasn’t praying that they would be comfortable. He didn’t pray that for himself. In Philippians 3:10 he said, “I want to know Christ…”
When the wife of missionary Adoniram Judson told him that a newspaper article likened him to some of the apostles, Judson replied, "I do not want to be like a Paul...or any mere man. I want to be like Christ...I want to follow Him only, copy His teachings, drink in His Spirit, and place my feet in His footprints...Oh, to be more like Christ!"
So when we go through difficult times, we know that if we continue to be obedient, if we respond correctly that it will make us godlier…but it takes time. Life comes to us in steps. We often do not move to one level until we have finished a previous one. Sometimes it takes longer to move from one level to another than we imagine.
Five year old Cindy was so excited to go to Kindergarten. She came home saying, “Mommy, I did it, I did it. I went to school. I’m a big girl now”. Her mother said, “That’s wonderful Honey. I’m so glad you enjoyed yourself. You’ll probably even have a more wonderful time tomorrow.” Cindy looked at her Mom with a shocked look on her face and said, “What? You mean I have to go back again?”
Last week we started the series entitled “Real Characters” and we looked at how Moses was obedient when God called him and what he did right. Today we continue our look at “Real Characters” with Joshua and we will see what he did wrong. As you turn to Joshua chapter 7, let me ask you a question. What has been your greatest victory in life? Has it been overcoming some disease? Maybe you won a big award. You got a certain job you had always wanted. Some of you men might think of marrying that beautiful girl next to you as your biggest and best accomplishment. You ladies may think putting up with that dufus next to you for all these years has been your big victory. Whatever it is, you know the feeling of finally overcoming the obstacles and finally reaching the goal and how good that felt.
You felt strong and confident, like you could take on the world. And if you are like Joshua, what came next…was huge failure. Here we go with that vicious cycle we were talking about. God told Joshua to walk around the city of Jericho 7 times and on the 7thtrip the walls around the city came down like dominoes and they conquered the city with little resistance. High fives all around. Give God glory, throw a party, have a BBQ, crank up the tunes and let’s dance. The people were obedient. God blessed and then…failure.
Satan attacked with a temptation that Achan fell into and caused huge problems. But before we get into who Achan was and what he did I want us to look at this from Joshua’s eyes. Let’s read Joshua 7, starting with verse 2 and going through verse 9 remembering that Joshua and the Israelites are hot off of a huge victory of Jericho .
2Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel , and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “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.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 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 ! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The 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? ”
There are 3 things I want us to see in this passage; 3 ways that we can learn from Joshua’s mistakes and keep ourselves from similar calamity.
1) They overestimated themselves.
2) They overlooked their enemy.
3) They underestimated sin.
Go back to verse 2 and tell me what is missing from that verse. Read. That sounds like a pretty good plan. They did that just before they took Jericho . What’s missing? Well, just before they took Jericho , Joshua did something in chapter 5, verse 14 I want to read. “Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him,“What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Joshua talked with God before Jericho . There is no record of him doing that before the attack on Ai. Mistake #1.
And with that mistake it is easy to let pride start to creep in and it’s easy to start to think , “You know, I did pretty well out there. I’m a pretty good commander. I am a good warrior. I’m a good husband or wife. I must be quite a pastor. Look at what I did.” And you easily start to overestimate who you are and what you can do.
President Obama recently offended some people with something he said. I know, that’s not news. Every time any president ever opens his mouth, somebody is going to be “offended” but recently he said to people who own their own business, “You didn’t build that.” A lot of people who had built their businesses from scratch took offense to that and rightfully so but it is one thing for the president to say it. It’s another thing for God to say it. God could have told Joshua, “Hey, you didn’t do that. I did that. I made the walls around Jericho fall down. All you did was stroll around the outside.”
Proverbs 16:18 is so simple. Little kids quote it. Newscasters quote it. Everybody knows the verse but how true it is. “Pride goes before destruction.” I bet after the battle of Ai, Joshua put that verse up on his mirror in the bathroom where he saw it every morning. Well, he would have if it had been written…and he had a mirror…or a bathroom.
A preacher, a Boy Scout and a computer expert were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said the plane was going down and there were only 3 parachutes and 4 people. The pilot added, “I should have one because I have a wife and 3 kids.” So he took one and jumped. The computer whiz said “I should have one because I’m the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one and jumped. The minister turned to the Boy Scout and sadly smiled and said, “You are young and I have lived a rich and fulfilling life. You take the remaining parachute and I will go down with the plane.” The Boy Scout said, “Relax preacher. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack.”
It’s easy to overestimate ourselves especially when God has blessed us and that is one reason He allows Satan to have some access to us; to remind us of who we really are and who He really is and to make us more like Him. Even Jesus Himself realized this as He prayed in the garden, “Not My will, but Yours.” And when we learn not to overestimate ourselves and allow God to get the glory, that makes us more like Jesus.
Now I want to talk a little about Mr. Achan. Achan was a warrior who participated in the battle for Jericho . We don’t know much about him except what is written in a few verses of chapter 7. But in reading these, I believe we will learn about the dangers of overlooking our enemy. I first want to read a couple of background verses starting in chapter 6, verses 16-19:
Joshua commanded the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury."
That’s pretty clear. There’s not much room for any excuse right there but Achan gave in to temptation and let’s read just verse 1 from chapter 7. “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, 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.” Now, if you are paying attention, and several of you are, you may be wondering why I’m talking about Achan’s sin when I started this segment by saying we shouldn’t overlook our enemy. “Hey Todd, aren’t you supposed to be talking about Ai? That was the enemy of Israel that they overlooked, right?”
Do you remember back in grade school when the bully, brat, punk kid next to you would reach over and pull the hair of the girl in front of you and then move back over real quick? She would turn around and see you and slap you and no matter how much you tried you couldn’t convince her it was the other guy. That’s what is going on here. Israel ’s enemy was not really Ai. It was Satan. When they went against Jericho and let God fight the fight, they hardly did anything and God gave them victory. But then Satan attacked and one of Satan’s favorite tricks is to attack and make you think it was somebody else. Just like he wanted Israel to think their enemy was Ai and to come up with a plan to defeat them, he wants you to think your enemy is something or somebody it is not and then you start to figure out a way you can defeat the wrong person.
Your enemy is Satan. Sweet family, our enemy is not our neighbors. It’s not even the atheists. It’s not the weird guy down the street. Our enemy is not the Democrats…well maybe…no, it’s really not. And I will tell you with emphasis that your enemy is certainly not sitting in these chairs! When that bully would pull that girl’s hair, she would turn around and slap you and that just made that bully’s day. He would laugh so hard because he hurt both of you and never got in trouble. Satan is the same way especially when you look at a member of this family as someone to do battle with. Satan wins that battle no matter what. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, remember?
Instead of trusting God to meet all of his needs, Achan gave in to Satan’s schemes. He overlooked his real enemy and when he gave in to temptation, he also underestimated the power of sin. We often talk about BOOCOD, the benefits of obedience and the consequences of disobedience but we don’t always talk about how powerful the consequences are. It would be bad enough if the consequences of sin only affected us but they rarely do. And we know in our hearts that God is displeased when we sin but by the way we live our lives it is obvious that we think God is a doddering old grandpa who shakes his head and says with a sigh, “Well, kids will be kids. What are ya gonna do?”
We teach our kids that the definition of sin is anything that displeases God and that is a good definition but we tend to not think that God hates all sin. He hates it and therefore sin has consequences. God told Joshua that there was sin in the camp and they needed to rectify the situation ASAP. God was not going to overlook sin. He didn’t underestimate the gravity of the situation. It had already cost the lives of 36 warriors and the good name of the Israelites but the consequences didn’t end there. Read in verse 15 what God tells Joshua about the sin.
“He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel !'"
Do you think God was really serious about that? Do you think He would really kill a person for stealing? Read verse 24-26.
“Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua 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. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.”
Man, I’m glad God has mellowed over the years aren’t you? I’m so glad He has changed and doesn’t feel as strongly about sin as He used to. I mean, surely He has changed. We don’t hear about people dying from sin anymore, do we? But if He has changed, then what do we do with all those passages saying he doesn’t change. Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17 all say that God has never changed and never will so evidently God still hates sin. So why was God so harsh with Achan? Was that just His Old Testament wrath? Well, no. Annanias and Sapphira also met the same fate. So, how do we explain it?
I would say that nothing, least of all God, has changed. Instant death for sin was never the standard, not in the Old or New Testaments. Neither is death the standard for today but it does happen; just maybe not in as dramatic of a fashion as Achan. Even today you hear about somebody taking drugs for the first time and od’ing. It’s not unheard of for a kid to get drunk for the first time on prom night and not ever make it home. Some people have sex outside of marriage just once and contract AIDS.
The point is that sin has consequences. Not just for the sinner. Achan’s whole family, his wife, kids, animals, and all his stuff was lost forever because of what we might consider a small sin. But that small sin put Jesus on the cross. That little thing you do that you think nobody knows about and nobody cares…that put Jesus on the cross. That little bad habit, that peccadillo, that thing that the guys at work laugh about, Jesus died a cruel death so you could be forgiven of that and He did that for you because the wages of sin is death. Not just the big sins, not just a whole bunch of sins, but one sin. And God hates that one sin so bad that He sent His only Son to die for you so that you wouldn’t have to.
Every temptation we have is an opportunity to grow. Every attack of Satan is a chance for us to overcome and when we overcome, it makes us more like Jesus. That’s our goal. Knowing that helps to make sense of a passage like James 1:2 that says to consider it all pure joy when trials come. So, instead of complaining that Satan is always attacking, just welcome that attack. God gives us the armor we need to withstand it, per Ephesians 6. We know that God will never leave us nor forsake us, per Deut. 31 and we know that all things work for our good, per Romans 8 –if we don’t overestimate ourselves, overlook our enemy or underestimate sin.