Message: A Lumpy Loaf | Scripture: Joshua 7:1-9 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
I played on my varsity boys basketball team in high school, and in my freshman year, and our star player at the time was named Joseph Makari. He was a gifted player, but one of the things that made him so effective was his ability to get to the free throw line when he drove to the basket. Being in someone else’s gym, a lot of the calls weren’t going our way. So, after a few failed attempts to draw fouls and get to the line, Joseph started to get a little heated not just with the other team, but with the refs.
In fact, he became so heated after one particular play that he started yelling at the refs. And when the refs wouldn’t change their minds, he slammed the ball on the floor in anger and while walking away, he yelled, “open your eyes!” Unsurprisingly, when you yell at refs, it doesn’t usually end very well, and he was awarded with a technical foul. Now, you have to know the refs weren’t really being unfair. They had missed a few calls, but they weren’t trying to call an unbalanced game on purpose, and our coach knew that very well.
So, in response to Joseph’s outburst, he called Joseph over to the bench looking angry. And when Joseph got there, I remember our coaches’ words as clear as day, “No one on this team gets a technical foul. It doesn’t matter that you’ve only got one, you’re done for the night. Take a seat.” And true to his word, Joseph didn’t play a minute more.
We ended up losing the game, but leaving that gym, we had all learned a valuable lesson: no one would make a mockery of our coaches’ or our school’s name. And if our whole team had to suffer for the poor behaviour of just one person, then so be it because our collective reputation and our integrity were far more important to our coach than the outcome of one game. It’s like that old sports adage that, as players, we don’t only try to live up to the name on the back of our jerseys but also the name on the front. When one player fails that name, we all fail.
Today, we’re talking about Israelites who play on God’s team in God’s arena against God’s enemies, and what’s at stake isn’t just the well-being of Israel, but God’s reputation and integrity. It’s vital for us to understand this as we go into our text because God will not be mocked. If one player on his team doesn’t play by his rules, then the whole team suffers. The greater lesson is worth the temporary sacrifice. And what God’s teaching his people in this passage is a lesson. So, let’s look at what that lesson is now in Joshua 7:1-9. TWoL.
But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel. Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” 4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, 5 and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water. Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”
Our proposition today is simple as a statement but quite complex in its application: Don’t sin. As the people who profess to play on God’s team under God’s rule belonging to God’s kingdom for God’s name, don’t sin. Sin is not just devastating and destructive to who we are as his creatures, it’s absolutely repulsive to the God. And this morning, I want to give you the reasons, from our text, as to why we shouldn’t sin. Why it’s repulsive to God. Let’s see those reasons now in our first point:
1) Sin Results in an Angry God
Why shouldn’t we sin? The first and most important reason that I can give you both on a theological and practical level is that it makes God angry. See what it says in verse 1, “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.”
The first thing I want you to notice is that this is a concession. The author of Joshua uses the conjunction, “but” to draw a contrast between everything that’s happened up until this point. All the exaltation of Joshua, all the claims that God has delivered the land into the hands of his people, all the miracles to get them into the land, all the rituals to purify, covenant, and cleanse Israel, and the events at Jericho—the author of Joshua is telling us that something takes place here despite all of that—despite all that’s been witnessed. And what takes place is that Israel—as a whole—breaks faith with God.
Now, you may be looking at the text, and you probably see that the reason given for Israel’s breaking faith isn’t because all the people sin, it’s because one man sins—the one man, Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah. And you would be right to ask, “why does the verse continue on to say that the anger of the Lord burned against all the people of Israel when all the people of Israel did not sin?”
We have to remember that this narrative—this event taking place with Joshua and Israel is an act of recreation. God is remaking the world. He brought about a new covenant people into a new covenant land to be bound to his new covenant standards. It’s in Exodus 4 where we learn that Israel is called corporately to be the covenant “son” of God. But the idea of sonship isn’t original to the book of Exodus—it actually comes from Genesis, in that Adam is the prototypical “son” of God. There, God made Adam in his own “likeness,” and this term “likeness” is used again in Genesis 5:1-3 to describe the birth of Adam’s son, where it says, “he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Applying this to our text, Israel was considered to be the corporate “son” of God—the new Adam—because God was fashioning them into his likeness—into the people that would dwell with him in his home, as he once did with Adam.
So, what’s happening here is that just as God established Adam in the land and said that it was very good, so too was Joshua with Israel established in the land under God’s pleasure and satisfaction. And just as Adam, through Eve, brought sin into the Edenic house and land of God, so too has Joshua, through Achan, brought sin into the Canaanite house and land of God. What we are seeing here, brothers and sisters, in Joshua 7, is a microcosm of the Fall first introduced to us in Genesis 3. This is the sin that sets the pattern for all that is to become of Israel, which is reflective of Adam’s sin, which had set the pattern for all that is to become of humanity. I’m not just reading this into the text either. The word for “broke faith” in verse 1 is a word used in reference to a trust-bond that is broken—very often it’s the word used in contractual or covenantal relationships, notably between husband and wife or God and man.
Achan’s sin sets the pattern for recreation’s fall, just as Adam’s sin sets the pattern for creation’s fall. This is why the whole of Israel is held to account. This is why the anger of the Lord burned against all the people of Israel. By this one man’s sin, he pollutes all that is good because to be in God’s presence requires a complete righteousness. Thus, when sin enters into the goodness of his creation, all of creation is stained. God cannot be a part of it.
And let me be very clear here, it’s not that God becomes feeble or incapable around things that are not good. Sin is not God’s weakness. No, it’s that God cannot stand that which is not good. Remember, God is absolutely perfect in power. He is perfectly powerful in his love, kindness, graciousness, mercy, holiness, etc., which means he is also perfectly powerful in his justice. Furthermore, God is not only powerful over things that we consider qualities that are beneficial to us, he is powerful, first and foremost, in all those things that are beneficial to himself. So, when there is sin—when he is not surrounded by goodness—his power is reflected in his resolute justice so that he might reestablish that goodness, and to us, that justice is borne out in what Scripture calls God’s perfect wrath.
And the reason why his wrath is brought front and center by the author of Joshua here in our text is because the whole land was to be devoted to God—it is God’s land. Those things that were pure were to be devoted to Him in obedient worship, and all those things that were vessels or objects of impurity were to be devoted to destruction. The word for “devote” here is the key to the whole passage. And what is it that Achan shows us in keeping some of the things of Canaan for himself? He shows that his heart is not devoted to God, and that breaks the trust agreement between God and Israel, it divides his house, and the house of God is not and cannot be divided. The wrath of God is God’s instrument to clean the house of God, and rest assured, God’s house will be spotless.
Here’s the question for us, TCCBC: what does our house look like? What are we devoted to? See, it’s one thing for me to make the proposition this morning, don’t sin, but really, that’s not enough. The point of this text is to outline the terrible nature of sin, yes, but we must realize that sin is the absence of heartfelt love and devotion for God. In other words, what’s even more important than telling you not to sin is asking you what enthralls and delights your heart?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it something like this, “Being the people of God is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively seeking and doing God’s will.” It’s about finding a desire and pleasure more intoxicating and more awe-filling than the false promises of our worldly desires. See, God is trying to teach his people, by bringing them into the land, that he gives us that which is most satisfying—that which we’re longing for, and he does it for us in ways we cannot comprehend. But what Achan does here is say, “I will determine my own desires, on my own terms, and I will possess them in my own way.” And that, dear Christian, is the path that leads to destruction because God’s rules are the only rules found in his house.
So, I ask again, where have we placed our devotion? What is it that sets our hearts aflame? Is it faith in the everlasting and all-satisfying God, or is it in something else, anything else, that is worthy of God’s all-consuming justice-filled wrath? I pray for all of us that it is not the latter. I pray that you might be kept from sin, and that our hearts might be undividedly devoted to him.
2) Sin Results in God’s Judgment
Verses 2-5 explain to us what it means for the anger of the Lord to burn against his people, and as I read these verses, I want you to count how many references there are to the Lord—how many times is God consulted? How many times does God speak to Joshua or to Israel? How many times are the promises of God invoked? And we’ll tally up the count after.
“Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.”
How many times is God referenced to in these verses? I hope we were all able to count the same number: zero. Now, a lot of commentators like to neutralize this text and say that it makes no comment on the moral condition of Israel. They say, “it was entirely natural that Joshua should send spies into the hills above the town to scout out the area.” And while that may be the case, I do not think the passage is neutral in observing the moral state of Israel. Why? Because up until this point, the author of Joshua has been meticulous in his intentionality to tell us about the presence of God among his people. Remember in the first 6 chapters, the ark of the Lord is referred to countless times. The presence of the Lord is constantly sought out. Even the commander of the army of God visits Joshua physically. But here, the text is wholly silent about anything concerning God, and it’s deafening.
Most notable about this passage is the similarity that it shares with the details of Joshua 2 involving the two foolish, witless spies. Remember that story? There, the spies, after returning from Jericho, are unable to tell Joshua anything about the land. They prove themselves to be absolutely useless in the things for which they’ve been tasked. Yet, what words come out of their mouths as they report their observations to Joshua? “Truly, the Lord has given all the land into our hands.”
In contrast, the spies here in Joshua 7 show themselves to be capable in observing everything important about the land. Ai is a small people. Not many Israelites will be needed to subdue them. But what’s missing from their report? God is. This silence both in their pursuit of God and in God’s pursuit of his people tells us that God is not with them. This is the judgment of God on full display. The silence of God. The retraction of his presence. The absence of his mention. This is the foretaste of hell.
See, the significance and terror of this event is not only in the fact that God seems absent from everything taking place. No, the terror is in that last sentence of verse 5: “And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” Aren’t these the words that Rahab used to describe the people of Canaan in chapter 2? And aren’t they the words that the spies used in chapter 3 to describe their utter assurance that God had given them the land? But here, these words are being applied not to Canaanites but to Israel. These words are not describing the hearts and faithlessness of the enemies of God, they’re describing the people who thought they were the friends of God!
Let me say this another way, by using these words to describe the people of God, the author of Joshua is telling us that Israel had now become like the Canaanites. The author of Joshua is telling us that Israel, through Achan, had earned not the favour of God but his animosity. So, while God, here, seems silent from the perspective of Israel, we are assured that he is not silent from the overall circumstances that characterize this scene because we know that his anger burns against his enemies, and Israel has become that enemy.
Joshua and Israel might not mention God, but the defeat of Israel at the hands of these lowly men of Ai offers us a resounding portrait that they know that God is at work here. They know his wrath is against them. Make no mistake, God is the one who slaughtered the thirty-six Israelites. God is the one who caused them to flee. God is the one who struck them in their descent. And he is the one who caused Israel’s heart to melt.
The terrifying nature of God’s wrath isn’t just that God becomes a stranger to us—it’s not just that he retracts his presence from us when we need him the most, it’s that, in his anger, he intends to show up when we least expect it in order to ruin and devastate us. He intends to humble us completely into utter desperation, and if we remain unrepentant, into utter hopelessness as well. God will not be mocked because he is zealous for his name.
We so often speak of being afraid of the devil’s afflictions, and it’s right to be this way, because he is expectedly evil and desires to harm us. But how much more frightful is it to be the recipient of the anger of God who we expect to love us, who we expect to lavish us with kindness, who we expect to be our covenant-keeping friend? The judgment of God is not flippant. It is exact, it is menacing, and it is unrelenting. What’s worse is that it’s reserved for all who refuse him. To this end, dear brothers and sisters, I implore you, keep yourself from sin. Devote yourselves to God and pursue him in all things.
3) Sin Results in the Loss of Godly Reason
Verses 6-9 is where we finish off, and what we find is Joshua and the elders of Israel in mourning and despair. These verses teach us that when sin corrupts—when sin invades the house of God—it not only brings about God’s anger and God’s judgment, but it also causes us to lose all sense of God’s perspective. Just listen to Joshua’s words as he moans, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”
You know what’s astounding about these words is that Joshua says them when just six verses above, we’re told that the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land. Does this sound like someone who possesses the fellowship of God? Does it sound like he is confident in the person whom God has appointed him to be? It’s does not! And why is that? Because this is what sin does. It confounds us. It makes us incomprehensible. It causes us to doubt the promises of God. You see, Joshua’s words here are emotional, not rational. They’re fearful, not faithful.
In reality, he’s only lost thirty-six men, but he’s ready to run back east of the Jordan, just like Israel wanted to flee back to Egypt at the first sign of trouble. And the reason is because “sin causes us to lose perspective, forget God’s promises, and doubt God’s plans.” In sin, we forget how we’ve gotten where we are. We forget who we are. And above all, we forget whose we are.
See, in this very moment, Joshua doesn’t know about Achan’s sin, and yet that sin has clearly affected everyone in the camp so much so that they start to think, without reason, that God has gone back on his word. God was supposed to deliver Israel. God was supposed to walk the Canaanites right on out of the land that he had promised them. And the reason why I say that Joshua and the elders had lost all reason is because they should have known that when things aren’t going according to the promise of God, it’s because someone has sinned against God. Here on display is what happens when you misplace your theology. For some nonsensical reason, in Joshua’s mind, God became the one who was unfaithful. God was the one who left his people when he said he would never abandon them.
This is why Joshua asks what he asks in verse 9, “what will you do for your great name?” What he means is, “how will you clear your name now? How will you prove to the nations that you truly are God over all? Now that you’ve gone back on your word, why would nations fear you, since you’ve shown you’re not always for your people?”
You see, at the height of Joshua’s mourning is a depreciation of the character of God, while presuming the innocence of man. In his mind, man has done nothing wrong, while God has acted uncharacteristically towards them. He has, quite literally, forgotten everything that has taken place in Israel’s history—not only about who God is, but he’s forgotten who man is—he’s forgotten what caused them to fall into the hands of Egypt in the first place, he’s forgotten what caused them to anger God at Sinai, he’s forgotten what caused all of Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years.
In other words, he’s forgotten that God humbles Israel not because he is a neglectful or negligent, but because people are neglectful and negligent—because people are sinful. But sin twists our minds to turn the blame from ourselves onto someone or something else to the point that we think we don’t deserve what we receive.
Yet, if Joshua just used his reason, he would know that their plight wasn’t because of God but because of man. And although Joshua could not have been expected to know about Achan’s specific sin, his theology about God should have made him look elsewhere for the cause of their downfall instead of mischaracterizing God in Israel’s defeat. This is what sin does. It causes anger in God. It brings about God’s judgment. And to add insult to injury, it dehumanizes us, and it turns us into bumbling idiots—people without reason—people without a godly perspective—people unable to discern lie from truth.
What’s worse is that for all my pleading that we stay away from sin, we are those people. All of us are like Joshua in sin’s effect upon our lives, blaming God for our own bankruptcy, and questioning him in our forgetfulness, “what will you do now for your great name?” As if God needs us to do what he intends to do. What will you, O God, do now, now that you’ve led us to our death? What, O God, will you do now that you’ve allowed all this evil to take place to innocent, good people?
It’s then, when we’re on our faces, desperate and without hope, blaming God for doing this to us—for leaving us—for forgetting us—for giving us over to our enemies—it’s when we’ve done all that we can to cast on him all of our shortcomings—he says, “Watch what I do next!” And he sends his own Son to come in the likeness (there’s that word again)—in the likeness of sinful flesh—to take upon himself not only our shortcomings but the wrath and the judgment of God while nailed to a cross of wood so that he might reply to Joshua’s question: “what will you do for your great name, O God?” His response is, “I will do everything.” None of you are good, all of you deserve to die, but I’ll send my Son to die in your stead, to redeem you from yourselves, and to restore you to a righteousness you never possessed.
It is through Jesus that the wrath of the whole Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit—is appeased. It is through Jesus that the judgment of God is born in fullness for the sins of the world. It is through Jesus that our shortcomings and forgetfulness are forgiven, restored, and redeemed. It is through Jesus that we are counted the righteous ones of God. Just as sin and death entered into the world by one man, so too has righteousness and life come through another, namely, Jesus Christ. Come to this Jesus and sin no more. Come to this Jesus who has done it all to bring us back to God. To this God be the glory in our fight against sin. To this God be the glory for our everlasting satisfaction, which is found, alone, in him.