Message: The Gracious Law of God | Scripture: Joshua 7:13-26 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
- What is sin? Define it in your own words (even if those words are fashioned after biblical language!).
- Why is it so easy for us to define sin, yet so difficult for us to admit or pinpoint our own sin/the things in our life that are sinful?
- Even if you’ve never taken the Lord’s name in vain, how have we committed blasphemy in our own lives?
- Why does God give us instructions and commands/what is their purpose? How do his instructions and commands reveal his grace towards us?
- How does the grace of God work in our sinfulness/what is it meant to do when we’re in sin?
- There is sorrow when we do sin, but what does the story of Achan teach us regarding those who are truly repentant vs. those who are not truly repentant? What is the difference between a worldly sorrow/grief over sin and a godly sorrow/grief over sin?
- Why is it that we obey? Do we obey simply to avoid punishment or is there more to it? If there’s more, what is it?
- Do you regularly confess sin that should be confessed? Why or why not (you may have answered this in previous questions already)?
- Is there someone in your life who you can be 100% honest/vulnerable with? If yes, can you tell us why it’s so vital to have that kind of person in your life? If not, why don’t you and can you think of someone who you could be this way with? It’s preferable that this person is someone who is a part of your covenant community because it’s through covenants that true accountability can take place.
- What does the punishment of Achan reveal about God’s requirement for sin?
- What does the punishment of Achan reveal about the severity and urgency of our sinfulness?
- What does the punishment of Achan reveal about the necessity of God’s mediation for our sin? Where is that mediation found? Why is our mediator precious to us (hint: he doesn’t just take away our sin)?
- Take some time to pray together for those things upon our hearts and that God might make us a church that regularly confesses our sin to one another and points one another back to him who is more satisfying than our sin.
I’d like to share with you something that’s more of a memory than it is an illustration for our passage. This past year, I attended the last ever Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference [explain what T4G is—have been attending since 2010], which, when I think about it, is both a sad and sweet thought because many of the pastors who had been there from the beginning stood up their behind the pulpit to preach what felt like, for many of them, their last sermon—at least in this context. And the one sermon that I was looking forward to above all the others was the sermon from my personal hero—a man whose influence in my life is only second to my own father—and his name is John Piper.
Now, I didn’t know what he would be preaching on—they normally hide information on who will be speaking at what times and what they’ll be speaking on so that people aren’t trying to attend only those sermons that they want to hear, but it turns out that a lot of what he had to say on that day has a lot to do with our text this morning. In his sermon, preaching from 1 Peter, he implored us pastors not to forsake preaching the effective connection of the Bible.
And what is the effective connection? It’s that as Christians we are to always remember that grace results in a particular behaviour. We’re to remember that God’s act of salvation through his Son always brings about a life of sin-killing, worship-filled obedience. We are to preach that we cannot be obedient unless God is first and foremost gracious. And we cannot claim to have received grace unless our lives display a growth in godly obedience. One implies the other.
So, borrowing the language of John Piper, this is our proposition this morning: do not neglect the effective connection between God’s grace and our required obedience. This isn’t a new truth to any of us, I hope, but I also hope that I might renew your zeal towards a life of obedience and holiness today—a life that seeks to kill sin, a life that depends upon the grace of God—a life that sees one as effectively connected to the other.
As I tend to do, because this is a long portion of Scripture, I’ll be reading to you the applicable texts as we come to them in our outline, which we’ll turn to now with our first point:
1) God’s Grace in Effective Instruction
Read Joshua 7:13-15 with me. TWoL. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for 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.” In the morning, therefore, you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.
What I haven’t done up until this point in Joshua 7 is to make a comparison that the author of Joshua intends to make with this story—that between the Gentile, prostitute woman, Rahab, and this Israelite, Achan. And I believe that this comparison is drawn out, particularly, by the effect of these two individual’s actions. See, Rahab, by her actions, becomes a child of God and saves her entire family through her confession and faith in the character of God. It’s in the person of Rahab that we learn that God intends, one day, to graft Gentiles into the nation of Israel despite having once been outside of it. The thing that sets the people of God apart will not be their ethnicity but their faithfulness.
Achan, in contrast, acts in such a way where, by his disobedience, he condemns the entire nation and shows himself to be someone who thinks they are a part of Israel but really stands as one outside of it. Not all who think they belong to Israel actually belong. Rahab shows her faithfulness as one who trusts in the character of God to deliver her and her loved ones from the wrath of God. Achan shows his unbelief by trusting in the things that belong to God rather than in God himself. Despite all that he’s seen, he does not think that God will deliver him and provide him with all that he needs, and so, he incurs the wrath of God.
And this is what we see in our text. Verse 13 tells us that the people must consecrate themselves—they must abstain from certain practices and make certain sacrifices—because there are devoted things in their midst, and they will be unable to proceed into the land that God has prepared for them unless they destroy those things. But notice, in verse 15, the devoted things that need to be destroyed aren’t only the stolen goods from Jericho. No, included within the things that now have to be devoted to destruction is the very person—and we find out in verses 24-26 that it includes his whole family—that has brought reproach upon the whole camp of Israel.
I have touched upon this in previous weeks, church, but it bears repeating again-and-again-and-again: when we take our worship and place it upon something that is other than God, we become the very thing that needs to be destroyed. And that is because we aren’t doing that which we were created to do. We become an abomination to God because we treat him as an object that we can acknowledge or ignore whenever we please, rather than to fix all of our attention upon him as the Creator, Sustainer, and Mover of all things.
Sin is receiving the gift God has given us in himself and looking upon it as if it’s not the most beautiful or valuable thing that we’ve ever beheld. Sin is us committing the greatest offence by taking our eyes off him and his ultimate beauty and majesty for this bright shiny thing that the world offers us—let’s call it a mirror, and we look into that mirror, and we think, “This is beauty. This is majesty. This is worthy of my attention and praise.” And so, we become the thing devoted to destruction—because our offence is in loving ourselves, in loving created things, rather than the Creator. And this is what takes place in Achan’s heart.
This is why the author of Joshua at the end of verse 15 says that the one who has taken the devoted things, he has done an outrageous thing in Israel. The word “outrageous” here refers to something done out of wilful blasphemy. For those of you who don’t know exactly how to define blasphemy, let me put it this way: in this context, blasphemy isn’t just profaning the name of God, it is taking something that belongs to God and saying it belongs to you. And we have all done this. We may not have stolen things from Jericho that belong to God, but we have all, at one point or another, claimed our lives to be our own—when we, in fact, do not belong to ourselves.
This is Achan’s predicament—this is our predicament. We stand as those who have devoted things in our midst, and we all deserve to be burned with fire because we have transgressed the covenant of the Lord—we have done an outrageous thing.
But here comes the grace in God’s effective instruction. Look at verse 14 and allow me to ask you, “Why doesn’t God just tell Joshua who was guilty amongst them? Why doesn’t he just say, ‘it was Achan, burn him, kill his family, move-on, and go into the Promised Land?’” Here is the grace in God’s discipline because when sin is in our midst, all of us are called to evaluate ourselves. Sin pervades and affects all of us. It is never a one-man spectacle.
When one sins, all of us are called to account, to search our hearts, and consecrate ourselves back to God—to make sure there is no blemish in us as we approach him. We’re to feel the weight of our humanity in light of his deity. We’re meant to ask, “what is my sin, and what have I done to contribute to the toxic soup of sin in this world?” And when we’ve discovered it, we’re to confess it and repent of it. See, God, in this moment provides us a glimmer of hope. He shows us grace. He gives us time—he gives Achan time—to repent—before the judgment comes. There is time to consecrate yourself today, God says. So, do it today, before tomorrow arrives, and you find that it’s too late.
God gives us instruction not to constrain but to free us from the bondage of our enslavement to sin—from our enslavement to lesser things. God wants to give us the highest, greatest thing, but we cannot have it as long as our eyes and lives are fixed on ourselves. God is telling Israel, “Hey! I’m right here. Look at me. Fix your eyes back on me. Consecrate yourselves to me because I am the highest good. I am the greatest prize. I will lift you up. I will provide for all of your needs, but you’ve got to trust that I will provide and stop trying to do my job for yourself because all you’ll do is mess it up, and I hate messes.”
The effective connection in God’s effective instruction is that, in his grace, he points us back to himself when we turn to our own way. And we are made able to repent and believe once again because he’s given us the very blueprint for us to do it—he’s shown us the glory of his reason over our unreasonableness. He’s shown us the majesty of his love over our unloveliness. And so, do not neglect the effective connection of his gracious, effective instruction. Obey his commands as a response to his grace. Repent when you turn away. Be reconciled to him before it’s too late.
2) God’s Grace in Effective Evaluation
Read Joshua 7:16-21 with me. TWoL. So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. And he brought near the his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly, I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
As we read these words, our hearts ought to break as Joshua and Achan interact with one another. Here, before Joshua, stands a man that Joshua thought was his family. We know from his prayer in verses 7-9, his thinking before this is that all of Israel is innocent—they are righteous. But, as God narrows down the playing field of potential sinners within the midst of Israel, Joshua’s realizing more and more that this is serious. There really is someone here who has done an outrageous thing, and now he is here, standing face-to-face with Joshua, and Joshua cannot believe it. His exact words in verse 25 are, “Why did you bring trouble upon us?” How could you have done this thing, Achan?
And his surprise is due to the fact that he loves this man. He loves him as the one whom God has given to him to watch over, to care after, and to pursue in his well-being. We know this because of the way that Joshua addresses Achan—not by his name, and not as if he is someone foreign to him—he addresses him as, “My son.” Here are the facts, Joshua knows what’s coming, he knows judgment has arrived, and yet, in the depth of despair, in the knowledge of the wrath that this man faces, Joshua is not hardened towards him. He does not take pleasure in what’s about to take place. There’s a great sorrow here in our text.
Brothers and sisters, take a moment to look and think of the person sitting to your left and to your right—take a second to sit where you are and consider your own circumstances. There is a good chance that some in this very room will not be able to give glory or praise to the Lord God of Israel. There are those, most likely, in our midst who will face our Joshua someday—the Joshua who came to give his life for us—the Joshua who gave up his throne in heaven and the radiance of his glory in order to condescend himself, suffer for our sins, and die on our behalf—and he will say to them, “my son, or my daughter, tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” And we will have no choice but to confess knowing that we’ve been caught.
And I want to ask all of us here, are we doing all that we can to make sure that this will not be the case? Are we doing all we can to make sure that sin can be confessed here, amongst one another, that those whom we covenant together with might feel comfortable to run into the arms of a fellow brother or sister and say, “I need your help, I have done an outrageous thing”? More than this, do we, ourselves, willingly run into the arms of one another to confess our sin and to point each other to the God who calls us sons and daughters?
See, this is what happens to us when we sin. We alienate ourselves from God and each other. We become less able to image God in our humanity. We become ashamed, and we feel like we can hide our horrible deeds with other good, less horrible deeds. Maybe God will have mercy on me because I’ve done a million good things for every one bad thing I’ve done. But as we all know, like a philanthropist who sits on death row for murdering his family—we cannot escape our evil.
There are no good deeds that can mask the wickedness of our hearts. God doesn’t just know what you’ve done—he knows what you desire. He knows your inclinations. He knows your motivations, and that is what he judges you by. He judges you by those things that you’ve hidden so deep that you think because no one can see them, since no one can smell it on you or see a change in your demeanor—you think God must have forgiven you.
But sinner, that is not how grace works. Grace doesn’t just call us to be relatively good people. It’s not something given to us so that we can sweep our misdeeds under a rug somewhere as if they’ve never happened. No, grace works in such a way so that those misdeeds might be exposed, and in the light, they are shown to have no lingering power over us because we’re transfixed by something far superior, far lovelier, and far more satisfying.
I’m licking my lips because I’m thinking of my son who loves yogurt. He’ll eat yogurt voraciously, and I think he thinks that there is nothing that can taste as good as yogurt tastes. But then, I give him a small scoop of ice cream, and looking at him, as he puts it in his mouth, and as he considers its flavour, it’s like his whole world is exploding. Grace exposes the fact that yogurt is not nearly as good as we thought it was especially when we’ve tasted the sweetness and delectableness of ice cream.
Is there sin hidden in your life? Are any of us naïve enough to think that we might be able to bury it away from the vision of God? Worse yet, are any of us under the illusion that having our sin is better than being with God? Here is where God’s grace effectively connects to his evaluation of sinners: he provides the opportunity for forgiveness. He gives us the chance now to turn from our waywardness before it is too late—before his evaluation of us is complete.
But let’s not ignore the other side of our text. Notice what’s taking place here. Verses 16-21 jump straight into the winnowing process of finding the sinner amongst Israel. The whole step of consecration that’s talked about in verses 13-15 is skipped, and why does the author do this? He does this to show us that Achan does not repent. He didn’t consecrate himself. He didn’t confess his sin. He didn’t seek to destroy the devoted things in his midst even after Joshua’s warning, and now, as he stands before Joshua in judgment, it’s too late. God gave him a potential out, knowing what he had done, and he didn’t take it.
We cannot miss this: God’s commands for us to be holy are a means of his grace—they aren’t the only means, but they are a means, and they are not meant to be ignored. His commands are not merely ceremonial or practices of some meaningless cult—they are purposeful. They are meant to return us to himself. They’re meant to re-establish a relationship with him, and if we ignore his commands while telling ourselves that we’re going to be okay, then not only are we in a self-inflicted deception, but we are to be most pitied.
We are to consecrate ourselves contrary to the actions taken here by Achan. Achan serves for us as a warning of what happens to those who reject the requirements of God to be righteous—to be obedient—to be cleansed of sin—to be holy and pure as he is holy and pure. His requirements for obedience are the effective connection to his graciousness. We experience his grace by obeying. We experience his presence by conforming ourselves to his image. The Christian life is not about some hyper-spiritual experience. It’s not some mystical, unexplainable phenomenon—it’s about knowing God by being like God.
Right here in our text is proof in the doctrine of limited atonement, because rest assured, God provides the means for all to be saved, but not all desire to be saved—not all desire to be holy like God is. These verses are not only meant to show us God’s grace towards Achan in his unrepentance and in the love that Joshua has for him as a son, but they are meant to show us, ultimately, that God is even more gracious towards those who truly desire to know him. The Achan’s of the world will be singled out. God will condemn those who are unrepentant in their wickedness, and he will surely sustain those who belong to him. We are not to neglect the effective connection between God’s grace and our required obedience because our obedience is evidence that we know his grace—that we have been saved, and that as his sons and daughters, his judgment over us shall not be prolonged.
3) God’s Grace in Effective Preservation
Read Joshua 7:22-26 with me. TWoL. So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day, the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.
I hope there is no confusion among us as to what is required by God in his covenant when sin enters into the midst of his people. What takes place here isn’t just a Leviticus 16 sin offering. This isn’t a scapegoat and sacrificial goat situation. A bird is not given as compensation for Achan’s sin, nor is a cow. The sacrificial system of Israel points God’s people towards something that would have to be more propitiating—more satisfying to account for the wrath of God, and we get a glimpse of that here. What God requires under his covenant—to be God amongst his people—for his people to live securely in his presence—is for the penalty of sin to be truly satisfied through the shed blood of the sinner.
I’ve said this before in one of my previous sermons, but this picture of Achan and his punishment is a foreshadowing of things to come in Israel. Achan’s sin may have been the first to enter into God’s recreated Promised Land, but it will not be the last. Israel will go astray. This picture of Achan, despite God’s turning from his burning anger this time, is meant to fill us with a sense of impending trouble—a kind of hopelessness—as we ponder Israel’s future. This is, in fact, what Achor means: trouble, and the author of Joshua ends this section by reminding us of this fact—trouble comes to the disobedient, which is exactly what Israel shall be. More satisfaction will be required.
And despite God’s revelation of this—that sin requires satisfaction from the sinner—Israel never truly catches on. They think, under the law of God, sacrificing goats, birds, and oxen shall go on forever and that it is, in a sense, sufficient. But God never gave up his pursuit and his desire for them to understand. Despite Israel’s eventual prostitution of itself to other gods and nations, he sent prophets into her midst to redeem her over-and-over again, and when things seemed to be completely lost—when Israel had ignored yet another prophet, and exile loomed large over their heads—God promises them that he shall redeem them again.
Fast forward then to the time of Hosea, and his words in Hosea 2:15 where he writes amidst threatening Israel that God is going to punish her for her prostitution that “[I will] make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” What does this prophet mean by these words? How will God’s grace effectively preserve his people? How can his judgment give them hope? He tells us through Hosea that where the Valley of Achor was a symbol of judgment, punishment, and hopelessness, where he displayed the necessity of shedding blood to satisfy his own wrath—this is the means by which his people will be saved.
See, there is nothing new under the sun. God showed Israel through Achan the need for the blood of sinners to cleanse the stain of sin. And Israel could only grasp this in terms of warning and fear, but what God tells the people through prophets like Hosea is that it wasn’t just a warning, it wasn’t just to instill within you a fear, it was meant to remind you that what man considers evil—what man considers to be fearful—God uses that to display his own goodness. He uses it to display his own grace
And he is good and gracious in ways that we could not envision because not only does one come, the Messiah—Jehovah himself—in pristine righteousness to shed his own blood for sinners so that sin might not only be cleansed from the land but also so that we might live as his righteousness. Not only that we might possess his righteousness but that we, too, might also live righteously.
Do you want to know what’s really cool about this passage in Hosea? The word at the end of the line, “I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope,” that word “hope” is the same word that we find translated another way in one other part of the Bible. We see that word in Joshua 2 where it’s translated as “cord” or “rope.” What I mean to say is that the thing that turns the Valley of Achor on its head—the thing that turns that place from hopelessness into the very basis of our hope—is the example given to us by the prostitute, Rahab, in her faithfulness towards God. On the one hand, Achan in Achor shows us the necessity for the punishment and judgment of sin. But it’s in Rahab and in her cord of hope that we’re shown the grace in our salvation as those unworthy of it—as prostitutes, and more than Rahab ever had, we see it through Christ who suffers our judgment—our Achor—for us. What else is there in this life but to be affected and effected in such a way where we respond in joyful obedience? The effective connection of God’s grace that leads to our obedience is rooted in the effectiveness of his own preservation of us through his Son. By the cord of his cross, we are saved. Where we ought to have despaired and wallowed in our hopelessness, we, now, find hope. Where we ought to have considered our fate sealed and our conscience seared, he gave us a way out, and by-golly, I hope every single one of us takes it. I hope that we are found good and faithful in his sight. I hope that your joy isn’t in unrepentant sin but in Jesus’ blood poured out for you so that you might know the fullness of his grace and walk with him in faithful obedience.