Avoiding Achan’s Sin

This morning we are going to look at Joshua chapter 7 and the story of Achan. As you know, chapter 7 follows chapter 6, and chapter 6 of Joshua recounts the story of the battle of Jericho. We looked at this story a couple of weeks ago. You may remember that basically, the Israelites came across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, and Jericho was the first city which he told them to attack. It made good military sense, because it would allow them to fight a northern and a southern campaign.

Jericho, unfortunately, was somewhat of a stronghold, with huge walls surrounding it. God told Joshua to lead the entire Israelite army to Jericho and march around it in total silence, then return home. He told them to do this for six days and then on the seventh day to march around the wall seven times. On the seventh time around the Israelites were to yell, and the walls would fall down. He told them that when the walls fell down, they should rush into the city and kill everything that was there. He also told them not to take any of the plunder for themselves, but to give all the spoils of war to God.

Everything went exactly how God had told Joshua it would. They marched, they yelled, the walls fell, and they destroyed everyone. This is where we pick up in chapter 7. At the very outset of chapter 7, we read that Achan had disobeyed God’s command not to take any of the plunder—but at this point, no one in Israel (with the exception of his family) knew that he had done so.

So, you can imagine that the Israelites were probably pretty excited by the way things had gone so far. I would imagine that Joshua, believing himself to be a brilliant military strategist, took note of the fact that everyone in the surrounding areas had heard about how they had defeated Jericho and were afraid. He probably also noted that his army was confident and ready for battle. So, he called together his spies and told them to check out the next city he planned to attack—the city of Ai. The spies returned, telling him that Ai would be an easy target, because there weren’t many men there—they said that it was such an easy target that they didn’t need to send the whole army; just a portion would do.

So, Joshua sent 3,000 men to overtake Ai. As the army arrived at the city, they quickly realized that they were overmatched, so they fled. As they were running away, 36 of their men were killed. The Bible says they were routed at Ai. Now, we might look at this battle and say, they only lost 36 out of 3,000 men, that’s really not a big deal. First of all, I would contend that to those men’s families, it was a big deal. But, second of all, I think it’s important for us to note that in the book of Joshua, this is the only time that we hear about Israelites dying in battle. They had just taken Jericho, a comparative stronghold, without losing a single man. Now, they were immediately overmatched and several of them died as they fled—something was wrong.

Joshua’s Response

So, as often happens when someone feels defeated, Joshua turned to God. He essentially complained to God in prayer about how losing this battle is such a bad thing. He whined that their reputation was ruined, and people wouldn’t be afraid of them anymore. He complained that it would have been better if they had never crossed over the Jordan River (you can tell that Joshua was an Israelite!) At some point during this tirade of a prayer, God stopped Joshua and responded to him. In verses 10–12, we read God’s response.

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

God told Joshua exactly what the problem was. He said that the reason they lost the battle was that someone in Israel had disobeyed his command not to take any of the devoted things. God said that this was the reason they lost, and that they would continue to lose until they destroy everything that is “devoted to destruction.” In other words, as long as they allowed this sin to continue, they would continue to be defeated.

Now, Joshua had a choice here. He could have responded to this revelation in three different ways. I think Joshua’s choices are much like the choices we have when we are confronted with sin.

  1. Joshua could have thrown up his hands in desperation. He could have said, “We’ll never get rid of all the sin in our camp. We’re doomed! I might as well just join in the sinning, because there’s nothing we can do about it now.” We may make the same argument when we look at the sin in our lives, concluding that we could never possibly overcome it, so we shouldn’t waste our time trying. Notice though, that this is not Joshua’s response.
  2. Joshua could have decided to just wait it out and let it blow over. He could have said, “If I just give it enough time, the guilty parties will eventually realize that what they’ve done was wrong, and they’ll correct things themselves. I just need to sit here and wait.” This is a common position to take in our society today, because we like to believe that everyone is basically good, and if we just give people enough time and space, they’ll do the right thing. The truth is that isn’t the case. In the case of Achan, he probably would have continued in his sin as long as he could get away with it. And he would probably be emboldened by the fact that Joshua did nothing, thinking he’d fooled everyone. Just waiting for sin to blow over leads only to a downward spiral of sin. Fortunately, this wasn’t Joshua’s response either.
  3. Joshua could decide to immediately find the source of the sin and root it out. This is exactly what he decides to do and it is, I believe, the best course of action.

The next morning, Joshua gathered the entire nation of Israel together and, by God’s direction, selected a single tribe from the group. From that tribe Joshua selected a single clan. From that clan he selected a single family. And from that family Joshua selected a single man, Achan. Joshua brought Achan forward and confronted him directly, asking him what he’d done. Achan, realizing that he’d been found out, then confessed everything. He said that as he was walking through the city, he saw a beautiful robe, and coveted it for himself. He also saw some gold and some silver, and took those things as well. Then he brought them home and hid them in his tent so that no one would find them.

So, Joshua sent some men to go to Achan’s tent to find the plunder he had hidden there. The men returned with everything that Achan had described. So Joshua led the entire nation to the Valley of Achor (which means the Valley of Trouble), and had them stone Achan and his family, then burn them and everything they owned, including the plunder which he had stolen. Now, we might look at this and think that Joshua is being too harsh. We say, “Yes, Achan sinned, but he also confessed! He tried to do the right thing, shouldn’t that count for something?” The answer is no. Achan only confessed when his back was against the wall. He wasn’t trying to come clean; he was backed into a corner. Think about how long this process of determining the guilty party took. They lined up the whole nation and probably cast lots to determine which tribe, clan, and family to bring forward. Throughout the whole process, Achan must have thought he could get away with it, or that someone else was more culpable than he. If he had really wanted to come clean, he would have stopped the process at the outset and confessed. He didn’t. He waited until he was found out.

The Seriousness of Sin

It appears that Achan had no intention of confessing his sin as long as he could get away with it. He knew that what he had done was wrong, and that’s why he hid the things he’d taken. His family also knew that what he’d done was wrong, and they must have helped in the cover-up. The issue here was really direct disobedience against God. Achan and his family knew what the right thing to do was, but instead they willfully and continually rebelled against it. This kind of attitude could not be allowed to persist, and Joshua made sure that it did not.

You see, throughout the Bible sin is compared to yeast. If you have just a little bit of yeast in your dough, it will work its way through the whole thing and it will rise. Sin is the same way. Today we might describe sin as a cancer. When someone has cancer, we know that if it isn’t removed, it will kill them. So people will endure difficult and painful operations to remove the cancer from their bodies. When the doctor attempts to remove the cancer, he wants to make sure that he gets every single cell that is diseased because if even a little bit is left behind the cancer will return, and the surgery was pointless.

This is really a good depiction of sin in our lives. If sin is left untreated, it leads to death. In Achan’s case, his death was very quick in coming. Ours may not be, but our sin still leads to death. Romans 6:23 says exactly that. “For the wages of sin is death.” Sin is a deadly disease.

Most of the time, we don’t look at our sins in that light. We try to minimize them, or explain them away. We will use euphemisms to make our sins sound trivial. Think about the terms we have for some of our sins.

  • We call it a little white lie instead of calling ourselves liars
  • We call it an affair, instead of calling it cheating on your spouse, or committing adultery
  • We call it sleeping together, instead of calling it fornication or premarital sex
  • We call it creative bookkeeping instead of calling it stealing
  • We call it using our money to meet our “needs”, instead of calling it failing to tithe—or as God calls it in Malachi chapter 3, robbing him
  • We call it harmless fun instead of pornography or mental adultery
  • We call it sharing concerns instead of gossip
  • We call it a bad temper instead of saying we’re being selfish
  • We say we are just being honest instead of saying we are being hurtful and vicious
  • We say we are too busy instead of confessing we aren’t committed enough
  • We say we are enjoying the fruits of our labor rather than calling it materialism
  • We call it self-confidence rather than pride
  • We say we are “enjoying life” rather than calling it gluttony

We try to play down our sins all the time, because we don’t see them as a big deal—we might even try to trick ourselves into thinking that they don’t matter. What we can learn from the story of Achan is that sin is serious. Sin leads to death, and sin must be dealt with before the disease progresses.

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, we read the story of an older demon counseling a younger demon. At one point in the book, we read these words.

You will say that these are very small sins, and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to keep the man away from the Light.… Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.[1]

The demons understand the seriousness of sin, and we should too.

The Solution

So, how do we go about dealing with our sin? How do we remove this cancer from our lives? The fact is that you can’t do it yourself. The Bible tells us that we are slaves to sin—sin owns us. We can’t break the bondage of sin on our own. If you are not a believer in Christ, if you haven’t trusted Him to save your from your sin, you really do have no hope because you cannot possibly break the hold that sin has on you by yourself. If you have trusted Christ, then he has already broken that hold and he will give you the strength you need to fight the battle.

But what if you are a believer?  Does the desire to sin disappear? Not in my experience or the experience of the authors of Scripture. To root out sin we must: 1) admit the serious nature of sin. 2) recognize the need to turn to the Lord for help. This is what Joshua did—he turned to God and relied on Him to point out the source of Israel’s sin. And God led him right to it.

What we need to do is to pray that God would show us our sins, and then pray specifically for forgiveness and for the strength to overcome those sins. We can’t fight a battle if we don’t know where to fight. Often times, we may pray, “Lord, forgive me for my sins.” While this sounds like a good prayer, it’s really a cop-out. It’s a way for us to sound like we’re doing the right thing without having any intention of actually doing the right thing. We’re praying that God would just let our sins slide by.

Finally, once we know where the battle should be fought—once we know what sins need to be overcome—we should do what needs to be done to overcome them. We need to take whatever steps are necessary to remove the cancer of sin—even if those steps seem a little extreme.

So let’s get practical. Suppose you ask God to show you where there is sin in your life, and he brings to your mind a conversation you had recently and you realize that this conversation was gossip. First, you should ask God to forgive you for gossiping about someone else. Second, you need to ask for forgiveness from the people you gossiped TO and ABOUT. Then, you need to look for ways to stop gossiping. You might conclude that there are certain people that bring out the gossip in you, so you should avoid them. Maybe there are certain places where gossip seems to be expected, and so you shouldn’t go there. There are a number of possible courses of action that you could take to attempt to overcome this sin. Most importantly is that you continue to pray to God and ask for His strength in overcoming the sin.

This is obviously just a generic example, although it’s probably one that most of us struggle with. Chances are that you may have other sins in your life that need to be addressed, and I don’t know what steps you’ll need to take to overcome them. As I tried to think about it, here are some possibilities of actions that you or I might need to take.

  • Stop spending time with a certain person or group of people
  • End a dating relationship that is leading you to sin
  • Install filtering software on your computer
  • Throw away catalogs without looking at them
  • Pay your tithe first, before you spend money on other things
  • Walk out of a conversation, movie, or even a job that isn’t honoring to God
  • Turn off the TV
  • Cut back on some of your activities so you have time for the things of God
  • Learn ways to express your anger constructively
  • Seek counseling

Whatever sins are plaguing you, I hope that you’ll seek God’s help in overcoming them, and take whatever actions are necessary to eradicate them from your life.


You may wonder why I would choose to preach this message on Father’s Day. The primary reason is that it was where we were in the book of Joshua. But, as I thought about it this week, I noticed something in this story. Achan’s family was affected by his sin. As fathers, we feel a responsibility for our families, and we want to ensure that we are taking care of our children. We see from the story of Achan that what we do affects our children; that when we continue in sin, our children are often drawn into it as well. Most parents have seen their own vices crop up in their children. Children tend to imitate what they see in their parents. Often the kids take that vice one step further. When we understand that, we realize just how important these principles are for fathers (and mothers as well) to implement.

Obviously, we must start with ourselves. We must work to root out the sin that we face in our own lives. We must also work to protect our families from sin. This means that we should be on guard against those things that can drag our children down a sinful path, and that we should help to protect them from those things. We may not be popular because we are “quenching the fun” but we will be doing what is best for our children.

The final thing that I want you to see from this passage actually doesn’t come from the story of Achan. Romans 6:23, which I read to you earlier, says that the wages of sin is death. And that is absolutely true, but I didn’t read the whole verse. The whole verse says this.

23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord.

This is the good news of the gospel. It isn’t until we understand just how serious our sin is that we can begin to understand just how good the gospel is. The penalty for sin is always death, but Jesus Christ paid that penalty for us—he allowed himself to die in our place.

As you read the story of Achan you may think that it is just a story about a man who did something stupid and sinful a long time ago. I hope that you have come to see that the story of Achan may be much more.  It may be the story of your life, or of mine.

Is it possible that our country is facing the crises it faces today because of the sin of Christians? Is it possible that God is withholding His blessing because His people are not doing what He has told us to do? Is it possible that some of the struggles of your life are caused by your refusal to do things God’s way?

Are you hiding something? Are you trying to justify your sin? If so, there is only one hope: Come clean. Admit your sin and run to the cross of Jesus. Look to Him for forgiveness. Look to Him for new life. Look to Him to set you free.

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