March 10, 2019 [Lent 1]  Joshua 7:16-26  J.D.Roekle

 

16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and he took the Zerahites. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was taken. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord.

24 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. 25 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. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

 

Giving in to Temptation

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          On this Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, you may or may not know it, but each year we mark Jesus going into battle against the devil in the wilderness.  For 40 days and nights the devil assaults the Savior with his arrows of temptation.  You heard that in the Gospel lesson. 

          The devil is very real.  So, the battle against temptation is very real.  Temptations from other people are very real.  The battle against our sinful selves is very real.  We don’t go through a day without being tempted multiple times.  Sometimes we resist.  We say ‘no’ to temptation.  But how many times do we fall?  How often do we consent to temptation?  Today our focus is on what happens when we do give in to temptation.  In order to see that, we look at the man named Achan.  Achan’s sin points out the devastating effects giving into temptation can have. 

 

          This isn’t the most familiar Bible account, so let’s provide some background so that you might better understand Achan’s sin.  Probably the most famous account in the book of Joshua is the account of the capture of Jericho.  God commanded the Israelites to march around the walled city of Jericho for a week.  Then on the seventh day, they blew their trumpets and shouted, and the walls of the city collapsed.  Having surrounded the city, they took control of it easily.  Following the Lord’s command, they destroyed every living thing, burned the city, and put valuables liked gold, silver, bronze, and iron into the Lord’s treasury. 

          In their conquest of the Promised Land, the Israelites then moved on to Ai.  They sent spies ahead to see what the enemy there was like.  The report came back that the enemy was pretty weak and that only 2000 or 3000 of them were needed to conquer them.  So Joshua sent in 3000, and his men were routed by the people of Ai. 

          The Israelites were stunned.  Joshua went to God and basically wondered why he wasn’t making good on his promise to help give them victory.  Jacob lamented that their enemies were now going to look at them as weak and come after them.  That’s when God pointed out that he – God – wasn’t the problem.  Israel was the problem.  God pointed out that there was someone among the Israelite people who had given in to temptation, and had kept some of the plunder from Jericho – some of the things devoted to God – and kept those things for himself. 

          That’s where our text comes in.  God gave Joshua instructions on how to find the offender.  How exactly he was picked, Scripture doesn’t say.  It may have been by lot.  Kind of like picking a name out of a hat.  But keep in mind, that this wasn’t just a random process.  God was guiding the process all the way through until the correct person was identified.  And it was Achan who was identified.

          Joshua approached Achan in a fatherly way and said: “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 

          Achan then confessed his sin, and didn’t hold back or make any excuses.  He said that he took a beautiful robe, some silver and some gold, and hid them under his tent.  It was then that Achan paid the consequences for his actions.  They took him and all his things out to the Valley of Achor.  There he was stoned to death.  Then he and his possessions were all burned and buried under dirt and rocks to stand as a monument. 

          So what do we learn from all this?  We learn about how strong temptation is and how weak our sinful nature is.  Achan knew there would be consequences for his taking that plunder, but what did he do?  He took it anyway and then hid it.  By the very fact he hid it, he knew it was wrong! 

Why did he do it?  If you think about it, you can hear him justifying his actions, can’t you?  What a waste if I don’t take some of this.  I need this to take care of my family.  I’m only taking a little bit.  Everybody else is probably doing anyway. 

The bottom line is this: Achan was drunk on greed.  He took something that wasn’t his and thought he could keep it from everyone else, including God himself.  He wanted what he wanted without thinking about the consequences, or at least without thinking that the consequences would catch up with him. 

          How often isn’t that the case with you and me?  Whatever the temptation, we realize there are consequences, but then think that nobody, including God, will notice.  We want what we want.  And then, we bury it in the recesses of our hearts, thinking and hoping it will never be discovered. 

          But God knows.  God always knows.  It doesn’t do us any good to try to keep anything secret from God.  In fact, it’s impossible.  If left unaddressed it eventually catches up to us. 

          That’s what happened to Achan.  It caught up with him.  And look at all who were affected by his sin. After all, sin is not committed in a vacuum.  It has an effect on people.  At the very least it has an effect on you.  It did with Achan.  Achan lost his life because of his sin.  God doesn’t command his people to stone those who fall into certain sins any longer, but falling into sin has varied effects on our hearts and on our lives.  You’ve experienced and witnessed some of those consequences. 

          Falling into temptation also has an effect on God.  Sin is a failure or refusal to listen to God.  Sin is really stealing God’s glory from him.  When we fall into temptation, we are replacing him with someone or something else.  Achan was replacing God with his stolen treasures.  Every sin for us too, is first and foremost a sin against the first commandment.  You shall have no other gods! 

          For Achan, falling into this temptation had an effect on all of Israel.  They lost a battle because of him.  Men lost their lives.  Because of his sin, the Israelites had at least temporarily lost the support of God in their conquest of Canaan.  Our sin, too, can hurt the body of Christ, even though we may not see it or know how it affects others. 

          And it can especially affect those who are closest to us.  Look at how Achan’s sin affected his family.  At the very least, his sons and daughters lost their father.  There is some debate as to whether or not Achan’s sons and daughters were also stoned to death.  They may very well have been which means that they were complicit with the sin.  In other words, they would have known about the fact that he stole the things that were to be devoted to God, and put them in an impossible position.  How often does our falling into temptation affect those closest to us? 

          So where do we go from here?  We confess our sin when we fall into temptation.  You did that at the beginning of the service: “I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions.”  It is good that we confess our sins together.  But when we confess together in general terms, there is also a danger.  We all sin, so I don’t feel so bad.  But remember, each one of us stands on our own before God.  For that reason, it is good to get specific with God about our sins.  On Ash Wednesday, Pastor Pope mentioned a way you can do that by focusing on a commandment each day in Lent.  How have you sinned against that commandment? 

          And keep in mind how seriously God takes it when we fall into temptation.  Sin deserves to be punished.  We saw that with Achan.  He received the punishment that God had commanded.  But then remember that God already handed down punishment for your sin.  But he didn’t punish you.  Instead, he punished Jesus Christ when he sent him to the cross.  Yes, your sins are wiped away. 

          And remember too, that going forward, Jesus teaches you a way to resist temptation.  After all, the letter to the Hebrews reminds you that you have a Savior that is able to sympathize with your weaknesses. In fact, Jesus himself has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and yet he was without sin.  As he battled Satan, what did he use to fend off the arrows of his temptations?  He turned to God and his Word. 

          Jesus was strong enough to resist the devil on his own.  You aren’t.  You need God’s assistance.  You need the Spirit’s power working through you.  That only comes to you through Word and Sacrament.  Don’t deprive yourself of that power.  Soak it in every chance you get.  And not only do these things provide the power, but also the forgiveness of sins you need to carry on. 

          The account of Achan is a heavy account to hear.  That’s because falling into temptation and dealing with sin’s consequences is a serious thing.  But God is just as serious about forgiveness and restoration.  He doesn’t want us to attempt to hide anything from him, but to daily confess to him so that he can once again remind us that we are his children because of Christ’s sacrificial work on our behalf.  Amen.