“‘Israel has sinned; […] Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.’” (Joshua 7:11a, 12)
After the Israelites won at Jericho, they were quite confident in themselves. Really, they hadn’t even fought. All they’d done was walk around the city seven different days, yell on the last day, and watch the walls come crumbling down. They were confident that their next battle would be just as easy; only three thousand or so men would be necessary to fight against the small city of Ai. So Joshua sent the three thousand men… and they came back defeated.
The people couldn’t understand this. What had gone wrong? How had they conquered Jericho without lifting a finger and then be utterly routed by this tiny city? In despair, Joshua cried out to God for understanding. And His answer was surprisingly simple: Someone had taken unlawful spoils from Jericho. Before the battle, God had decreed that all the spoil was His, devoted to Him as an offering. No one was to touch any of it, no matter how much they might want it. Yet it seemed someone had done just that, and as a result he had brought disaster on his entire nation.
Joshua soon discovered the troublemaker, a man named Achan who had taken some silver, some gold, and a cloak. Once he confessed his sin, he and all his family were killed. After that, God’s favor returned to Israel, and they were finally victorious over Ai.
This is a sobering story. It’s sad enough that Achan disobeyed God, giving in to his covetousness instead of listening to his Lord’s command. But what’s even sadder is that the consequences of his sin didn’t fall on him alone, or even just his family; it affected his entire nation. Three thousand men of Israel went up against Ai; thirty-six of them never returned. God’s name was dishonored among the nations because of the defeat. And all because Achan listened to his own sinful desires.
The lesson here is applicable to us, as well. Our sin affects not only ourselves, but also those around us. While some things may not have the same devastating consequences as others, the fact still remains that what we do spreads to those around us. Sin is like a deadly disease, pouncing on as many people as it can. It doesn’t just stop with one person; it wants to take down as many people as possible. Because of this, we must strive to obey God. His words are the only remedy against sin, His salvation the only cure. What He says may not make sense, but it’s not our job to justify Him. We just need to obey Him. When the Israelites did what He said, they were blessed in numerous ways. Those blessings are available to us, as well. But chasing what He tells us to avoid will only result in destruction, for us and for everyone around us.