Jericho was the first city to fall when the Israelites began the conquest of Canaan. Scouts were sent ahead to Ai, the next city to be captured. It was not a large city, so the reconnaissance resulted in the recommendation to Joshua that only two or three thousand men be used in the attack. A force of three thousand moved against the city, but the men of Ai drove them back and the casualties numbered about thirty-six.
The Israelites were startled at their lack of success in the initial move against Ai. Joshua and the elders put dust on their heads and complained to the Lord. Joshua reasoned, “O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turns their backs before their enemies!” God answered, “Get up . . . Israel has sinned . . . .”
Joshua rose early in the morning to begin the unpleasant task of housecleaning. There was sin the camp. The guilty party had to be located. The guilt of one man was a stumbling-block to the advance against Ai. Joshua 7 tells the story. It was finally determined that a man named Achan was the transgressor. Only after appropriate disciplinary measures had been taken against Achan were the Israelites able to conquer Ai. Achan was stoned to death.
God put a ban on the city of Jericho before it was captured. No spoils were to be taken. Everything in the city was accursed or devoted to destruction except the silver, gold, and vessels of iron and brass. These valuables were to be put into the treasury of the Lord. All else was to be burned.
Achan’s first mistake was in seeing and desiring the forbidden. He later confessed, “I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonian garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them . . .” (v. 21).
Sin often begins with unlawful desire brought on by what we see. Eve “saw that the tree was good for good” (Gen. 3:6). King Ahaz of Judah “saw an altar that was at Damascus” (2 Kin. 16:10) and arranged for one like it to be built at Jerusalem. This was only one act of many that “provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers” (2 Chron. 28:25). David “saw a woman washing herself, and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” (2 Sam. 11:2). That was the first step toward his committing adultery with Bathsheba. Simon “saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given,” and he attempted to buy the power of the apostles (Acts 8:18).
“Covetousness” is unlawful desire. Achan coveted the items of value that he saw even though he knew they belonged to the accursed city. Eve desired the unlawful fruit in the garden of Eden. Ahaz desired the idolatrous altar that he saw, knowing that God had forbidden idolatry. David lusted after the beautiful woman that he saw and made opportunity to gratify his lust, knowing all the while that the law said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Simon desired the power that he saw in the apostles, but for two reasons that desire was unlawful: (1) God’s gifts are not for sale; (2) Simon had neither part nor lot in the ministry of the apostles.
Achan “took of the accursed thing” (Josh. 7:1); he acknowledged later, “I saw. . . l coveted . . . and I took” (v. 21). What he had taken he hid in the earth in the midst of his tent. This shows that he was conscious of his disobedience. Although a person may sin in ignorance, Achan sinned in a willful manner. He knew he was disobeying God.
All disobedience is serious. Saul was rejected as Israel’s king because he disobeyed God (1 Sam. 15). The man of God out (if Judah lost his life because he “was disobedient unto the word of the Lord” (1 Kgs. 13:26). The people of Israel were taken into captivity because they “were disobedient,” and rebelled against God, casting His law behind their backs, and they slew His prophets who testified against them (Neh. 9:26). The wrath of God comes upon “the children of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).
What Achan had hidden in the earth in the midst of his tent was not concealed from God. In time, Joshua learned the identity of the guilty party. To use the words that Moses had spoken on one occasion, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23).
All trespasses are not detected by one’s fellows in the course of life. Paul wrote, “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before the judgment; and some men they follow after” (1 Tim. 5:24). No act of disobedience and no wicked thought will escape detection in the day of judgment. “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccl. 12:14). “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Let us learn from Achan that no sin is kept secret from God.