Achan: Sin has a price.
Did you know that immediately after the Israelites defeated an impenetrable city called Jericho because of a miracle of God…that they then lost a battle to a small city because of the actions of a single person? Stick around and we’ll talk about it. Here on five minutes of truth.
Many times people come to what I suggest is an errant conclusion about the Old Testament. Casual (and sometimes not-so-casual) readers of the Bible will conclude that the Old Testament is about judgment while the New Testament is about grace. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I understand why folks can come to that conclusion, but doing so relegates the truth to a gross oversimplification. The truth is, both the Old and New Testaments do a very thorough job of discussing both judgment and grace. Because to be honest, you can’t have one without the other. Grace only exists because we have a concept of judgment. One cannot exist without the other.
I will concede, however, that you do have to work a little harder to find grace in the Old Testament than we do the in the New Testament. We are familiar with the Fall, the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the fiery serpents, the plagues in Egypt, the droughts, the famines, the Babylonian captivity, and many other calamities described as being caused by God as punishment for extensive and continued disobedience.
But we also see God’s grace in the Garden, with Abraham, Hannah, David, Solomon, Ruth, Esther, Joshua, Jonah and innumerable other people and circumstances where God could have executed judgement and chose to show grace. Likewise, possibly the most grace-filled passage in all of Scripture () is followed with an admonition of certain judgement for those who reject Jesus as Savior.
So we see that the Old Testament is not devoid of grace. Probably the bigger question should be, why is there so much judgement portrayed in the Old Testament. That is the correct question. For the answer we need to take a look at an incident most people are not even familiar with. It is recorded in the book of Joshua…and it involves a man named Achan.
To keep a long story short, as the Israelites were conquering the land that God had promised them, they had a dramatic victory at the city of Jericho. Not only was Jericho militarily superior, they also were surrounded by an impenetrable wall that the Israelites had no hope of breaching. We know the story. God produced a miracle…the walls came down…and Jericho was completely defeated. People remember that victory, but often are ignorant of the ensuing defeat.
The book of Joshua records God admonishing the Israelites prior to the battle of Jericho to not take “devoted things” (a). He then goes on to explain what that means when He says: “All of the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated for the Lord; they shall come into the treasury of the Lord” (). Are you following?
God is telling the Israelites not to plunder any of the riches for themselves. He did not want them seeing this conquest as a means of enrichment, but as tool to accomplish His ultimate will. After Jericho, the city of Ai was next in line. After determining that they would be able to mount little opposition, the Israelites settled on a small attacking force and expected a quick victory. After all, they had just seen God deliver the mighty Jericho into their hands. It didn’t go so well.
After the battle of Ai was over and the dust settled, the Israelites lost and the casualties amounted to 36 soldiers dead. In fact, the Israeli army was routed and “the hearts of the people melted and became like water” (c). What could have happened? God was with them, was He not? He led them to a defeat of Jericho but seemingly abandoned them against a much smaller foe. Joshua himself prayed aloud wondering why God had broght them there in the first place? It would not be long until they found out.
Once Joshua was informed by God that their defeat had been a result of open sin among the Israelites, it was simply a matter of time before the truth was discovered. A man named Achan. Who probably would have remained an anonymous member of the Israelites throughout history, had it not been for this one thing…was responsible for this entire defeat.
His crime? He took silver and gold from the battle of Jericho for himself…in direct opposition to what God had warned them about. In his own words Achan confessed that he: Saw; coveted; took and hid the consecrated items. His confession cleared up the confusion the people had about the loss to Ai. And as a result Achan, his family and even his livestock were all killed.
Now, here is where the, ‘Old Testament is full of judgment’, crowd will kick in. Why did they have to kill Achan. Wasn’t his confession enough? Why did they kill his family? His livestock? And the answer is of course linked to the fact that this was the Old Testament and before the grace of the New Testament. But not like you might think.
In order for us to be able to see the amazing blessing of grace, we must first see how horrendous sin is. What a horrendous toll it takes. And what horrendous wrath accompanies it. The wonder of grace is never understood apart from the horror of sin. Achan’s sin cost his life. It cost the life of his family. It costs the lives of 36 soldiers who went into battle. Sin corrupts. It corrupts every single thing it touches. It corrupts us.
To prepare the way for Jesus, God had to show us that sin is not just some less-than-desirable behavior that a self-help book can fix. It is a genetic disease that leads to death. Paul writes: “The wages of sin is death” (a). And that would be a terrible reminder of the inevitable if it were not for the second part of that passage: “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (b). The price of sin is seen again and again in the Old Testament, so that we can see the payment of that sin on the Cross and the Empty Tomb.
On behalf of myself, Robert Houghton and all of us here at Growth Project. Keep reading God’s Word.
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project with Robert Houghton after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in Winter Haven, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.