Jericho and Achan–Examples of Obedience and Disobedience

Gotta love it. As soon as I resolved to get up earlier than my three-year-old daughter to do some studying and make a post, she decides to get up earlier too. SMH.

I do have a moment while she eats her breakfast and watches a morning cartoon, so I’ll get right into it.

First, let me get a rant off my chest. A video came to my attention that made me a combination of sick to my stomach and angry. Watch below.

Televangelists claim they cannot talk to God while flying coach

Basically these guys are defending their private planes by using the excuse that other people in regular airlines would be too distracting. And I am probably putting that nicely.

Well sirs, that is a flaw with your thinking, and perhaps you need to read your Bibles a bit more. I am confident that I can talk to God in the middle of an earthquake. And you supposedly being men of God should be able to do the same. As a matter of fact, if you weren’t so IMPORTANT and actually got on a regular airline, who knows who you might meet and be able to minister to?

 Joshua Chapter Three. Recall that in chapter two, Joshua spent two spies into the land, where they were hidden from the king by Rahab the prostitute, widely hailed as the first Gentile convert. The men returned to Joshua with a positive report of how the people in the land had heard of their God and were fearful. Now it is time for movement. The people move and camp by the Jordan for three days as final preparations are made. Here we see that without a doubt, the Lord is guiding the people, as the officers move within the camp and give the following instructions to the people:

When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it” (vv.3-4).

I also found it interesting that the people, with the exception of the Levitical priests of course, are always to keep a distance from the ark. It reminds me to be thankful that the distance that is to be kept between us sinners and our holy God has been broken by our Mediator Jesus Christ. Upon completion of His sacrificial death, the curtain was torn to the temple, letting us know that we can have access to God through Jesus because of His death. We don’t need a priest to intercede for us or to pray for us. In the name of Jesus we can go straight to the source of all things and ask for help, guidance, strength, or just give thanks. Isn’t that a blessing???

Joshua instructs the people to consecrate themselves (consecrate is that five-dollar word that refers to making oneself (or a place) holy or sacred) as the Lord will do amazing things before them. I like the Lord’s following words to Joshua. He tells Joshua that as He did with Moses, He will begin to exalt Joshua in the eyes of the people so they will have definitive proof that that God is truly with Joshua as He was with Moses. Why do I like those words? Well, last night we began another Moody Bible Institute class, this time on the Book of James. We got into a brief discussion on faith without works, and brought up how unfortunately a lot of Christians engage in empty works–works that are not done for God, but done for rewards from men–money, power, prestige. I made the observation that oftentimes people who are quickest to try to give themselves a title instead of allowing God to put them where He wants them to be do the worst job.

People need not exalt themselves. If we are simply obedient to God HE WILL EXALT YOU! And not only that, I made a point to explain to my Sunday School kids that when God exalts you, no man can knock you down. Now if God allows you a certain status or position and you abuse it, He can remove you from it, and He might use other people in the process. But the point is exactly that–if you are a man or woman of God and He puts you somewhere, and if you are continuously praying and abiding in the Lord throughout it all, God won’t let you be felled by the selfish desires of other people. However, if you are one of those people who do things for show and reward and are allowed a certain position, the same people that put you up on that pedestal will be quick to pull the rug from up under you if you start doing something they don’t like. Rely on God’s exaltation instead of your own or that of others. People are just too fickle.

But I digress. Joshua is told the tell the priests to go and stand in the Jordan River once the people have reached the water’s edge. Joshua relays this message to the people, letting them know that once the priests that are carrying the ark of the Lord go and stand in the water the flow of the water will cease, quite the feat since the water is at flood stage. The people are also instructed to choose twelve men, one from each tribe (the Bible doesn’t indicate why at this point, but we’ll find out in a minute).

The people move as instructed. The priests go forth, and as soon as their feet touched the edge of the water, the water from upstream ceased to flow and instead gathered in a heap some distance away.The water flowing into the Dead Sea, here called the Sea of Arabah, which the Jordan River feeds into, stopped also, allowing the people of Israel to cross on dry ground.

That brings us to Chapter Four. Now that the people have crossed the Jordan, the 12 men that were chosen previously are to each pick up a stone from the Jordan and carry it to where they will camp for the evening. These stones will serve as a sign for future generations, reminding them of how God cut off the waters of the Jordan to enable them to cross. The stones are to serve as an everlasting memorial among the Israelites. The priests carrying the ark remain in place in the middle of the Jordan until Joshua has done everything with the stones that the Lord has instructed. Then the people finish crossing over, consisting of about forty thousand men ready to fight, including men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

The people’s trust in Joshua as their leader has been cemented by this. The Bible states that That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses” (v. 14). The priests are then commanded to come out of the Jordan. As soon as their feet are completely on dry land, the waters begin to flow again, right back at flood stage as they had been.

On the tenth day of the first month the people camp at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. There, Joshua sets up the twelve stones the men had retrieved from the Jordan River. Once again, Joshua explains the significance of the stones to the people–that they will serve as a reminder of what God did for them at the Jordan: Drying up the water just as He did with the Red Sea, so that all the peoples of the world would know of the power of their God (and so that THEY would never forget it).

In the beginning of Chapter Five we see that the people in the land the Israelites are preparing to invade have heard of the miracle performed at the Jordan River, and they are rightfully afraid. Joshua is instructed to prepare flint knives in order to circumcise the Israelites again. Reason being is that the previously circumcised Israelites had died in the wilderness, but the people who had been born in the wilderness upon leaving Egypt were not. There was still a covenant to maintain and circumcision was a part of that covenant. The circumcision occurs, and the men are given time to heal before they move forward. As a response to their obedience, God says to Joshua in verse 9 “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”.

On the fourteenth day of the month the Israelites celebrate the Passover, eating the food of the land–unleavened bread and roasted grain. This is also the last time they will eat manna, which stops cHAof Canaan.

The people approach Jericho and encounter a man standing in front of them with a sword in hand. Interestingly enough, it is quite obvious that the fearless Israelite leader, Joshua, was the first to come in contact with this man. True leaders are supposed to be at the forefront of their flock. The Bible says in verse 13 that Joshua approached this man and boldly asked him to identify his allegiance: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” Undoubtedly Joshua was fully prepared to defend his people against this man if necessary. As it turns out this man is actually an angel of the Lord who identifies himself as such in the following verse: “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

I like that statement because it shows the true intention of the good angels that have remained loyal to God. It isn’t their job to show partiality. Angels are God’s messengers who are to do what He says and what He says only.

Now here is my thing–is this angel just a regular angel, or are we talking Jesus here? The reason I believe this is Jesus is because Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence. Had this man been simply another angel, the angel would have instructed Joshua NOT to show him any reverence or worship, as they have in other Scriptures where people attempted to worship them. Joshua inquires of Jesus what message He has for him, and is instructed to remove his sandals, as he is now standing on holy ground. Joshua does so, and that leads us into Chapter Six.

Jericho is a city of extreme importance here. If the Israelites are able to take down this heavily-fortified city, they will gain an immediate stronghold on the rest of the area. A strategy has to be in place–it cannot be done haphazardly. Who else better to go to for a strategy than God? After assuring Joshua that He has already delivered Jericho into his hands, God tells Joshua what to do:

March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in” (vv. 3-5).

There goes that number seven again–the lucky number of completion.

Isn’t that something? In other circumstances, the walls surrounding Jericho, which may have been uncovered by archaeologists to have been eleven feet tall and fourteen feet wide with a thirty-five foot, thirty-five degree angled slope at the top, then joined together by more stone walls, would have seemed impossible to break through. And then God gives these instructions that make no sense in our modern minds. Think of how we would break into such a city today. A wrecking ball comes to my mind, not marching around the walls silently and hollering on the seventh day.

Yet, the people are obedient. They show their faith by following these instructions and are rewarded with a victory. We see another mention of Rahab, as Joshua instructs the army to spare her and her family. She and her family are taken outside of the city and into a place to camp. The Bible states that she “lives among the Israelites to this day” (v. 25). The Israelites devote the entire city of Jericho to the Lord, and destroy with the sword every living thing in it, all of the people and the animals. The entire city is burned, but the articles of silver, gold, bronze and iron are put into the treasury of the Lord. These were the instructions they had been given prior to the battle. Again, the Israelites have to be set apart from the rest of the world, and this includes the inhabitants of Jericho. They are instructed not to keep any of the land’s devoted things that may cause them to fall.

Joshua pronounces an oath that anyone who attempted to rebuild the city of Jericho would be cursed, which includes the death of their sons. (This curse actually happens just as Joshua says in 1st Kings). Joshua’s fame grows after this important victory.

In Chapter Seven we see another incredulous moment. Let me ask you this–have you already forgotten the miracle of God allowing the waters of the Jordan to stand still for the Israelites to cross? I haven’t, but apparently some Israelites did. At the beginning of this chapter we find that not all Israelites had been obedient in terms of not keeping any of the devoted things from Jericho. Achan, son of Karmi, son of Zumi, kept some and for reasons unbeknownst to me thought he would get away with it (?????). The Lord’s anger burns against Israel because of this one man’s sin.

Achan’s sin causes the Israelites to lose a battle that they easily could have won. Joshua, obviously oblivious to Achan’s sin, sends men from Jericho to Ai to go and spy out the region. When the men return, they report that Israel will not need to send its full army. The number of people there are few. The men decide that only about two or three thousand Israelites need to go. However, because God has left them, as He will not dwell among idols, the Israelites are routed by the men of Ai, resulting in thirty-six deaths. They chase the Israelites out of the city.

Immediately Joshua tears his clothes in mourning. He goes to the Lord with his questions:

Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” (vv. 7-10).

Notice that while Joshua has questions for God, he does not seem disrespectful or irreverent, or accusatory. But he needs answers, and he gets them. God informs him of the sin that has taken place in the Israelite camp. God tells Joshua He will not be among them unless the devoted items in the camp are destroyed.

I have to wonder what was so absolutely marvelous about this particular item that made Achan think he HAD to have it, at the expense of violating the covenant? Admittedly, I’ll bet he did not think that taking one little item would cause the loss of a battle and thirty-six deaths, but that is the problem with sin. We don’t know who it will affect or how. We might think we’re doing something that will only bring harm to ourselves, but cannot conceive of how our sins might cause others to stumble and fall.

Instructions are given to Joshua as to how the camp can right the wrong. The people are to consecrate themselves in preparation for the next day. Each tribe, each clan, each family, and then each man within the family will present himself to the Lord. God will do the choosing. How, I am not sure. In the morning, things go as God has decreed. The tribe of Judah is chosen (I am curious as to how God signaled which tribe, clan, family, person, etc.); then the Zerahite clans, the family of Zimri, and finally, Achan. Joshua exhorts Achan to admit to his son, and he does:

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

It would be money, wouldn’t it? The source of most of the evils committed by man. But isn’t this how people respond to sin sometimes–try to cover it up, as if God doesn’t already know? Why do people do that, when they could simply ask for forgiveness and right any wrongs? We as Christians shouldn’t have to wait until we are “outed” or our sins come to light. We already know that while we are not to downright disobey God’s decrees, we are also not expected to be perfect. We already know that when we do wrong, we can go to God and ask not only for His forgiveness but that He remove from us the propensity toward wrongdoing. While it may be easy to judge Achan, people do things like this every single day.

Joshua sends messengers to Achan’s tent where they uncover the items in the exact location he gave. Achan and ALL of his possessions–including the silver, robe, gold bar, his children, and even his animals, to the Valley of Achor, where Joshua, probably grieved by all of this, asks Achan why he had brought such trouble upon Israel???? Good question. Joshua then says “The Lord will bring trouble on you today” (v. 25).

Collectively, Israel stones Achan and everything and everyone that belonged to him, then burned them. Rocks are piled upon them which the Bible states remain there to this day, probably to serve as a reminder to the Israelites as to Achan’s sin and the devastation it caused. The Lord’s anger is now quenched.

It was unfortunate that the sin of one man caused the Lord to unleash His anger upon the entire nation, but the covenant God made with them was a collective one that required collective obedience. And while there are no degrees to sin, meaning one sin is not weighted more than other, this particular sin has such widespread ramifications. Achan unfortunately had to be an example to the others. They had to remain “set apart”. If one person was allowed to keep devoted items, more people would think it okay as well, and before you knew it idol worship would run rampant within the community. Achan had also withheld from God what was rightfully His. Recall that the bronze, silver, gold, and iron items were supposed to be stored in the Lord’s treasury.

Admittedly, I don’t understand why Achan’s children had to die too. Perhaps they were complicit in the crime by hiding the items. The Bible does not say, but that is my humble opinion.

More later!!

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