The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.Joshua 7:10-12 NIV
Israel had just defeated Jericho, one of the largest and best-fortified cities in Canaan. And then were routed by the small city of Ai. What went wrong? Why the dramatic reversal of fortune?
The short answer was sin. One man within Israel had disobeyed God and had taken some of the forbidden plunder from Jericho. Like Eve in the garden (Gen. 3), he saw that it was good, and he took it. And, like Eve’s sin, the far-reaching consequences of his sin reached beyond just him. Achan’s sin was a private matter. No doubt he thought no one else would know. And that no one else would be hurt by it. But his sin led to defeat for the nation and the destruction of all he had, including his family.
You might question the “rightness” of the punishment given to Achan. But to focus on that is to miss the lesson that this account offers to us. There is no such thing as a personal sin that does not impact other people. Even if no one else knows about it, my sin will affect my family and the church I am a part of. Sin is like cancer, hurting individuals, families, and churches.
Why are we, as the church, so often unable to stand against our enemies? It is not because they are strong. It is because sin in our midst has weakened us. If we took seriously the admonition to be holy, wholly devoted to our Lord, nothing would be able to stop us from advancing the kingdom.