Joshua 7 is a heartbreaking story of one man’s sin and how it affected a nation. In the very first verse we are told that Achan took some of the things devoted to the Lord from the defeat of Jericho. For anyone who has ever wondered about God’s response to sin in his people, one need not look any farther than the next sentence:
So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. (Joshua 7:1c)
Fires are meant to consume and destroy, and it is no different when one sins against the Creator of Heaven and the Earth. There is but one punishment – the wrath of God must be poured out. As the story unfolds, we find that the wrath of God is poured out upon the nation of Israel first, then upon the specific sinner, Achan, and his family who undoubtedly knew all about the sin he had committed but who had refused to confront it, or stop it.
There is a mistaken assumption in much of the Western world, and in the Churches of North America and Europe in particular, that my sin is personal. What is meant by that is the idea that my sin doesn’t affect others directly or indirectly, but that is wrong. All sin has a corporate dimension, there is no such thing as a private, personal sin. For the simple fact that, Christians are members of one body. We are not lone rangers, but parts of a greater whole, known as the body of Christ. Any sin we commit is bound to have effects upon the whole body just as an ache in the toe affects how one functions in the rest of life, even causing pains elsewhere as other parts limp to make accomodations.
God makes the parallel very clear in verse 11:
Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They… (Joshua 7:11)
God doesn’t deal with the individual alone, he deals with the entire nation. There is sin in the camp and all are complicit and all suffer God’s wrath until the sin is eradicated. As the story unfolds, the Lord directs the nation to uncover the sin. He clearly brings forth the perpetrator and the confession and Achan and his family and possessions are stoned and burned (Joshua 7:24-26).
So where is Jesus in this? Is this not a story which illustrates the great need the people of God had for a redeemer who could suffer all God’s wrath for all their sin. Jesus is our Achan, bearing our sin, suffering the wrath of God and being cast into complete death so that our sin would be thrust out of the camp and the people of God could return to victory? Is not Jesus the one who cleanses his people so that justice is served and sin is punished? Is not Jesus our redeemer, seeing the sin in us and all its gruesome effects, calling it out and then crucifying it to the cross, never again to raise its ugly head and pollute his holy nation? Jesus is all of these things and so much more.
Thank God that a story as sad and gloomy as Achan’s can point us to the fact that God’s justice must be served in order for purification to be brought. And Jesus is the one one who suffers and dies, so that we might be cleansed and live.