After miraculously crossing the Jordan and conquering the city of Jericho, defeating the people of Ai should have been easy for Israel. Unlike Jericho, Ai was a small city of about 12,000 people (Joshua 7:3). It was an insignificant city and not as heavily fortified. If the nation was able to conquer the strong city of Jericho, surely they would be able to conquer Ai.
They might have thought that. But unfortunately, it did not work out that way. After sending 3,000 men to conquer the city, Joshua was devastated to learn they had been defeated and forced to flee (Joshua 7:4). Their defeat resulted in Israel’s feeling weak and demoralized (Joshua 7:5).
How could this happen? How could Israel easily conquer the strong city of Jericho, but fail to do so with the small insignificant town of Ai? The answer: sin! Sin was in the camp of Israel. Sin had crept in and was present somewhere in the army of God and had caused God’s blessing and presence to depart from them. Until the sin was removed and properly dealt with, God would not allow His people to conquer Ai (Joshua 7:10-15).
But where? Where was sin in the camp? After talking to God about the matter, Joshua discovered that the sin had to with a man named Achan (Joshua 7:20). After Israel conquered Jericho, Achan took some of the spoils (things that actually belonged to the treasury of the Lord) for himself. Joshua confronted Achan and exhorted him to confess his sin (Joshua 7:19). Achan confessed his covetousness (Joshua 7:20-21). In obedience to God, Joshua then had Achan and his family stoned and burned with fire (Joshua 7:25). The place where Achan was put to death became known as the Valley of Achor (“trouble”).
What does God want us to take away from this tragic story?
- Sin is serious business. While many in our culture try to minimize and trivialize sin, God does not! God did not lightly brush aside Achan’s sin. Instead he exposed it and held him accountable. The killing of Achan and his family shows just how much a big deal sin is to God. We find something similar taking place in the New Testament with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
- Our sins impact others. Achan’s sin not only impacted him, but also all of Israel. Because of his actions, Israel was not able to defeat the people of Ai. Because of his actions, God’s hand of blessing left His people. This is the point Paul is making when he says, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6)?
- We can’t be victorious without God. In this case, Israel thought they would be able to defeat their enemies by their own might and strength. Achan’s sin revealed the truth. Without God’s blessing, Israel would not even be able to conquer a small city. If Israel was going to be able to finally take the Promised Land, they would need God to fight for them. But He wouldn’t unless they remained pure and apart from sin!
While Achan’s story is tragic and sad, it does teach us something important about always striving to be right with God. When God was with Israel, there was a totally different result than when He was not! Let us learn from their example and always strive to keep sin out of our camp.