Seriously

Joshua 7:1-26

 

So what does it mean to be taken seriously?  We live in a world with so much that is ridiculous, so it’s difficult to know what to take seriously.

Turn on your television for a few minutes and you will see what I mean.  Most shows are not to be taken seriously.  They are too far-fetched.

The circumstances and characters on the screen would rarely, if ever, develop the way they do in those shows.  But then we get to reality television.

I use the term “reality” loosely.  Most of those shows, though attempting to depict real life, seem more contrived and ridiculous than that which is known to be fiction.

 

To take something seriously can mean a number of different things.  If you were to do that, it could mean that you are listening to and observing that thing intently.

It could mean that you consider that thing or that person to be true or speaking the truth.  It could mean that you consider that thing or person to be significant.

And yet, so often the lines get blurred.  Nowadays, it’s considered funny to act serious when you aren’t.  We might call it sarcastic humor.

Of course, following that line of thinking, we might slip into “boy who cried wolf” territory.  Eventually, no one will take you seriously at all.

 

As many of you know, our family experienced family camp at Pine Cove in Tyler last month.  We were blessed to have Tony Evans as our teacher for the week.

He spent some time talking about the biblical concept of fearing God.  He stated that to fear God was to take Him seriously.  I like that way of looking at things.

Well, I say that I like it.  But the notion probably is a little more difficult and uncomfortable than I’d like to admit.

How do we take God seriously?  What does that mean?  What does that entail?

 

I’d like to think that our passage this morning, found in the book of Joshua, will shed some light on these questions.  I invite you to join me there, in chapter 7.

Before we get to our reading, I’d like you to consider an important question.  Do you take God seriously?  For some of you, the answer may be “no”.

For others, the answer might be “yes”.  I’m quite sure that, for a lot of us, the answer may well be “sometimes”.

Perhaps we will find some help in these verses.  Let’s begin with verse 1.  (Read 7:1.)

 

Before we jump too deeply into this passage, let’s acquire a little context.  What do we more remember about Joshua?  Is it not that he fought the battle of Jericho?

Is it not that famous song that many of us learned at a young age?  Well, the battle of Jericho just happened in the previous chapter, chapter six.

And things had been going pretty good for the people of Israel.  Under Joshua’s command, they had made their first steps into the Promised Land.

They had crossed the Jordan—even seeing the flow of the water stop and stand still as they passed through.

And, as I’m sure you remember, they had won the battle of Jericho in most dramatic fashion.  They never threw a punch or brandished a sword.

They simply marched around the city, playing their horns and shouting.  Eventually, the walls came a-tumbling down and the battle was theirs.

So, yes, things had been going pretty good.  But, following their defeat of Jericho, they were given specific instructions regarding certain “devoted things”.

According to chapter six, verses 17-18, the city of Jericho was to be under a ban—all that was in the city.

The Israelites were instructed not to covet those things and take them for themselves.  Any silver, gold, bronze, or iron articles were for the Lord’s treasury.

To take such things meant the Israelite camp would be accursed, and trouble would be brought upon it.  This is serious business.

 

Especially after reading the first verse of chapter seven, this is serious business.  You see, it’s been said that you are never closer to your greatest defeat than right after your greatest victory.  Well, the Israelites had just experienced a great victory.

But now, in verse one, we read that Israel acted unfaithfully.  In reality, one man—Achan—took some of those aforementioned banned items.

But, as scripture reflects over and over again, that city—and that battle—belonged to God.  The victory was His.

The end of verse one says that God’s anger burned against the sons of Israel.  God has taken this situation very seriously.  We would do well to do the same.

 

So what were the consequences of these actions?  Let’s pick up the reading with verse two.  (Read Joshua 7:2-5.)

Joshua, we must assume unaware of what has transpired with Achan, prepares for the next battle.  He sends spies to check out the city of Ai.

The spies return, confident of victory.  In fact, they say there is no need to send the entire army.  Some commentators hold this is arrogance on behalf of Israel.

There seems to be no consultation with the Lord.  Could it be that the people are taking the battle for granted, assuming they can now handle things on their own?

I suppose it’s possible.  We just don’t know for sure.  All we know is that they assumed it to be an easy battle.

 

Oh, and there’s one other thing we know.  The people of Israel got routed.  The army flees, even losing three dozen soldiers in the battle.

And notice that the defeat has dire consequences.  The people are now fearful.  The passage says their hearts melted and became like water.

This hearkens back to the original twelve spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land, before Israel entered it.

Ten of the twelve spies came back, fretting over the size and number and weaponry of the people in the land.  Only Caleb and Joshua remained courageous.

But the message of the other ten cause the people as a whole to become fearful.  You might even say that their hearts melted as well.

 

And therein lies the real tragedy of this defeat.  The people now have melted hearts.

When you walk with the Lord, there is no room for fear.  In fact, scripture says that His perfect love casts out fear.  So fear is the opposite of love.

And this is one of the consequences of sin.  We become fearful.  Do you remember Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden as God approached?

The defeat has caused the people to essentially give up.  They fear that God is no longer with them—that He is somehow against them.

When we walk with the Lord, the overriding characteristic of our life is love.  When we go our own way, abandoning God, the overriding characteristic is fear.

We fear that we will lose our way of life.  We fear that we will lose our power or our place in this world.  We worry.  We fret.  We stress.  We complain.  We groan.

But we are not called to be a people of melted hearts.   We cannot operate based on fear.

 

Notice that Joshua, too, has been affected by this defeat.  (Read Joshua 7:6-12.)

Joshua goes into mourning.  What we read about here is an act of despair.  That’s what we see with all the clothes-tearing, falling, and dust-covering.

Joshua seems unclear as to how and why this all happened.  And notice his great fear, found in verse nine.

He worries that their enemies will hear of this defeat.  But that doesn’t make him fearful of his own life.

He says that his concern is God’s great name.  “What will you do for Your great name?” he cries to God.

Joshua recognizes that if God’s people—whom He miraculously brought out of Egypt—are destroyed, God’s reputation will be destroyed.

Oh, that we would be a people who cared more for God’s reputation than our own.

 

But God snaps Joshua out of this funk rather quickly.  You see, it’s not our inabilities or weaknesses or defeats that tarnish His name.

In fact, scripture says that His power is made perfect in our weaknesses.  No, it is sin that tarnishes His name.

God tells Joshua that this is no time for mourning.  In truth, there is a time for that, but now is a time for action.

He essentially tells Joshua, “Get off the ground!  Israel has sinned.  That’s the problem.”  It’s time for a radical, definitive removal of the sin.

 

Now we have to be careful here.  The disasters and defeats we face are not always a direct result of our sin.  It’s not always that cut and dried.

To be sure, in a more indirect sense, the world is fractured because of sin.  The only reason there are things such as diseases, wars, catastrophes, and violence is because sin has entered the world and damaged the natural order of things.

And, in this instance, God seems to be saying that Israel lost the battle to Ai because of the sin among them.  We know of Achan’s sin, specifically.

Whether or not Israel sinned in the way they handled the battle, I don’t know for sure.  But God does specifically command them to destroy those banned items.

Just know that, though in this instance the defeat was a direct result of sin, that’s not always the case.

But we do need to take note of the most significant consequence of Israel’s sin.

God says, at the end of verse twelve, that unless they destroy the things under the ban, He will not be with them anymore.

I don’t know if we realize this or not, but it’s much worse to lose God’s presence than to lose a military battle.

This reminds me of the fifty-first psalm.  David, after his tragic actions regarding Bathsheba and her husband, composed this psalm.

He seeks forgiveness.  He seeks a clean heart and a right spirit.  But he also adds, “Do not cast me from Your presence.  Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”

He is basically saying, “Yes, God, forgive me.  But don’t take Yourself away!”  Too often I wonder if we are seeking forgiveness without seeking God.

I wonder if we would be just fine if God forgave us and then went along His merry way, leaving us to handle the rest of life by ourselves.

Some of us are just wanting to get into heaven, but never caring if we are in God’s presence.  But Joshua knows better.  He will not take another step without God.

 

God, in all His seriousness, addresses the sin in verse 13.  (Read Joshua 7:13-18.)

You see, sin has had its communal consequences.  The army lost the battle.  The nation faced the threat of going it alone, without God.

But now we get to the personal consequences of sin.  Imagine what must have been going through Achan’s mind as they whittled down the clans and tribes.

I often wonder what this would look like today.  I kind of wish we could still do stuff like this—you know, as long as it never had anything to do with my sins.

But we see an important truth in the midst of this process.  Sin has a way of getting exposed.  You can only keep sin down and under wraps for so long.

It will come out.  It will be all over your face.  It will characterize your demeanor.  Its burden will wear on you.  It will eat away at you.

 

This tendency of sin to be exposed can be both bad and good.  It’s bad in the sense that you are going to be found out.  Everyone hates to be caught.

If only we hated our own sin as much as we hated being caught in it!  But there is a good side to this exposure of sin.  Do you remember our earlier passage?

We read from I John.  In that passage, and also in the gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as the Light.  He exposes the world’s sins.

This is a good thing for us, if we will but embrace it’s truth and wonder.  We don’t have to hide, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden.

We can run into His light that exposes our sin, because His love and His grace are greater than that sin.  In truth, He is the only way to deal with our sin.

The ultimate way in which Jesus showed us that love and grace—and the ultimate way in which He exposed our sin—was on the cross.

There, we were all “outed”.  We were all declared guilty.  He, as all Christians maintain, was innocent.  He committed no sin.

But, in order to have that sort of brutal execution, someone had to have been guilty.

And someone was.  Actually, a lot of someones were.  A magazine once printed a cover with the question, “What Is Wrong With the World?”

Theologian G.K. Chesterton wrote a brief letter to the magazine following that printing.  It simply read, “Dear Sirs.  I am.”

 

Eventually, Achan got to that point—though he really had no choice by the time he got there.  Look at verse 19.  (Read Joshua 7:19-23.)

So Achan confesses, and look at what Joshua calls it.  He says, “Give glory to God and tell the truth.”

I find the notion of confession of sin being similar to giving God glory quite interesting.  Owning up to your sin is a command from God.

In fact, we are commanded to show honesty regarding our sin both before God and before others.  And is not obedience to God’s commands a way of giving Him glory?

 

So Joshua sends a crew, and they discover all the stolen items.  The wrong was righted.  The articles were returned to the Lord.

Actually, they were returned to the Lord, to be used for His purposes.  That meant that, after the sin, they were destined for destruction.

But, even though the wrong had been righted, sin still must be punished.  This brings us back to the seriousness of sin before God.

Just because you say you are sorry and express a desire to leave the sin behind and move in the right direction doesn’t mean your sin goes unpunished.

Our drama comes to an end, beginning with verse 24.  (Read Joshua 7:24-26.)

 

And so we see the brutal conclusion.  Achan, all that he had, all those stolen items, and even his family were destroyed.

The people were stoned, and everything was burned according to God’s command.

Joshua said that Achan had brought trouble on the nation, and now God was bringing trouble on him.

They even named the execution sight The Valley of Achor—or Valley of Trouble.

And, if you remember God’s command from the previous chapter regarding Jericho, anyone who took any of those items would bring trouble on the community.

 

And we might be thinking that this was horribly unfair, including Achan’s family in the punishment.  But there are some considerations to take into account.

First of all, we don’t know if they were involved or not.  What we do know is that the stolen items were found inside the family tent.

It’s possible that they didn’t know.  It’s also possible that they were complicit.

A second consideration, and perhaps more significant, is the reminder that we live in community.  Your sin and my sin impacts others.

“I’m not hurting anybody but myself,” you might say.  But that’s an outright lie.

There are always tragic consequences for someone else, be it your family, your friends, your future family, or even a stranger on the road.

Consider those 36 soldiers killed in battle—a battle lost because, as God said, Israel had sinned.

More importantly, that saying is a lie because God is always hurt by our sin.  Look at Jesus on the cross and tell me your sin isn’t hurting anyone.

 

Whether or not we think this punishment was fair is irrelevant.  God said it was to be so, and that’s the final word.

This brings us back to our original point.  Do we take God seriously?  And what does that look like?  First of all, I think it involves taking His word seriously.

Achan didn’t do so.  God had laid out a specific command, and he disregarded it.  How often do we do that?  “Treat others as more important than yourself.”

That’s not some philosophical platitude.  That’s in the Bible.  Do not neglect gathering together as a church.  Again, that’s in the Bible.

Confess your sins, one to another.  Do everything without grumbling or complaining.

Do not look at a woman with lust in your heart.  Do not hold hatred in your heart toward another person.  These are all commands taken from the Bible.

 

I’ve heard some say, regarding certain commands that have become hot-button issues today, that those commands are sparse throughout the scripture.

They are only in there a few times.  Well, how many times do they need to be in there before we take them seriously?

Does God need to command us ten or twelve times before we decide He’s worth the time of day?  As we look into these commands within His word, we should reach another realization.  We must also take our sin seriously.

We have those things that we call “bad habits”, “guilty pleasures”, or “pet sins”.

Those don’t sound like very serious descriptions to me.  In fact, it sounds as though we are watering down the sin or treating it like it’s not a big deal.

But sin—any sin—is a big deal.  And, just as God commanded Joshua, we have to rise up and address it.  First and foremost, we must address it with ourselves.

 

And we cannot deny the communal ramifications of this message.  Are we taking steps to discourage sin in our midst?  I’m not talking about judging other here.

I guess I’m really talking more about encouraging others to obey.  This community must be an encouragement to each other.

We must build each other up and, as the author of Hebrews says, spur one another on to good deeds.

Do you think your sin is simply your business?  Well, how do we reconcile that idea to what we just read?

How do we reconcile that idea to the fact that Jesus made our sin His business on the Cross?  Ah, yes, the cross—the only hope we have in our battle with sin.

The Light of the World was slain on that cross, and we must step into that light and embrace it.  We must confess, just as Achan did—eventually.

But, praise God, we don’t face Achan’s destruction.  Jesus already did it for us.

 

We’re going to do something a little different this morning.  I invite you to reflect upon what we just discussed, as Lucy comes to lead us in our time of invitation.