But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel. Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water. – Joshua 7:1-5
The NIV of verse 1 reads “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things.” That is a good smooth translation but it loses some of the force of the Hebrew. The ESV is probably better when it reads: “But the people of Israel broke faith …” The Hebrew speaks of a conscious act of treachery. The expression is never used to describe what we might call “drifting into sin.” It is used for crass rebellion. In chapter 6 we saw how the LORD had made His commandment clear to all the people of Israel. Achan knew what the LORD demanded – and yet he did the very opposite. He broke faith with God.
And yet, today’s passage doesn’t just say that Achan broke faith with God. It says that “the people of Israel broke faith with God.” Our actions don’t only impact us, they reflect upon and impact the people we are in covenant with – in particular, our immediate family and our church family.
Adolph Harstad writes:
Achan’s act removed a condition of the sacred contract and sent covenant blessings and Israelite blood spilling to the ground. His radical disobedience was like kicking a leg out from under a banquet table and destroying the feast for all. God’s fierce anger that acts “like a devouring fire” against Israel’s enemies now flares at His own people. It will not cool until judgment is meted out against the offender. …
Later, the sin of the one man Jonah will cause a storm that threatens the life of every sailor on board his ship (Jonah 1). My sins may bring damage to others and theirs to me. Others may suffer some physical disasters as the sinner, or the sinner may be physically safe while others are injured as a result of his action. The drunk driver behind the wheel may escape injury while his crash victims perish. Sin always harms others as well as the perpetrator. There is no such thing as victimless sin. Even if an evil behavior does not appear to affect anyone else, it incurs God’s wrath and has consequences for the transgressor that will affect all those who live, work, and interact with the perpetrator. …
Just as all the Israelites were one nation, so too all Christians are one body in Christ; we are not islands unto ourselves. Our actions or inactions affect others in the body and even the whole body, sometimes in ways we may not be aware. That fact requires all of us to watch over one another to prevent sin:
Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, watching yourself lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 35
Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.