Sermon on Joshua 7:10-26 – “God’s Judgment and Mercy”

Sermon on Joshua 7:10-26 – “God’s Judgment and Mercy”

Sermon for Sunday, October 2nd, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Jos 7:1-9 ESV] 1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel. 2 Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” 4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, 5 and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water. 6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”

New Testament reading:

[Act 5:1-11 ESV] 1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 6:25-35 ESV] 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Text of the sermon:

[Jos 7:10-26 ESV] 10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the LORD takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the LORD takes shall come near by households. And the household that the LORD takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.'” 16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the LORD. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.


We have here a difficult text. A terrifying one. A sobering one.

Achan and his entire family and his livestock are stoned to death and burned with fire because of his sin.

But there is Gospel also in the text. A point I will seek to prove; the final of 3 points we’ll be looking at in this text:

1. The Sin of Achan

2. The Transference of Guilt

3. Where is the Gospel?

1. The Sin of Achan

This passage is often titled “the Sin of Achan.”

But we must understand that this really is the sins (plural) of Achan.

The ten commandments are known to the people of Israel.

And then also God gives them, through Joshua, a very explicit command regarding the spoils of victory in Jericho.

[Jos 6:18-19 ESV] 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.”

Achan sinned when he “took some of the devoted things.” He stole. That is the most evident sin.

And this is not your normal theft. He did not steal from man but from God.

Then, secondly, Achan sinned in hiding the devote things. This is not only a continuation of the sin of theft, but it is an affront against God, a claim from Achan that there is some place that God cannot see and some thing that God cannot know. But God is everywhere and knows everything. Achan has sinned in having a false view of God.

The should encourage us to seek to understand God correctly. He is not only wise, He is all-knowing. He is not only powerful, He is all-powerful. He not only hears some prayers, He hears all prayers and sovereignly controls all things.

Achan has sinned then with theft and with a false view of God. And then, third, he sins in lying. Or rather, withholding truth.

When God told Joshua that someone had taken the devoted things, Joshua quickly went to work to eradicate the problem which had plagued them. He knew that they had lost about 36 men in battle because the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel. And when Joshua brought near the clans of Judah, Achan had his opportunity to confess. But he did not. Then, when Joshua selected the clan of the Zerahites, Achan again had an opportunity to confess. But he did not. Then when Joshua selected the descendants of Zabdi, Achan again had an opportunity to confess. But he did not. Achan sinned in holding back the truth.

And we see that God is very serious about sin. The whole nation of the Canaanites is being killed because of their sins; because the fullness of their iniquity has come. And as this purging is taking place outside of Israel, here we have a sinful cancer growing inside of Israel, with Achan sinning in their midst.

One might even make the contention that in an indirect way, Achan is guilty of murder. A 4th sin on his record.

And these are only the sins we are told of in our text. The reality is that seldom does a sin arise out of the blue, but rather is generally preceded by a series (or a lifetime) of sin.

When a thief is arrested, it is rare that it is his first time stealing. He may have gotten away with a hundred times.

And when an adulterer is found out, it is rarely his first time in such sin.

The problem for the thief, the adulterer, and for Achan runs deeper than the outward actions for which they were caught. Ultimately, sin is a heart problem. The problem is first inside, only shown later by outward actions. So it is that Achan sinned (5th, if we are still counting) in his heart, lusting after the goods of this world, plotting and planning the theft, not dwelling on the things of the Lord and giving Him thanks for all things, but reaching out for MORE!

All the through day

I me mine, I me mine, I me mine,

All through the night

I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

The sin of Achan is pervasive. It is not one sin, but man.

And sin has consequences. And sin must be dealt with.

A consequence here we already noted, the death of 36 of the men of Israel.

We see in this connection that the sins of one may effect others. The consequences impact more people than just the sinner.

Naturally, sin effects the sinner. But is can also effect his family, his church, or his nation.

This is why it should matter to us how society lives. No, we should not physically intervene in another person’s life, forcing them to live as we desire. But we should, by use of persuasion, call all people to live godly lives, for the wrath of God upon them indeed affects us as well. God burned in anger against Israel and no doubt could return to the same today.

2. The Transference of Guilt

We see the effect of sins on others more thoroughly worked out in our next point, the transference of guilt.

Did you notice that when God spoke to Joshua He did not say “some person has sinned” but rather “Israel has sinned.”? And the anger of the Lord burned not against merely on person but against “the people of Israel.” And it was not a “he” who took some of the devoted things, but a “they.” “They have stolen and lied and put them along their own belonging.”

While Achan committed the sin, the guilt is imputed to all.

The cry of the world against such a passage as this is “Oh, how unfair.” Repeat: Oh, how unfair.

And then, even worse, when Achan is found out, it is not only he, but his whole family and their livestock which are put to death. How unfair. What did they do?

Other people, even women and children, killed for the sin of Achan.

Now, many have tried to implicate the family in the crime. The family, it is said, must have seen what Achan was up to and they did not intervene. Perhaps that is true. But the oxen, the donkeys, the sheep… are we to implicate them as well? Rather, we see the guilt and the punishment come upon Achan’s whole household for HIS crime.

And this is not a new idea in the Scriptures. It is very fundamental to the Word of God.

From the beginning, the sin of our first father Adam imputes guilt and brings the consequence of condemnation upon all men. He was our representative. We are guilty because Adam is guilty. Surely we are also guilty because we sin. But even the newborn, even the feotus, is guilty because of Adam.

The consequence of another’s sin is all too real for us, having inherited from Adam His guilt and his fallen nature.

3. Where is the Gospel?

So after all of the highs of the book of Joshua, we come to a low. An apparent low at least. Perhaps there is a silver lining? And so, I want to look at a third and final point today as I answer the question “Where is the Gospel in this text?”

But first I want to go deeper into trouble.

There is a similar text in the New Testament. In the book of Acts, we have the account of Ananias and Sapphira. And in both of these accounts, the people in general obey God, but one or two people disobey and death comes upon them. Calvin calls Achan’s sin “a secret crime.” Indeed, so was that of Ananias and Sapphira. They held back money they had promised to the Lord and so were immediately put to death by the Lord.

As we have seen, Achan’s sin was bad. So was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.

But were their sins any worse than those in the Scriptures who found forgiveness in the Lord?

Especially consider

David is forgiven for adultery and for murder.

Peter is forgiven three times for denying Christ.

Paul is forgiven for persecuting the church.

Why are some condemned for their sins and others forgiven despite their sins? [REPEAT]

Many have sought for a distinction between the sins of the condemned and the sins of the forgiven. They want to know if there is some sin for which forgiveness is found and other sins for which forgiveness is impossible.

What is the difference between the sins of the condemned and the forgiven?

Are not the sins of David and of Peter and of Paul as grave as those of Achan and Ananias and Sapphira? Certainly they are. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We seek in vain for a distinction between the sins of the condemned and the sins of the forgiven.

Why then are some pardoned and other condemned? It is purely a matter of the Lord’s choice. He will have mercy on whom he has mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he has compassion.

Therefore Paul says in Romans 9, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

For some this will be a very unsatisfactory answer. For others, it is embraced as the very gospel.

Because of the sin of Adam and the sinfulness all men, the question is not “Why did God put to death the family of Achan” but the question is “Why did God not put EVERYONE to death.” Thirty-six men died for the Sin of Achan. And then he and his family died as well. But upon the rest of the nation of Israel, God had mercy.

God could have had more men struck down at the First Battle of Ai. He could have had the entire army lost. Or the whole nation. But the Lord was graceful to Israel.

The reason why God destroys some and not others is for his own reasons, which we do not know and may never know.

Where is the gospel in this story? Here it is. While all are guilty, not all are condemned.

All have indeed sinned. We are no better than Achan. I suspect that when you hear this story you don’t say “Good, I’m glad they got him.” But rather you more likely say “Oh no, they are going to get me!” I have sinned big sins, repeated sins.

But the representative principle works in our favor as well. While Adam’s sin brought death upon all men, and Achan’s sin brought death in his time, the death of Jesus Christ has brought life to innumerable men all of whom are guilty but whose guilt has been washed away in the blood of the lamb.

So we are saved not because we are less sinful than Achan, or Ananias, or Sapphira, or David, or Peter, or Paul. We are saved by the grace of God for His good pleasure, according to His will. We are saved by His grace. All who believe on His name are children of God, eternally forgiven of all their sins regardless of how many they are, or how bad they are, or how persistent they are, or how stubborn they are. We are saved by the Grace of God, and thus we worship Him.

In all it is GOD’s judgment. And GOD’s mercy. Our opinions of who should be judged and who should receive mercy are just opinions. But God’s ways are above our ways. And we are to bow to his decisions that we see in the Scripture.

We see this point — God’s sovereign choice — in the overarching narrative as Israel battles the Canaanites. Victory was had at Jericho, but defeat at Ai. And what was the difference between these two battles? The victory and defeat are not due to the strength Israel or to the strength of their enemies, but due to overwhelming strength of God.

We are called to faith.

Called to trust the Lord.

All the while know this believing which we must do, this believing in him whom He has sent is ultimately “the Work of God.” Praise be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost now, and to the end of the age and forevermore. Amen.