Achan Is Punished
1The Lord had said that everything in Jericho belonged to him. But Achan from the Judah tribe took some of the things from Jericho for himself. And so the Lord was angry with the Israelites, because one of them had disobeyed him.
2While Israel was still camped near Jericho, Joshua sent some spies with these instructions: “Go to the town of Ai and find out whatever you can about the region around the town.”
The spies left and went to Ai, which is east of Bethel and near Beth-Aven. 3They went back to Joshua and reported, “You don't need to send the whole army to attack Ai—2,000 or 3,000 troops will be enough. Why bother the whole army for a town that small?”
4-5Joshua sent about 3,000 soldiers to attack Ai. But the men of Ai fought back and chased the Israelite soldiers away from the town gate and down the hill to the stone quarries. Thirty-six Israelite soldiers were killed, and the Israelite army felt discouraged.
6Joshua and the leaders of Israel tore their clothes and put dirt on their heads to show their sorrow. They lay facedown on the ground in front of the sacred chest until sunset. 7Then Joshua said:
Our Lord, did you bring us across the Jordan River just so the Amorites could destroy us? This wouldn't have happened if we had agreed to stay on the other side of the Jordan. 8I don't even know what to say to you, since Israel's army has turned and run from the enemy. 9Everyone will think you weren't strong enough to protect your people. Now the Canaanites and everyone else who lives in the land will surround us and wipe us out.
You really wonder sometimes when you read through Scriptures, don’t you. I mean, why has God been so patient with us over the centuries when over and over again we disobey and thumb our noses at him. Chapter 7 of Joshua begins with a tragically familiar phrase, “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully . . .” It was a simple task they had been given. After the city was taken through a miracle of God, they were to put the treasures of the city into the ‘Lord’s House.’ It was symbolically a way of reflecting their understanding that God had been with them.
They did not obey and in fact took the wealth of the city and hid it away. The results are disastrous. Over-confident even in their disobedience they march on a smaller foe confident of their impending victory. A defeated army and a threatened people of Israel are the consequence. I love what the writer says about the people at that moment. “At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.” Nothing disappears more quickly than false bravado in the face of realities.
Joshua is totally distraught. What ensues is a wonderfully honest and transparent dialogue between himself and God. He is genuinely worried about God’s reputation and at the same time concerned that God has left them. You know more of the story than he does at this moment. Joshua is blind to what has taken place. Later on, as the story unfolds he will find out. But here, in this early section of the story, he is questioning God.
The dialogue is wonderfully passionate and melodramatic in its tone and actions. Joshua is concerned about God losing face and reputation. He wonders, “Why God would you desert us?” It is interesting isn’t it? Why in moments like this are we so convinced that it is God who deserts us? Why do we rarely think it might be about us?
Joshua will learn this in the next section of the story. The reality is that the people of God have been disobedient. But in this part of the story, let’s celebrate a relationship with God in which honesty and transparency is at the core of the relationship. Let us celebrate a God who longs to be in relationship with us and does not give up in the midst of our serial disobedience.
God of wonder and God of grace. We thank you for your faithfulness to us and the same time confess our lack of faithfulness and obedience to You. Forgive us and hang in there with us in the same way that you have done over the history of your people. We may just get it right! Thank you. Amen!