Lesson for week of July 3: We are called to live in God's ways, not sinful ones

6/17/2011

 By HERCHEL SHEETS
 Scripture: Joshua 7:1, 10-12, 22-26
 
          In the eighth century before Christ, the prophet Hosea, emphasizing God's love for a wayward people, spoke of God's promise to "make the Valley of Achor a door of hope" (Hosea 2:15). What did he mean? Where and what was the Valley of Achor?
          The Valley of Achor was a valley or plain southwest of Jericho. It was here that Joshua took Achan and his family to be executed for taking from Jericho things that were supposed to be dedicated to God. After Achan and his family were stoned to death and burned with fire, Joshua had a great heap of stones raised over them and gave the place the name, "Valley of Achor," which means, "Valley of Trouble."
 
Creating hope or causing trouble?
 
          Hosea spoke of a time when God would so work in the lives of people that even the "Valley of Achor" - that is, "the valley of trouble" - would become "a door of hope." Isaiah, too, spoke of a time coming when God's redeeming work would be so visible that the Valley of Achor would become a resting place for herds of cattle, and God's people, too, would find rest there (Isaiah 65:10).
          But it was none of this in Joshua's day. After the Israelites' dramatic victory at Jericho, he and his people thought everything was going their way. But then they suffered a decisive defeat by a small town that seemed to offer no challenge at all. At first, Joshua blamed the Lord for this defeat, even complaining, "Why have you brought this people across the Jordan at all, to hand us over to the Amorites so as to destroy us?"
          But the Lord set the record straight, saying: "Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant . . . They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have acted deceitfully, and they have put them among their own belongings. Therefore the Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies."
 
Is sin a private matter?
 
          It was not all of the people who had disobeyed God. It was just one man, a man by the name of Achan. As he was joining in the destruction of Jericho, he had seen some things there that he wanted for himself and his family. So he took them, secretly, and hid them in his family's tent, burying them in the ground. No one had seen him doing this, no one knew about it, except possibly his family. But still the solidarity of the community had been fractured. Because of one man's sin, a whole people could not stand before their enemies.
          How recently have you said about some personal interest, concern, or activity: "It's nobody's business but mine"? But how true is that statement? We live in a complex world, but one of the things becoming clearer and clearer to anyone with eyes to see is that we are all tied together, even across the entire face of the earth. We are affected by what other people do, and they are affected by what we do.
          So our sins are not just private matters. Their consequences may not be as visible or as damaging as Achan's were, but they have their effect on the community. So the Lord told Joshua that this sin, this disobedience, had to be dealt with by the community.
 
Confession and consequence
 
          By casting lots - a method we would not think of using today - it became clear that Achan was the guilty person. To his credit, Achan confessed his sin, saying: "It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel." Then he told what he had done, describing the steps in his sin. He said he saw some things he liked. He coveted them, and then he took them. He had forgotten, as one of the psalmists said, that "the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold" (Psalm 19:10). He took for his own use that which was reserved for God, forgetting that a person's life "does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15). One result was that the community itself could no longer stand before their enemies.
          Joshua had Achan's story checked out. Messengers were sent to his tent, and they found there the things Achan had confessed to coveting and taking. They brought them back to Joshua and the assembled people. Joshua's word to Achan was, "Why did you bring trouble on us?" Then he said, "The Lord is bringing trouble on you today."
          At that point they took Joshua and his family and all their belongings to a place they considered appropriate to administer punishment for the "trouble" Achan had brought on his people. They stoned them mercilessly and then burned them.
          We may question the method and extent of the punishment administered. But one thing made clear in this action was that it made a difference whether or not one obeyed the Lord. So it does today, too. Disobeying the Lord is not an irrelevant or insignificant matter. It matters dearly.
          So Joshua and the people named that valley "the Valley of Trouble." That was an appropriate name for the place, for that is what sin does: It brings trouble. And so we are called again and again to faithfulness to God, to obedience, to living in ways we know are God's ways.


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