I have been reading the book of Joshua this week. The stories are a powerful reminder of who God is as we see how he reacts to situations in the life of his people. We are now also his people, so it would be wise to read and learn how God relates to our situations in life.
God cares deeply about ethics—not just about stealing, lying, or skirting the edges of legality; the Bible stories reveal that God cares about doing what is altogether right. This story and the one in Acts 5 are about two men and one good wife who thought they were outwitting God’s leaders; they thought they were sly. Being sly is not being wise, and God wants us to learn that lesson without having to suffer like these two suffered. God gave us two very potent stories to demonstrate what he deems unethical and what provokes him to judgment.
By definition: Ethical is relating to moral principle or a branch of moral dealing. Pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.
The book of Joshua starts after the death of Moses with a new leader, Joshua. God promises Joshua the same blessing he gave Moses. It is difficult being a leader. It requires making hard decisions while constantly balancing ethics—one’s own as well as others’. Joshua was about to discover what Moses had learned the hard way—leading to his premature death.
Courage is essential in a leader, as seen by the fact that three times in just four verses God tells Joshua to have courage. Obviously, God knows Joshua is dreading assuming a position that requires him to make decisions that affect the lives of so many.
Joshua placed two spies in peril by sending them into a city called Jericho. They were discovered and in danger of being killed, but God used a harlot to hide them and provide an escape route so they could return to tell Joshua what they learned about the city of Jericho. In order to save the spies, this woman of poor character lied to those in authority. In turn, she was blessed and honored for her deeds. Your children need to understand what a harlot is, and they need to see that God forgives and uses people regardless of their background. The life of Rahab the harlot was spared because she believed God. This is a side of God that people often fail to note. Your children need these stories so they can make godly decisions as adults. Many people are confused about the character of God. Bible stories clear up the matter.
At the end of chapter 5, Joshua has a glory encounter with the captain of the LORD’s host. This heavenly captain gives Joshua the war plans on how to take down the city of Jericho with its tall, thick stone walls. The walls protected a people so depraved that God told Joshua, “The city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD” (Joshua 6:17–19).
God told Joshua that they were to kill every man, woman, child, and animal in Jericho and to burn everything else except the gold, silver, brass, and iron, which would be delivered to the tabernacle. The city had something so dreadful in it that God called it accursed. And God let Joshua know that it was very important that nothing accursed be brought into God’s people’s camp.
God didn’t explain it, but when God speaks there is a good reason behind it.
The deed God was asking of Joshua and the children of Israel was so horrific, he sent his own angelic captain to give Joshua clear instructions. Joshua would need bold courage to do such a thing, so he would need to know for sure it was God giving the order. Joshua would have to simply believe when God said everything was contaminated to the point of poison—accursed!
During those early years, the men of war were paid by taking what they called “spoils of war.” When they defeated a city, they would gather what they wanted that had belonged to the defeated people. They might even take slaves back home to serve their families. The men of war were accustomed to this; they felt it was owed them since they did battle. But Joshua’s order was clear; nothing was to be taken by anyone.
Some may ask, “How could God be so insensitive as to kill even the children? And why kill the animals? And why destroy the goods and valuables when they would be such an aid to the children of Israel who had been traveling all these years?”
We are not told the reasons God acted thus, but due to the fact that in some future conquests they were not required to destroy animals and inanimate objects, it is a fair guess that this particular city was infected with disease that would be spread though the personal objects taken from their homes. Even darker is the thought that the people of Jericho practiced bestiality, so the animals had to be destroyed. God didn’t explain it, but when God speaks there is good reason behind it.
Chapter 6 ends with great victory and God’s blessing on Joshua.
Chapter 7 begins by telling us, “But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing . . . and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.” Bad things—really bad things—began to happen, and Joshua called out to the LORD as to why. God told Joshua, “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff” (7:11) But how would Joshua ever know who was the guilty party?
When we read these stories we can learn to appreciate God’s mercy even in the ugliest judgements.
God gave Joshua instructions to bring each family before him to question them. Finally it was time for Achan and his family to come forth. It was made known that he was the guilty man, “When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.”
Obviously Achan didn’t think anyone would ever know what he had done. He didn’t think his sin was that bad. He didn’t understand God; he simply didn’t appreciate what God values nor comprehend how God judges. He really didn’t fear God. I am sure it never occurred to Achan that the whole nation would suffer due to his sin of stealing. He would not have thought that his tribe would be shamed or his family killed simply because he wanted what he felt he deserved. He was probably nervous at first wondering if he would be caught, but after a while he knew he was safe. We know that some time had passed because of the things that came to pass between the victory against Jericho and the discovery of Achan’s sin. He most likely enjoyed thinking about how sly he had been to pull off such a coup. He was no doubt dreaming about how prosperous he would be as soon as they came into the land. Knowing and fearing God brings wisdom. Wisdom comes from knowing what God has done, how he reacts, what he values, and how terrible are his judgments.
It is time this generation gets some of God’s kind of instruction and thus learns to fear him.
God had clearly commanded Joshua that every person, every animal, and every thing was to be burned except for what was saved for honoring God, “the silver, gold, and vessels of brass and iron which would be put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.” God defined Achan’s sin as taking the accursed thing. Verse 11 includes “also stolen.” I don’t know if the accursed thing referred to the garment which was to have been burned. Maybe it was full of infection that had the potential to bring death to the whole nation. He wasn’t such a bad man, but the result of his sly game hurt many people.
It was interesting that the whole nation suffered due to the sin of one man stealing that which God said not to take. This is a point that should be considered in all churches, ministries, church clubs or groups, and what I call tribes (people that work together for a mission of some kind). When one person feels it is their “right” to take from God, the whole body suffers. One man, Achan, was guilty. After the judgment and sentencing, the people picked up stones and destroyed the man and his family who had brought God’s anger upon them. God told them to burn everything. Fire destroys infection, disease, and bacteria. It would also destroy tiny insects such as ticks and spiders that could carry terrible disease. God was helping his people avoid a terrible curse but no one really understood why God would require such things. When we read these stories we can learn to appreciate God’s mercy even in the ugliest judgments.
The next chapter begins with God exhorting Joshua to have courage doing the right thing, the hard thing: “And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land. And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.”
Don’t be shy about the different subjects introduced such as stealing, war, harlots, or judgments. God Gave us his Word for our instruction.
God made a difference with this city. They could keep the animals and inanimate spoils of war. If only Achan had waited for God to provide!
I encourage you homeschool moms to read with your children one chapter a day from the book of Joshua and then discuss what you have read. Don’t be shy about the different subjects introduced such as stealing, war, harlots, or judgments. God gave us his Word for our instruction. It is time this generation gets some of God’s kind of instruction and thus learns to fear him. During the month of July, I will pray for the families who are reading through Joshua, that God will teach you and your children wisdom through what you learn as you read how God worked among the children of Israel. We are God’s people, and he is the same God as he was back then.
Here are some questions and thoughts to discuss with your children concerning this story. You will need to read out loud to the children Joshua chapters 1–7.
- What is a spy?
- Why did Joshua send spies to Jericho?
- How did Rahab hide the spies?
- What lie did she tell the leaders of her city?
- When Rahab lied was it sin? If not, why not?
- What did God do for Rahab for protecting his spies?
- How did the spies escape?
- How did the people get across the river?
- What is circumcision?
- Why do you think God made the people do this?
- Talk about how God told the army to take down the walls of Jericho.
- Why were all the animals killed?
- What do you think of all the people being killed, even the children? Why did this have to happen?
- Why do you think they had to burn everything? Does fire kill germs?
- Do you think being tricky and sly is funny? How might we be tricky in taking things?
- Where did Achan bury his stuff? Did it seem safe there?
- How did Joshua find out who stole the stuff?
- Why did they burn all Achan’s things? Do you think germs or evil was spread in this tent?
- Did you like this story?
- What did you learn that will make you wiser?
Mama, the story in the New Testament that deals with this sin is found in Acts chapter 5. It would reinforce the subject to read this chapter after you discuss Joshua 1–7.
“Be strong and of good courage…” (Joshua 1:9).