Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Joshua 7:1, 10-12, 22-26
The Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan …, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the LORD burned against the Israelites.
—Joshua 7:1

10 The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I imposed on them. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have acted deceitfully, and they have put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; they turn their backs to their enemies, because they have become a thing devoted for destruction themselves. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you."

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent with the silver underneath, 23They took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites; and they spread them out before the LORD. 24 Then Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan son of Zerah, with the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, with his sons and daughters, with his oxen, donkeys, and sheep, and his tent and all that he had; and they brought them up to the-Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, "Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD is bringing trouble on you today." And all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, 26 and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains, to this day.

One of the longest-held misconceptions about God is that God inflicts human beings with disease and misfortune because of their sins. When Job's friends went to comfort him, they gave him advice filled with presuppositions that God aims at getting even with human beings for their mistakes. Two of the questions we may have when we read Scripture texts like this are: "Does God punish us for disobedience like this?" Moreover, "Why does an entire family and even the entire nation of Israel suffer for one person's disobedience?"

However, this scripture is about disobedience, not sin. Out of God's generosity, God promises to give land to Israel. They cannot take anything by the work of their own hands. All the credit must go to God. We are designed for dependence on God, remembering that all good things come from God. The story is about idolatry and breaking the bonds of idolatry in the life of people of God. By taking the loot, Achan takes credit where the credit is rightfully due God. There is no room for this in the life of God's people.

This Scripture asks a question of the Israelites' devotion. Will their devotion go to God? Or will their devotion go to the things they can grasp? Achan's unfaithfulness contrasts the story of Rahab's faithfulness. Rahab was hospitable to the people of Israel when she hid the spies and acted out of obedience to God. She gave up her city of Jericho, so that Israel could receive it from God. Though she was a citizen of the city, she let go of it, recognizing that God had given it to Israel. Achan, however, acted out of disobedience, taking spoil from the city.

The spoils of war would normally go to the victors, but they are off limits to the soldiers of Israel. They are "dedicated" or “devoted” to God. By refusing to take the spoils, the soldiers communicate that they do not deserve the spoils. This prohibition is called “the ban.” Achan's grasping for the spoils is an act that robs God of credit. Because he misuses his opportunity, Achan brings down his entire family with him. By removing and all things associated with him, Israel rids itself of this instance of idolatry, and is restored to a relationship with God as deliverer.

Sin can be defined in many ways, but a simple definition is that it is anything that disrupts our relationship with God or with each other. We were created to be in harmonious relationship with God and with all of creation, and anything that violates those relational bonds tears at the fiber of creation. God had instructed the Israelites in a particular way, and Achan disobeyed. By hiding the items, he was essentially lying to God, indicating how ruptured his relationship was with the Most Holy. His original transgression was perhaps not bad, but rather than seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, his silence indicated how far he had turned his back on God. God is a merciful God who had shown mercy many times before to the Israelites. Achan did not repent and ask God for mercy but had already turned away from God, and his punishment was death.

Disobedience in the community harms the whole community. It signifies broken relationships between God and between the other members of the community, and that is no small thing. Thirty-six Israelites died in the loss at Ai, and the people lost faith. Achan's disobedience was personal, but it had communal consequences. God was with the people, but the people had to do their part—to follow the few instructions that God had given them, and to always turn toward God. It was a hard lesson that the Israelites had to keep learning, and one that we continue to learn today.
Our lives should be set apart, dedicated to God. We all have idolatrous tendencies, but when these ways are handed over to God, we can dedicate our lives to what counts.

Is it a new idea to think of an idol as anything that we give ultimate status to?
What are some ways that we find it hard to devote our lives to God?
What are some ways that we can be more devoted to God?

O Lord God, we know that our hearts are divided. We often use our time, talents, and resources to make little kingdoms for ourselves. We hide things and become devoted to them instead of devoting those things to you. Show us a better way to live. Help us to remember that while the things that we want are good things, they are not the ultimate thing. Remind us again that you are our creator who has given us everything. Grow in us a trust for you and enable us to remember to devote all things to you.

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From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.