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The Lord’s command to Israel not to take from Jericho anything that was to be destroyed was not obeyed. A man named Achan disobeyed that order, and so the Lord was furious with the Israelites. (Achan was the son of Carmi and grandson of Zabdi, and belonged to the clan of Zerah, a part of the tribe of Judah.)
    Joshua 5:1 (Good News Bible)

I had not realised the full significance of this passage of scripture (take time out to read the whole of chapter 5, as it has powerful significance), nor its connection to a New Testament passage until very recently. The significance is alarming and should be of great concern to Christendom today.

Before we look at this, let’s step back a little and put the passage into context and to set the scene for how this passage actually applies to us today.

The Israelites were still celebrating in the glory of the victory God had given them over Jericho just a short time before. Whilst many people will say that the falling of the walls was a case of perfect timing with a natural phenomenon of a large earthquake, the significance of the event cannot be escaped. God had given the Israelites the victory both as a start to their campaign to take the promised land and, as a great encourager for what was to lie ahead. God had shown His people an awesome glimpse of His supreme power. None can say (in all genuineness) that the Israelites had anything to do with this victory other than the fact that they had done exactly as God had instructed them to do.

However, He had also given them some other instructions. He wanted everything in that city destroyed. The culture of the day (and still is in some senses) was that the victorious invaders took the spoils of the battle to line their own pockets. This would include gold, silver, jewels and even women and children (for slaves). In this instance, however, God said that everything was to be destroyed. Nothing was to be taken at all as it was to be an offering to the Lord.

Obviously, as we read further in chapter 5, Achan decided that a few pieces of gold items would not make any difference in God’s treasure chest and decided to take them for his personal gain.

Now the sin here was not actually the fact that he took the items, though that would be argued as being a valid crime. The real sin and, therefore, the significant sin was that he disobeyed a direct command from God. Our God is a holy God and His command is absolute. When He says something, He means it to be exactly that.

This is significant to us in our daily walk with God. We have instructions that He requires us to live by and it is important that we do not disobey those instructions for to do so, puts us “offside” with God.

Sure, we can repent of what we have done and that option is always open to us, as it obviously was with Achan. We must take that action ourselves, repent and seek forgiveness.

To continue with the situation, the Israelite camp had now been defiled by the sin of one person.  This is very significant to us as we will see shortly.

The next city to conquer was Ai and when the spies reviewed that place they advised Joshua that it was relatively insignificant by comparison with Jericho, so there was no need to use all the army, some could be rested. Unknown to them, of course, was the fact that the camp had been defiled and, because of this fact, God’s power and presence had been withdrawn.

It would have come as an extreme shock to the Israelites when the people of Ai gave them a significant defeat. They limped home, licking their wounds, wondering what on earth went wrong.

Now Joshua did the right thing. He went straight to the Lord and asked what had gone wrong. God had him wait all day for an answer before He advised Joshua what the problem was. We learn from this that we should not expect an immediate answer when we seek God’s direction.

Now, if I were Joshua, I would be quite angry when told about the problem, though, you will notice, God did not tell him who had done it, only how to find out. So Joshua put the process into motion the very next day and, as we ready through chapter 5, by virtue of the process of the casting of lots, Achan was finally singled out.

Many say that the punishment that follows was a little harsh (a similar comment is passed about the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5) but you must remember that we are talking about a Holy God whose word had been clearly defiled because of sin. This is the punishment we all deserve for being out of step with God and we must be constantly thankful of the fact that Jesus brought us God’s grace through His death on the cross.

Notice that the punishment was total. They were completely destroyed along with all their possessions. This is very significant in that total destruction of the city was asked for in the first place. It is also important that we apply this to our lives as we will see.

Now let us move to 1 Corinthians 5. Please read through the entire chapter. You might ask what the connection between these two passages happens to be.

Let’s look at what it is.

Paul is raising with the Christians at Corinth a significant sin that was occurring in their very own congregation. One man was openly (not in secret as was the case with Achan) sinning and defying God’s rules. Paul emphasises the sin by saying that not even the heathen would practice this vile thing.

Once again, the significant message for us in this passage is not the actual sin (though that could certainly be applied in many situations today) but the fact that there was disobedience to God’s instructions about right living. Keep in mind that we serve a Holy God and not just some rule maker.

Paul instructs the church at Corinth to deal with the issue immediately. The method is different to what was given to Joshua because the sin and the situation are different (remember the sin and sinner were known in this case) but the reason and purpose of the action is really the same.

In the book of Joshua, we had seen what the consequence of the sin was - God withdrew His blessing and presence from His people and they suffered defeat and humiliation.

In Corinth, Paul was endeavouring to make sure that defeat and humiliation did not significantly occur in the church there. Paul knew the consequences (as a scholar of the scriptures) of letting sin into the group.

The message from both of these passages is quite clear and we, as a modern church, need to be well aware of these matters.

1. The first item is that God still (His rules do not change) demands that we serve and acknowledge Him as a Holy God. As such, we are expected to be clean and spotless before Him in all that we do. We are human and so we will do things that are not pleasing to Him, but we have a way out of that situation. We can be totally sorry for what we have done and seek the cleansing that comes to us through the blood of Jesus. Failure to repent means we are under God’s judgement and not under His blessing.

2. Such sin, as both passages teach us, affect others. As Paul says in this passage from 1 Corinthians:

What a terrible thing this it is that you are boasting about your purity, and yet you let this thing go on. Don’t you realise that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected.
    1 Corinthians 5:6-7 (Living Bible)

You see the problem, if we close our eyes to things we know are wrong in our church then it won’t be long before others feel that they can do the same.

This becomes more important when it is church leadership that sins. People, especially the weaker ones in the church, will feel that if their leadership can do wrong things then God must actually allow these things to be okay. Oh how wrong this is. The Bible is very clear that if we are in leadership then we have a greater responsibility and, therefore, a harsher judgement over us.

Stop the spread of sin when it starts not after it affects many.

3. The third lesson we learn (especially from the Joshua passage) is that God will withdraw His blessing from not just the individual who sins but from the whole group (or church) to which they are a part of. 

Your can see from this aspect, how important it is to make sure that, when sin is made known in a fellowship, that it is dealt with swiftly and severely. God does not tolerate it so why should you. Many a fellowship has fallen from Grace, simply because of this aspect of the way they operate. I don’t just mean small groups or little people.

Many claim that so long as we are doing the right thing, according to God’s word, it will be okay. Both of these passages show clearly that if we are out of line with God’s will, we bring God’s anger upon us and His presence is no longer with us. When that happens, we can only expect to fail in whatever we do.


We see then, from this, that there is a big lesson to be learnt from this for both the individual who is tempted (and maybe submits to the temptation) as well as for any fellowship (small or large) that they are a part of. Your sin not only affects your relationship with God but it can also seriously affect those around you.

Failure to comply with this in our own lives or in the life of the fellowship can only bring God’s anger down upon us and we will find ourselves cut off from His presence. Anything we do while in this situation will only bring defeat.

R. J. Burling