Part of what I love about teaching children’s church is the fresh insight I gain as I study the Bible story for the week. As I write, I’ve just taught the story of Achan’s hidden sin in Joshua 7.
The Israelites had recently routed the walled city of Jericho. As a whole, they must have been experiencing joy and optimism – except for one guilt-ridden man, Achan.
Achan…of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel. – Joshua 7:1
Achan’s thievery was a serious matter, as God had specifically told the Israelite soldiers that they were not to take any spoils of war from the battle at Jericho. All valuables found were to be turned over to “the treasury of the house of the Lord” (Joshua 6:24).
Yet Achan took some items for himself, as he later confessed.
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. – Joshua 7:21
What Achan must have thought would remain a secret affected his family, as well as the entire nation of Israel.
Because of his sin, God did not aid the Israelite warriors as they went into battle against Ai, a city to the north of Jericho that looked to be an easy victory. Instead, the men of Ai sent the Israelite army running for the hills, and thirty-six Israelite soldiers were killed as they retreated.
Joshua and the elders of Israel bowed before the Lord in humility and grief.
And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? – Joshua 7:7
God explained to Joshua that the defeat was a result of sin in the Israelite camp, and he promised to reveal the source of the sin the next morning.
First, the tribe of the man was revealed; then, the family group; and finally, the individual family. God provided Achan every opportunity possible to step forward and admit his sin.
When Achan was named as the one who had disobeyed God’s command, Joshua’s response was surprisingly gentle.
And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. – Joshua 7:19
Achan did admit what he had done, with what must have been a mix of relief and despair. The burden of the knowledge of his crime was lifted, but he knew not what his punishment would be.
Then, Joshua announced that Achan, his family, his animals, and all that he possessed were to be stoned, and the remains burned and buried under a heap of stones.
How difficult this situation must have been for all involved – for Joshua, as a godly leader; for all those who would witness or participate in the brutal execution of so many; and for Achan’s seemingly blameless family.
What regret and despair Achan must have suffered during his last moments!
Many sins are labeled as personal or private decisions, as if secrecy justifies them. It’s often said that what people do in their own homes (or in Vegas) is their own business, even including pornography or adultery.
But I know that my private sin affects others, even if God is the only other Person who knows about it.
Holding onto bitterness, viewing media with R-rated material, begrudging my husband a sweet, respectful demeanor – these are sins I once secreted away. But their presence was like a virus, eating away at the health of my soul and invading my interactions with my loved ones.
Until I repented of those things, they stood like a wall between me and God. Only when my relationship with him was restored did everything else in my life return to proper balance.
Secret sins have a public impact.
What are your thoughts on so-called secret sins? What do you take away from Achan’s troubling story? I welcome your thoughts.