The Israelites won the battle at Jericho. The city was fortified by a strong wall but the Israelites followed God’s instructions simply by marching around the wall seven times and this strong wall came tumbling down.
The next battle the Israelites had to face was to destroy the town of Ai. Joshua sent out spies to survey the land and they came back reporting that it was not necessary for the entire army to go into battle—only two or three thousand men would be needed. It was just a small town with a few people living there. No doubt, the Israelites expected a spectacular victory but unfortunately, they were badly defeated. 36 men were killed and the fighters from Ai chased them far from the city (verses 2-5). This was the only defeat recorded in the book of Joshua. This was also the report of the Israelites being slain in the battle. Joshua and the elders of Israel mourned for the defeat and suggested that God was not keeping His promise to give them victory (verses 6-9).
It was not God who was not faithful. It was the Israelites who were unfaithful (verse 1). Someone among the Israelites had hid the “devoted things” from Jericho, which God had specifically commanded them to destroy. Because of this sin, God’s anger burned against them (verse 2), they lost the battle and lives were taken. The hearts of the Israelites melted in fear and became like water (verse 5).
“11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” (Joshua 7:11-12)
Achan was caught. He only admitted that he had sinned when he was found out. May be he would have a better ending if only he had confessed his sin on his own. Joshua sent messengers to find the things which Achan had coveted. As a result of his sin, Achan and his family had to be put to death. The devoted things he had stolen had to be destroyed too. That was the only way that would pacify God’s wrath and that the Israelites would have victory over their enemies.
It may seem like a harsh consequence to Achan’s action until we realise if sin is not dealt with, it can contaminate the entire community of faith. We can’t hide from God. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-seeing and ever-present. The story of Achan reminds us to take personal holiness seriously. Our private sin will have an effect on others. Private sin not dealt with can mar the holiness of the church. We should always examine our hearts so that we are quick to turn from evil and turn back to God. If there are sins that we commit out of habits, we should ask for help and prayers to overcome them. Let us also encourage our church leaders to lovingly but firmly follow biblical standards of church disciplines so that sin will not destroy our community of faith.