Did you ever watch a person’s actions or listen to his words and think, “What an idiot?”  Maybe that question sets a poor tone for a spiritual discussion, but honestly we’ve all been there. And the less spiritual ones among us may have taken it a step further and tossed up a quick prayer, “Please, Lord, don’t let him reproduce.”

If you are looking for a touchy-feely sugar coated tidbit, move on. This is not the article for you. Today we’re dissecting the life of a man named Achan whose name actually means “troublesome.” Each time I return to his story I climb onto my spiritual soapbox and pass judgment, “Achan. Now there was a idiot if ever one walked the planet.”

Achan’s story is found in Joshua 7 though he has one additional mention in Joshua 22:20 where he is held up as an example of what not to do. He is remembered for the widespread impact of his devious actions.

By way of summary Israel was on the march into Canaan to claim the land God had promised to them. God had showed Himself strong on behalf of Israel in the conquest of Jericho, and Joshua’s inexperienced troops chalked up a major victory by following God’s unusual instructions. Part of the mission statement included a ban on the spoils of Jericho. Articles of gold, silver, bronze and iron would go into the Lord’s treasury, and as for everything else the command was simple, “Leave it alone.”

Achan decided to follow a different plan.

But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the LORD burned against the sons of Israel. Joshua 7:1 NASB

We are told in his later confession that he had lifted a beautiful Babylonian robe, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing about a pound.

I wonder what twisted route his thought processes followed as he stood amidst the rubble of Jericho?

Was it spur-of-the-moment greed as his eyes were drawn to the glitter? Or did he live with doubts about the outcome of life in Canaan? Did his faith flame out when it came to trusting God for provisions?

Perhaps Achan told himself, “God can feed us for forty years in the wilderness and part the Jordan River to make a crossing on dry land. He can turn the walls of Jericho into so many pebbles and give us an incredible victory over a formidable enemy. But I am not sure He will be able to cover our living expenses in Canaan.  I mean, seriously, milk and honey do not grow on trees.”

Where was Achan going to spend that gold and silver? On what occasion could he wear that garment without raising the eyebrows of his peers? Sin deceives thereby masking the longer-term effects of our poor choices until we are trapped in the vortex.

Meanwhile Joshua and his commanders formed a plan for the conquest of the next town, Ai. We find no record of anyone asking God for advice, but that is another discussion. Joshua sent a portion of his army, 3000 men, into battle, and the men of Ai routed Israel and struck down thirty-six soldiers. Scripture tells us (Joshua 7:5), “…the hearts of the people melted and became as water.”

In Joshua’s one-on-one with God he learned the reason for the resounding defeat (Joshua 7:10), “Israel has sinned.” God made plain that the sin must be dealt with (Joshua 7:12), “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst.”

Early the next morning Joshua assembled the nation to uncover the culprit. What was Achan thinking? Did he believe his deeds would remain secret and his treasures hidden? Obviously God knew about the stolen booty, and now the entire nation became privy to the awful truth that one among them had triggered God’s wrath.

What might have happened if Achan came forward at that moment and confessed? God is a God of mercy.

But Achan waited as the Lord led Joshua to the tribe of Judah.

Achan remained silent as the Lord led Joshua to the family of the Zerahites.

Achan stood quietly as the Lord led Joshua to the household of Zabdi.

Zabdi’s descendants were called one by one until the divine finger pointed at Achan. Achan had nowhere to hide. Uncovered. Publicly revealed for the villain he was.

Only when Joshua implored him to man up did Achan reveal the sordid mess in which he had become entangled. He admitted, “I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel…”

Joshua 7:21 paints the ugly descent into sin.

  • I saw.
  • I coveted.
  • I took.
  • I concealed.

We can’t avoid seeing. Seeing isn’t sin, but unless we look away seeing can lead to temptation. That’s when our minds push the covet button so that we begin to consider, “what if?” Certainly we are still in the mental realm at this point, but every action begins as a thought. Achan let his mind roam into forbidden territory and took what did not belong to him.

And then? We cover up our sin in an attempt to avoid the consequences.

Consider the impact of Achan’s actions. Sin might happen in our alone world but far too often, in fact usually, it spreads into the world of those around us.

  • Achan had in some manner implicated his sons and daughters in the deception. They shared in his judgment and faced execution along with him.
  • His choices contributed to the defeat at Ai and the loss of thirty-six soldiers.
  • The nation plummeted into discouragement as they considered their formidable enemies.
  • Joshua momentarily lost his confidence in God’s plan for the nation and in fact blamed God for the defeat.

Achan and his co-conspirators were stoned to death. Their bodies and all their belongings were burned. A great heap of stones was erected over the spot to remind everyone of the seriousness of disobeying God. And the place was given a new name, the Valley of Trouble.

When God says “Leave it alone,” He means it.

At the start I mentioned that on my return to Achan’s story I climb onto my spiritual soapbox and pass judgment. This time through God never allowed me to stand there.

You see, I’m just like Achan. I forget all of God’s miraculous provisions in my life, His overwhelming blessings, and His works. I forget that He goes ahead of me wherever He leads. And I try to form my own solutions…usually with poor results.

Someone once told me that if I want to make God laugh I should tell Him my plans. Ten years ago I had a plan for the years ahead as I phased out my engineering career and picked up the threads of a new focus. May I confess that nearly every item on my carefully designed plan has been upended, shredded, or thwarted? Along the journey I have revised, crossed out, modified, adapted, and pretzeled with flexibility I never knew I possessed. And yet the churn and uncertainty continue.

Standing in the rubble of my planning, like Achan in the debris of Jericho, the temptation is strong to consider that maybe God is too busy elsewhere to handle the details and I should help Him out. With my logic. And Intellect. And know-how. And conniving.

And His message thunders in the quiet. “I have a plan. For you specifically. Nothing is off course. Trust Me. Stay close. Learn more about Me. Study My Word. And leave the stuff of the world alone.”

The choice is mine to make.