Jericho has been destroyed. There is, effectively, nothing left. Except for a few items added to the “treasury of the house of YHWH” (Joshua 6:24,) a curious statement that deserved to be included in last time’s Nerd Note. Nothing is left! Well, Rahab is left, alongside her family as evidence of the grace of God.
So, the people of Israel decide that the next target should not take up everybody’s time. It is the city of Ai, a name which means “ruin” in the original language. (My blog won’t quite render the Hebrew ayin-yodh, which would be done as “ay” these days.) It’s an interesting name for a language that we talk about having no vowels. That’s not important right now.
What is important is the overall context of the chapter. The record shows that “the people of Israel broke faith” because one man, Achan, took some of the items devoted to the Lord. Joshua is unaware of this, and so sends spies to check out the city of Ai. They go, report that the city is ripe for the taking, and suggest a light strike force go up and take it. Joshua agrees with the spies, sends a few thousand, and they are defeated by the people of Ai.
That sets back the Israelites, almost to the point of despair. Their first response is that God has abandoned them. Then, God responds by pointing out that the people have sinned and how they must repent if they want to see His blessing. After that, the Israelites all go to Ai and destroy the city.
The focal point of this chapter is Joshua 7:10. Joshua has called out, with all the people, to God over the result of the first attack on Ai. They are blaming God for their failure, even though it is the sin of the people that is at fault.
God is not impressed with their claims of sadness and is certainly not willing to take the blame for the Israelites’ sin. That sin has negative results is the nature of sin. It is not the fault of God. Sin would be sin—the universe which God has made is built around His holy nature. Sin damages the good He has made. Therefore the Israelites are responsible for the results.
At this point, you can probably guess the first practical. That is this: your sin has a negative effect against not only yourself but also against those around you. That’s an important part to remember: your actions affect others.
The next practical point I would make is this: it is not God’s responsibility when our sin brings us into trouble. Take, for example, the ill-effects of drinking too much alcohol. It is not God’s fault when drunkenness causes you to oversleep and lose your job. That is the results of your own sin.
We also need to look at Joshua 7:1 and consider what it means: we tend to blame Achan as if the rest of Israel wasn’t involved. But the verse is clear that the people acted unfaithfully. Not just one person, but the people as a group did. When we tolerate sin in our midst, we become partners with the ones who actually commit the sins. Then, consider why our churches are not as effective as we would like, why our preaching isn’t moving people, why we have no ability to draw people to Jesus. It is because we have evidently and clearly brought sin alongside ourselves as if it was a friend.
We must remember that living in obedience is not just optional. It is necessary if we are going to walk well with Jesus.
Nerd point number 1? Ai is another town that the archaeology is a bit challenging with the Biblical record. Now, how we handle that matters: we cannot ignore either the Biblical record or the archaeology. I won’t try to settle that here. But it takes more than just a glossing over.
Nerd point number 2: we have a question to deal with regarding the execution of not only Achan but his whole family. This feels like overkill to most of us, but God has a purpose in it. I don’t think we are in a good position to determine if God was right to command this. But we can say that, as justice and morality develop and are informed by God’s Word, we see things through a different lens. Looking back through Jesus’ death on the Cross, we see that Jesus died in our place for those sins which deserve death at the hands of God.
Sorting out how that works for God’s justice and the dispensing of justice at human hands is, of course, a matter for much longer writings.