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Sermon Notes of Rev.Dr.I.J.W.Oakley (25-5-1975 Strandtown Baptist Church)
After Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised
Land, crossing the Red Sea, they celebrated the Passover, and God miraculously
enabled them to take Jericho. Next they went to the village of Ai – and
suffered defeat. They were astonished and bewildered. They had to learn a very
common lesson, that progress and success yesterday does not mean progress and
success today. They may be followed by defeat and failure.
What was the cause of this defeat? It could have been self-confidence, for they had sent fewer men than they could have. They may have under-rated the enemy’s power. Maybe it was because Joshua had stayed at the camp instead of leading the army. Was it that they did not seek God’s help and guidance? God revealed to them the true cause – it was not simply self-confidence, failure to lead and failure to ask God’s help. God revealed that there was an accursed thing in the camp – a sin, a secret sin, that had been committed, cherished and had gone unconfessed.
What was the trouble about? Achan had found the spoils of
war in Jericho – a goodly Babylonish garment, 200 shekels of silver, a wedge
of gold of 50 shekels weight. They may have been nothing in themselves, but they
represented a treacherous departure from the Lord. The spoils of war were to be
set aside for God, therefore for someone else to appropriate them was sacrilege.
This brought a curse on the people. The silver and gold was holy to the Lord,
and meant to be brought into His treasury. Everything else was to have been
burnt with fire.
The punishment was very severe,
affecting the whole camp, in order to impress on the nation the necessity of
perfect obedience, the danger of evil beginnings, and the need for helping one
another. Therefore sin was not just disobedience but violation of the divine
covenant, sacrilege and robbery of God.
The first lesson we learn from
this passage is about covetousness. Achan saw, then he coveted. Andrew Fuller
wrote, “Covetousness will probably prove to be the cause of the eternal
overthrow of more character among professing Christians than any other sin
because it is almost the only crime which can be indulged in and the professor
of religion be supported at the same time.”
Achan professed to be a servant
of God, a member of the commonwealth of Israel, a man of privilege. He was
certainly not a poor man with a starving family. He was of the tribe of Judah
which was to have the largest lot in the land of Canaan. But he could not wait
for God’s time
Wanting things that do not
belong to us leads to compromise in business, failure to be strictly honest,
bills unpaid, living above means, robbing God of tithes, using God given talents
for own reputation rather than the glory of God, squandering time selfishly. No
court of law can punish covetousness, for it is concerned only with overt
actions, and not motive within the breast. Yet covetousness is the source of so
Secondly we learn the peril of
disobedience. God said, “Destroy it”, and Achan said, “No, I will keep
it.” This was downright and deliberate disobedience. Has God spoken to you
through His Word or through conscience? Have you excused yourself, put it off,
and thought you would decide for Christ some other time? Has God spoken to you
about Christian service? Or someone you need to speak to? Or a friendship you
need to make? Baptism, or attendance at the Lord’s Supper? If He has spoken
and you are being disobedient – that will have a disastrous effect on your
Thirdly, this passage warns us against hypocrisy – pretending obedience when it is not there. It is easy to give the impression that all is well, and that we are walking obediently with God, saying the right things, being known as a good man, and a solid pillar of the work. Yet to harbour a secret sin, side by side with your profession. No one knows. No one would guess. It is hidden. But God knows and we know. Deceit is there, a lie being acted out.
We do not know whether it was a sudden gust of temptation
that swept Achan before it, or weakness of character of long-standing growth.
Either way, the consequences were disastrous. Sin was encouraged, played with,
harboured, and it left its mark. Sin never leaves us untouched or unharmed. Sin,
even secret sin, will find us out. Sin poisons us secretly from beneath. The
song goes out of our life, it becomes increasingly evident that we are out of
touch with God, we speak without conviction, our service is barren, our prayer
lacks reality, and things just don’t ring true. Sin hinders our own life, or
Christian service, and it affects others.
Achan’s sin affected his
family, his tribe and his nation. None of us lives to himself and none of us
sins or dies to himself. Sin affects our family circle, our Christian work, the
Christian community, and ultimately the world. There is grief when youngsters do
not make a profession or go on in the things of God – but what do they see or
hear at home that would help them? No Christian grows cold and prayerless
without affecting the church. None of us is lost in the crowd and can be
The testimony of the church depends on the spiritual life of every member without exception. We either help it or we hinder it. One unrepentant sinner can undo much good. The sin of a fellow worker can affect all in that working community. The sin of a father or mother can affect the children. The sin of a fellow church member can affect the whole fellowship.
Sin and failure have to be
confessed. Joshua was on his face before the Ark of the Covenant. He confessed
defeat, weakness and shame. Grieved because of the shame that had come on the
people of God, and the shame brought to the Lord’s name and cause. But God was
not content with that. It is not enough to acknowledge the symptoms. The cause
must be sought out and put right. Get thee ; wherefore liest thou thus upon
thy face. Israel hath sinned and they have transgressed my covenant (Joshua
7:10,11) The Lord revealed the root cause – covetousness, disobedience and
hypocrisy. Up, sanctify the people (Joshua 7:13). The story of the tribes
is investigated. Judah is taken, then the family of the Zarhites. Then Zabdi,
then Achan. The sin is discovered and punished.
How sin has to be dealt with
ruthlessly and thoroughly. No use dealing with part but leaving a little. This
only leaves a bridgehead for the devil to use again. It is costly to deal with
sin. The second hand car salesman has to be honest about the cars he sells –
even if it halves his income. It is costly to be honest. It is costly to be
right with God. It costs jobs, engagement, prospects, family connections,
inheritance, friendship of loved ones, favour of fellow Christians. But there is
no escape and no substitute. The Lord warned, Neither will I be with you any
more except ye destroy the accursed from among you (Joshua 7:12).
Achan was stoned and his body
burnt. A heap of stones was piled up. The terrible punishment showed the
seriousness of sin. We must either deal with sin or be cut off from vital
contact with God, blessing and usefulness.
Sin is put away in the camp of Israel, and victory is regained, progress is resumed, and they move on to take full possession of the land. But the story of Achan stands to remind us of the seriousness of sin, how it robs, spoils and ruins lives.
Are you conscious of anything
that needs to be put right? Yield to God. Let God have His way. And if sin is
serious for the believer, it is even more serious for the unbeliever. Sins
ruins, it leads to hell. Be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers
32:23). You will be found out by a blighted life this side of the grave, and
found out above all at the judgement of God. The enormity will be seen in full
and true colours in a lost eternity. The wages of sin is death (Romans
6:23). How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation (Hebrews
2:3). Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea,
I say unto you, Fear him (Luke 12:5). The Lord hath laid on Him the
iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Christ hath redeemed us from the curse
of the law, being made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). And he is the
propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the
whole world (1 John 2:2). Christ was once offered to bear the sins of
many (Hebrews 9:28).
God delights in mercy. He longs to forgive, to bless and to restore. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).