Thursday, February 25, 2021

Achan's "Little" Sin--Part I

So, in we go to the Land where we walk with Jesus and re-establish God's presence on earth, one saved soul at a time.  

We still pray for daily bread and God's provision in all that we do.  We drink of Jesus--the Water of life that will never run dry.

But the desert was preparation for the invasion of where God wants us to live, work and witness: the real world of "Canaan." 

Moses went into the desert to learn to shepherd.  He learned the patience and leadership skills necessary to herd animals; he transferred those lessons to herding an unruly group of former slaves.  He left the desert to confront where his enemy worked and lived: the Pharaoh in Egypt and the slavery that made the children of Israel forget who they were.  He then had to return to the desert with his new "herd"--they needed to learn utter dependence, every single day, on God's trustworthiness.

John the Baptist went into the desert, watching and waiting for the Lamb Who would take away the sins of the world.  He taught that how you behave is as important as what you believe, and simply considering yourself a child of Abraham was not enough.  Acting ethically towards others is the first step that shows a changed heart.

Jesus went into the desert, not to stay, but learn the ways and deceits of His enemy.  His enemy didn't hesitate to show up; he pulled out accusation, insinuation and Scripture to waylay the Son of God.  Jesus leaned on His Father every day for provision and walked out of the desert prepared for the long walk to the cross.

So, here we are, in the Land and ready to take it, although in Christ, it is already ours:  Our salvation is assured if we accept and then walk obediently with Jesus in our hearts.  

We get the lay of the Land from the Word.  It tells us of the human heart and its deceit; it tells of our nature and how we need a Savior; it extols the redeeming work of Jesus and it tells us to stand, armored up and ready to do battle.

First up from our biblical recon:  Our enemy knows we are coming.  Just as Rahab says, 

I know that the Lord has given to you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. (Josh. 2:9)

Does that mean that Satan just faded away when the stone rolled away and Jesus emerged victoriously?  No.  The people of Canaan in their fear of the Israelites rallied and fought back, knowing that their way of life was going to be under siege.  Satan is no different.  He comes out swinging as you enter this Land.  He will do whatever he can to drive you out and thus allow his numbered days on earth to be more fruitful without you around.  

You will face Sihons and Ogs: Satan will send out "kings" with a grand show of force, hoping to instill such fear in you that you beat a retreat.  Ever-changing cultural norms; repackaged and rebranded forms of sin; insinuation; accusation and the twisting of Scripture will be used with temerity by Satan's "kings"--people of influence and power, to push back on you being in the Land.  

You will have a Jordan to cross:  Not a measly creek, but a raging river--"flood stage" as the Word puts it.  You look at it and think, "I will be swept away by this."  Yes.  On your own power, you will be.  But if you humble yourself before God ("Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you," instructs Joshua in 3:5) and do as He instructs, the water will not drown you.  In Chapter 3 of Joshua, the Lord tells Joshua to have the priests carrying the Ark  of the Covenant to go into the Jordan river ahead of everyone else.  God always goes first in our endeavors.  The priests step into the water (picture this--into raging waters they go, carrying a rather heavy object on poles) and the waters will stop flowing.  The people then proceed to cross on dry ground.  

God will make a way for us to cross as well:  

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior..." (Isaiah 43:1-3)

This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
    who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
   “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
   See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland."  (Isaiah 43:16-19)

Precedent, pure and simple.  Joshua could remind the people of the Red Sea; Isaiah could remind the people of the Red Sea and the Jordan; what does the Holy Spirit remind you of?  Do you remember the times He made a way and you "crossed over" on dry ground with a song of hope in your heart?  Gather up those standing stones if you have not done so already, and set them up, to remind you of His faithfulness in the face of raging circumstances.  

You'll face "circumcision":  You'll endure personal pain and suffering, in other words.  You'll have to stay in camp until you are healed (Josh. 5:8).  You'll have to wait until it is God's will to move, and if you are not ready yet, wait.  God is patient.  

You will have a Passover meal:  You will feast on the Bread of Life, for Jesus and the Word will be your nourishment.  The manna is now gone--you will prepare the feast in the presence of your enemies, remembering how Jesus' death set you free. (Josh. 5:10-12)  You will eat gladly, even if your enemy eyes you with disdain.

You will face Jerichos:  heavily fortified habits; relationships; seemingly impregnable challenges that you alone could never surmount.  But notice in Chapter 5 of Joshua, Joshua meets the "commander of the Lord's army" before he takes on Jericho.  God always comes first.  

Jericho was "tightly shut up because of the Israelites." (Josh. 6:1)  Satan's kingdom looks very "tightly shut up," but no worries.  Be obedient to the process God wants you to follow, and the walls will come down.  But then, in the victorious ruins of Jericho, sin pops up.  It always does: 

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov. 4:23)

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matt. 15:9)

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

Jesus gives us a new heart, but our old nature is still in operation as we grow in Him.  Growth in Him means more of Him and less and less of my heart being Lord.  

So, in comes Achan in Joshua, Chapter 7.  He took items from the plunder of Jericho intended for the Lord, and stashed them, in total disobedience to what God had ordained.  Funny, how we think the rules, even God's rules, do not apply to us.  Achan probably thought,

Look.  There's a lot of stuff here.  God wants it all to be dedicated to Him, but a few things here and there will not be missed, right?

The only reason Achan's sin was made manifest was because Joshua and Co. went to Ai and got trounced.  Joshua was utterly devastated and fell before the Lord in complete confusion.  Up until now, the Lord favored the Israelites because they were obedient to the Lord's instructions.  

Why do we think we can cut corners and still be blessed by God?  It's not like Achan went and raped a Canaanite, or murdered one, or participated in their rituals.  He "merely" took a few items.  Right?

Look at what the Lord says,  

The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?  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. 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." (Josh. 7:10-11)

Wow.  Is the Lord overreacting?  That's our human response, isn't it?  Just a "little" sin, or one that doesn't hurt anyone, or one that is consensual, or one that is modern and enlightened...isn't God overreacting?  Are we who call on His name overreacting?  Do we apologize for scriptural passages that dare to suggest that the culture is wrong?  Sinful?  Against God's Word?  How dare us!

But, God takes sin very seriously.  He asked His Son, His one and only Son, to leave the courts of heaven, come to earth and die a hideous death.  On that cross, He was weighed down in darkness with our sin...The darkness was so deep that He cried out, devastated that His Father had forsaken Him.  

That's how serious sin is.  Because our deceitful hearts lie, and tell us that it's a "little" sin; that God is making too big a deal of it and the culture is more enlightened on such matters, we reserve the cross for the BIG SINS.  But, that the Big Sins change with every generation, for every generation wnats to look more enlightened than the one before.  Pride is the driver for how we define dins. 

God made no such distinctions.  To walk victoriously in His Land, we have to confront sin in ourselves:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:3-5)

Planks and specks exist.  Even if we walk in Christ in His Land, we are still sinners, and thus need to be on guard to use the same Biblical standards to assess others' behavior as well as our own: 

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2)

The standard is Christ.  We don't minimize sin or reculturize it to gain favor with the culture. We know the Word and it humbles us.  We present it as God's words whose sole purpose is to keep us in fellowship with Him, by knowing what He desires.  We cannot please Him unless we know what pleases Him.  His Word does just that.  That's how we present it to others.  We don't blind them with its light; we show them God's path. 

So, the Lord asks Joshua to:

Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.' (Josh. 7:13)

Before we approach the sin in others, we must approach it in ourselves, standing in front of God, heart in hand and humbled by our deceitful heart: 

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin...

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge...

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me...

 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51: 1-4, 10-12 & 17)

With that prayer in mind, as we confront the sin in the Land, we are able to act as Peter advised us:  

Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. Make sure that your conscience is perfectly clear, so that if men should speak slanderously of you as rogues they may come to feel ashamed of themselves for libelling your good Christian behaviour. ( 1 Peter 3:1, Phillips)

Next time, we will stand and watch how Achan's sinful choice is dealt with and how Christ is our model now for such encounters.  

Sin is a compromise.  When we compromise, we are not alone in feeling sin's effects. 

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