Forty years Israel wandered in the desert, waiting for a generation of disobedient, doubting unbelievers to die. Even Moses had to die. And then the day came when God told Joshua to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Scout it out, He said. Cross the Jordan, He said. Consecrate yourselves, He said. Take Jericho, He said. They did. Over and over and over again, they obediently followed the instruction and provision of God.
Take Ai, He said. They didn’t. Or, more precisely, they couldn’t.
What happened? The sin of one man happened. A Lone Ranger by the name of Achan decided that he deserved the spoils of war. What was he thinking? Maybe that all conquerors took the possessions of the ones they defeated and so these trifles were deserved. Maybe the beauty of the mantle, silver and gold were too alluring to resist. “Maybe,” he rationalized, “in the scheme of things, these are just a minor token of the conquest. They won’t be missed. It’s just a little indulgence.” We don’t know for sure. We do know what God thought.
God thought knew it was sin. And Achan paid with his life and with the lives of his family — his sons, his daughters, and even his oxen, donkeys, sheep, and tent. All of it was taken. [It should also be noted that as much as he took, he very likely needed help to take it and hide it. The other family members were likely just as involved in the theft as Achan.]
Thus the pride that convinced him that it was more important that he possess the object than God and his lack of trust that convinced him God would not provide what he needed, led him down a short path to death. And all of this came in the shadow of the conquest at Jericho!
In fact, Achan participated in that Jericho victory. Six days he obediently walked around those walls. [Was he even then contemplating his sin, while on the outside still appearing to be obedient? Perhaps.] On the seventh day he obediently went into the city and participated in God’s righteous judgment of Jericho. He too was incapacitated at Gilgal as he obediently underwent circumcision, along with all the rest of his male family members. He too in obedience trusted God as he crossed the Jordan. He too consecrated himself as he prepared to cross the Jordan (Josh. 3:5). He too willingly submitted himself to the godly leadership of Joshua (1:10-18). Don’t miss all this. He was prepared — even (by appearances at least) spiritually. And he was overcome by temptation anyway.
Like Achan, our failures may also come when we least expect them — after a great victory, in the midst of personal spiritual fervor and revival, or even after the recovery from a great failure. Our failure will inevitably arise when we allow temptation to lead us into “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16; cf. also Achan’s own affirmation of what went wrong in 7:21). And those failures come when we fail to make ourselves accountable to God, walking humbly before Him.
Every sin — every indulgence of the flesh — is a movement away from God and is therefore no slight dalliance of the soul. Every sin is a danger to the life of the soul of the man of God.