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"Achan’s Avarice and the Key to Spiritual Victory"

Apr.17/16 Joshua 7:1,10-15


In case you missed it, there was a “Sunday Morning Smile” in our bulletin 4 weeks ago that ties in well with today’s theme, so here it is – one of those apocryphal “died and went to heaven and met St.Peter at the pearly gates” ones.

      Once there was a rich man who was near death. He was very grieved because he had worked so hard for his money and he wanted to be able to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might take some of his wealth with him.

      His plea was heard and an angel appeared to him, saying, "Sorry, but you can't take your wealth with you." The man implored the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules just this once. The man continued to pray that his wealth could follow him.

      Soon after, the angel reappeared and informed the man that God had decided to allow him to take just one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man gathered his largest suitcase, filled it with pure gold bars, and placed it beside his bed.

      Soon afterward, he died and showed up at the Gates of Heaven to greet St.Peter. The apostle, seeing the suitcase exclaimed, "Hold on, you can't bring that in here!" But, the man explained to St.Peter that he had received special permission and suggests he verify his story with the Lord. Sure enough, St. Peter checked and came back saying, "You're right.You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I'm supposed to check its contents before letting it through."

      St.Peter opened the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind. His jaw dropped open and he exclaimed, "You brought pavement?!"

      Luke 16:15b “What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.” Today we look at the subject of greed - coveting - avarice, and encounter a man who by treasuring what was forbidden unwittingly brought great trouble on himself, his family, and his nation.


The Israelites were on a roll as they neared the Promised Land. When attacked by Sihon king of the Amorites and then Og king of Bashan, they had defeated both (Number 21). Regarding Og, Numbers 21:34 “The LORD said to Moses, "Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land.” When Balak king of Moab hired Balaam to come and curse the Israelites, God turned it into a blessing instead. The Israelites took vengeance on the Moabites for seducing some into the worship of Baal (Numbers 25, 31).

      After Moses dies, under Joshua the Israelites miraculously were able to cross the Jordan River even though it was in full flood (Joshua 3). Next they faced a formidable obstacle: the city of Jericho, a valuable strategic point which guarded the ford of the river at the north end of the Dead Sea. One of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho was a well-protected city atop a steep hill. Yet the Lord directed the Israelites to simply march around the city for a week, and on the seventh day when they shouted the walls collapsed and they captured the city.

      Jericho’s name in Hebrew means “moon city”, so it seems to have been a centre for the worship of the moon god. Joshua had given the orders for its complete destruction in 6:17f: “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD...Keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them.Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it.”

      If the invasion of Canaan seems harsh to you, don’t forget the Israelites were carrying out God’s judgment on the inhabitants for their sinful ways. Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, “However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them— the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites— as the LORD your God has commanded you.Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.” All of us have sinned, from Adam and Eve on down; God is not unjust or acting unfairly to take any human’s life at any time, He created us, we belong to Him. Yet in the case of the people of Canaan, it seems their sins were SO bad, God appointed the people of Israel to completely “devote” them to Him by the sword. John MacArthur notes the word “devoted / doomed” in 6:17 is a Hebrew term meaning ‘utterly destroyed’, “i.e.to ban or devote as spoil for a deity”.

      So Jericho, a key fortress, had been totally vanquished. Next the Hebrews advanced to the city of Ai, which scouts advised should not take more than a troop of about 3,000 soldiers to deal with. Joshua 7:4bf describes what SHOULD have been an easy expedition: “...but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them.They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes.At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.”

      Joshua the leader tears his clothes, falls facedown before the Ark till evening, and prays a very honest heartfelt prayer. God answers and explains what’s the matter in v11, “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.” We’re told specifically back at the beginning of chapter 7, “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel.”

      God explains this is a violation of the covenant – also v15, “He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!” It’s a fundamental dishonouring of God, showing disrespect, taking what was supposed to be dedicated to the deity.

      It’s because of this one man’s sin that the whole nation is being defeated, stopped in their progress. They just CANNOT STAND. Vv12-13 “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...That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.”

      They had been doing so well – chalking up success after success, because the Lord was with them, they were doing it HIS way. But one sinful act fouled everything up.


Even though the thief had hidden the stolen treasure, it would not remain a secret for long. Next day a sorting process (probably using the High Priest’s Urim and Thummim) selected the guilty man. Achan confessed to Joshua in 7:20f “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel.This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

      “I COVETED them” - the Hebrew verb chamad means ‘to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in’. When you think about it, we are a ‘chamad’ society: every 60 minutes you watch TV, about a quarter of that time - 16 minutes - advertisers interrupt attempting to interest you in some chamad-ity or other. When you load up a webpage, often there are ads at the top or along the side, dancing feverishly enticing you to chamad. Drive along the highway or freeway and suddenly up pops a billboard with another distraction in chamading.

      What Achan did seemed so normal, excusable – such a beautiful garment and valuable treasure. But he took for himself what was meant to be devoted to God. Sin has drastic consequences. The only way ahead for the community is to execute judgment on him. Treasuring the forbidden has brought trouble on all. Vv25f “Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them.Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day.Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor [‘trouble’] ever since.”

      Achan’s name became synonymous with trouble because he violated God’s covenant, he countered God’s claim on the people. About a thousand years after the event, the genealogy in 1Chronicles 2 assimilates the very form of his name to the literal Hebrew for “trouble” - Achan to Achar: 1Chron 2:7 “The son of Carmi: Achar, who brought trouble [akar] on Israel by violating the ban on taking devoted things.” How’s that for a lasting legacy? Your very name spells trouble!


God warns us throughout the Bible about the sin of coveting, greed, or avarice.

      We are COMMANDED not to covet, right from the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:17 (cf Dt 5:21) “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” In the New Testament, Jesus warns us in Mark 7:22f, “greed...envy...folly: all these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” Paul writes to the church, Eph 5:3 “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”

      Coveting is shortsighted because the things we’re tempted to covet are temporary, not eternal; they COMPOST. Prov 23:5 “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” Jesus pointed out this temporary-ness in Mt 6:19f “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Cf Lk 12:33) Paul wrote to Timothy, 1Tim 6:17 “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

      Perhaps most significantly, coveting encourages something else to COMPETE with God for our focus and treasuring. It denies God His rightful place in our life. Job 31:24,28 “"If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,...then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.” KJV “denied” God. Prov 30:8f “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’...”

      Coming to the New Testament - Jesus warned in Mt 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.You cannot serve both God and Money.” Take your pick – it’s one or the other: greed for wealth competes with love for God. Recall Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils in Mt 13:22 “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Weeds COMPETE with the crop, thwarting a harvest. Mt 19:24 (Jesus had a lot to say about this topic!) “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And 1John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Love for worldly things is antithetical, opposes or competes with, love.

      The Apostle Paul gets even more explicit about the dynamic that’s really going on here. In 1Corinthians 5:11 coveting is associated with something even more sinister: “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.With such a man do not even eat.” In his later letters he proceeds to make a direct connection. Eph 5:5 “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person— such a man is an idolater— has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Again in Colossians 3:5 “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

      I doubt if you’ve been to any temples of foreign gods to burn incense this past week. We don’t even HAVE any temples of Zeus or Thor or Buddha located close by! But have you “worshipped” the Almighty Dollar? Been tempted by a Tesla that in ‘ludicrous’ mode can go from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds? Drooled over the latest Apple iPhone? Foamed at the mouth over the latest spring fashions? Patted yourself on the back over your burgeoning RRSP? These too can become forms of idolatry, worshipping or treasuring some material thing in place of our Creator.

      One last category: the apostles even talk in such a way as to suggest that coveting CONTAMINATES. Paul writes in Titus 1:7, “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless— not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.” KJV “greedy for filthy lucre” – the adjective in the Greek indicates something shameful. Another apostle, Peter uses the very same term telling pastor/elders in 1Pet 5:2 they should exercise oversight “not for sordid gain but eagerly.” (NRSV) Quite a different view of money than you would find on Wall Street or Bay Street!


Last Sunday our congregation agreed to continue investigating a property that’s for sale recommended by our Future Accommodation Committee, through Church Council. Part of determining the financial feasibility of such a project is having a “capital campaign” where your church leaders ask members and adherents how much they would be willing to pledge towards a new(to us) building. The Biblical teaching on greed and covetousness reminds us to seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness – His priorities – then our other practical life needs, including food and clothes, will fall into place (Mt 6:33). We hope the Lord will lead you to respond generously in a way that allows this project to go forward – partly so our children can benefit from a better environment for our church’s Christian Education program. Perhaps there are other calls on your resources at present, and we understand that. But beware the attitude of Achan, who would steal from what ought to be devoted to God. His greed and disobedience held back and harmed the whole community in their progress forward in God’s plan for them. Elude the claws of coveting! Cultivate instead a trust and dependence on God, who supplies us with all we need to accomplish His will. Be like the righteous person who trusts in the Lord and whose heart is secure in Ps 112: as v5 notes, “Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.” Good – not trouble! Let’s pray.