Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Sin of Acha... Israel

The story of the sin of Achan has been one that has always disturbed my sensibilities on many levels. Really, I still have more questions than I do answers.

  • Here, you have a nation that shows such faith in God as to send only a few thousand men to conquer Ai, yet He didn't bother to warn them at all about the licking they were about to receive at the hands of their enemies & the loss of 36 lives.

  • Further, it says in verse 1 that "the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things" -- because of the actions of ONE man the whole is judged unfaithful.
  • In verse 10, we're left with the notion that God doesn't want Joshua to pray any longer about an event that had to be extremely disturbing to the Israelites. When coupled with another passage, I get the distinct impression that God gets tired of our blubbering after a while. There comes a point where supplication is rendered void & action is required. Sure, that makes sense, but given all the other eccentricities of this passage it is still unsettling on some level.

  • Once Israel narrows it down to Achan, he confesses that it was indeed him. Hey, at least he didn't pull a Rafael Palmeiro or a Roger Clemens. Or pull a Pete Rose & try to benefit off his "confession," if you can call it that after YEARS of categorical denials only to finally tell the truth by releasing a book to make money off of it (... what a sleazy guy!). Achan is a man & at the least owns up to his sin. And for this, he is stoned.

  • And not only do they stone Achan, but his family with him. And we have no idea whether or not they were even complicit in Achan's deed. Or even knew about it!

I was listening to some Randy Harris from the Tulsa Workshop today, and he took on this passage. He expressed experiencing many of the same troubles that I listed above. Usually, when I think this passage or preach it, I talk about sin. And I talk about how serious God is about sin, holiness, etc. But that's not what Randy addressed.

Randy said that our main problem with this passage that we've never expressed is how sickeningly community-oriented the Israelites were... at least, to us. We embrace such an exorbitant individualism and it is such an epidemic in our culture that the implications of living in community appear almost perverse to us. The therapists among us might even call it "unhealthy." There is spectrum of dependence vs. independence, and we must seek to strike the "healthy balance" of interdependence. At least, that's what I was taught in Christian Home at HU.

God holds the entire nation responsible for the actions of one man. ONE. We don't take responsibility for the deficiencies around us, do we? MLB Commissioner Bud Selig refused to apologize last week for his culpability. A culture of rampant illegal drug usage spirals out of control on his watch, but it was the fault of the individuals who made those decisions. No one has even begun to lay blame at the feet of simple fans like me, even though I continue to purchase apparel, subscribe to MLB.tv each season, and play fantasy baseball. I continue to support a dirty sport, and have not done my part to hold the leaders & participants of the sport accountable for their misdeeds. No, rather, fans like me are either too apathetic to care or too cynical to think anything can be done, so we settle for a synthetic product.

How about more life applicable examples? Abilene Christian University recently apologized to African-Americans for how that institution & its supporting churches treated them in generations past. Why did they do that? Scarcely anyone that is a part of that institution today played a role in that. But at least on this issue, ACU gets it, because they are promoting a sense of community that even shares the responsibility of the misdeeds of their predecessors.

Randy Harris asked if we take responsibility for what's been happening in Sudan? Or all the turmoil of the Middle East, or previously, Eastern Europe? Because we all constitute "the nations."

This contemporary Evangelical business about our "personal relationship with God" that is buoyed by hymns with lyrics like "My God and I walk through the meadow's hue" & "He walks with me & He talks with me"... it's a little off-center. We would do well to re-examine the sense of community promoted within Scripture & the implications that holds for ourselves and what we teach.


Matt said...

Haven't you seen the last 147 sports movies where some guy shows up late or fumbles the ball in the big game and the whole team has to pay for it while he watches?

If I had to guess, Achan was probably sitting in his tent eyeing his pretties while the Israelites went to take Ai. The team paid for his mistake and eventually Achan did too. When I think of this story I think about the contrast between David and Achan. David sinned repeatedly and BIG TIME but he repented when confronted with it. Achan had lots of chances to repent - they called out his tribe and he didn't respond. "No way they could figure out what I did!" They called out his tribe. Still no repentance or confession. Down the line they called all the way down to his family. Still no repentance. David would had been weeping as soon as he heard of the defeat at Ai because that was the kind of man he was. Not Achan and Achan died for it.

III said...

Achan as Gollum, huh? "My prrrecious!"

Floydius said...

Wow, I'm so glad you wrote this! I have preached on this passage more than once and it always generates those disturbed feelings of which you speak. If this were slashdot and I had moderator points, I would mod Matt's comment above 'insightful'.

Never have I considered Achan's opportunities to confess prior to being called out by God. (Is it possible that God had Joshua cast lots instead of revealing Achan directly in order to provide time for a genuine confession?)

One popular take on God's silence about the impending defeat to Ai is that Joshua did not consult God for this attack as he did prior to the siege of Jericho. I think this is a fair assessment, a pattern well attested in the rest of scripture.

What has always plagued me is the destruction of Achan's family. Were we given details concerning the age, composition, and level of complicity of those who were destroyed, we might feel better equipped to judge God's fairness in this decision. Of course the concept of us judging God in any venue is insane at best (Ezekiel 18:25ff). Fortunately, God has set his own standards and deemed to put them in writing. I am certain that we are right to be concerned with justice in all cases. Just a few verses earlier (Ezekiel 18:20), God states, "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself."

Since we do not know for certain the ages of those stoned along with Achan, nor their level of guilt, I think it prudent to trust that God made a righteous judgment. Just for a logical exercise, we know that Achan was at bare minimum 40 and could have been as old as 61. Chances are that his children were not young, and the scripture never mentions his childrens' children (assuming he had grandchildren). Anyway, just a thought.

I liked your choice of words, "sickeningly community-oriented." How true this is! I wonder what the reaction this piece of scripture evokes for those who live in a much more community-oriented society.

Good thoughts, brother. Keep them coming. (Oh, and yes, it does get slow here in the riviera... perhaps I got a *little* melodramatic. :)

Mark said...

Philip, we had a sermon on this very passage Sunday night that was fantastic, dealing with secret sin. This passage definitely has community applications as well, and you have done a great job of bringing them out here. Glad to have you back and blogging.

III said...

Thanks for the lengthy response, floydius. You're right, of course, about giving God the benefit of the doubt concerning his righteous judgment. I too wonder how a passage like this might play in, say, Japan -- a country that is more communally or family oriented. A country or society where loyalty still has some meaning.

And glad to be back, Mark. ;)

I meant to put this in the blog, but its true that when we come together for church services that we are usually groups of familiar strangers. Churches that aggressively make small groups an integral ministry in their church are the exception to this, and that is the direction we need to move in. We are socially deficient in so many ways. I remember reading a Ben Witherington blog entry about our churches should be more like the TV show "Cheers." Not only a place "where everybody knows your name," but a place where people go deep with one another.

Anyway, yet another priortiy for us in an imperfect world working with imperfect systems relative to groups of believers... ;-)