Tuesday, October 11, 2011

His Achan-breakin' heart

"The Lord turned 
from the fierceness of His anger"
Joshua 7:26

I'm thinking today about anger.  No, I'm not mad at anyone; I'm thinking, actually, about God's anger.  I'm continuing my reading in the Book of Joshua, and in chapter 7, God had reason to be angry with His chosen people.  In chapter 6, the Israelites had taken the city of Jericho, destroying the city entirely.  God had commanded them to take no spoils for themselves ~ and He had been very clear.  "By all means, abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.  The silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the Lord; they shall come into the treasury of the Lord." (6:18-19)  Really, could He have been any clearer?  He said what not to do, and He said why they shouldn't.

Unfortunately, one man, Achan, had disobeyed.  7:1 says he "took of the accursed things" and in verse 21 he confessed, "When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them."  And so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel.

Now, without knowing any of this, Joshua had organized their next military campaign, against the city of Ai.  He sent spies to scope out the area, and they had reported that based on the size of the city, they believed they needed only 3,000 of their men to take Ai.  But the men of Ai had defeated the 3,000, and sent them fleeing, and 36 Israelites had died.  Upon hearing this news, Joshua tore his clothes and fell on his face before the ark of the covenant.  He cried out in anguish and confusion.  Why had not the Lord been with them?  Why had He allowed them to be defeated so soon after promising them He would be with them?

Why?  Because He was angry.   Now, I completely understand that His reason for being angry, but I do not understand the complexity and scope of His anger.  For starters, Scripture says that Achan disobeyed by wanting, and taking the spoils.   But Achan's family was punished along with him.  Verse 24 says that Achan was stoned to death, along with his sons and daughters.  And earlier, Scripture says that the anger of the Lord burned "against the children of Israel."  Why all of them?  Why was He assigning the blame to the group as a whole?

I don't know the answers to these questions.  Some things we will only know in heaven.  And by then, we might not even care anymore.   But there are some facts that I do know, that I'm relying on to help me understand His reaction.

Fact #1:  God had to do something.  Sin cannot go unpunished.  Achan had disobeyed the command, breaking the covenant the Israelites had with God.  His crime had been directly against God.  In addition, the campaign against Ai had been a failure, and it was Achan's fault.  36 men had died, 36 families suffered, because of his disobedience.

Fact #2: God is fair.  It's entirely possible that Achan's family knew about his crime.  After all, the booty was all hidden under the floor of his tent.  They lived there too.  Could they have been completely unaware?  In addition, there was a lot of stuff that he stole:  "a Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels." Now, I don't think it weighed a lot, but I'm guessing he also had a weapon in his hand, and there were presumably other Israelites nearby when he grabbed all this.  Had someone helped him?  Had someone seen him?  This is all surmising, but as I say, I trust in God's justice, so this is just a possible explanation for His anger toward more than just Achan.

Fact #3:  Israel, as a group, was God's chosen people.  Ever since they had left Egypt, they had been blessed or punished as a group.  This treatment continues here.  This is not as familiar to us, as we no longer depend on priests as a go-between for us with God.  Since the coming of the Messiah here on earth, we have the individual choice to believe or not believe; to obey or not obey.  But it's important to remember that it was not always that way.

Fact #4:  God's anger is never irrational.  God is only capable of righteous anger.  This is a level of perfection that is beyond us.  Our anger is based on feelings ~ sometimes wrong.  God's anger is based on fairness and justice, and an absolute hatred of sin.  God cannot abide sin, and so responds in the only way possible.  It's sort of like "for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction."  He has no choice but to hate sin, and He has no choice but to treat it as it should be treated.  To do any less would render Him somehow indecisive or unpredictable.

The other thing I know for sure, is that God is love.  His motivation, His goal, His purpose and His actions are premised upon love.   It can be no other way.   I cannot rely on, cannot have faith in, His love without trusting His other characteristics as well.

~ "Do you show contempt
 for the riches of His kindness, 
tolerance and patience, 
not realizing that God's kindness 
leads you towards repentance?" ~
Romans 2:4

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