Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

The Story of Achan

(Sunday School Lesson)

Background Passage: Joshua 7:1-26
Focal Passage: Joshua 7:6-7, 10-13, 16-21, 24-26


Let’s back up a few weeks and recap what’s already happened.

God had given the land of Canaan to the Israelites, but they still had to take it away from those who lived there.
That was easier said than done, since Israel was blocked by the Jordan River, which was at that time at flood stage.
But God made a way—He stopped the flow of the River and Israel crossed on dry ground.
The first city they faced was Jericho.
When they were taking Jericho the Israelites were commanded by God to spare Rahab and her family and not to take for themselves certain things that belonged to God.  
God said, “And all the silver, and gold, and vessels of copper and iron, shall be holy to Jehovah; they shall come into the treasury of Jehovah.” 

Chapter 7 begins by telling us that the children of Israel committed a sin against the LORD; but it was only one man that did it.
It was Achan who committed the sin, but the whole nation had to suffer because of what Achan did. 
Achan took some loot from the ruins of Jericho; he took some gold, silver and a valuable garment and he hid them in a hole he dug in the ground near the center of his tent.
Probably no one on earth, with the possible exception of his family, saw what he did, but God saw and He was very angry at the whole nation because of what Achan did. 
We find that hard to understand; that God would punish a whole nation because of what one person did. 
But our ways are not His ways.
Besides that, He did it twice before and the first time was way back at the beginning.
The first sin; the sin of Adam and Eve has affected every person born since then.
Because of that one sin everyone is born with Adam’s nature and in a lost condition
Later God punished the Egyptians, because Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Israelites leave Egypt.
He went as far as taking the life of the first born male child in every household.

In the New Testament John was given a message from Jesus about seven churches.
One was in the city of Pergamos. 
He told that church that they were going to be punished for not confronting a woman in the congregation called Jezebel, who was involved in fornication. 
Jesus said that He would make her sick and kill her children, unless she repented; her children would be punished for what she did.
A modern day example would be the natural disasters we have experienced in the last few years.
Did God send them?
We don’t know.
But if He didn’t send them, He at least knew all about it, and He didn’t stop them from taking lives and destroying homes.

Sometimes I think we forget that God does not only love, but that He is also a just God who punishes sin.
Let’s remember that every sin we commit is a sin against God, and that sin not only hurts us, it also hurts others, and it hurts our relationship with the Father.

The story of Achan is a story of theft and deception and punishment.
People who steel may not be very smart according to an article I read.
The article said that those who steal aren’t too bright and here’s some evidence to prove it: A burglar in New Jersey stuck a piece of paper in the lock of an office building so he could later return for the heist.
The police had no problem locating the thief because the paper he used was a parking ticket that clearly identified who he was and where he lived.

A twenty-two-year-old man in Wichita, Kansas, got arrested for trying to pass counterfeit money at an airport hotel.
The counterfeit loot was two $16 bills.

Policemen in Rhode Island knew they had apprehended the right suspect when it came time to post bail.
The man was charged with a string of vending machine robberies and paid his $400 bail entirely in quarters.

God says stealing is a sin, and sin always has consequences.
You never get away with sin, because “Your sins will find you out.”

Soon after Jericho’s defeat, Joshua sent some of his men to spy on the city of Ai.
It was a small city with around 12,000 residents, and when the spies compared it to Jericho it looked to them like it was going to be an easy victory.
When they returned to camp they told Joshua, “It’s a small city and it won’t take more than two or three thousand of us to destroy it; there’s no point in all of us going there.”
So approximately three thousand soldiers were sent—and they were soundly defeated.
About thirty-six of the Israelis were killed during the attack, and many others died while being chased by the men of Ai.
The Israeli army was paralyzed with fear by this turn of events.
Their success at Jericho had given them confidence in God and in themselves. 
However, defeat sometimes leads people to abandon their faith in God, when they need it the most.
We forget that God doesn’t always see us through difficulties without blood and toil, sweat and tears, and disappointment.

Joshua was worried that the low morale of his troops might keep his army from fighting, and that God may have forsaken them.
He was also worried that the Canaanites would have a revival of hope and see them as weak, because they were defeated easily by such a small city.
They might think, “A god who would allow His people to be defeated didn’t have much power.”

Joshua’s sins weren’t responsible for the defeat, but as a leader he was responsible for what his people did.

That’s the background for today’s lesson that begins with verse 6.



6 And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.
7 And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side(of the) Jordan(River)!

Many times defeat comes after victory, because that’s when we least expect it.
That’s when we feel the strongest in ourselves.
And that’s when we should turn to God, and not try to fix the problem ourselves.
Self-confidence can be dangerous, as we’re told in 1 Corinthians 10:12; “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

Have you known people who were smart, highly educated and perhaps wealthy that seemed to be able to do anything they set their mind to?
They’re cocky and they think they don’t need God, and then they catch a virus and die, or they are killed in a car wreck or plane crash.

Israel had become proud and they thought that God would always help them, but they were wrong.
God helped them defeat Jericho, but he didn’t give them any help when they attacked Ai.
The people didn’t pray before going against Ai, and the Lord didn’t command them to go, as He had commanded them to take Jericho.
Consequently, they learned painfully that all was not well; something had changed.
The Canaanites were not any stronger, but Israel was weaker, and the reason was that sin had entered the camp.

Joshua tore his clothes as a public display of grief, and then he fell to the ground and put dust on his head.
That’s when he began to sing the blues.
We have heard this song before.
When the children of Israel were in the wilderness they complained that God had brought them there to die from thirst and hunger.

Now Joshua’s prayer blames God for their defeat.
He tells God that he’s sorry that they ever entered the Promised Land, and that they would be better off if they had stayed on the other side of the Jordan River.
But wanting to return to the past doesn’t help us deal with the present or prepare for the future, because we can’t change a thing.
Instead of longing to return to the past we need to ask what God wants us to do now.

Can any good come out of our failures? What do you think? (I like the words to a song that says, “I can’t even walk without You holding me hand.” Our failures reveal how weak and puny we really are.  We can learn from them and grow in faith and we might be a little bit smarter.)

Joshua continued to pray, “What can I say to encourage the people who will be downcast by this defeat, while their enemies will become more courageous. When the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land hear about it they will surround us and wipe us out forever; and that will hurt your great name.”
The disgrace that sin brings upon the kingdom of God is a real and very terrible thing.

Beginning in verse 10 we have God’s answer to Joshua.


10 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?

Joshua is having a pity Party and God had enough of it, so He tells him to get up and act like a man. 
God wants him to take some action and find the cause of the sin.

The LORD told Joshua that this wasn’t a time for prayer but a time for action.
We are told in the Bible to pray about all things, but don’t you think there is a time to get up off your knees and take action; go to that lost person you have been praying for and show him how to become a child of God?  What do you think?

The Lord said in verse 11—
11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also (used deception), and they have put it even among their own stuff.

God told Joshua that the main cause of the defeat at Ai was that—“Israel hath sinned.”
Joshua didn’t know that Israel had sinned.
Notice that God said the people had sinned although later He accused one man and his family.
We know that sin is always at the root of spiritual failures.
But Joshua didn’t have the spiritual discernment that was in the early church.

When Ananias and Sapphira lied about their property in Acts 5, the Holy Spirit brought it out immediately.
The early church was very sensitive to sin, and the story of this couple shows that we should deal with sin ASAP.
God told His people not to take the things that belonged to Him, and then He gave them a list of those things.
By stealing God’s possessions they had broken the covenant they had made with Him.
In verse 12, He tells Israel that they must get those things back or He won’t help them any more.

12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you

God told Joshua that sin was in the camp and he would have to deal with it.
He said, “That is why you lost the battle.”
Someone had taken that which belonged to God, and unless they found out who the culprit was and punished him, He would leave them.
In the Lord’s eyes, all Israel had sinned, therefore He said, “Sanctify the people. “
Joshua in turn told the people to sanctify themselves for the next day, when they were to present themselves to God.

What do you think they did to sanctify themselves—(Pray or made animal sacrifices?)

The Lord told Joshua, “In the morning you must present yourselves by tribes, and the Lord will point out the tribe to which the guilty man belongs. That tribe must come forward with its clans, and the Lord will point out the guilty clan. That clan will then come forward, and the Lord will point out the guilty family. Finally, each member of the guilty family must come one by one. The one who has stolen what was set apart for God will himself be burned with fire, along with everything he has, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord and has done a horrible thing in Israel.”

Here God gives them detailed instructions on what they are to do to find the guilty party.



16 So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken:
17 And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken:
18 And he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

Don’t you think the tension mounted as the selection process moved along?
The process by which the offender was discovered is not explained, but by whatever method, God is the One who pointed out the guilty person.
God knew what Achan had done, so when Joshua brought the tribes, then the families, and then the households and had them stand before God, God Himself is the one who pointed them out.

In verse 19 it says—

19 And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.

Joshua asked Achan to confess his sin.
The Hebrews considered even confessing sin to be a form of praising God, because when you confess to Him you are acknowledging His holiness.

Joshua used the term “My son”.
He didn’t seem to have any animosity toward Achan.
The expression, “My son,” seems almost to imply a belief that, though Achan must undergo the most severe penalty the law in this world can impose, Joshua hoped that he might be forgiven in the next.

But Achan didn’t immediately step forward and confess voluntarily.
That may indicate a lack of repentance on his part, and perhaps on the part of his family as well. But finally he did admit his sin...

20 And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done:
21 When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

Although God pointed the finger at Achan, Achan himself needed to confess his sin before the people. 
He confessed, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel.”

But words don’t always indicate genuine repentance and confession.
Pharaoh used similar words, but he returned to attempt to defeat God’s purpose for Israel, by not allowing them to leave.

Saul used them, but only after he denied the evidence of his guilt.

Judas used them, and then went out and hanged himself.

Why do you think Achan confessed his sins? Was it because he was caught? Was it out of fear of God? Was he convicted by Joshua’s words? Was there another reason? What do you think?
Why didn’t Achan’s confession bring him God’s forgiveness?
The answer could be that the confession came too late—it came only after he was found out, cornered and exposed.
Such a confession doesn’t show evidence of real repentance.

Achan confessed and then he told them where the gold, silver, and valuable garment was hidden.
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent and everything was right where he said it would be.
They brought it all to Joshua and spread it out on the ground for all of Israel to see.
I believe that Achan’s sin and Eve’s sin had the same root cause—they coveted—they wanted something that wasn’t theirs.
In both cases the deadliness of sin can be clearly seen.

Jesus taught us that sin begins in the heart with our desires.

24 And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.
25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.
26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day (the day on which this was written).

Was Achan’s family punished for his sin?
I can think of some possible reasons.
1. The Israelites believed in corporate guilt. The individual’s guilt was also the family’s guilt.
2. It could be that even though they didn’t participate in the crime, they knew about it and they participated in the cover-up.
3. Perhaps they were being punished for their own sin, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
4. Perhaps God wanted to teach a lesson; that sin is never private. It does more than hurt us; it hurts those closest to us as well.
5. We aren’t told why, but the severity of the punishment shows how much God hates sin.

When we sin, what should we do? Two things—
 Confess it.
 Ask for forgiveness.

The Bible says that if we will do that that God will forgive us and cleans us from all unrighteousness.

I came across this story of a woman, Marjorie Holmes, who was struggling with some past failures in her life until she got an interesting letter from a friend.
The stationery recounted a recent visit this woman had with her granddaughter when they went to see a plane write messages in the sky.
The young girl loved watching the words being drawn in the air, but was puzzled when the letters started disappearing.
She studied the situation for a moment then suddenly blurted out, “Maybe Jesus has an eraser!”

When we find ourselves wrestling with our own failures, we can take comfort in the fact that God is able to erase all of our failures with his remarkable eraser . . . a cross.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now for the rest of the story.”
They attacked Ai a second time with totally different results.
This time they went with the assurance that God would help.
Ironically, this time God allowed the Israelites to take some of the spoils of Ai and keep it for themselves.
So if Achan had been patient he would have received some of the spoils of Ai as a gift from the Lord.

What can we learn from this lesson that would make us better leaders?
1. Leaders must be willing to confront sin and sinners, even from among their own group.
2. Confrontation is never easy, but sometimes it’s necessary. It should always be done humbly with the full assurance of our own sins and failures.
3. When we knowingly allow serious sin to go on among us, we share in the guilt. You can find sin in any congregation. Some sins, however, are so serious that if we fail to deal with them we are inviting God’s judgment.

I like this quote about good leaders, “Good leaders inspire people to have confidence in them, great leaders inspire people to have confidence in themselves.”

Any Questions or comments?


Do you have any questions or comments?

 On October 23, 1996, NBC’s Today show was forced into making a point for pro-life even though the now retired host, Bryant Gumbel, is an outspoken opponent of this position. He was interviewing Albert and Angela Valencia along with their four-year-old daughter, Priscilla. National attention had come to this family because little Priscilla had saved her mother’s life by calling 911 when Angela fell to the floor and became unconscious while bleeding internally. Gumbel asked the little girl a few questions, interviewed the 911 operator, and spoke with the father. The interview then took an interesting twist when Mrs. Valencia said, “I do want to add, when I was lying in the hospital, I could only remember thinking back because I had Priscilla pretty young, at fifteen.” Counselors told her, “Have an abortion; you’re too young.” Gumbel responded by noting, “Instead she turns around and saves your life.” Angela replied, “Yeah, and I think that’s important; I think young girls today, even if you’re pregnant, you need to think twice; it could save your life.” I wonder how many additional lives have been lost because we aborted the babies who would have lived to save them.

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