The Tragedy of Achan
The life of Achan proved to be a tragic waste. There isn’t much we know about him. Maybe he was a great physician. Maybe he was the wealthiest Israelite. Maybe he’d lived a life of amazing adventures and married the girl of his dreams. Maybe—up to the point of his death—he was the envy of everyone who knew him. Even if that were the case, nothing he had done in all his years would prevent the entirety of his life from being a tragedy.
If you don’t remember who Achan was, he was the Israelite who broke the prohibition in Jericho.
God’s command about Jericho were clear. “The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the Lord” (Josh. 6:17). God’s warning was equally clear. “But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it” (Josh. 6:18). Every soldier of Israel understood and obeyed. All except Achan. Despite having seen the tremendous power of God in stopping up the Jordan river and making the walls of Jericho crumble at the sound of a trumpet blast, Achan thought he could get away with stealing from God. For a beautiful mantle, two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold (Josh. 7:21), Achan risked bringing a curse on himself, his family, and his nation.
He was smart enough to hide what he’d done, but not smart enough to realize he couldn’t hide from the Almighty God. He was not wise enough to avoid looking at the shiny spoils and allowing covetousness to poison his heart. In other words, he wasn’t all that smart. And everyone suffered for it.
I wonder how many Israelites thought about Achan after his death.
I imagine there were thirty-six families who could never forget him. They had loved ones who were killed in the first battle of Ai because of Achan’s sin (Josh. 7:5-12). No. I don’t think they’d ever forget what Achan had done.
But I wonder about the rest of Israel. And I specifically wonder about their thoughts during the events recorded in Joshua 8:27 and again in Joshua 11:14. While all of the spoil of Jericho was under a ban and dedicated to God, the spoil of all the other cities conquered after that were not. Their treasures were Israel’s for the picking. When Ai fell, the soldiers grabbed every shiny thing they wanted. They grabbed livestock too. With arms full, they returned to camp and had no need to hide. Then, after every other city they conquered (and there were a lot of them), they filled their arms again or loaded up carts full of spoil. The Bible doesn’t tell us how they carried all the loot, but there was plenty of it. When the conquest ended, Joshua referred to the people as having “great riches” (Josh. 22:8). I wonder if anyone thought about Achan as they kept collecting treasure.
Put yourself in those soldier’s shoes for a second. You are weighed down with riches galore. You have collected everything your heart has desired, over and over again. And then you think about Achan’s corpse lying under a pile of rocks along with his family’s corpses, all because Achan couldn’t resist taking a pitifully small handful of treasure. What would you think of Achan then? What a tragedy, right? If Achan had only waited a little longer (potentially no more than a week longer), he would have had so much more treasure. His family would still be alive. And they would all be rich.
What foolishness. What a tragedy!
But isn’t Achan just a microcosm of all of humanity? God has promised us eternal life (Titus 1:2), a great reward (Lk. 6:23), and a crown (II Tim. 4:8). But instead of waiting for what will be unimaginably great, we catch ourselves coveting the banned things in this life. We all have sinned. Every one of us has chosen to risk everything for the sake of what is banned. But what is promised is eternal and may be so close. We’re not that different from Achan, are we?
Moses shows us a better way of living. He chose “rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:25-26).
Don’t be like Achan. Don’t covet the temporary pleasures of the world and miss out on the immensely superior rewards from God.