"Hiding the Accursed Thing"
(Delivered Sunday, July 24, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I'd like to begin this morning by reading briefly from a passage taken from the beginning of the Book of Revelation. It's what comes to my mind when I think of the relationship the Lord Jesus desires to have with His church.
The apostle John was given a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in His resurrection glory. John said that, while in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, he heard a voice speaking behind him. It was the voice of One who spoke as "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last" (Rev. 1:11). Please allow me to read John's description of what he saw in its entirety. John writes,
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two- edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches" (Rev. 1:12-20).
What a picture this is! How could we read this and not be moved to worship our glorious Savior? As an aside, I would certainly recommend that you prayerfully read the Book of Revelation every now and then. I believe it's the greatest worship manual ever written; and you will find that, through a steady diet of it, the Holy Spirit will lead you to worship and adore Jesus as He truly is!
Now, this isn't describing something in the future. This is a picture of the resurrected Lord Jesus in His relationship to the Body of Christ as it exists on earth right now! It describes local churches through the image of "lampstands"; because the church bears His light to the world. And it shows the Lord Jesus walking in the midst of His lampstands in perfection and glory. He even now walks in the midst of His church in priestly glory - as One who is most holy in her midst.
There are many things to talk about from this vision. But the thing that always seems to capture my attention the most is how the Lord's feet are described as He walks in the midst of His churches. They are said to be "like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace" (v. 15). John tells us that "His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace" (as this verse has been translated in the New American Standard version).
As the resurrected and glorified Jesus walks about in the midst of His churches, He walks with feet that portray to us the purification that comes as a result of the refinement of fire. There is no sin or defilement in Him; nor is there anything about His walk that, in any way, involves sin. His feet even "glow" with the fire of purification. This is meant to convey to us that Jesus is holy and pure in all His doings. All His pathways are the pathways of holiness. And it reminds us that, as our holy Redeemer, it is His will that He walk in the midst of a purified and holy church.
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Our Lord Jesus Christ - by His very nature and character - is most holy. He loves His own holiness; and will never compromise it, because it is who He is. In fact, He loves His own holiness so much that He died for us so that we may share in it with Him. He condescended to step into our fallenness and become like us, so that He might raise us from our fallenness and make us like He is. He loves His church too much to allow it to continue in the sins He died to redeem it from.
And what's more, He calls us - as His redeemed ones - to love Him so much that we will depart from all known sin, and walk with Him in His holiness. As the apostle John wrote elsewhere,
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
And as Paul wrote to his friend Titus;
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
All of this reminds us of why Jesus will never accept hidden sin in His church family. Others may not see it, but He does; and He will not put up with it. He views sin that is hidden in His church with a holy 'intolerance'. He died to free us from sin; and so, He will take drastic measures, when needed, to purify the church He died to redeem.
In short, King Jesus WILL walk in the midst of His church; and He WILL walk in holiness! Therefore, He WILL have a holy church!
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This brings me to this morning's passage. A few weeks ago, I felt led to share with you from the seventh chapter of the Old Testament book of Joshua. But I felt led by the Lord to wait until this particular morning to share it. I have learned to listen to the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit on those occasions; and to trust His timing.
Among the many things this passage teaches us, it teaches us that great harm is caused to the Body of Christ when 'hidden sin' is allowed to take root in its midst. I don't know if this is the case; but it may be that there are some here this morning who are harboring some secret "hidden sin" in their lives. No one else may know it; but you know it, and the Lord knows it. And if that's the case with some today, then I pray that the Holy Spirit will use His word this morning to bring that man or woman to the place of honest confession before God; and that we all together might turn this day from that sin which displeases the Lord and causes us to be defiled - whatever that sin may be; and that we may begin today to walk together with Jesus in the holiness and purity that He died to bring about in us.
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The context of this story is one of great victory for the people of Israel. They had been led into the land that God had promised to give them - under the leadership of God's appointed general, Joshua.
The first thing that happened was that God gave them conquest over the very wicked, but very mighty city of Jericho. At God's command, the armies of Israel simply marched around the city several times; and at God's command, they simply blew the trumpets and shouted out a cry of victory. And then, God caused the mighty city walls of Jericho to fall before them; and the armies of Israel simply marched forward and took possession of it.
God had entered into a covenant with His people - a solemn agreement. He told them that He would give the city of Jericho to them; but it was to be destroyed completely. Nothing of the city was to be allowed to survive. No booty was to be kept by any of the soldiers. The Hebrew word that was used for the "accursed things" of Jericho (hêrem) refers to things that are to be totally separated from all else in an irredeemable way - things that are to be devoted to God. Sometimes, this word referred to things that were devoted to Him in that they were rendered unto His service and use (Lev. 27:28). But at other times, it referred to things that were were devoted to Him in the sense that they were to be utterly destroyed. In the case of our passage this morning, this word described something placed "under the ban". It was used in the command that God gave to Israel; that they shall not "bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly destroy it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing" (Deut. 7:26).
Joshua expressed God's will in this covenant to the people with respect to Jericho; telling them,
"And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the LORD; they shall come into the treasury of the LORD" (Jer. 6:18-19).
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The "accursed thing" is a picture of the sinful things that our holy Lord calls us to become separated from. We are to walk with Him in holiness and "abstain from the accursed things".
But sadly, the people of Israel fell under the extreme displeasure of God because they did NOT abstain. Look at the first word we see in Joshua 7:1. It's the word "But". It marks off a terrible contrast between the victory and blessings of God that the people had received in the conquest of Jericho, and the displeasure and loss of blessings that the people were about to experience because of a failure to keep away from the "accursed thing". One man disobeyed; and made the rest of the people stand guilty before God.
But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel (v. 1).
First; let's consider what this teaches us about . . .
1. THE CONSEQUENCE OF HIDDEN SIN (vv. 2-9).
This sin may have been hidden from the eyes of others - even from the eyes of Joshua; but it was not hidden from God. And it became revealed to others through the fact that - in His anger - God removed His hand of blessing from upon the people of Israel.
The people had just come from a great moment of victory. I would dare to suggest, in fact, that they were a little over-confident. It doesn't appear that they consulted God as to His will; but immediately moved out to conquer the next city - Ai.
Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, "Go up and spy out the country." So the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few." So about three thousand men went up there from the people . . . (vv. 2-4a).
We're told later on, in chapter eight, that there were only twelve-thousand people in Ai (cf. 8:25); and so, they probably would not have had an army that exceeded two to three-thousand men. And so, the confidence of the people of Israel was high. They were the people that were chosen of God! Their God was the mighty God who had destroyed Jericho! They had Joshua - a great man of God - as their general! They had the laws of God, and the ark of the covenant, and the commission from God to take possession of the land! How could they lose? How could a mere two to three-thousand soldiers stand against them?
But as we read on, we find that they did indeed lose! It says,
. . . But they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water (vv. 4b-5).
Terror fell upon the people, as they realized that God no longer fought for them! We're told that Joshua, their great leader, came to God to inquire why this was so.
Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "Alas, Lord GOD, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all - to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?" (vv. 6-9).
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There are many lessons we can learn from this. For one thing, we can say that Joshua learned that he should have inquired of the Lord BEFORE he and the armies of Israel struck out against the people of Ai. Perhaps if he had, he would have been told in advance that the Lord was displeased with them because of Achan's sin, and would not support him. And we can also learn from Joshua's humility. He was more concerned about the reflection this failure would have on the reputation of God Himself than upon the people of Israel.
But the thing that stands out the most in all this is that the hidden sin of one man, Achan, had disastrous consequences upon all of the people of Israel. His hidden sin caused God to remove His blessing from the whole people - because, in His eyes, they constituted one people.
Look at how this chapter is begun. We're told that "the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things". It wasn't that Achan committed a trespass, but that the whole nation committed a trespass! God was certainly angry with Achan; but He was also angry with the whole nation. In fact, if I may say so, thirty-six families were suddenly without a husband and a father; thirty-six men, who went forward in ignorance of God's displeasure, died; and all because of one man's hidden sin. This teaches us an important spiritual lesson: Sin hurts innocent bystanders. God hates sin when its found in the midst of His people, because it hurts His people!
The apostle Paul taught us this lesson when he wrote to the people of Corinth. There was sin in their midst; and they were even proud of their toleration of it. But Paul wrote to them and said,
Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
That's an expression that the apostle Paul used more than once, in fact. In Galatians 5:9, he warned the believers not to tolerate false teaching in their midst; for "A little leaven leavens the whole lump." Just as leaven, once it's put in a lump of dough, permeates and spreads its fermenting influence throughout the lump; so sin, once it's allowed to take root in the congregation of the people of God and becomes tolerated by them, soon brings its influence upon everyone. "Do not be deceived," Paul writes; "Evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Corinthians 15:33). "Pursue peace with all people," the writer of Hebrews tells us, "and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled . . ." (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Hidden sin cannot be tolerated in the people of God - and certainly, this is because our God is a holy God. But it also cannot be tolerated because of the consequences it has on everyone else. God removes His blessings from a people when "the accursed thing" is hidden in their midst.
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Another thing we learn from this passage is . . .
2. THE CHARACTER OF HIDDEN SIN (vv. 10-12).
The character of this particular hidden sin was revealed in God's response to Joshua's prayer. We read;
So the LORD said to Joshua: "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you" (vv. 10-12).
Notice carefully the details:
Consider carefully that last point! The horrible character of hidden sin is such that, if we hold on to it without repentance, we eventually bring about our own doom. This is because those things that we hold on to in disobedience to God - those things that God has called "accursed" - are themselves doomed to destruction; and if we cling to them, and identify ourselves with them, we will be doomed along with them! We become accursed along with them! We become like Simon the magician, who sought to buy from Peter the authority to lay hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit; to whom Peter declared, "Your money perish with you . . ." (Acts 8:20).
When we stubbornly identify ourselves with those things that are destined to pass away, we set ourselves up to pass away as well. This is why John wrote,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
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Next, this passage teaches us . . .
3. THE CONFRONTATION OF HIDDEN SIN (vv. 13-21).
God had, by this point, certainly gotten the attention of Joshua and the elders of Israel. And here's what He tells them to do. He says,
"Get up, sanctify the people, and say, 'Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the LORD God of Israel: "There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you"'" (v. 13).
The first thing that we see, then, in confronting this hidden sin, is that God calls for the people to be told. The fact that sin has occurred, and is the cause of the loss of their blessing, is to be revealed.
And then, God calls for something unusual to be done. Clearly, God knows who it is that has committed this sin. But instead of telling them who it is, He calls for them to go through a process of God-directed searching and examination. He says to tell the children of Israel,
"'"In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes shall come according to families; and the family which the LORD takes shall come by households; and the household which the LORD takes shall come by man. Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel"'" (vv. 14-15).
Why didn't God simply say who it was? Why didn't He simply announce, "It is Achan!" Why did He command that this method be used? I suspect that it was because it forced all of the people to, each one, search their own hearts; and examine themselves for sin.
Can you imagine all of the tribes - and all the leaders of the tribes - waiting anxiously to discover if it was their tribe that was guilty? It makes me think of the disciples during their last supper with the Lord Jesus. After He said that one of them would betray Him, "they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing" (Luke 22:23). Perhaps the twelve tribes were doing as the twelve disciples were going to do. Imagine how you would feel as it turned out to be your tribe; and then, your family line; and then, someone in your own household! There's something humbling - something that makes you search for sin in your own soul - when you have to ask, "Is it me, Lord?"
Joshua and the elders wasted no time in obeying the Lord's command:
So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. He brought the clan 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. Then 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 (vv. 16-18).
There are a couple of things that are very interesting about this man Achan. For one thing, he is the descendent of Zerah who was of the tribe of Judah. Zerah was one of the two twins that were born as a result of the incestuous sin that Judah committed with his daughter-in-law Tamar (Gen. 38; esp. v. 30). In a sense, Judah's old sin came back once again to trouble him.
And another interesting thing is the man's name itself. "Achan" is very similar to the word 'akôr; which is the Hebrew word for "trouble". In fact, Achan's sin became forever identified with the place in which his punishment was meted out - the Valley of Achor; which means, "the Valley of Trouble".
God had warned that whoever takes the accursed thing will "trouble" Israel; and that's what Achan did! You might say that when a man hides sin in his life, his very name is 'trouble'!
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Once Achan was identified, Joshua took immediate action:
Now Joshua said to Achan, "My son, I beg you, give glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me." And Achan answered Joshua and said, "Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done: 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 there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it" (vv. 20-21).
And - although I may be speculating just a bit - I don't believe that Achan deserved a single word of praise for this confession. He knew what he had done; and when he saw that God's hand of blessing had been removed and that thirty-six men perished because of him, he should have confessed then and there. But he didn't. In fact, throughout all the searching through all the tribes, and families and households, he said nothing. He didn't confess until all the signs pointed directly to him. It's not much of a confession when you have no further choice but to finally admit the truth.
And I would just like to make a couple of observations this teaches us about "hidden sins". First, we notice that the more we hold on to them and hide them, the harder our hearts will grow toward God. The sooner we confess, the sooner we can be free; but the longer we hide, the harder our hearts become. How much better it is to confess now willingly, then when we have no further choice but to do so!
And second, we notice how Joshua described the confession. He said to Achan, "Give glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession to Him . . ." To admit the truth to God about our hidden sins, and to bring them out into the open - so that they can be repented of - is to glorify God. We're saying the same thing that He says about our sins when we confess the truth about them. But when we hide them, we rob Him of glory. We call Him a liar through our silence. Thus, when we hide our sins, we sin even more!
Achan's sin, then, was very great indeed!
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This leads us, finally, to consider . . .
4. THE CLEANSING FROM HIDDEN SIN (vv. 22-26).
Drastic action was taken. It required the complete destruction of everything involved:
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it. And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD. Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day." So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day (vv. 22-26).
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As I read those sobering words, two questions come to mind. The first is this: Why did it have to be that the children - the sons and the daughters - needed to die with Achan? God's law says that "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin" (Deut. 24:16).
So; how do we explain this? The answer that satisfies me the most, personally, is that Achan's sons and daughters must have all somehow been involved in the hiding of his dreadful sin. Here, we learn that God does not even accept it when family members cover up for the sin of one of its own! In Deuteronomy 13:6-11, we read;
"If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods,' which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you" (Deut. 13:6-11).
But even though that's true, it's hard to see how Achan's oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, and everything else he had, could have "conspired" with him. And I suppose it has to be said that, when a man rebels against God and harbors "hidden sin" in his home and in his heart, he brings the contagion of his sin upon everything that is under his headship.
If nothing else, this teaches us how serious "hidden sin" is in the eyes of God; and how worthy of the death penalty it makes those who hold on to it in His sight! How truly horrible a thing hidden sin is!
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And a second question that comes to mind is this: How then should hidden sin be dealt with? When hidden sin is discovered in our midst, what should we do? Should we expect the death penalty to be administered? I suggest that the answer to that is, "Yes and no."
Yes; the death penalty must be administered. The Bible tells us clearly that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23); and so, death must occur. The same penalty that was exacted from Achan is what God has every right to exact from each one of us who sins against Him and hides the truth. Even when we confess, as Achan did, death must still occur.
But no; we don't take that person out behind the church building now and stone them to death and burn all their goods. The required death penalty has already been paid by Another for us. And because He has paid that debt for us, listen to what the Bible tells us to now do with "hidden sin". It says,
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:5-9).
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Is there hidden sin in your life today? Have you disobeyed God, and are you - even now - clinging to the "accursed thing" and hiding it in your tent? Today, you've seen that God knows about that sin; and you've seen how He feels about it. Today, you've seen how that hidden sin brings harm upon all around you; and you've also seen that this hidden sin makes you worthy of the death penalty before a holy God.
But today, you've also heard the good news that Someone else has paid the death penalty for you. Because Jesus has died for that sin, you can now 'come clean' about it! And in coming clean, you can now truly BE clean!
So, in the words of Joshua, "I beg you, give glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession to Him."
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