Ecclesiastes 12:14, ESV
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
JOSHUA 7:1-9, NIrV
1 But the Israelites weren’t faithful to the Lord. They didn’t destroy what had been set apart to him. So they did not do what they had been told to do. Achan had taken some of those things. So the Lord became very angry with Israel. Achan was the son of Karmi. Karmi was the son of Zimri. And Zimri was the son of Zerah. Achan and all his relatives were from the tribe of Judah.
2 Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai. Ai is near Beth Aven east of Bethel. Joshua told the men, “Go up and check out the area around Ai.” So the men went up and checked it out.
3 Then they returned to Joshua. They said, “The whole army doesn’t have to go up and attack Ai. Send only two or three thousand men. They can take the city. Don’t make the whole army go up there. Only a few people live in Ai.” 4 So only about 3,000 troops went up. But the men of Ai drove them away. 5 They chased the Israelites from the city gate all the way to Shebarim. They killed about 36 of them on the way down. So the Israelites were terrified.
6 Joshua and the elders of Israel became sad. Joshua tore his clothes. He fell in front of the ark of the Lord with his face to the ground. He remained there until evening. The elders did the same thing. They also sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 Joshua said, “Lord and King, why did you ever bring these people across the Jordan River? Did you want to hand us over to the Amorites? Did you want them to destroy us? I wish we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Lord, our enemies have driven us away. What can I say? 9 The Canaanites will hear about it. So will everyone else in the country. They will surround us. They’ll erase any mention of our name from the face of the earth. Then what will you do when people don’t honor your great name anymore?”
With God on their side, the Israelites completely wiped the powerful city of Jericho off the map. With one smashing victory under their belt, they were confident their next battle would be even easier. After all, it was against a much smaller city called Ai. But instead of being a piece of cake, the battle against Ai was a total disaster! Many Israelites were killed and the rest ran home with their tails between their legs. As the fleeing soldiers wondered, “What went wrong?”, the book of Joshua tells us the secret: a man named Achan had angered God by taking some of Jericho’s treasure for himself.
+ Why did the Israelites think they could easily defeat Ai? (vs. 3)
+ What did Joshua think would happen to the Israelites after their loss? (vs. 9)
JOSHUA 7:10-18, NIrV
10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! What are you doing down there on your face? 11 Israel has sinned. I made a covenant with them. I commanded them to keep it. But they have broken it. They have taken some of the things that had been set apart to me in a special way to be destroyed. They have stolen. They have lied. They have taken the things they stole and have put them with their own things. 12 That is why the Israelites can’t stand up against their enemies. They turn their backs and run. That’s because I have decided to let them be destroyed. You must destroy the things you took that had been set apart to me. If you do not, I will not be with you anymore.
13 “Go and set the people apart. Tell them, ‘Make yourselves pure. Get ready for tomorrow. Here is what the Lord, the God of Israel, wants you to do. He says, “People of Israel, you have kept some of the things that had been set apart to me to be destroyed. You can’t stand up against your enemies until you get rid of those things.”
14 “ ‘In the morning, come forward tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses will come forward group by group. The group the Lord chooses will come forward family by family. And the men in the family the Lord chooses will come forward one by one. 15 Whoever is caught with the things that had been set apart to the Lord will be destroyed by fire. Everything that belongs to that person will also be destroyed. He has broken the Lord’s covenant. He has done a very terrible thing in Israel!’ ”
16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes. The tribe of Judah was chosen. 17 The groups of Judah came forward. The group of Zerah was chosen. Joshua had the group of Zerah come forward by families. The family of Zimri was chosen. 18 He had their men come forward one by one. Achan was chosen. Achan was the son of Karmi. Karmi was the son of Zimri. And Zimri was the son of Zerah. Zerah was from the tribe of Judah.
God let Joshua know exactly why the battle of Ai had been a total disaster: the people of Israel had disobeyed his command to destroy Jericho completely. Until the stolen treasure was destroyed, Israel would be fighting all their battles alone, without the powerful Lord God. However, Joshua didn’t have to play hide and seek to find the buried treasure of Jericho. God told him to gather all the people together the next day. And out of the twelve tribes and hundreds of clans and thousands of Israelite families, God guided Joshua to the one man who had stolen treasure from Jericho for himself.
+ Why did the Israelites lose the battle with Ai? (vs. 11-12)
+ Why was God able to show Joshua which man had secretly stolen treasure?
JOSHUA 7:19-23, NIrV
19 Joshua said to Achan, “My son, the Lord is the God of Israel. So give him glory and honor him by telling the truth! Tell me what you have done. Don’t hide it from me.”
20 Achan replied, “It’s true! I’ve sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. Here is what I’ve done. 21 I saw a beautiful robe from Babylonia among the things we had taken. I saw five pounds of silver. And I saw a gold bar that weighed 20 ounces. I wanted them, so I took them. I hid them in the ground inside my tent. The silver is on the bottom.”
22 So Joshua sent some messengers. They ran to Achan’s tent. And there was everything, hidden in his tent! The silver was on the bottom. 23 They brought the things out of the tent. They took them to Joshua and all the Israelites. And they spread them out in the sight of the Lord.
Before God knocked down the walls of Jericho, Joshua gave an order to his men: “Destroy everything in the city. Keep nothing. All treasure belongs to God.” One of those soldiers was a man named Achan. When he found gold, silver, and a beautiful robe during the battle, his desire to keep it for himself was greater than his desire to obey God’s command. With his stolen treasure safely buried under his tent, Achan thought his secret was safe. But the all-seeing God guided Joshua right to him. And after his secret was revealed, Achan and all that he had with him were destroyed.
+ What had Achan done with the things he stole from Jericho? (vs. 21)
+ What did Achan’s sin cost him? What did it cost his people? (vs. 1, 5)
JOSHUA 8:1-2, 10-21, NIRV
1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid. Do not lose hope. Go up and attack Ai. Take the whole army with you. I have handed the king of Ai over to you. I have given you his people, his city and his land. 2 Remember what you did to Jericho and its king. You will do the same thing to Ai and its king. But this time you can keep for yourselves the livestock and everything else you take from them. Have some of your fighting men hide behind the city and take them by surprise.”
10 Early the next morning Joshua brought together his army. He and the leaders of Israel marched in front of them to Ai. 11 The whole army that was with him marched up to the city. They stopped in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai. There was a valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had chosen about 5,000 soldiers. He had ordered them to hide in a place west of Ai. It was between Bethel and Ai. 13 The men took up their battle positions. All the men in the camp north of the city took up their positions. So did those who were supposed to hide west of the city. That night Joshua went into the valley.
14 The king of Ai saw what the troops with Joshua were doing. So the king and all his men hurried out of the city early in the morning. They marched out to meet Israel in battle. They went to a place that looked out over the Arabah Valley. The king didn’t know that some of Israel’s fighting men were hiding behind the city. 15 Joshua and all his men let the men of Ai drive them back. The Israelites ran away toward the desert. 16 All the men of Ai were called out to chase them. They chased Joshua. So they were drawn away from the city. 17 Not even one man remained in Ai or Bethel. All of them went out to chase Israel. When they did, they left the city wide open.
18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand. I will give the city to you.” So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin in his hand. 19 As soon as he did, the men hiding behind the city got up quickly. They came out of their hiding places and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it. They quickly set it on fire.
20 The men of Ai looked back. They saw smoke rising up from the city into the sky. But they couldn’t escape in any direction. The Israelites had been running away toward the desert. But now they turned around to face those chasing them. 21 Joshua and all his men saw that the men who had been hiding behind the city had captured it. They also saw that smoke was going up from it. So they turned around and attacked the men of Ai.
In Jericho, God won the battle by knocking down the walls. This time, God gave Joshua a fool-proof plan to trick the enemy. Joshua marched his men up to Ai and set up camp. When the king of Ai saw this, he sent his entire army to meet Joshua’s in battle. At first, the second battle of Ai looked like a repeat of the first. Israel appeared to be badly beaten and started running away. But as Ai’s army chased after them, they didn’t realize they’d fallen right into God’s trap. With the city empty, a hidden group of Israelites popped out of nowhere, rushed into Ai, and burned it all to the ground!
+ What did God tell Joshua to do to the city of Ai? (vs. 2)
+ Why was the second battle a success while the first one was a failure?
DEUTERONOMY 27:1-8, NIRV
1 Moses and the elders of Israel gave commands to the people. They said, “Obey all the commands we’re giving you today. 2 You will go across the Jordan River. You will enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you do, set up some large stones. Put a coat of plaster on them. 3 Write all the words of this law on them. Do it when you have crossed over into the land the Lord your God is giving you. It’s a land that has plenty of milk and honey. The Lord is the God of your people of long ago. He promised you that you would enter the land. 4 After you have gone across the Jordan, set up those stones on Mount Ebal. Put a coat of plaster on them. We’re commanding you today to do that. 5 Build an altar there to honor the Lord your God. Make it out of stones. Don’t use any iron tool on them. 6 Use stones you find in the fields to build his altar. Then offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. 7 Sacrifice friendship offerings there. Eat them and be filled with joy in the sight of the Lord your God. 8 You must write all the words of this law on the stones you have set up. Write the words very clearly.”
Before continuing in the book of Joshua, we need to zoom back a few pages in our Bible, back when Moses was still alive. Knowing he was about to die, Israel’s old leader gave his people an assignment to do when they entered the promised land: “Take huge stones and cover them with white plaster. Write all of God’s laws on them. Carry them and stand them up on Mount Ebal.” When Israel entered a land filled with people who worshiped many man-made gods, the bright white stones up on the mountain would remind the Israelites who they belonged to: the Lord, the one true God!
+ What else did Moses want them to build on the mountain? (vs. 5)
+ What did Moses tell them to do on the altar? (vs. 6-7)
JOSHUA 8:30-34, NIRV
30 Joshua built an altar to honor the Lord, the God of Israel. He built it on Mount Ebal. 31 Moses, the servant of the Lord, had commanded the Israelites to do that. Joshua built the altar according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses. Joshua built the altar out of stones that iron tools had never touched. Then the people offered on the altar burnt offerings to the Lord. They also sacrificed friendship offerings on it. 32 Joshua copied the law of Moses on stones. He did it while all the Israelites were watching. 33 They were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. All the Israelites, including outsiders and citizens, were there. Israel’s elders, officials and judges were also there. All of them faced the priests, who were Levites. They were carrying the ark. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim. The other half stood in front of Mount Ebal. Moses, the servant of the Lord, had earlier told them to do it. Moses told them to do it when he had given directions to bless the Israelites.
34Then Joshua read all the words of the law out loud. He read the blessings and the curses. He read them just as they are written in the Book of the Law.
After their smashing victory in the second battle of Ai, Joshua lead all of Israel on a 20-mile-long march to a place in the middle of two mountains. There, between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, Joshua followed Moses’ instructions, right down to the last letter. He stacked up stones from the mountain to form an altar and burned the meat of animals on top of it as a sacrifice to God. Then, he found some huge stones and wrote down all of God’s laws on them. And finally, he gathered the people around to listen to him read every single word he had written.
As Joshua read God’s laws, I’m certain the people listened with wide open ears. After all, they had just learned the hard way what happens when you ignore the commands of God. Because Achan had not followed God’s command and stole some of Jericho’s treasure for himself, it not only cost him his life, but the lives of all the soldiers who died in the first battle of Ai.
The sad story of Achan teaches us a couple of things. It demonstrates that disobedience leads to destruction. And it shows that no secret is safe from our all-seeing God. And here’s the scary news: our own stories aren’t all that different from Achan’s.
I’m sure you can think of a time when you did something you knew was wrong. Perhaps you thought, “It doesn’t matter. No one saw me.” But in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 12, verse 14, tell us something important: God sees everything we do, both the good and the bad. He knows every secret thing about us, even our thoughts. And not only does God know all this, he is also the judge of every person on earth. He’ll give a fair punishment for every evil thing we’ve done.
Like Achan, we have disobeyed God’s laws. We have secret sins of our own. Maybe we haven’t stolen treasure from Jericho, but we’ve told lies that no one noticed. We’ve disobeyed our parents when they weren’t looking. We’ve taken something that didn’t belong to us and completely got away with it. But no matter how sneaky we tried to be, God saw it. Just like Achan, sinners like you and me are headed for destruction!
That’s why we need the good-news story of God’s Son, Jesus. He came to earth on a rescue mission to save us from our secret (and not-so-secret) sins. Instead of God judging and punishing us for our sins, Jesus let himself to be punished in our place. He paid our price in full when he was nailed to and died on a wooden cross. And to prove his mission was a success, Jesus raised himself back to life on the third day!
God knows everything about us, every one of our secret sins. And despite knowing all that, what did he do? He sent his own Son to die to save us! God isn’t just a mighty God who knocks down great big walls; he’s a loving God who forgives great big sins!
+ Who was there listening to Joshua read the words of God’s law? (vs. 34-35)
+ Who sees everything we do in secret, both the good and the bad?