One day on an assignment, a journalist named Sebastian Junger followed a platoon of soldiers as they marched in formation. He was shocked when he saw one soldier break ranks to confront another soldier. The shock was especially strong when the cause of the confrontation was discovered. It was that the second soldier’s boot laces were untied, trailing on the ground.
Junger’s first thought was that it was kind of a trivial issue to get so worked up about. More a fashion faux pas than anything else. However, as was explained to him, it was much more serious than that. The first soldier knew the second soldier’s untied boot laces put the entire platoon at risk because if even one soldier could not be counted on to not trip and fall at a crucial moment, all the other soldiers might fall to the enemy.
An example of that happening long ago is recorded in the Old Testament Book of Joshua. It concerns a soldier named Achan. It was not his boot laces that were untied, but his obedience was loose, which did affect many other people.
What Achan did is recorded in chapter 7 of Joshua. To set the stage, let’s first consider what is recorded in chapter 6.
Forty years before Joshua 6, the people of God had been released from slavery in Egypt. For those 40 years, the people of God had been on their way to a land promised to them by God. They could have gone right into that land except for some disobedience and distrust of God soon after their escape from Egypt, but finally, after 40 years of wandering in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land, the people of God left the harsh wilderness and entered the Promised Land.
The taking of the Promised Land was not going to be easy. The people of God were going to have to fight against the inhabitants of the Promised Land. That included the first city to which the people of God came, the city of Jericho. As we will see, taking over Jericho - defeating it and destroying it - was not going to involve actual fighting, but Jericho was the first city the people of God had to overcome.
When the people of God drew close to Jericho, they effectively cut off the city. According to the start of Joshua 6, the city was shut up from within and from without. No one was able to leave the city. No one was able to enter the city. None went out and none went in.
At that point, God told Joshua the plan.
The plan did not seem to make a lot of sense, but here is what it was. Joshua was to lead his people, including the fighting men among them, who were to be right behind Joshua, including those carrying the ark of God, who were to be behind the priests with trumpets made of ram’s horns, and then including all the rest of the people of God. Joshua was to lead his people in a march around the city of Jericho, doing that once each day for six days.
Each time they walked around the city the people were to be completely silent. The priests were to blow their trumpets, playing them continually, but not a word was to be spoken by any of the people of God.
I did a bit of study and discovered Jericho, according to some sources, was about six acres in size. That means the distance around the city was not great. However, the walls around the city were very strong.
Some say there were two sets of walls. The first wall was made up of a retaining section 12 to 15 feet high, topped by a brick section another 20 or so feet high, that wall a few feet thick. The second one, closer to the city, was a wall made of brick 46 feet tall, that one up a hill from the first one. That one even wider.
Humanly speaking, it was impossible for the people of God to think they had a chance of defeating Jericho. The walls were too tall and thick. Plus, the whole city was at a raised elevation, making the people of God look small by comparison when seen from Jericho.
Despite the situation that seemed hopeless, the people of God were to walk around the city once a day for six days, the only sound coming from the trumpets.
I imagine the residents of Jericho were a bit concerned when the people of God first arrived. Imagine their relief when the people of God, day by day, simply marched around the city. No threats. No danger. There was that endless blowing of trumpets that might have got on their nerves after a while, but all the people of God did was walk around the city.
On the seventh day, the plan was different. On that day, instead of the people of God walking around the city only one time, they were to walk around the city seven times.
That was the plan, which Joshua put into motion. For six days straight, the people of God marched around Jericho one time, doing so without a word each day. They did that despite the ridicule they no doubt heard from inside the city’s walls. The seventh day Joshua once again arranged the people as God had ordered. The priests again blew their trumpets, doing so continually. That day - the seventh day - the people of God did march around Jericho seven times.
I imagine the people of Jericho noticed the difference. Instead of once around the city, now they counted two, three, four, five, six, then a seventh time around. Maybe the people of Jericho were curious.
But then the last part of God’s plan was put into effect. Upon the completion of the seventh time around the city, Joshua gave a signal. It was the order for the people, who had been silent up to that point, to shout - to suddenly shout all at one time, doing so as loudly as they could.
Was it the effect of the sound waves hitting the walls of Jericho” Remember there were two-and-a-half million people who were entering the Promised Land.
I had the chance a few years ago to tour Lambeau Field in Green Bay. It was in the spring, so obviously it was not a game day. There were only about a dozen of us in the tour group. The guide had us, all at the same time, yell “Go Pack!” After that shout, it was something like five seconds before the echoing died out. Again, that noise was created by just a few people.
I have heard that the noise level at Memorial Stadium is deafening when the Cornhuskers are doing well. That is 90,000 people.
Think of the noise created by two-and-a-half million people, which was the number of the people of God at that time. Think of the noise created by all those people shouting all at once.
Was it the effect of the sound hitting the walls? Or was it some other kind of miracle? However it was, as soon as the shouting happened, the walls - the two sets of tall, thick walls - collapsed. They fell down flat. In an instant, the walls were destroyed.
With the walls down, the city was vulnerable. What I read is that the walls fell in such a way that they ended up being a rampart, up which the people of God could easily climb into the city.
Once in the city, the people of God killed all who were not already dead because of the collapsing of the walls. The killing included people and animals. Actually, there were a few people who were spared. Earlier, when the people of God had sent spies to check out Jericho, the spies had been helped by a woman named Rahab. Because of her help, she and her family were spared. They survived.
But every other person and every animal was killed that day. That day, the first barrier to taking over the Promised Land was defeated.
That was of course a very good thing for the people of God. However, there was one thing that went very wrong that day. It was done by the soldier Achan.
What Achan did was this. Before the day of the shouting, Joshua had given one more bit of instruction from God. It was that all the silver, gold, bronze, and iron found in Jericho was to be captured for the treasury of the LORD. Those metals were to be taken by the victorious soldiers, but not kept by them.
In fact, there was a warning given. It is in verse 18. If anyone kept any of the silver, gold, bronze, or iron for himself, that one would be responsible for the trouble that would come upon the people of God.
Remember the point at the start of the message that one soldier stumbling can endanger the whole platoon? The point of God in Joshua 6 is that one person of God stumbling because of disobeying God would endanger all of God’s people.
Guess what. Achan disobeyed. That happened when he did keep some of metals that were to go to God’s treasury.
Guess what. That one person being greedy did effect many, many others.
The greed was not known right away. It was not discovered until the second battle in the Promised Land, that recorded in chapter 7 of Joshua. The second battle was at a place called Ai.
As had been done before attacking Jericho, spies were sent to Ai. Joshua wanted to know what he and the people he led would be up against. That knowledge would help him develop a good battle plan.
What the spies found and reported is that there were not many people in or around Ai. Therefore, there was no need, they said, to send everyone there. Two or three thousand soldiers should do it, they reported.
So it was that about three thousand soldiers from the people of God went to Ai. However, the fighting men of Ai were found to be much stronger than expected. In fact, most if not all the soldiers of the people of God were killed, some right away, others as they fled.
Verse 5 of Joshua 7 has this interesting report. After that battle loss, “the hearts of the people of God melted and became as water.” That means they were terrified. Their resolve was gone. They lost their heart.
It had seemed so easy at Jericho. Now it was difficult. What had they got themselves into? Even Joshua was concerned. He mourned, represented in him tearing his clothes and falling to the ground. He joined the elders in throwing dust on their heads. He asked God why He had led His people to the Promised Land if they were simply going to be killed or enslaved by some other kingdom.
In response, God spoke to Joshua, telling him why the people of God had failed. It was because the people had sinned. It would seem from what will be reported later that only one person had sinned. That one was Achan. But listen to the wording. God said that Israel - the people of God - had sinned. The sin was that there was, among the people, some of the metals that should have been turned over to God’s treasury.
Remember that God had warned the people of God that if any one of them kept any of the metals captured in Jericho, all would suffer. Unfortunately, one did keep some metals. And yes, all were suffering, including the soldiers killed in and near Ai.
God spoke to Joshua, telling him that there was sin among the people and that the troubled times would continue unless the stolen metals were found. To that end, Joshua was to meet with all the tribes of the people of God. Each tribe was to be told of the sin. The goal would be to find who had sinned. Who had done such “a shameful thing” in Israel.
The day after being told what to do, Joshua met with the people of Israel, tribe by tribe. That happened until he met with Achan. When Achan appeared before him, Joshua said, “Tell me what you have done. Tell me now. Do not hide it from me.”
I wonder how Joshua knew it was Achan who had stolen some of the metals. A guilty look maybe? Or a revelation from God perhaps?
Somehow, Joshua at least sensed the guilty party was Achan. When told by Joshua to confess, that is exactly what Achan did. Here is what he said. “Of a truth I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel.”
Isn’t it interesting Achan realized the seriousness of his sin? That his act was against God Himself?
Isn’t it interesting he readily admitted to what he had done? It can be so easy to try to justify what is done wrong. To come up with excuses. Achan did not do that. He admitted that he had sinned against God.
“Of a truth,” he said, “I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel,” and, he continued, “This is what I did. When I saw among the spoil a beautiful robe and two hundred shekels of silver [a shekel was equivalent to about a third of an ounce, which means Achan saw over four pounds of silver], and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels [about a pound], then I coveted them, and took them.”
Notice Achan had not taken all the robes and all the silver and all the gold. He took just what he thought he could get away with. “I coveted the robe, silver, and gold bar and took them.” He added, “They are hidden in the earth inside my tent.”
Acting on that admission, Joshua sent messengers, who ran to Achan’s tent. The messengers found the loot, took the items out of the tent, and delivered them to Joshua and all the people of Israel. The items were laid down before the LORD.
With that, Achan lost what he had stolen from God’s treasury. However, that is not all he lost. Joshua and all Israel with him also took Achan's sons and daughters. They took his oxen, donkeys, and sheep. They took his tent. All that Achan had was taken.
And there was more. Achan and his family and his possessions were taken to the Valley of Achor, where Joshua asked him, “Why did you bring trouble on us?” Before Achan could answer, Joshua added, “The LORD brings trouble on you today.”
With that, all Israel stoned Achan and his family and his possessions. They then burned them with fire. Then a great heap of stones was built to cover Achan’s remains.
Only then did the LORD turn from His burning anger.
Now, that sounds pretty harsh, does it not? And let me be quick to point out that there are many other times in the Bible when people sinned and such a gruesome result did not happen.
When we mess up even now, the consequences are usually not so severe, especially for our families.
But listen to a couple points I read in a commentary on today’s passage.
In Old Testament times, the family was considered such a closely-tied community that when one member did something wrong, many times all the other family members were also held liable. That may seem strange to how things are now in our country, but that is the way it was back at the time of Achan.
The point, applied to a family of Christians, is that what one of us does wrong does affect all the rest of us.
And think of this. While Achan’s sin was against God, it did put all of God’s people at risk. At the least it broke the close fellowship God’s people were supposed to have. Closeness we are still to have, which even now can be broken if any of us does something that is against God’s instructions.
The point is that we all are to know and do what God wants. Otherwise the common journey we are on spiritually will hit holes or speed bumps that can deter any or all of us from growing closer to God.
Back about 1960 or so, my parents, my sister, and I were on our yearly vacation. We were in Colorado and made our way to Colorado Springs to visit the Air Force Academy.
While there, the guide we had told us an interesting story. It seems that just recently a handful of cadets had been expelled from the Academy. The infraction? They had lied about polishing their shoes.
I guess those cadets had been out together. I guess they had returned to their rooms later than expected. As a result, they had neglected to polish their shoes for the next day’s inspection.
The morning of the inspection they had buffed their shoes the best they could, but the shoes had not been polished. If the cadets had admitted to not doing what they were supposed to have done, the repercussion might have been slight. But when they were asked, did you polish your shoes, every one of them said, “Sir, yes, sir.”
A quick investigation discovered the shoes had not been polished. Very soon, all the cadets were expelled.
To me, that seemed a very harsh consequence. But the guide explained it this way. If those cadets were willing to lie about something as small as whether they had polished their shoes, how could they be trusted to tell the truth on the big things? Like whether the pre-flight checks were done. Whether the fuel level had been checked. Whether they had the correct coordinates for where they were supposed to go. Whether they would be available when needed by their comrades.
Those cadets had failed a little test. They could not be trusted to pass bigger tests. They were expelled.
I remember one of the points made by Tim Vickey when he visited us two Sundays ago. It dealt with the accountability to which he holds the African pastors he and his wife are training.
It is not enough for Tim to know the pastors knew the word of God. That of course is important, but that is not enough. They - we - are to obey what we know. They - we - are to do what we know. Otherwise, like the soldiers with the one with the untied boot laces, like the comrades of the Air Force cadets who lied, like the other people of God at the time of Achan, everyone is at risk.
The challenge? May each of us - me included - be obedient to what God tells us to do. That will help, not only us individually. It was also help this congregation, and beyond that, other Christians other places.
And no, disobedience may not result in us being yelled at, expelled, or stoned to death, along with our families. The point of this message is not to scare anyone of us. But Lord, help us realize that when we sin, others are affected in ways that are not good. May each of us be obedient. Let’s help one another to remember to be obedient so that we can, together, keep growing in our faith.
Today’s closing song is the first two verses of the hymn, He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought. Let’s use the words of those verses to remind ourselves that we are - that we must - for the good of not only ourselves, but for our fellow believers, learn and do what God wants, being careful in even the little things to be obedient so we will be obedient in all things.
He leadeth me, o blessed thought!
O words with Heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, wheree’er I be,
Still ’tis God God’s hand that leadeth me.
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.
Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content whatever lot I see,
since ’tis my God that leadeth me.
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.
God, help us individually and as a congregation to know and do what You want. Help us to assist each other to accomplish that. May we be dedicated to that, knowing that a failure of any of us affects all the rest of us. Lead us in our individual and corporate growth. What a blessed thought that is. Thank You. Amen.