Beyond Triumph: Puzzles from Achan (1)

Beyond Triumph: Puzzles from Achan

  1. Of Penalties and Consequences

Every sinner will suffer the penalty for their sin, but others often share in the consequences of the sin.

One day at close of work, the Dispatch Clerk (let’s call him DC) left the tap running in the bathroom, resulting in a flooded office the following day with some documents ruined beyond recovery.  That was not the first time.  The Boss was furious.  The clerk got fired as penalty for his repeated negligence, besides fines to recover the damage.

Whereas only DC suffered the punishment for his Ã¢â‚¬Ëœsin,’ others also suffered consequences from his behaviour: some lost irreplaceable documents and lived through lingering days of difficulty because of that loss.  Following the flooding, the office was shut down for many days to get it properly cleaned up.  That meant a sad loss of revenue and tragic delays to precious customers with strict deadlines.  Some of those customers forever moved elsewhere.

Even after the office had been cleaned, workers and customers still lived with the odorous discomfort of damp smells for many days, although the ‘sinner’ had justly long been punished.  The penalty for that negligence was dismissal; only DC would suffer that, yet everyone else lived with the consequences of his carelessness even long after he was gone from the scene.

Many other matters might be fitted into this narrative template: family, traffic situations, robbery, church, politics, etc.  In all those possible scenarios, every sinner will earn the wages for their sin, but others will often share in the ‘interest’ on the sin – the consequences.  When a people are banded as a group, much more, the sin of one member sometimes spills consequences to other members, like the proverbial finger that picks oil and soils other innocent fingers with its private stain.

  1. Group Guilt from a Private Sin
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The story is told in Joshua chapter 7, of Israel’s remarkable conquest of the city of Jericho, and the tragic aftermaths of that notable victory.  One of the soldiers in the triumphant army, probably carried away with the euphoria of the moment, ignored the restrictions that God had placed on the spoils of war particularly from Jericho.  That smart soldier, or so he thought of himself, “took of the accursed things” (Joshua 7:1).  His name was Achan.

There were two perspectives on what Achan did.  One was the earthly perspective, which saw it merely as one man’s private error.  The case-file that was opened in heaven, however, stated something different.  It said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“But the children of Israel committed a trespass” (Joshua 7:1).  When God Himself spoke on the subject, He said,

11 “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.

12 “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 (Joshua 7:11-12, NKJV).

It was one man that offended, but the pronouns God used in addressing the ‘offender’ were plural: Ã¢â‚¬Å“they,” “their,” etc.   It was one man that sinned, but whom God saw as having sinned was the group on whose mission he had been when he committed that act.  Accordingly, the consequences, at least initially, were suffered by the group.

  1. The Group Consequences of a Private Sin
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Beyond the group indictment, there were group consequences that immediately followed Achan’s action.  For example, in the arrogantly underrated subsequent battle with little Ai, after mighty Jericho had been conquered, thirty-six innocent men died as punishment for Achan’s ‘private sin’ – thirty-six men who should not have died, and thirty-six wives became widows; thirty-six fathers and thirty-six mothers mourned their thirty-six dead sons, and numberless innocent children became exposed to the uncertainties of a fatherless future.  Besides, a nation was thrown into sudden mourning.  Pastor Joshua himself had to immediately cancel all previous schedules to seek God’s face, along with his elders, to unravel the mystery behind the sudden disaster at the hands of the little army of Ai.  Ultimately, the entire nation had to repeat (or ‘re-sit,’ as students would say) the initially failed battle of Ai (Joshua 8:1-3), and on and on…

Any sin is bad enough, but in a group, one person’s sin is not always their private sin, which is why, when we are in a group covenant, on a joint mission, we need to bother who does what and how, else the consequences might tell us too late that the transgression had not been a dismissible ‘private business’ after all.  Personally, for example, sometimes when on a group fast that I am unable to follow through for whatever reason, this consciousness prompts me to confess my excuse to whoever is in charge, even if that person were my junior, to whom that leadership had been delegated, even if by me.  It helps to maintain coherence in the spirit; it helps to ensure that there is no breach in that realm.

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From The Preacher’s diary,

October 25, 2017.


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