Last week we tried to understand why God would hold Israel responsible for the actions of one individual.
- In the process, we outlined 3 aspects to Achan’s sin.
We found that the covenantal aspect of Achan’s sin was our best lead.
- For it was there that we found a deep connection within God’s elect between the individual and the group.
- A connection, we discovered, that still exists for NT believers.
- This deep connection meant that the covenantal sin of Achan actually corrupted the group.
We then found that the only solution to this corruption was to separate it from the group.
- We looked to Leviticus 16 for this principal.
- There we found the principal of the sacrificial goat and the separation goat.
- The separation goat was symbolically sent outside the sacred area of Israel’s camp into the wilderness.
- And for Achan, this separation principal would cost him his life.
Importantly, the separation and the condemnation that follows are expressions of God’s wrath.
- And it is God’s wrath that we will contend with throughout this lesson.
- Especially section four – the necessity of God’s wrath.
- Wrath being, the “punitive righteousness of God by which He maintains His moral order, which demands justice and retribution for injustice” – HIBD.
1) SEPARATION ORDERED
Joshua 7:13–15 (ESV) — 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’ ”
The time has come to deal with Achan’s sin and Israel’s guilt.
- The reason for this is clear – “You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things form among you” (vs. 13).
- “When Achan sinned, the blessing of God stopped for the people corporately; when judgment was applied, blessing returned and victory followed” – James Boice.
- This edict by Yahweh is consistent with His words to Joshua in Joshua 1.
- There He made it clear that their inheritance of the Promised Land was conditional.
- Joshua 1:7 (ESV) — 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.
The solution to the problem is severe – an expression of God’s wrath.
- Yahweh commands that the one responsible for Israel’s guilt will himself become part of the “cherem” that Yahweh put on Jericho.
- In other words, like Jericho and its inhabitants, Achan will be devoted to destruction.
- “Because he has transgressed the covenant” and “done an outrageous thing” he “shall be burned with fire” (vs. 15).
- “He in effect had become a Canaanite by his actions” – David Howard.
The stark contrast between Rahab the Canaanite and Achan the Israelite is significant.
- Rahab, by her confession, had been ushered into the elect of Israel.
- Achan, by his covenant sin, had been devoted to destruction as a Canaanite.
- What lessons can be learned from this contrast?
We need to take notice of two things in these verses about God’s wrath.
(1) It Can Be Patient
- Yahweh does not immediately do what He has a right to do – devote all the Israelites to destruction.
- (A) In fact, He identifies the problem for Joshua.
- Act of covenant faithfulness?
- (B) And He also identifies the solution to the problem.
- The separation and destruction of the responsible party.
In other words, by identifying these two things God provides opportunity for restoration.
- “Behind such unwelcome disclosure shines the clear desire of God to restore his people to his favour” – Dale Davis.
(2) It Is Not Flippant
- God expressing His wrath is not like a man throwing a rage-filled, angry tantrum.
- It flows from His holiness.
- It flows from His moral law.
- It flows from His covenant faithfulness.
It’s expression is logical, deliberate and thought out – not irrational anger.
- “Get up”
- “Consecrate yourselves”
- “Devoted things in your midst”
- “He has transgressed the covenant of the Lord”
“Yahweh’s [wrath] is significantly different from the often passionate and sometimes petty tirades of other ancient Near Eastern deities” – AYBD.
- We can only begin to understand it within these contexts.
2) CONFESSION MADE
Joshua 7:19–21 (ESV) — 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
We dealt with Joshua’s confession in our last lesson.
- But Joshua’s request and Achan’s confession give an example of how to glorify God.
- Something in which we need all the help we can get.
“Joshua was not instructing Achan to indulge in a disengaged act of glorifying and praising God and then to confess his sin; rather, by his very confession, he was glorifying God” – David Howard.
- In other words, when the elect speak the truth they glorify God.
- And our confessions before a holy God are a specific example of God glorifying truth telling.
3) WRATH EXPRESSED
Joshua 7:22–26 (ESV) — 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.
Are you serious?
- They “took Achan”, the treasure AND “his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep” (vs. 24).
- And then “burned them with fire and stoned the with stones” (vs. 25)
I think we can intellectually understand the theological foundation behind God’s death sentence on Achan.
- But emotionally, the death of his entire family is tough.
- It feels blood thirsty and over reaching.
- This was the destruction of Achan’s entire family line.
- So not only his life, and his children’s lives, but also his family name was done – “They gone”.
- A serious problem in aNE culture.
What are we to make of this?
- Before we try and answer this question, let’s look at a couple of other things.
“They laid them down before the Lord” (vs. 23).
The word used here (yṣr – “laid them down”) is significant, since it is translated most commonly as ‘poured out,’ referring to the use of oil in anointing and other religious contexts. The stolen items were ‘poured out’ before the Lord, returning to him what belonged to him” – David Howard.
- Achan stole what was devoted to God and Joshua “re-devoted” it.
- Only this time it was a devotion to destruction, not to tabernacle use.
“Great heap of stones that remains to this day” (vs. 26)
- This is the second memorial we have encountered in Joshua.
- The other was after crossing of the Jordan.
- The first a reminder of God’s power and presence.
- This second a reminder of God’s wrath; His “burning anger”.
There is an interesting note on the Valley of Achor (trouble).
- We can’t forget that God is in the transformation business.
- A business that involves not only His wrath but also His grace.
- Hosea 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
Now back to our question.
- We can say at least two things.
(1) We know that God spoke over and over of the consequences of covenant sin.
- Deuteronomy 17:2–5 (ESV) — 2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, 4 and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.
(2) We know that Israel was a theocracy.
- Meaning, among other things, that God was the judicial system, the Supreme Court.
- Justice was meted out through Him.
- His holiness was the standard of innocence.
- If He condemned He was justified to do so.
But we are still left emotionally traumatized.
- Especially with the death sentence on his children.
- Was it that his children, perhaps knowing about the hidden treasure, were also seen as responsible for the profaning of Israel’s camp?
- That seems a stretch.
- We just don’t know.
- Some argue that they weren’t killed.
- The bottom line is that our modern sensibilities will not find satisfactory resolution to this question.
4) NECESSITY OF GOD’S WRATH
We have a problem with God’s wrath.
- We have to be honest.
- Our modern sensibilities see it as harsh, unfair and over the top.
“Our problem here is—sinners that we are—we don’t think breaking Yahweh’s covenant is all that big a deal. We really cannot understand God’s wrath because sin does not bother us much” – Dale Davis.
This flaw in our thinking leads us into error –
“The problem with evangelicals is that they treat Scripture as if all of it were equal in emphasis about things like God’s character. …the harsh language in the OT is akin to our sometimes harsh and blunt words to infants when they do something wrong. It isn’t that God is really like that, but because of our infancy; he speaks to us in those terms. Once Christ has come and we have fully matured in faith, it is the language of love that dominates. Yes the NT does also speak of punishment because sometimes we are all immature. But anyone who reads the Gospel accounts and thinks this is really what Jesus is like is missing the point. It’s a conservative evangelical pathology to be fixated on God’s wrath. Pure and simple” – Simon (commenting on Gospel Coalition post).
- In other words, Jesus came and showed us that “it isn’t that God is really like that”.
- Say what?
This is just complete nonsense.
- Not only is God like that, but Jesus is also like that.
- And in fact, on this side of the new creation, God’s wrath is necessary.
- We will look quickly at four reasons for this necessity.
“The whole burden of human life after the fall is in itself an expression of divine wrath (cf. Gen. 3; 4; 6–8; 11). As Job 14:1ff. vividly puts it (cf. Ps. 90:7), all human life stands under the constant operation of the wrath of God” – TDNT.
- In other words, the Bible teaches that the wrath of God is the default experience of God by the fallen world.
- This is not to say that God’s grace is not manifested in many ways to a fallen world.
- But that without action by God to mitigate His wrath, His wrath is the norm.
The Gospel of John puts it so clearly:
- John 3:36 (ESV) — 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
- It doesn’t come upon “him” but “remains on him”.
The NT is clear that God’s wrath is a current and real attribute of God.
- It was not replaced or displaced by God’s love.
- It is not only for the “stupid” OT folks.
Some NT examples:
- Romans 1:18 (ESV) — 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
- Romans 5:9 (ESV) — 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
- Romans 11:22 (ESV) — 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
- 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (ESV) — 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ESV) — 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
All those outside of Christ will experience Him as God’s wrath.
- Yes, Jesus Himself will manifest the wrath of God to unbelievers.
- Revelation 6:15–17 (ESV) — 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Did you see that?!
- The “wrath of the Lamb”.
- This is an awesome and profound phrase.
- Yet it seems strangely contradictory.
- And it hints at the 4th reason why God’s wrath is necessary.
If God’s wrath is diluted & diminished, God’s love is diluted & diminished.
- We can’t paint over God’s wrath with His love without changing His love in the process.
G.K. Chesterton puts it like this:
“Being a mixture of two things, it is a dilution of two things; neither is present in its full strength or contributes its full colour” – G.K. Chesterton.
- And Christianity, unlike the world, always retains its full, undiluted & undiminished colors.
- The world prefers to dilute and diminish.
- Christianity “got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious” – Chesterton.
- Like “wrath of the Lamb”
He says this is seen clearly with the imagery of the lion and the lamb.
- There is nothing significant about this concept if the lion loses its fierceness or the lamb loses its innocence.
Typically we think, “that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is–Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem [Christianity] attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved” – Chesterton.
Tim Keller, perhaps influenced by Chesterton, makes the same point:
- His take used to be, “I can’t believe in Hell and wrath because I want a more loving God” – Keller.
- But he “came to realize…that if you get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath, you have a less loving God” – Keller.
- “If you get rid of a God who has wrath and Hell, you’ve got a god who loves us in general, but that’s not as loving as the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, who loves us with a costly love” – Tim Keller.
- In other words, like Chesterton, if you dilute & diminish God’s wrath, you dilute & diminish His love.
And for the Christian:
- The thing that shields us from the fierceness of God’s wrath – and it is fierce –
- Is the equally fierce costliness of God’s love.
In Revelation 6:15-17 (from above), sinners call on the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the “wrath of the lamb”.
- Jesus’ wrath is so fierce they hope death can hide them from it.
- But the only thing that can hide us from the “wrath of the lamb” is our union with Christ.
- Christ doesn’t replace God’s ho-hum OT wrath with a “groovy kind of love”.
- It is better than that.
- His fierce love provides salvation from His fierce wrath.