This week's Bible Study - August 9, 2015
Move Beyond Failure
Quotes of the Week:
Most of our faults are more pardonable than the means we use to conceal them.
~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Have you ever failed? You may never have failed a test or a class in school, but we all have failures that we have experienced in our lives. When we fail, we let ourselves down and at times, we let others down as well. When we are growing up and are in school, we all have probably seen how the actions of one person may impact a whole class and cause many to miss recess or do extra homework. When we think of issues in our world, we see how the impacts of a few people can even lead a nation to war. If you work at a business, one employee or CEO can have a huge impact on the whole workforce. It is very easy to see how the failures of a person can impact many others.
A failure may or may not be a moral problem, as one can fail to reach a goal, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they have done anything wrong. This lesson is less about the failure to win a game or score well on a test, but rather the failures that come when we fall short of God's standards, over and over again, throughout life. These failures are better known as sin. We know that our sin grieves our Lord and can cause additional problems and consequences in our lives. Sometimes, it seems that our sins may be well known by everybody. At other times, we tend to believe that we can keep our sin to ourselves. Sin or failure can have great consequences upon our own lives and can also cause extended consequences to be felt by others.
God holds each of us accountable for our own actions and while we may be impacted negatively by what someone else does, we cannot use that as an excuse for our own wrong actions. Often, when negatively impacted by the sin of another, it becomes easy to share that information with more and more people, which in fact, will end up causing more consequences to others. In fact, when we respond with a vengeful attitude, we become a knowing culprit to furthering the impact of sin. You likely know others or have some have taken every opportunity to tell others why they are in their own situation and use that as fuel for wrong behavior. Unfortunately, this is often done online in facebook and other social media, which only exacerbates the problem. You can probably see how the actions of Job's friends when he experienced tragedy are similar to many today. Whenever we experience problems, it can be easy to feel as if there might be something that we have done to displease God.
In this lesson, we will read about the sin of Achan. That one man's sin had grave impacts on his family and the entire nation of Israel. While his failure was indeed great and he did suffer the consequences, God's bigger plan had to do with the nation of Israel. Although this one man's failure impacted the nation, God's plan was to restore the nation. We often read this lesson and put ourselves in the part of the one who did no wrong. However, remember that we all have a bit of Achan in our lives, and when that part rises to the top, we are likely to experience many consequences.
In the chapter 6 of Joshua, Joshua explained that when the Israelites went into the city of Jericho, everything was to be devoted to the Lord. They were told clearly to not bring anything back for themselves, or the entire camp of Israel would be liable to destruction. All the silver and gold or articles of bronze and iron were sacred to the Lord and had to go into His treasury.
As the 7th chapter opens, we read that the Israelites were unfaithful in that they didn't listen to the command that Joshua had given them, regarding the things set apart for destruction. Achan took some of what was set apart, and the Lord's anger burned against the Israelites. Isn't it amazing that the Israelites had so recently clearly experienced the hand of God in the crossing of the Jordan and at the city of Jericho? Both of those events should have helped them to understand that God's presence was with them, and they had been told many times of the importance of following His commands. Perhaps you can relate, as you look back in your life and see how God's presence was strongly felt at one time or another. We would think that would be enough to have an effect of drawing us closer and closer to Him, and further from sin, but in reality, we see that we, too, are often forgetful.
It wasn't readily apparent that God was against the nation and in fact, the nation seemed to be gaining momentum. I'm sure that there were some of them that figured that they were on a roll and they couldn't be stopped. Joshua sent some men out to go and spy the city Ai. Unlike some of the reports brought back from spies in the past, they came back with an air of confidence. They didn't believe that the army had to send many. Perhaps this would be a job for the 'second string'. Certainly, some of them were thinking about how they had just routed the city of Jericho and assumed that this would be a piece of cake. It is a good thing to build upon past successes, but if one is not careful, momentum can lead to cockiness, which seemed to be what happened.
About 3000 went to take care of the city, but they were routed by the men of Ai. 36 of the Israelites were killed and the rest of them were chased away. Don't you think that the nation was wondering what was going on? Why wouldn't God continue to be with them? While they had experienced much of the goodness and providence of God, we read that the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.
Joshua, the leader, also had to wonder what had just occurred. He tore his clothes and fell facedown on the ground, before the ark of the Lord. What had just transpired was not the fault of Joshua and it was certainly not his failure, but he was greatly impacted. He had nothing else to do other than take it to God. It wasn't just Joshua, but also the other elders, that were unable to understand why God would do such a thing.
Joshua took their concern to God. It was a time of honesty and openness before the Lord. He asked why God would bother to bring the nation to this place, only to give them to the Amorites. His words became like some of the people in the wilderness, when they looked back fondly on slavery in Egypt. If they had only stayed on the other side of the Jordan River, none of this would have happened. Joshua said "What can I say Lord, now that Israel has turned its back and run from its enemies?" He continued to say that the Canaanites and the others will hear about this and wipe out our name, which would impact God's great name. Isn't it interesting how not only had the Israelites hearts been impacted, but they believed that they would also see a change in their enemies, allowing them to rise and become confident, unafraid of God. Before, as God had acted, it had been so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God." When things didn't go as they had planned, the Israelites began to wonder if God was still with them. Have you ever wondered, silently or aloud, if indeed God was still with you, based on the things that you had to experience in life?
The Lord listened to the pleas of Joshua and the elders and then told Joshua to Stand Up! The Lord explained that He had not left, but Israel had violated His covenant. The Lord explained that some had taken devoted things. They stole, lied and put them with their own possessions. Because of this, they were liable for destruction. In this case, there was a direct correlation between what had occurred and the sinful actions that preceded that. Certainly, today, there may be some correlation between tragedy and sin, but we need to be careful to realize that not all diseases, loss and/or struggle in our lives is tied to sinful behavior in our lives. We must be careful to not conclude that there is always a direct relationship between failure and calamity due to disobedience.
The Lord told Joshua that He would not be with them UNLESS they destroyed what was among them that had been devoted to destruction in the taking of the city of Jericho. God's plan was to correct the situation. Joshua was to tell the people to be consecrated for what was going to come on the following day. While we may not see a direct correlation between our sin and the consequences in our lives, it is always a good idea for us to take inventory of our lives and identify any areas where we are holding onto sin that we should let go. Do you regularly take inventory of your life to see if there are things that you have allowed to become a part of who you are and are displeasing to God?
The process of identification of the culprit was orderly. Everybody was to come tribe by tribe and the Lord chose a tribe. Then, they were to come clan by clan, and the Lord would choose a clan. Then, it would be family by family and the Lord chooses a family. Then, it would be man by man, and the one who had committed this act would be identified and must be destroyed. The tribe was Judah. The clan was the Zerahites. The family was Zimri and the man was Achan. As this process was occurring, what do you think was going through Achan's mind? As it got closer and closer, don't you believe that he would have just rather gotten it over with and identified himself? This was surly not a surprise.
Joshua told Achan to give glory to the Lord and to tell him what he had done.. He was not to hide it any longer. Achan spilled the beans. In Jericho, he had seen a beautiful robe, silver and gold. He coveted them and took them. They were currently hidden inside his tent. In some ways, you have to give credit to Achan. He admitted what he had done, but at this point, it was a little too late to bring benefit. It wasn't until he was publicly identified that he admitted his sin.
Joshua sent messengers to verify that Achan had spoken truth and to bring the things back to Joshua and to spread them out before the Lord. Joshua had Achan, along with the things he had taken, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep and his tent brought before him. It was literally all that Achan had and Joshua explained that the Lord would bring trouble on Achan on that day.
Then, we read that all Israel stoned him and the others. Then they were burned. Achan and all that was associated with him were destroyed. Do you think that people were anxious to get rid of Achan, or did some have mercy on him? I am sure that some people wanted to be the first to throw the stone, and in our day, you can surely think of those who might desire to be the first to throw the stone at those who have failed. While we can hardly relate to stoning of an individual today, there seem to be some people that would derive great benefit from throwing stones at others. If you believe that this describes you (or maybe that others would say that you would be likely to be the stone thrower), perhaps you need to do some self analysis, as none of us are without sin.
Achan and all that was associated him was destroyed. You would have to wonder what kind of impact that would have on the nation. Do you believe that there were others who saw the same things in Jericho and actually had thought of taking them as well, but didn't? Do you believe that they had to start questioning whether or not they even stood a chance with a holy God? At times, they knew of the holiness and majesty of God, but as time went on, did they forget about His holiness? Are you mindful of the holiness of God today, or have you begun to take Him for granted?
The nation had to be understandably shocked. The Lord spoke to Joshua again and said to not be afraid or be discouraged. God had worked before in Joshua's life and God was once again encouraging Joshua to seek Him. We will also go through times in our lives where we have been awed by God's holiness and may be hesitant to seek Him again. Our lives should be spent growing closer and maturing as we seek God, despite our successes or failures. Is God speaking to you that it may be time to fervently seek Him once again?
God told Joshua to take the Israelite army, as God had delivered the king and the city of Ai into Joshua's hand. God let Joshua know that he would do to the city of Ai what he had done to Jericho and its king. Certainly, this would be a tenuous thing to share with the Israelites, as they had recently suffered defeat at the hands of the men of Ai. Would they be quick to want to turn back and try again?
Instead of only sending a smaller army, the whole army went to attack Ai. However, rather than attacking them straight away, they set up an ambush. Some were to attack and then flee, so that the men of Ai would chase them. When the men of Ai were chasing the Israelites, overconfidence would begin to set in. To many of them, it would likely seem like taking candy from a baby. When the men of Ai left the city, others in the Israelite army would come from behind and destroy the city.
The plan worked as it had been drawn up. The king of Ai saw the Israelites coming towards the city once again and he hurried out to meet them. He didn't even think about the possibility of an ambush - it wasn't even in the back of his mind. Often, we will find that too much self confidence can tend to lead to laziness. Certainly, being attacked from behind would have been something that they should have thought about. However, all of the men of Ai pursued the Israelite army. None of them remained in the city and in doing so, they left the city wide open. The Israelites ambushed and quickly set the city on fire. As the men of Ai looked back, they realized that they had been had, and they had no chance to escape. The city was destroyed by the Israelites, except this time, the livestock and plunder was for the Israelites. It was a complete victory and the city of Ai became a permanent heap of ruins.
After the city of Ai had been conquered, Joshua built an altar to the Lord. Certainly, he followed very specifically the way that an altar was to be built, according to the Law of Moses. If they didn't learn anything else, they learned the importance of following what God had specifically called them to do.
In the presence of all of the Israelites, Joshua read all the words of the law. He read of the blessings and curses written in the Book of Law. I feel sure that this time, the people listened a little more intently, at least for a while. They were, in fact, human, as we are, and as the words of the hymn go "prone to wander, Lord, I feel it".
It is important to heed God's warnings. We see many examples in Scripture where people didn't take His words seriously. In 1 Samuel, you can read of the sons of Eli who committed immorality in the sanctuary and paid for it with their life. In Acts, you can read of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the church about what they had done and met instant demise. In 2 Samuel, you can read about the unfortunate Uzzah who reached out to steady the ark as it was sliding off the cart. In each of these, along with this story of Achan, you will find people that got too comfortable. They certainly weren't on their A game and they let at least something else come between themselves and God. If Achan could have had a do-over, I'm sure that he would have done things differently, but he ended up paying for his transgressions with his life.
We must also realize that God does not always act in this way, and in fact, He does not often kill people for their sin directly. If that were true, knowing that there are so many people with sin in the church (including you and I), every church would have to have a morgue, because people would be dying each and every day. And, to add to that fact, this lesson would not be written, because I would already be in the 'church' morgue.
The Israelites had a history that they could look back to and learn from. Time and time again, God made his urgent concern known to them. Time and time again, they kept falling. Time and time again, God sought to restore them. You have to ask yourself why He bothers keeping on with us. In their history, they saw that God was faithful, even when they had not been, but they learned that He desires our faithfulness. What can you learn from your history? Has God worked in your past and have you allowed that to impact your present and future?
As we close, we should all take inventory of our lives and ask ourselves what we need to change. Are there habits that we have that are not honoring to God? Don't allow yourself to get too comfortable so that you are not being intentional with your life. Realize who God is - and see Him through the eyes of awe. If you're playing a game with your obedience, stop the game. Don't use church as if it is home base in a game of spiritual tag, because safety is not found in church attendance.
When finally confronted, in front of all Israel, Achan admitted his sin. While we may applaud his words then, did they fix everything that had happened? What might have changed if he had approached Joshua before and shared what he had done? Things may have worked differently, but we'll never know. As you think of your life, are there areas of moral casualness that you need to confess and repent from? In others, there have been fractured relationships damaged by numerous events of the past. If this describes you and relationships around you, healing can come, but true healing only comes in owning up to the hurt that you have caused others. In fact, often relationship problems can have collateral damage on others somewhat associated. True healing comes when you can truly ask for forgiveness from those who have been impacted and who you have hurt. Sadly, I've seen many people that have lost the opportunity to rectify a broken relationship, because they refused to take this step. Is God speaking to you today and if so, what do you need to do? Yes, God wants to restore you and likely others will as well, but only when you truly seek restoration.