Father, we pray that you shall take the words of a man and turn them into the very words of God. We pray that even those who came here today without any intention of becoming serious with you might be surprised by the prompting, the power and the strength of your Spirit. And we recognize that the task before us is an impossible one, and that is why we give it humbly to you and pray that you shall do in our hearts, do in my heart, do it in the staffs’ hearts, the choir, all, we pray—do in our hearts that which is well pleasing in your sight. And grant us the grace to accept whatever you show us, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Sometimes when a tire explodes, when you have a flat tire, the reason actually is because of a microscopic failure or separation that was going on for a long time. In the very same way, when we think of our moral lives or spiritual lives, oftentimes when we see something happen that is detrimental and wrong, the seeds have been planted long ago.
One of our tasks at times is to try to find the real root cause of various things. Economists want to find the root cause of the ups and downs of the economy. Sociologists want to find the root cause of the problems that we have in our homes, the break-up of the American family. Counselors have the challenge of trying to find the root cause of various kinds of behavior. Why is this person so angry? Why do they behave violently? Why is it that they have such an addiction to gambling? What a counselor tries to do is to find the root cause.
Now, I want you to know today that there are some causes that cannot be discovered unless we are spiritually-minded. To put that differently, secular man oftentimes is unable to uncover the root cause for two reasons. First of all, the root cause may be in an area that is beyond his investigation. And also it might be in a place that is totally unrelated, seemingly, totally unrelated to the actual behavior itself.
I can imagine you’re thinking, “Pastor Lutzer, what in the world are you talking about?” Well, I hope you are asking that because I want to tell you. I want to give you an illustration from the Bible of what I mean, and I believe it will become very clear.
Take your Bibles and turn to the seventh chapter of the book of Joshua—Joshua 7. In chapter 6 we have that marvelous victory and Jericho falls. The walls fall down flat. Not a single Israelite lost his life in the Battle of Jericho. But when chapter 7 opens we have something different. I’m picking it up in verse 1. “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; (That is things that God said belonged to Him and that were to be destroyed or either put into the treasury.) Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them (that is, these devoted things). So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, ‘Go [up] and spy out the region.’ So the men went [up] and they spied out Ai. When they returned to Joshua, they said, ‘Not all the people [will] have to go [up] against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.’ So about three thousand men went up; [but] they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed [about] thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.”
What went wrong? Chapter 6, complete victory. Chapter 7, thirty-six men dead on a battlefield. Well, what did go wrong? Well, let’s ask some military men as to what their analysis is of the cause of this defeat. So we talk to one military general, and he said, “No problem.” He said, “There weren’t enough men. They underestimated the manpower they needed. Three thousand men was not enough.”
So we meet a second general and we say, “What went wrong here on the battlefield?” And he says, “Well, it really wasn’t really a problem of men.” He says, “They didn’t have the right equipment. The Israelites were there and they did not have proper swords, and so forth, and if you want to win, you need some hardware that they didn’t have.”
We talk to a third general and we ask his opinion and he says, “It’s just a bad strategy. You had enough men. You had enough weapons, but this is what you needed to do. You needed to go around the city of Ai and then pretend you were beginning to flee, and then you set ambushes along the way, and you capture them that way. It’s a matter of strategy.”
Interestingly, God says it was none of those. Do you realize it’s because a man by the name of Achan took something that belonged to God and hid it in his tent, and God says, “That’s why you’ve got problems out on the battlefield?” And we want to say to ourselves, “Wait a moment. What in the world is the connection? What possible connection could there be between thirty-six men on the battlefield dead and someone who takes something he shouldn’t have and hides it in his tent? Those two have no relationship to each other.” God says that He makes the relationship, that sin has consequences that are unpredictable, haphazard. Sin always obeys the law of unintended consequences, and sometimes sin can affect things distantly that appear to be totally unrelated to the things so affected.
What we’d like to do today is to take a look at this passage of Scripture and notice three relationships that will help us to understand the connectedness (I hope there’s a word like that. If not, there is now.) of sin. Let’s open our Bibles and look at the text.
First of all, I want you to know that people are inter-related. They are connected. Notice I read chapter 7, verse 1, “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to [the] devoted things,” and then it goes on to talk about Achan who was from the Tribe of Judah. Now, quite frankly, if I were from the Tribe of Simeon, I’d protest. And I’d say, “That wasn’t me. That wasn’t anyone related to me. It is one man, one bad apple in the whole barrel, so why do you say the Israelites acted unfaithfully?”
It’s interesting to notice what God Himself says. Joshua falls on his knees before the Lord, before His face, and the Lord said to Joshua in verse 10, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. (Notice the plural.) They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have [put] them with their own possessions.” And you want to say, “Wait a moment. Not all of us. It’s just one person.” God says, “One of you does it, all of you are affected.”
People are inter-related. This was true in Ancient Israel. It’s true today in families. Families are inter-related. You find that if there is sin in the family, oftentimes that sin spreads like a poison, and of necessity all other family members are affected by it in one way or another. There’s no way you could just simply isolate it and say, “This is one person’s problem.” It is a family problem. In fact, God says He visits “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, on the third and the fourth generation...” Now many people misinterpret that. It can be very disappointing if you had a bad father, but actually it says “...of those who hate Me.” If you are a God lover, you can break the effects of a bad, sinful family. But if you are discouraged because of that, be encouraged because the next part of the verse is, and I show “lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and [keep My commandments].”
I think one of the most blessed instances in Scripture where God’s heart is revealed is where the Lord said to Solomon one day—and remember, strictly speaking, one could argue that Solomon should never have been born because he was born to Bathsheba who should never have been David’s wife. But God said to him one day, “Solomon, you know what I’d like to do? I’d like to do something good for you, and I’d like to bless you for your father’s sake, my servant, David.” Now isn’t that wonderful of God? But the simple fact is there is a connection among people.
Israel has sinned, though one man sinned. Churches are connected. The effect of our church here, whether it is in Costa Rica or other parts of the world where the church exists, somehow either our fire for God or our coldness toward God affects the Body of Christ, I believe, in some way, worldwide.
Churches are connected. An individual church has connections. Do you realize if there is someone here listening to this, and you have sin in your life, there is sin in the camp, something you have hidden, figuratively speaking, something you are not dealing with, something you are involved in that is sinful and destructive, that God out of heaven could say, “Moody Church has sinned”? And we might say to ourselves, “Wait a moment. I didn’t do that.” God says, “But there is sin in the camp, and a little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
I’ve used the illustration before of trying contain incense when you burn it in a dormitory room at the university. You can put towels on the bottom of the door. You can try to shut it in, but pretty soon you can smell it on the second floor, and you can smell it in the elevator. Somehow sin just can’t be contained neatly. It has negative consequences beyond its immediate surroundings.
First Corinthians, chapter 5. The man is living in immorality and Paul is chastising the church for not dealing with it. And then Paul says, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Don’t you know that if you allow sin in the camp that everyone is going to be affected, and somehow it lowers the standards for everyone? Are you not aware of the fact that you can’t isolate sin? It has to be sometimes cut out like a cancer.
So, people are related. Now, between you and me (because it’s just us talking, isn’t it?), do you realize your spiritual life affects me, and my spiritual life affects you? There’s no way we can live in isolation as if to say, “Whether or not I’m backslidden doesn’t matter to others.” Yes, it does. It harms the whole body. God says, “You’re inter-related.”
Well, not only are people inter-related but sin is inter-related. Now this is a tremendous study on human nature. We’re jumping to verse 19 when Achan is discovered, and I’ll be mentioning that in a different context. But it says in verse 19, “[Then] Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” Achan replied, “It is true. I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done...”
Now notice. If you’re in the habit of underlining your Bible there are some verbs here that have to be underlined. “...I saw” Notice that—“I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels...” I saw it. I coveted it in my heart. I took it. That means I stole it. Next phrase, I hid it in the ground.
I saw it.
I coveted it.
I let that sin grow in my heart.
I stole it. And now I hid it.
What an interesting progression in sin in our lives. Sins are inter-related. They come in clusters. Did you know it’s impossible for you to sin in one area without doing it in another? Did you know it’s not possible for you to break, for example, the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” without breaking at least five or six of all the other commandments? It isn’t that neat. You just cannot compartmentalize your sin and say, “It stays there.” It affects other aspects of your life, and it spawns other sins.
The fruit of the Spirit is like that too, of course. You can’t say, “Well, you know, I’ve got a lot of love, but there’s no joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith and meekness.” No. You know, if you have love, which is the first fruit of the Spirit, you’re going to have at least some of the others because these fruit of the Spirit come together. They grow together. But sin is like that too. As a matter of fact, this would be a good place for me to give you some laws of sowing and reaping. Paul says, “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he [also] reap.” Could I just tick them off very quickly? And this certainly applies here to the experience of Achan.
First of all, you reap what you sow. One of the worst things that can happen to you is you steal and get by with it, because stealing will generate more stealing, unless it is severely dealt with. That’s true of other sins. You lie, and somehow the lie is beneficial to you. And there are lies that are beneficial, like the Sunday school girl said, “A lie is an abomination unto the Lord, but a very present help in time of trouble.” So you can lie and it can be beneficial, but you will then tell greater lies. Soon your entire life will be a life of deceit. You sow sensuality, you will reap sensuality, because we reap what we sow. And those weeds in the ground continue to get stronger. That’s the first law of sowing and reaping.
Let me give you a second. You reap more than you sow. Oh, listen carefully to this. You know, I was brought up on a farm and I know that when you plant a seed in the ground—for example, we would plant wheat, and we’d seed maybe one bushel of wheat per acre, and yet, we might reap 30 or 40 times that. In the very same way sin is never stagnant. It keeps pushing you and pushing you, and going past one boundary after another that you’d determined you would never cross, because sin has within it this idea that you reap more than you sow. You don’t see the end result and the consequences. They are hidden from you.
I do think of David. He commits murder; first of all, though, adultery. Now when he committed adultery, he had no idea he was going to commit murder. I should say the adultery led to the murder. The murder led to other deceits. Pretty soon he loses his whole family. And you can see in David’s life he never recovered emotionally. He never regained his position of authority with his children. And sometimes when I look at the way in which his life ended, basically a very sad, defeated, bad father—though he had some marvelous qualities, he was a bad father—the simple fact is once that sin began to grow, he reaped more than he sowed. It looked so small and innocent, but the consequences eventually were devastating.
Now, let me give you a third law of sowing and reaping. And this one may be the most important. Everyone listen up at this point. The law is simply this. You reap in a different season than you sow. You see, sometimes you sow and you say to yourself, “Well, there are no consequences.” You can go and put seed in the ground, and you can plant [those] “wild oats” as people sometimes speak of it, and you go there the next day and it has not germinated. It looks as if the soil has been largely untouched, and there is not a single weed or stalk of wild oats that has to be uprooted, and you say, “See? There’s no problem.” Well, there is a problem, because you don’t reap when you sow. You reap after you sow.
And that’s why there are so many people today with all kinds of problems. Let’s take, for example, the issue of immorality. I would say at least fifty percent of all problems in marriages can be traced back to an immoral background. Now, at the time you say, “Well, it’s not going to affect me. We’re going to take care of this.” And then suddenly you marry the person with whom you are involved, thinking all is going to be sweetness and light, and on your honeymoon you begin to have terrible, terrible, vicious arguments and hatred and guilt. And you say, “Well, where’s all this coming from?” Almost always it’s coming from some seeds that were planted, and you don’t reap in the same season you sow. You reap a little later on.
You say, “Well, what do you have to do about that?” Well, the answer is the weeds need to be pulled out of the ground by the roots, because they will continue to grow. They will continue to bring a bitter harvest, and it will go on and on and on until the root has been pulled out through confession, through repentance, through responsibility and terms of accountability. That’s how seriously we have to deal with this business we call sin.
Notice the following. People are inter-related. You can’t live your life without it somehow affecting me. And I can’t live mine without it affecting you. Sins are inter-related. I cannot sin neatly and say I have it compartmentalized, I have it under control, I will determine where the boundaries are. Now when you give yourself to sin you’ll discover that eventually that will be out of your control. Sins are related. One sin spawns another.
The man in Detroit last week who took a gun and blew his head off and shot himself to death in that casino—he didn’t know when he was there gambling that that’s the way this was all going to end when he began with that gambling habit. He thought he had it under control. “I will bring only so much money. I will take care of this.” And eventually, as he got into debt, it became worse and worse and he took more and more to try to recoup his losses, and at the end of the day, in the casino, [he] took out a gun and shot himself. Now, that’s not what you see when you begin, but sin is inter-related. It leads from one to the other.
Judgment—now we’re on number three. People are related. Sin is inter-related. Judgment is also inter-related. Now let’s pick up the story of Achan. Achan, you remember, was the one who had sinned, and God told Joshua to get up from the ground and to find the sin, and in order to do that in Old Testament times they cast lots to try to find who the culprit was. Well, you can imagine as the lots were going along the different tribes, why didn’t Achan just sit at the back and say, “Stop it everybody. Yoo-hoo, I’m guilty. Here I am”? Because of shame and because of the love of sin, we will do everything we possibly can to conceal it. We will lie. We will rationalize. We will try as best as we can to hide it so we don’t have to deal with it at all. And what we want to do is to hide it under that rug to dig it deep and the put it there and to say, “This is something with which I will not deal. It has to stay there.”
You know what God does during periods of revival? During periods of revival the conviction of sin is so persistent and so powerful that people finally say to themselves, “I would rather be right with God at any cost. Even if my sin needs to be exposed, and I need to take care of issues in my life, it is worth it. Because I am too miserable to live out of fellowship with God.” And if the conviction of sin is not that severe, the hiding of sin continues.
Well, look at what happened. Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” This is after verse 16 goes on to say how they cast lots, and then the tribe of Judah eventually was taken, and then within Judah’s tribe there was a family that was taken, and a clan that was taken. And finally the lot came into Achan’s territory, and he had to confess guilt. And Achan replied, as we read a moment ago), “I saw it, I coveted it, I stole it, I hid it.”
“So Joshua sent messengers (verse 22), and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites [and] spread them out before the Lord. [Then] Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, his donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.’ [Then] all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped [up] a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor (namely “the Valley of Trouble”) ever since.”
We read this with our New Testament sensibilities, and we say, “Isn’t this an over-reaction? I mean, sure, the guy sinned, but why didn’t they just have him repent?” In Old Testament times you know the judgment against sin was carried out mercilessly and, so far as possible, instantly. Now, we know in the New Testament God has not changed His opinion of sins at all. It’s just that He deals with them differently, and there’s a final judgment coming when we will see that God is stricter and even more demanding in New Testament times than He ever was in Old Testament times because of a principle. And the principle is this that the greater the grace, the greater the eventual penalty for refusing it.
What was happening in the text? First of all, his family was stoned along with him possibly because they were accomplices. You know, they knew it was there, and yet even though they knew it was there they went along with it. They didn’t go to Joshua and expose it and say, “Look at what Achan has done.” This is probably a family project.
Secondly, I want you to notice that Achan apparently was a very wealthy man. He had donkeys and sheep, and a lot of things that were stoned there along with him. You know it is possible to have a lot of money and still be greedy and still steal more. It’s not just the poor, you know, who want money. It is the rich who take that greed upon themselves, even money they don’t need, and insist that they have it and cut the corners in order to get it. And what God wanted to say to Israel in the strongest possible terms was this, “Look, when I tell you that the spoils of battle of Jericho, that the silver and gold was to be put in the Lord’s treasury, and everything else, even those things of value, even the coats and the clothes that the people had is to be burned as a symbol of My judgment, I mean what I say. I’m serious.” And how else could He prove the seriousness but to have Achan and his family stoned in the Valley of Achor, which incidentally Hosea later on talks about the Valley of Achor being the door of hope. The valley of trouble, for some people, is the door of hope. You know that, don’t you?
You know that sometimes we want to keep people out of trouble, and that’s fine, but sometimes it is only trouble—it is the valley of trouble that becomes for them the door of hope. Apart from the trouble they go on plunging headlong into still more sins and greater judgment.
So I need to ask you today one-on-one (It’s just us.), what are you hiding in your tent that smells foul that you have decided to keep there at all costs? What sin of bitterness, what sin of sensuality, of immorality, what sin of greed, what sin of lying, what sin of stealing is there in your life? And you have said to yourself, “I will not deal with this issue because it is too difficult; I don’t want to touch this.” And God says, “Wait a moment. I can’t bless you like I’d like to bless you—I can’t give you the joy I would like to give you until your sin has been put away.” That’s why David prayed in the Psalm that was [written] after he committed those terrible sins, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”
Sin causes the cup of joy to spring a leak. And it’s very hard, you know, for you as a Christian to be joyful—you’re like a cup trying desperately to spill over, but it’s only half full, and it is sin, you see, that causes that drain.
I have a friend in Canada who taught me physics and chemistry when I was in high school. Perhaps to speak more accurately, he tried to teach me physics and chemistry when I was in high school. He’s a very fine, respected Christian man, and after I left Canada, he went on to greater education to get a master’s degree in various subjects. And one day he was going to pray for his daughter who was about to be married. And he was in the garage and it just seemed as if the Holy Spirit was coming on him, and he felt this strong urge to pray.
Joshua also, you know, felt the strong urge to pray when this happened. You’ll notice it says in verse 6, “[Then] Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, [remaining] there till evening.” Isn’t that commendable? But it says in verse 10, “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Stand up!’” Stand up. Get off your face. I mention that so you might better understand the story.
There he is as a Christian man, a Sunday school teacher, highly respected, and he wants to really pray for his daughter, and to really pray and not to just say, “God bless them.” He wants to intercede. And he gets down on his knees and the Holy Spirit says to him clearly, “Henry, don’t bother. Don’t bother praying.” That’s just like what God says to Joshua. “Get up. Don’t bother. This is not the time to pray.”
Why would the Holy Spirit say to a Christian man, “This is not the time to pray?” Years before that, while working on a master’s degree, he was in a class where the teacher said, “We want you to do original research for this class. I don’t want you to use anything else that you have previously done.” But, you know, he’s in college. I mean it’s hard in the university, and he had done some work in another related area, and being under pressure he took that term paper he had used somewhere else, rewrote it briefly, and put his name on it, and handed it into this class, and got an A, and when he graduated, he walked across the stage to receive a special high honor.
In retrospect, he said to himself, his feet were as if they were lead as he walked across the stage and everybody clapped that Henry was so bright to get this honor, because he knew in his heart he had done wrong. But after all, God forgives us. Right? And isn’t that what the blood of Christ is for? What difference does it make? So what does he do? He hides it in his tent. Now, of course the blood of Christ forgives us, but God also asks us to make things right with people we have wronged if we are still able to. If you’ve stolen, you take it back. If you have lied and the consequences are still somehow connected, you straighten it up. That’s what God wants us to do, you know, when we get serious with sin. But Henry took this and hid it in his tent for years. And now finally he wants to get real serious with God. I mean this is not play any more. And God says, “Henry, don’t bother.”
He went back to the university and told them exactly what he had done. He also told them they could do with him whatever they wished so at last he could look into the face of God and really, really pray.
So I have to ask you. There’s been sin in my life that I’ve hidden. I know the story. I know what it’s all about. But I have to ask you today, “What are you hiding? What sin is affecting others in addition to yourself? What sin does that one sin spawn, and what kind of judgment might God bring? What kind of discipline? What kind of consequences until we finally say like Achan was forced to, “God, here am I. Do as seems good in Thy sight.”
Let us pray. Our Father, we are such deceitful creatures. We lie to ourselves. We lie to others. We try to lie to you. We’ve got it all worked out. And there it is in the tent. There it is hidden. There it is cuddled, taken care of, all rationalized, all neat, but when we really want to pray, really, really want to pray, your Holy Spirit says, “Don’t bother.”
Father, would you work in our lives today? And grant grace to those who struggle with hidden sin, the weeds that have never been pulled out of the ground. Will you grant them, oh God, today that you shall pull those weeds out? Grant, oh God, such a conviction of sin that they may say, “I cannot live, I cannot go on, I can’t face Monday until it is taken care of today.” Grant us that we ask.
How many of you say today, “Pastor Lutzer, I know that I’ve got issues in my life that I need to deal with today.” Would you raise your hands please? How many of you? Up in the balcony too? Students?
Father, we pray for those who raised their hands and for those who didn’t but should have. Work in our hearts we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Editor’s Note: In this transcript, the verbatim intelligent transcription process simplifies and enhances spoken content by eliminating redundant words, unnecessary sounds, fixing grammar errors, and clarifying meaning while preserving the author’s original intent. All Scripture quotes are according to the biblical text, not as they were originally spoken.