I have a confession to make. I didn’t read all through Joshua in preparation for this month’s blog post. I’d intended to, but the best laid plans of mice and men…
With only a week to go before this was scheduled to be posted, I decided that since my monthly slot falls 1/3rd of the way through the month, I ought to look at a passage roughly 1/3 of the way through the book. So I only got to read chapters 6-8, with my eye really on chapter 7. The story that it tells is often known as “Achan’s sin” – it’s one of the stories that would be told fairly frequently in Sunday School, which can push one down the roads marked “familiarity” and “sanitisation”, roads that disciples may be well-advised to avoid.
Several readings of the chapter later, what struck me was not Achan’s greed and his surreptitious hiding of his spoils, it was his frank and honest confession. For starters, Joshua gives him an opportunity to make a confession. There does not seem to be any condemnation from Joshua in verse 19:
‘My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and make confession to him. Tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.’
Achan’s response comes across as clear and contrite. There’s no bluff or bluster, blaming anyone else or making any other kind of excuse:
‘It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. This is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.’
Where I then hit a stumbling block is comparing this with 1 John 1:9
“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Was Achan forgiven? No, he was stoned to death and then burnt. Even then, he wasn’t stoned alone. His children were killed likewise, his livestock too. My instinct is not praise the wondrous righteous judgement of God; it is to cry out “What good did that do? Where’s the forgiveness from our merciful and gracious God? Why did his children have to die too?”
In thinking this through, one friend suggested that Achan had to die because Jesus hadn’t yet, therefore there could not be atonement with him being stoned. While there seems to be some merit in this, I can’t get over the idea that there were atonement sacrifices that Achan could have made without losing his life and those of his children.
What I’m driving at, I suppose, is that the notions of justice and grace, key as they are to the christian life, are far from simple. A cry for justice is a very serious and sobering thing, not to be undertaken lightly. When we talk about God being righteous or just (in the Greek, they have the same root word), we should bear in mind that these concepts may not necessarily mean exactly the same in the theological sense as they do when used in everyday terminology.
I have a confession to make. I still struggle with this. I can’t claim to have fully reconciled 1 John 1:9 with Joshua 7. I just hope a little light has been shone on area where many others struggle; and some even lose their faith over. But a life of discipleship isn’t mean to be easy, is it?