The defeat of the Israelites at Ai in Joshua 7 remains one of the most interesting passages in the book of Joshua. After having destroyed Jericho in a great victory, Joshua decides to send a much smaller army to Ai. Contrary to all expectations, the Israelites are defeated. When a despondent Joshua inquires of the Lord, God replies that the reason for the defeat is the sin of one man: Achan. Here is what God actually says to Joshua:
11 Israel has sinned. They have violated My covenant that I appointed for them. They have taken some of what was set apart. They have stolen, deceived, and put [the things] with their own belongings. 12 This is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies. They will turn their backs [and run] from their enemies, because they have been set apart for destruction. I will no longer be with you unless you remove from you what is set apart.
I’ve always been stunned by the fact that the entire people of Israel suffered for the sin of one man. Instead of just zapping Achan for his sin or warning Joshua and the elders that somebody violated the covenant, God lets them go their way and be defeated. My western, individualistic mindset tells me it feels unfair to punish everybody for one person’s stupidity. The others didn’t do anything wrong, why should they suffer? That would be justice right – punishing Achan only?
My mind then wanders to 1 Corinthians 12 – we are a body, we are all interconnected and dependent on each other. We cannot say we don’t need each other – one person’s loss becomes everybody’s loss. I wander a little further and am reminded that the book of Revelation really doesn’t address individuals – it addresses peoples, nations, tribes, and tongues. In fact, the whole Torah and the story of Joshua illustrates that God didn’t punish the sins of individuals, he punished the sins of entire people groups. This demands the conclusion that while God certainly cares about individuals, God also deals with people on a grander scale as nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues.
With than in mind, let’s go back to Joshua 7. The story of Achan shows us that God does not and cannot connect Himself to one purposefully committing sin. Of course there is forgiveness and of course there is the grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, but check out what Hebrews 10 says:
26 For if we deliberately sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries. 28 If anyone disregards Moses’ law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace?