When reading through the Bible, we come across many different types of events. Some, like the story of David and Goliath, are exciting, encouraging us to trust God, while others, like Paul’s letter to Philemon, overflow with compassion. Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden cause us to mourn their rebellion, and we all can’t help but laugh at Balaam oblivion to the fact that it’s a donkey that’s talking to him or shake our head at Esau’s stupidity at selling his birthright for one bowl of stew.
There are, however, some scenarios in the Bible that are a bit harder to swallow.
Take Joshua 7. After Israel defeated Jericho in the previous chapter, a man named Achan decided to take for himself items that were to be destroyed. In punishment for direct disobedience, Achan was stoned to death.
As harsh as that sounds, I can accept it. I mean, God had been specific to Israel in His instructions and the consequences for disregarding them – Achan made his decision with fair warning.
But what is hard to swallow is the last three verses of the chapter:
“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. 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. 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 [Trouble].” ~ Joshua 7:24-26 ESV (emphasis mine)
My initial response was one of indignation. ‘What?! Did Achan’s family have any say in the situation? Did they even know what he had done? Why should they be punished and killed for something they had no knowledge or control over?’
Yet, though passionate anger surged within me, with more thought and discussion I came to an important realization.
You see, we tend to forget that our sin has major consequences, and the harsh reality is that those consequences almost always affect and hurt others.
Think about it. Your gossip hurts some and encourages others to partake in your sin. Your lack of compassion breaks others’ hearts. Your carelessness impacts those around you. Your deceit causes others to be hurt by the lies they believe and to hurt relationships. Your stealing robs others. Your sexual sins destroy relationships with the people closest to you. With any and every act of rebellion against God, there will always be someone else touched by the consequences you have to bear. The effects of your sin is not isolated to you alone.
It’s hard to see how Achan’s sin affected his family, and I understand the struggle to accept the effects of one’s sin on another – but friends, do we ever even stop to think about how our actions may affect others when we want to give way to the sin in our lives? Is it really that God is unfair, or perhaps is it that we are selfish sinners whose actions affect others?