Sun beating down, heat rising up, sweat rolling down and still the man chipped away at the tall stone in front of him. With each pounding of the hammer, more stone pebbles spattered down the stone face adding to the already deep pile of sand and chips. Sand had gathered in the tiny wrinkles of his skin, and his sweat only partially washed the bits of grit away. For hours and hours, perhaps for days he worked on each stone. Words formed as the grit fell away.
Can you imagine having to stand in the heat of the day, while the body responds with rivers of sweat, or the chill of night working by the light of a flickering torch, beating on a rock? Joshua did. He wrote a copy of the law, every word of the law on those stones (Joshua 8:32) while the Children of Israel stood by. All the important people, the elders and the judges on this side and all the regular people like you and me on that side; half in front of Mount Ebal and the other half in front of Mount Gerizim. The mountains were Bald and Rocky respectively. Not only did the Children of Israel stand by while Joshua carved the Law upon the stones, but they also stood while Joshua read the entire Law to them: all the words of the Law, both the blessing and the curse.
Now, that is true devotion. What led to that? Just a few verses before this, we see why there was Trouble in Ai. There is no such thing as “no fault sin.” In fact, there is no such thing as “the devil made me do it.”
Every one of us has at one time or another put the blame of our own doing upon someone else, whether as a child, a teen, or an adult, we’ve all done it. Satan has a way of setting up situations and temptations that can suck us under like a riptide sucks a swimmer beneath the surface of the sea. But, Satan doesn’t push our head under water. It is by choice we ignore the Rip Tide warning sign written in large red print with a flag waving mightily in the wind. It is by choice we wade into the water and swim to that particular point where currents can reach speeds of two to four miles per hour. Even the strongest swimmer can’t compete against currents that strong. But strong swimmers are usually smarter than diving into dangerous waters.
Satan will take a legitimate desire given by God and use it in an evil way to kill, steal and destroy. But, we cannot blame sin on Satan. God is faithful and won’t ever let us get into dangerous waters without warnings and He won’t let us be tempted more than we can withstand if we allow Him to protect us, and if we listen to the warnings.
Achan was the only one out of the 603,550 Israelite men old enough to go to war and win the Promised Land who yielded to temptation. He took a robe and a pile of silver and a wedge of gold. He lusted after them and took them. But, could he flaunt them? Spend them? Wear them in front of his brothers? No. He had to dig a hole and bury them in his tent. What good did taking them do him?
Greed often does that. A child sees something he wants and swipes it off the shelf stuffing it in his pocket to be played with later, in the dark. In the dark because he knows he did wrong in taking the thing. Achan knew he did wrong in taking the things, but he allowed the whole of Israel to be shamed in front of a tiny little town with less than 6,000 people in it. These fighting men, led by Joshua who’s name brought terror to all those in the land and whose God melted their stomachs, were put on the run. Nor did Achan speak up when Joshua dropped to his knees begging the LORD to tell him why He brought them to the Promised Land only to be destroyed by a tiny little Canaanite hamlet.
At least the man “fessed up” when confronted. But, how shameful for all the assembly to suffer the consequences of the sin of one man. Sin begins with temptation, but being tempted is not sin. Yielding to temptation is the sin. God made an example of Achan to the whole of His chosen people. We see a confession of a man that knows there isn’t anyway to wiggle out of what he’d done, mainly because God Himself led Joshua to the only one who had disobeyed. Achan looked at the purple, Babylonian robe. Found it to be beautiful. Thought about how it would look on himself or perhaps how it would bring glory on himself if he placed it on the shoulders of his wife. Then, after thinking about it, made the deliberate decision to take it along with the silver and gold. All to satisfy his own greed, and what did it get him?
Here, we see a discipline that we’d never see today. All his family, wife and daughters and sons along with all the cattle and donkeys, tent and trappings, and even those things he had stolen were forced into the Valley of Achor. He and all his family were stoned and set on fire.
Was that a bit too harsh? After all his family did not take the things. Yet, everyone had heard the order not to take anything, nor to let anyone live, to show no mercy. It was those people and those things that would lead Israel down that road to idolatry, and God knew it. Greed and lust are no companions of the godly. He made sure they understood how dangerous those things would be to the well being of His children. Achan’s family heard the order. Achan’s family also knew of the theft because he buried the stuff in the middle of his tent. They said nothing about it, taking part in the deception.
One has to wonder if Joshua was thinking of this when he wrote on those stones, carving out the Law on the almost unyielding surface of the stone’s face. Or was he praying for all of Israel to faithfully serve the LORD? It must have weighed heavily on his heart. I find it so telling that the Law was etched indelibly upon the face of stone, and God called their hearts hard as stone, Ezekiel 3:7 But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to Me, for all the house of Israel are strong of forehead and hard of heart.
When temptation beckons, the heart can become hard as stone shushing the conscious resulting in a detour that can lead to the valley of Achor. We endure trials, but God is faithful and will always provide the way of escape. We can’t escape trouble, but we absolutely will escape temptation.
However, yielding to temptation starts wearing a groove in the heart that makes taking the escape much harder. Making a habit is not as hard as breaking a habit. Yielding to temptation can become much easier than resisting temptation unless the will is exerted and the desire to resist is greater than the desire to yield.
Second Peter 2:5 tells us that God knows how to deliver the godly from temptation. The key word is godly. How do we even recognize sin for what it is unless the Holy Spirit convicts of it?
In the Old Testament, (Proverbs) God told them to write His command upon their heart. But, in the New Testament… Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected in perpetuity the ones being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit witnesses to us also. For after having said before, 16 “This is the covenant which I will covenant to them after those days, says the Lord: Giving My Laws on their hearts, and I will write them on their minds;” 17 also He adds, “I will not at all still remember their sins” and their lawlessnesses.
The difference is Who is doing the writing, and just as importantly, how soft is the heart.