“Then Joshua cried out, ‘O Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! Lord what can I say now that Israel has fled before its enemies?…
…this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.”
God had stopped the Jordan River in its tracks so that Israel could cross on dry land. He had brought down the walls of Jericho before their very eyes. Boldly, they sent a detachment to take out the small town of Ai, and then they were brutally defeated. Joshua was thrown. I would have been, too.
Why had God delivered mighty Jericho to them, and then brought the campaign to a screeching halt at Ai?
The rest of this chapter tells the story of Achan, a man who disobeyed God’s instructions. Israel had been given clear directions to destroy everything except the precious metals, and to bring those to the Tabernacle treasury. They were set apart as holy to the Lord. But Achan made off with just a little something for himself and stashed it under his tent.
I love how this chapter illustrates that when all of Israel obeyed the Lord, but one man kept back and hid what belonged to Him, God was not content to just carry on with the external task of delivering the Promised Land to Israel.
Joshua, in his discouragement, questioned whether they had been over-reaching by stepping across the Jordan at all. But the issue wasn’t having the confidence to go after all that God had promised. The issue was looking only for God’s claim on the territory before them and missing that the battle for his claim on their hearts was just as important.
Later, God did give Israel victory over Ai, and when he did, he told them they were free to take all that they wanted. He was not withholding from them in the long term; he was asking them to trust him and wait. But Achan’s actions in Jericho showed that his heart didn’t trust the Lord. He felt he needed to look out for himself. So God stopped the whole nation in its tracks and revealed to them what was hidden. Then, and only then, he took them forward into victory.
Just as everyone in Israel but Achan obeyed and it wasn’t enough; Jehovah looks for nothing short of a totally yielded heart in me.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Psalm 139:23-24 and James 1:21 explore a similar principle – that our loving God is not content with all in my heart that is honorable and well-intentioned when there are hidden areas that disobey, conceal, and hold back from Him.
But when I humble my heart and listen carefully to His word, He faithfully brings those things to the surface. He is in the patient business of drawing out the internal issues that enslave me, cultivate fear, and darken my understanding of Him. And He may even allow exciting external progress to come to a grinding halt in order to address my heart, so that when I walk forward, I do so truly free, wholly His, and unafraid.
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.