As you read through the Old Testament you see God revealed in many different circumstances as he interacts with his people. His promise of mercy from Deuteronomy 4 notwithstanding, there are many times when God’s righteous judgment and wrath are clearly seen, and such is the case with the sin of Achan in Joshua 6 & 7.
God’s instructions at Jericho were clear: no one was to take any spoil from the city for himself because everything in the city was consecrated to God (6:19). The punishment for failure to keep God’s command was a curse against both the one who sinned and the entire camp of Israel (6:18). Foolishly, Achan took from the spoil which belonged to God at Jericho and hid it in his tent, probably assuming he could simply add it to the spoil of the next battle and no one would be the wiser. Instead, God’s Word was confirmed as the Israelites were defeated at the city of Ai, losing 36 men in the process. Joshua cried out to God in much the same way as he had seen Moses do many times, implying that God’s great name would suffer dishonor if the people failed to conquer the cities of the promised land. While this prayer may have been a sincere attempt to restore Israel’s fortunes in battle, it was misguided. God told Joshua to “Get up!” and address the sin which had been committed by the Israelites (7:10-11). It is at this point that God utters a very sobering statement, “Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed thing from among you (v.12)”
Was God really threatening to remove his presence from the people he had promised to protect and provide for? Probably not, but the people had no right to expect God to go before them and do great things on their behalf if they ignored the hidden sin in their own camp. Clearly there is are several lessons here for us. First, God will not tolerate disobedience. Achan’s sin was exposed by the Spirit of God, and he, along with his entire family, was stoned to death and burned (v.24-26). Second, our sin is never in isolation, it always impacts those around us. Not only did Achan’s sin cost him his own life, but his family was destroyed alongside him, and there were 36 families in Israel who were without a father/husband/son after the defeat at Ai. Simply hiding the stolen goods in his tent could not prevent the consequences from reaching out to the entire nation of Israel. Finally, our sin must be exposed before it can be removed. Through a lengthy process of selection, beginning with the tribe of Judah and ending with the household of Achan, God revealed the sin that had been hidden in the camp, so that the people could remove its poisonous presence and once again enjoy God’s favor and blessing.