June 10, 2010 David Balzer

Joshua 7-8: When bad things happen

I had my first Primary School Scripture class on Wednesday. And I’d been in the Year 6 lesson about five minutes, when a hand shot up in the front row. “Excuse me, Sir. Why does God let people get leukaemia?” No beating around the bush with this guy!

The teacher doing her work in the corner looked up. Suddenly she was interested.

“Well that’s a very good question, young man! And thousands of people before you have asked that same question!”

Why DO bad things happen to good people?

Maybe you’re fortunate enough/ that this has only ever been a THEORETICAL question. One you’ve only been MILDLY interested in. Storing an answer away in the back of your brain/ in case you ever need it.

On the other hand, maybe it’s been a HUGE question for you. Something’s happened that’s flipped your world on its head. Everything you thought was stable and firm/ is suddenly shaky and unsteady.

You thought your parents would always be there. But they died, and you feel like you’ve been deserted. Or perhaps your child has contracted cancer, or another yucky disease. Or you’re retrenched. Or separated. Or betrayed. Or abused.

All over the world/ it’s the same story. Babies born addicted to . Or HIV positive. Or chronically malnourished. Innocent children suffering. Why DOES God let bad things happen to good people?

1. The answer:

This is the very question that Joshua’s asking/ here in Ch 7. Israel’s gone straight from victory at Jericho/ to miserable defeat against Ai. His army’s been whipped. 36 men have lost their lives. And Joshua wants to know WHY. 36 families will grow up without their dads. Why? What’s more, the nations will probably turn on Israel, be filled with courage, and wipe them off the face of the earth. Why?

And although Joshua doesn’t know the answer, WE READERS get let in on the secret right at the beginning. The answer to the question – even before the question’s been asked. Look at v1. It’s the answer.

(Josh 7:1 NIV)  But the Israelites ACTED UNFAITHFULLY in regard to the DEVOTED THINGS ; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, TOOK SOME OF THEM. So THE LORD’S ANGER BURNED AGAINST ISRAEL.

God’s angry with Israel. He’d told them that EVERYTHING in Jericho was either to be DESTROYED, or HANDED OVER TO HIM – put into his treasury. Everything in Jericho was DEVOTED to the LORD.

But Achan had disobeyed God. He’d decided that he knew better than God. He’d seen something he liked. And he’d taken it. … But he hadn’t taken it from JERICHO. He’d stolen from GOD. And noone knew about it except him and God.

And the end of v1 says that The Lord’s anger burned against Israel. That’s the answer. Even before we ask the question.

Notice that even though only one person sinned, the verse starts by saying that THE ISRAELITES acted unfaithfully. And even though only one person sinned, God was angry with all Israel.

EVERYTHING was to be destroyed. 100% pass-mark. Not even 99.9% wasn’t good enough. And because they didn’t achieve perfection, the whole nation suffered. There was corporate accountability.

My understanding is that that’s what happens in Law firms. When you become a senior partner, your personal assets can be seized if a sufficient claim is won against the firm. You are responsible for the mistakes of your partners.

And that’s the case here. God was holding ALL Israel accountable. You see, Achan was PART of Israel. He was closely connected to all sorts of people. That’s part of the point of his genealogy. We don’t even know that much about JOSHUA’S background. But this Achan was someone’s son, someone’s grandson, someone’s greatgrandson. He was someone’s husband, and father, and uncle and workmate. Someone’s neighbour. And because he was connected in THESE ways, God’s ANGER connects to everyone too. And we find out how/ as the story unfolds.

2. The problem:

Next, in v 2-5, we see the PROBLEM. Joshua sends some men to spy out the next city on the list. Ai. It’s what he did for Jericho, so he does the same thing again. And the spies come back. “Look, it’s even smaller than Jericho. God gave us a great victory there. This will be like taking candy from a baby. Only send two or three thousand men. Let the rest have a few days R and R.

But when they get to Ai, there’s a problem. Verse 4. They get thrashed. 36 men die. And they scurry away with their tails between their legs. And the end of v5 says the hearts of the people melted and became like water. They were petrified.

3. The question:

That’s the PROBLEM. Now we get to the QUESTION. They make it back to Joshua, and fill him in on the details. And Joshua can’t understand what’s going on. “Why is this happening? Everything’s gone so well up ‘til now! Crossing the Jordan, defeating Jericho. And now this!”

And he does the right thing. He goes to the source of the problem. He brings his questions to God. He spends the rest of the day in the Tabernacle, pouring his heart out to the God WHO’D PROMISED TO NEVER LEAVE THEM.

And look at what his questions are. Verse 7.

(Josh 7:7-9 NIV)  And Joshua said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, WHY did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites TO DESTROY US? IF ONLY we’d been content to stay on the OTHER side of the Jordan! {8} O Lord, WHAT CAN I SAY, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? {9} The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. WHAT THEN WILL YOU DO for your own great name?”

Question after question. Our immediate reaction is that it’s a bit of a wimpy prayer. First sign of trouble, and all of Joshua’s wonderful faith deserts him. But let me suggest that it’s not such a bad prayer after all.

You see, HE GOES TO THE RIGHT PLACE. He knows that God’s the only one who’s got the answers.

I’m reminded of the Israelites in the desert – “Why did we ever leave Egypt – with all that lovely garlic and pots full of meat!” But Joshua’s prayer is different to that – His questions are ones of DESPAIR, but NOT UNBELIEF. He’s complaining TO God, rather than ABOUT him.

And that’s a lesson for us. Too often we look EVERYWHERE ELSE when things go wrong. We borrow more money, or take another educational course. Or blame the economic downturn. Or the government. Or go to counselling. Or seek a second medical opinion. Rather than falling before the throne of the only one who has the answers.

Dale David puts it really well in his commentary. “There are periods in which confusion strikes and we haven’t any idea what God is about. We have no recourse but Joshua’s – ANGUISHED PRAYER/  to a MYSTIFYING GOD, pleading both our danger, and his honour.

4. The answer (again)

That’s the question. (Why are these bad things happening?) And now God gives his answer. Finally, Joshua gets let in on the secret we already know about. The reason the first attempt failed. Look at v10.

(Josh 7:10-12 NIV)  The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? {11} ISRAEL HAS SINNED; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. {12} That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I WILL NOT BE WITH YOU ANYMORE unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

Israel has failed the test. It might have scored 99.9%, but it’s still failed. And that’s enough for God. And that’s why they lost the battle. And what’s more, until they rectify the situation, it’ll keep happening. God won’t be with them until they destroy the stolen stuff.

Before we move onto the solution, I want to stop and think about how this applies to us. We’ve seen Joshua’s question, and God’s answer. But what’s God’s answer to US/ when we ask why bad things happen?

Let me suggest four possibilities:

The first two sorts of suffering are the result of an individual’s specific sin. God MAY be punishing you because of your own sin.

When something bad happens to you, it’s appropriate to ask God if there is some sin you need to confess. Something which God wants to bring to your attention. Something which is preventing God from fixing the situation.

1. This suffering might be a DIRECT CONSEQUENCE of your sin. If you sleep around, God may allow you to catch a ual transmitted disease. That’s punishment that’s a direct result of your sin. You may lose your money because you’ve greedily invested in high-risk high-return stocks. That’s a direct result of your sin. Or your bitterness and anger towards someone might result in an emotional breakdown, or stomach ulcers, or high pressure. That’s a direct consequence of your sin.

This seems to be the sort of thing that Rom 1:26-27 is getting at.

(Rom 1:26-27 NIV)  Because of this, GOD GAVE THEM OVER to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged relations for un ones. {27} In the same way the men also abandoned relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and RECEIVED IN THEMSELVES THE DUE PENALTY FOR THEIR PERVERSION.

It seems to be some sort of physical suffering that was a result of their sinful behaviour.

2. Secondly, your suffering might be a SPECIFIC PUNISHMENT for your sin, but that isn’t an immediate consequence. This one’s harder to work out in our lives. Because there’s no direct connection. (apart from it being God who’s brought it)

But let me give you an easy example from Acts 5. An open and shut case. Ananias and Sophira. They lied to the Apostles, and to God, about the amount of money they received for selling a block of land.

And as soon as Peter pronounces their sin, God strikes them down . Suffering/ that’s the direct punishment for sin.

Another example. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says that many of the Corinthians were sick, and some had even died, because they didn’t treat their brothers and sisters in the church properly. Suffering/ that’s the direct punishment for sin.

It’s appropriate that if you’re suffering, you ask God if there’s sin in your life that you need to repent of. (That’s the first two cases)

3. Thirdly, The suffering may have NOTHING TO DO with a particular sin. I think this is the case with most suffering. The world is a messed-up place because mankind is sinful. So MY suffering is the result of MANKIND’S sin – in a general, non-specific way.

That’s a situation Jesus spoke about on a of occasions. You can look up Lk 13:1-4 yourself. Another time is in Jn 9:1-3. And the disciples ask Jesus about a man born blind. “Rabbi, who sinned – this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”

(John 9:3 NIV)  “NEITHER THIS MAN NOR HIS PARENTS SINNED,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

And it seems to me that this is the case with MOST suffering. It’s just the way the world is, rather than God’s specific judgement against sin. The sufferer is no worse, or no better, than the next person. You can’t pin it on a PARTICULAR sin. Just sin in general.

I know that doesn’t seem like much comfort if you’re in the middle of something. But did you notice Jesus’ wonderful words at the end of that verse? “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

God’s purposes are ALWAYS that his glory might be seen.

And that’s a comfort in the middle of suffering for two reasons. Firstly, that God DOES have a purpose. It’s not SENSELESS pain. And secondly, that this is an opportunity for you to direct glory towards God as he works in your life.

Listen to what it says in 1 Peter Ch 1 v6-7. His letter was to a bunch of Christians who were suffering for their faith.

(1 Pet 1:6-7 NIV)  You greatly rejoice in the coming salvation, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. {7} THESE HAVE COME SO THAT YOUR FAITH–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and MAY RESULT IN PRAISE, GLORY AND HONOR WHEN JESUS CHRIST IS REVEALED.

Suffering is in God’s control. And it results in his glory in your life.

4. The fourth case involves suffering that affects THE CHURCH/ because of INDIVIDUAL sin. This is the case with Israel and Achan. All Israel was accountable because one man sinned. All Israel suffered until the cause of the sin was removed.

And who’s to say that God doesn’t work like that in the church today? Don’t take this the wrong way – I think we’re going well as a church – but we’re small. Maybe one of the reasons things aren’t going better is because there’s sin that needs to be repented of. Pray that God might point anything out to you that you need to confess.

1 Corinthians 5 talks about the immoral brother who must be expelled. He’s like a little bit of yeast that affects the whole batch of dough. There are CONNECTIONS between us as members of this church. The behaviour of an individual can have consequences on the whole.

We need to encourage each other. We need to provoke and prod. Sometimes we may need to be MORE than gentle. At our Bible study, Jeff Thorpe described a painting of a king “encouraging” his troops into battle – he was holding a long pole with a sharp spike on the end, and he was prodding the soldiers. Sometimes our encouragement needs to be like that.

Now, if you’re sick or suffering, I can’t tell if it’s because of sin. Even YOU can’t tell if it’s because of sin. But it’s an appropriate thing to do to ask God to show you if there’s sin you need to repent of, so that you might be healed, or the suffering removed.

It may even be the case that suffering in the church is because of someone ELSE’S sin. In which case, it’s appropriate to ask God if there is any sin among US which is causing suffering.

5. The solution

Let’s get back to Joshua. Because God’s given him the answer. And now he gives him the solution.

There’s an old saying that’s true: “Beware, your sins will find you out!” And Achan’s about to be found out!

I came across this story in the paper. About a Chinese man who’s sins found him out.

“A woman in Chongquing city began divorce proceedings against her husband based on words recounted by a talking bird. She returned from a month-long absence to find her bird repeating phrases such as “divorce”, “I love you”, and “be patient”. She took the bird to a lawyer’s office to seek legal advice, but lawyers were not optimistic. “The judges are unlikely to rule against the husband’s case based only on the bird’s words,” lawyer Wu Di told the newspaper.

My guess is, whatever the lawyers said, that marriage didn’t last too long. Beware, your sins will find you out!

God’s plan starts at verse 13. the people must consecrate themselves. Be PURIFIED, because God the JUDGE is coming to do business.

And the people are told how the court case will operate. What they’ll have to do in the morning. They’re to present themselves tribe by tribe. And, somehow, God will narrow down the selection until only the guilty man is left. The people are even told what the punishment will be.

And that means Achan was also told! Achan knew what was coming. He had the chance to confess, and seek God’s mercy. But he refused.

God’s solution was MERCIFUL. But Achan does nothing.

And so the next day dawns. And the court is in session. Verse 16. and because we’ve read v1, we already know what’s going to happen. We know the tribe, the clan and the family. We even know the man! We can see things from God’s perspective. Verse 16.

(Josh 7:16-18 NIV)  Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. {17} The clans of JUDAH came forward, and he took the ZERAHITES. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and ZIMRI was taken. {18} Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and ACHAN son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

And when Joshua confronts him with the facts, Achan confesses. He points Joshua to where the loot is stashed. God’s picked the right man, because he provides information that only the guilty man would know about. Verse 21.

(Josh 7:21-22 NIV)  When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” {22} So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath.

They had the right man. You see, God’s solution was JUST.

And the punishment is swift, and COMPLETE. His whole family have been infected with his sin. Even his animals. And so they’re all stoned. And then – just to make sure, everything’s burned.

God’s solution is MERCIFUL, JUST, and COMPLETE.

And at the start of Ch 8, we see that God’s solution is also EFFECTIVE. Because the matter has been dealt with. The guilt is gone. The sin is forgiven. Forgotten. If Joshua had gone to God the next day and said, “Hey God, you remember that situation with Achan…?” And God would have said, “What situation?” Look at v1 of Ch 8.

(Josh 8:1 NIV)  Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.

God’s solution is merciful, just, complete, and effective.

And he delivers on his promise. Ch 8 describes how Israel defeats the city of Ai. And their race is back on track – at least for a chapter!

And just like Israel, God has provided a solution for OUR situation. Despite the suffering and the pain that we experience in this life, God has provided the ULTIMATE solution. And just like Israel, God’s solution is merciful, just, complete, and effective.

One day, he’ll wind this world up. The ultimate restructuring. And because of Jesus, we’ll be part of his NEW world. The one without ANY suffering. Any bad things.

Jesus is God’s ultimate solution. And in his and resurrection, we see that God’s solution is MERCIFUL, JUST, COMPLETE, and EFFECTIVE.

Thank God for Jesus – his ultimate solution to our suffering.

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