Case Study in Faith from Hebrews 11

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies (Heb 11:31).

Yesterday’s post highlighted the four main components of faith I outlined in my sermon this past Sunday at Covenant Life Church. Rahab, whom the author of Hebrews specifically highlights in the great Hall of Faith chapter, makes for an excellent case study. Here is the text from Joshua 2:

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death” (Joshua 2:8-13).

  • Faith has an object:In whom did Rahab place her faith?
    • “The Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (vs 11).
  • Faith has a foundation:What assurance did Rahab have for her faith?
    • “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea…” (vs 10)
  • Faith has a desired outcome:What was Rahab hoping for from her faith?
    • “Give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death” (vs 12-13).
  • Faith has a response:What act of radical obedience resulted from her faith?
    • “But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof” (vs 6).

Rahab’s knew that the Lord was God. She had heard about how he acted for his people, the Israelites in the past, delivering them from Egypt and from the Red Sea. She knew that God would act for them again and wanted to share in that victory, hoping to save her life and that of all of her family. So she hid the spies. Now that, my friends, is faith.

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Was Achan a believer?

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon on Joshua 7 (notes and link to video in previous post). The theme sentence for the sermon was this: “The secret sins of one can derail the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision that lay before them.” That is, Achan was the only one in all of Israel who broke the command not to take plunder from Jericho. Yet, because of his sin, Israel lost the battle against AI.

After he was found out, Achan did confess his sin. “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 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” (Joshua 7:20-21).

When confronted with his sin, Achan did confess, telling the truth. That led to this question that I received over on Facebook. “Was Achan a believer?” For the sake of fully answering this question, I thought it helpful to bring it over to the blog where I could have some more space to answer the question. Let me present two main considerations in answering the question, following by an important implication for the church today.

  1. This question presupposes repentance on Achan’s behalf. In fact, the original question on Facebook continued, “Is this what Paul would later call a “sin unto death” type of thing because he did repent and didn’t hold back on acknowledging his sin?” I would suggest that this was not true repentance. Walvoord and Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, have this to say, “Achan’s response was straightforward and complete. He confessed his sin and gave no excuses. But neither did he express sorrow for disobeying God’s order, betraying his nation for booty, and causing the defeat of Israel’s troops and the death of 36 men. Any remorse he may have felt was probably only because he got caught” (p. 345). That is to say, he probably felt guilty about getting caught, not about the action itself.
  2. Repentance is marked by action. The process of sorting through the whole nation from tribe to clan to family to individual must have taken some time. If he was really repentant, he should have come forward, not waiting to be singled out through that whole process. Walvoord and Zuck continue, “Since the method took time it would also give the guilty person an opportunity to repent and confess his sin. If Achan had responded in this way and thrown himself on the mercy of God no doubt he would have been pardoned as was the guilty David centuries later” (p. 345).

So, to summarize: No, I do not believe that was true biblical repentance and no, I do not think that Achan was a believer.

Maybe the most intriguing implication of this question is whether or not an unbeliever can be part of the covenant community.  We often speak about the visible church and the invisible church or, as Dr. Betters from Glasgow Church often calls it, the “true” church and the “show” church. That is, there are people who are members of the visible church – a local, visible expression of God’s people – who are outside of the covenant people of God. They are not part of the true, invisible church.

Here is Achan, an Israelite living in light of the blessings and protection of YHWH himself. Yet by his actions, he proved himself not to be among the elect. Though dwelling among God’s people, he himself was not one. Interestingly, in the couple chapters prior, there is a non-Israelite, and a prostitute at that, who proved herself to be elect by her faith. The lesson is this: there are non-elect pretending to be God’s people while those we least expect will show their election by their faith and be adopted into the covenant community.

Derailed: A sermon on Joshua 7

You can view this sermon at Glasgow Church’s media page.
Here is the outline of my notes from the sermon.

Introduction – Excited about Vision

  • Quote on Twitter – “If you chase two rabbits, they both will escape.”
  • Point of that quote: you must pick a single vision/objective and pursue it relentlessly. If you waffle or get distracted by another goal, you won’t accomplish any of them.
  • Exciting time in the life of the church – most exciting in my time here
  • Last week, at the congregational meeting, we voted on a cool plan
  • What excites me is the Acts 1:8 component of this plan – “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
  • Local, regional and global
    • Renovations & sports fields here to further our ministry locally
    • Planting a church in Middletown
    • Building an orphanage across the world

Transition

  • This is an amazing vision – an exciting one to be sure
  • The Scriptures, this morning, will offer us a caution to be heeded
  • It is possible to be derailed from that accomplishing that vision

Joshua 7

  • Set the stage – Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt
  • After wandering the desert for 40 years, the Israelites stood just on the other side of the Jordan, the Promised Land in site
  • Moses’ last act was to lead the Israelites in renewing the covenant and passing the mantle of leadership to Joshua
  • Under Joshua, the Israelites march on to take possession of their inheritance – the land God promised to Abraham
  • The first city they conquer is Jericho – in a most amazing way – God demonstrated that this was all about him – He was the one who would give the victory

Defeat at Ai (2-5)

  • Talk about energy and momentum – they just experienced a great victory over mighty Jericho
  • Next up is a little town called Ai
  • Read verses 2-5
  • Ai is so small and weak, no sense sending the whole army – just send a couple thousand people
  • Wait, what just happened here? They defeated mighty Jericho then fall to Ai?
  • They were routed!
  • Some think this was a result of overconfidence – only sending 3000 men – I’ll suggest that is not what was happening here – let’s continue on

Joshua’s Confusion (6-9)

  • Read verses 6-9
  • Joshua goes before God and says, “God, what just happened here? This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen!”
  • Professor at Notre Dame who wrote a book, “Not the way it’s supposed to be”
  • That’s how Joshua feels right about now
  • He tears his clothes and falls on his knees, utterly confused
  • After defeating big, mighty Jericho, how did we lose to little ole’ Ai?
  • I thought we were supposed to take possession of this land, and we lose?

God’s Wrath Revealed (10-15)

  • God hears Joshua’s prayer and responds
  • Read verses 10-15
  • God reveals to Joshua that there is sin among the people
  • Someone took the devoted things – took plunder – from Jericho
  • The culprit must be found and punished

Achan is the Guy (16-18)

  • In every episode of the TV show, Monk, there is a point at which Monk figures it all out and says, “He is the guy”
  • That is what happens here in verses 16-18 (read)
  • God weeds through the Israelites by tribe (Judah), clan (Zerah) family (Zimri) and finally man by man until Achan is revealed to be the perpetrator

Achan’s Sin (19-21)

  • Achan is brought forward and asked to account for his actions
  • Read verses 19-21
  • Achan confesses to stealing the plunder – taking a robe and gold and silver
  • He coveted the plunder from Jericho and so, in secret, he stashed it
  • Listen to Deuteronomy 7:25-26: “The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Utterly abhor and detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.”
  • Yet, this is precisely what Achan does

Two Consequences

  • There are 2 consequences for Achan’s action
  • We, like Achan, have a tendancy to downplay just how bad sin is
  • But listen to the words of Jeremiah 8:11: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.”
  • As I was preparing, I came across two quotes from the same author as he was discussing this passage.
  • “We Christians generally have such tame views of sin; wrongly, we have no paranoia over this contagious power” (Davis, p.62)
  • “Our problem here is – sinners that we are – we don’t think breaking Yahweh’s covenant is all that big a deal” (Davis, p.64)
  • Breaking Yahweh’s covenant is a big deal – sin is a big deal
  • And Achan and all of Israel is about to find out just how big a deal sin is

Punishment (22-26a)

  • Read verses 22-26a
  • The first consequence is punishment
  • Sin must always be punished
  • You all know the words of Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death”
  • The JB Phillips says it this way: “Sin pays its servants, the wage is death.”
  • Achan and his whole family – every family member and everything he owned – are stoned to death and then burned
  • Men, let me speak to you for just a moment
    • This passage should serve as a strong caution for you
    • Your sin will affect your family – they will pay a price for your sin
    • Exodus 34:6-7 – “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
    • Men, if you are faithful, your family will be blessed
    • If you are unfaithful, your family will pay the price

The Whole of God’s People Suffer (1)

  • Achan’s punishment was simply the first of the two consequences his sin would carry
  • For the second, we need to go back to verse 1, which you probably noticed we skipped at the beginning
  • Read verse 1
  • Here, the author of Joshua previews what is about to come: Achan took some of the devoted things and as a result, God’s anger burned against Israel
  • This is what we call “the reader’s advantage” – when we read this, we get a feel for what is going on in the story
  • Joshua, remember, didn’t have the advantage of that perspective. It was happening to him!
  • Have you ever watched a movie and you knew that a character was about to walk into a trap?
  • That is why I don’t watch horror movies: the characters always walk into the scenario!
  • Girls, don’t decide on your own you are going to go investigate a creepy old house where someone was killed! What do you expect to happen!
  • That is what we mean by the “reader’s advantage” – we have a perspective that the characters do not – we know things they do not.
  • Remember, Joshua was utterly confused because he didn’t know what just happened!
  • But there is something very important for us to see in verse 1.
  • It says that Achan took the plunder AND that the Israelites acted unfaithfully!
  • One person broke the covenant, yet ALL of Israel was counted as unfaithful!
  • The second consequence of Achan’s sin was Israel’s defeat at Ai

Secret Sins

  • Here’s what I want us to learn from this story this morning…
  • The secret sins of one derailed the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision that lay before them.
  • The Israelites were God’s chosen people
  • He had promised this land to them
  • So why had they experienced defeat?
  • Because of one man’s sin – The secret sins of one derailed the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision of capturing Canaan, the land of promise, as their inheritance forever.

Our Secret Sins

  • Likewise, we have a great vision before us of taking forth the gospel in Glasgow and Bear, in Middletown and around the world
  • We have a vision to carry forth the gospel in word and deed. It’s an amazing vision
  • But there is something that can derail us – your secret sin, my secret sin.
  • The secret sins of one derailed the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision that lay before them.
  • The secret sin of one of us can derail the whole church from accomplishing this great vision.
  • Your secret sins, my secret sins, have an impact beyond what we know.

The Grace (7:26b-8:2)

  • This passage does not end without hope and without grace.
  • Read verses 25b-26
  • “Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger” – when sin is punished, God turns away his just wrath
  • The hope for us is that Christ has taken our punishment. Like Achan, we deserve to be stoned and burned. Yet Christ has take it upon himself.
  • “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)
  • The first consequence of sin is punishment – but God has taken that punishment upon himself
  • If you are here this morning, and have never received Christ’s love, I encourage you to do so now. The Bible says that “If we confess our sins here is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
  • Because Christ has died, your sin can be forgiven. God’s wrath against you can be turned away! Ask for that forgiveness right now.
  • The second consequence is that the whole of God’s people are derailed from the great mission that lay before them.
  • Read 8:1-2
  • After sin is punished, God turns away his wrath. When that happens, he restores then to the mission he gave them.
  • After Achan was punished, Israel returned to the task of capturing the Promised Land
  • Notice the real irony of the story – at Ai, Israel was given permission to take plunder!
  • If only Achan had been content to wait, he would have found that God had a plan that would have allowed him to have even greater riches than he could have imagined!
  • When we confess our sins, Christ forgives us AND he restores us, as a church, to the mission, to the great vision, that lies before us.
  • And, like Israel, we have great riches awaiting us: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms n Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7)

Conclusion

  • As a church, we have a great vision before us.
  • Personally, I can’t wait to see how God work in and through our congregation in the days and weeks and months and years to come.
  • Only one thing can derail us: secret sins.
  • Bring your secret sins to light because sin dies in the light.
  • And then receive the forgiveness of God made available through Christ alone
  • And then, together, let us set forth to fulfill the great vision, to the glory of God.

Pray