The Wrath of God
Scripture: Joshua 7:1–8:35
If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab them. It’s good to be back. Thanks to Skyler and Robert who very capably filled in the past two Sundays. So, I blew my eardrum in a diving accident last week and I basically hear nothing but a very high pitched ring in my right ear. So if you’re new and wondering, “Why does this pastor speak so loud?” or “Why is he so rude? I said hello and he didn’t even acknowledge me.” I now have a ‘good ear’ you’ll have to speak into:) Hopefully only for a few weeks.
We are in Joshua 7 and 8 this morning where the Israelites hit their first big problem. Chapters 7 and 8 make up one story, but I’m going to mainly lean on chapter 7 this morning because that is really where the tension of the story is. I’m also going to do it in a shorter period of time because of Matt’s commissioning this morning, so we better dive in.
The name Achan is forever synonymous with stealing and lying. If you grew up in church, you likely know the phrase ‘sin in the camp’ which comes from this passage. What’s interesting to me about this story is that the author of this book lets us, the readers, know exactly what the problem is in verse one before the characters in the story even know. And in verse 1, there is this one really uncomfortable and important sentence: And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel. - Joshua 7:1
We want to talk about the love of God, the grace of God, the patience of God, but we really don’t want to talk about the wrath of God. But we have to have a deep understanding of God’s wrath if we are ever going to appreciate His love, grace, and patience. One commentator said, “Without God’s wrath, God’s love is hollowed of all meaning, and (paradoxically) God’s character is maligned.” So, how is that? This is what the story of Ai is about.
When I became a Christian in college, I felt like I had a deep sense of God’s grace and love, but it took years to really wrestle with and accept that He is a God of wrath and righteous anger as well. It was hard for me to live overseas for five years in a place where 98% of the population rejected the gospel to embrace the fact that my God of grace, love, and mercy, was going to bring His wrath on them and send them to a place of eternal punishment.
And even as I wrestled with that reality and embraced that reality, it was still hard to verbalize to others because of the way I’m wired. I was joking at the Weekend to Remember conference last week how different Angela and I are. By the way, it was so fun to look out in the audience and see so many people from OGC. Anyway, Angela and I are wired very differently. When we were newly married, I was driving us down South Street and someone cut me off. My wiring is to let it go and maybe even apologize for something I didn’t do. Sweetie, on the other hand, leaned over from the passenger side and honked my horn for me. I was like, “what are you doing?” She said, “You just don’t do that where I come from.” I said, “You do that where I come from and you get shot!”
At my core, I’m a small town mayor who just wants everyone to get along. She, on the other hand, is like an Old Testament prophet who wants justice to be done. So, knowing this about me, you can see how hard it would be for me to tell someone that there is a God and, outside of redemption through Jesus Christ, God’s posture toward you is one of wrath.
I was curious how often preachers I respect focus their sermons on this topic. It might not surprise you to know that John Piper sets the bar high coming in at number one with almost 20% of his sermons addressing the topic of God’s wrath. Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century British preacher, came in at 17.5%. And even Tim Keller, who would definitely be on the lower end of the spectrum, addressed the wrath of God in more than 13% of his sermons from 1989-2009.
No matter what our culture, spiritual maturity, or social wiring, the wrath of God is absolutely vital for us to understand if we are ever going to appreciate the depth of His love toward each of us. In the story of Achan and Ai, we see the cause of God’s wrath, the consequence of God’s wrath, and the appropriate response to God’s wrath.
- The cause of God’s wrath (1-5, 12b)
The cause of God’s wrath is clear right off the bat: sin. I’ve already mentioned this, but verse one lets us know what is going on before the characters in the story do. Achan took the devoted things. The things that were supposed to either be destroyed or put in the treasury of the Lord. It’s so serious that the author lays out the ancestry of this guy Achan back four generations. Did you notice that? We just want to be really clear who this guy is and who’s responsible for him. This would be like you committing a crime and a picture of you, your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents goes on a digital billboard on I-4. This was a serious crime!
But, in verse one we also see that it wasn’t just limited to Achan and his family. It was in some way all of Israel who sinned. Corporate guilt and individual guilt go hand in hand here. We see that all of Israel suffers for Achan’s sin when an easy win against a small city called Ai becomes a chilling defeat where 36 Israelites are killed. Now, that might not seem like many, but it is the only recorded Israelite losses of the entire campaign and it signifies that God is no longer going before them and winning their battles. And lest there be any doubt, in verse 12, God says, “I will be with you no longer.”
How do you think that would have felt? To Joshua and the Israelites, it certainly would have been not only confusing, but terrifying. Most of them had no idea why God wasn’t giving them victory after all He had done up to this point. To the Canaanites, though, this would have been very encouraging! That’s not what you want. Your enemies feeling like your luck has run out.
Why would all of Israel have to suffer for Achan’s sin though? We aren’t explicitly told, but you have to think that Achan wasn’t the only one who knew what was going on. They were staying in small tents packed in together. I think at least a handful of people, if not more, knew what was going on.
But, the bigger question is why is this act of Achan such a big deal? So he stole some stuff? Because it’s sin. R.C. Sproul in his book, The Holiness of God, says, “Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”
The cause of God’s wrath is sin. How does that sit with you? We serve a God who brings His wrath to bear on sin? Have you ever noticed that we long for some gods of wrath, but not others? Why is it that we cheer when the wrath of the Avengers rid the galaxy of Thanos, we cheer when Liam Neesam brings justice to the people who took his daughter, we cheer when the wrath of the light side of the force topples the dark side, but we don’t cheer for a God who does the same? We cheer when wrath is brought on injustice...unless we are that injustice. Unless we are the objects of that wrath. It’s no wonder the idea of a wrathful God doesn’t sit well in our culture.
We have this phrase in evangelicalism that tells us that God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. While there may be an element of truth in that, I don’t think it’s an overly helpful saying. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms God says He hates the sinner. That’s a problem.
Everytime we lie, steal, cheat, gossip, or grumble, we are taking the devoted things. We are committing cosmic treason against the God to whom we owe everything. And this is the natural bent to all our hearts. We have been driving a lot this summer and we have been listening as a family to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. You may remember when the witch gives Edmond the Turkish Delight. Lewis writes, “anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.” That is a perfect picture of sin. We pursue the very thing that brings God’s wrath on us. And if God doesn't care about that, then He’s not worth caring about.
I mean, think about it. Would you care about a God who doesn’t care about the holocaust? Would you care about a God who doesn’t care about bringing justice to sexual abuse, human trafficking, and racism? No. We as 21st century Westerners want a God who cares about all those things, but not a God who cares about our sin, about our personal injustice.
Sin is the cause of God’s wrath, but we shouldn’t stop there. It makes sense if we are deserving of God’s wrath to wonder how severe that wrath is. Second point.
- The consequences of God’s wrath (16-26)
The consequence of God’s wrath is destruction. Joshua rose up early in the morning and went tribe by tribe, clan by clan, household by household, and man by man. God showed Joshua that the guilty party was in the tribe of Judah, the clan of the Zerahites, the household of Zabdi, and, then finally, the man Achan.
So, Joshua asks Achan what he had done that caused God to stop fighting for Israel and Achan confesses to the stolen devoted things and tells them where they are in his tent. Now, I could imagine someone reading this and thinking, “Achan apologizes so eloquently. Isn’t that enough?” Achan apologizes because he got caught, not because he’s repentant. Achan could have come forward at any time throughout this ordeal. He would have known immediately why the Lord stopped helping Israel. He would have known it was him Joshua was looking for as each tribe passed by. It’s worth asking ourselves, are we repentant of our sin or are we just sorry when we get caught? There is a big difference.
And what was the consequence for Achan? He was treated like a Canaanite, devoted to destruction. He, all his family, and even his livestock. It’s a heavy picture, but we have to allow it to let us see the gravity of sin and the severity of God’s wrath. A price has to be paid for sin or God isn’t just. It’s true of Achan’s sin and it’s true of ours as well.
There is this idea out there that hell is an eternity separated from the presence of God.
Hell is the absence of all of God’s nice qualities and the eternal presence of His wrath. Hell is an eternity in God’s presence with no mediator.
And here is where Christianity diverges with literally every other worldview I have ever heard of. Largely, every other worldview agrees that we fall short in some way and they offer a path to come back to God. Paths to walk, penance to pay, or bridges to build. But the Bible says you don’t have the materials to build a bridge back to God. And even if you did, you don’t know what direction to build it. And even if you had the materials and knew the direction, you don’t even have the desire to carry it out. It isn’t possible to earn our way back to God because that doesn’t deal with the issue of sin. Imagine if a convicted murderer went before a judge and the judge let him go if we walked on his knees 50 times around the courthouse? That wouldn’t come close to dealing with what he has really done and neither does any other worldview.
I want you to pay attention because here is where wrath and love come together. There has to be a consequence for sin. So, God has paid that price for us. Rather than overlooking sin, God focused His wrath for our sin on Jesus on the cross because He loves us that much. When God’s concern for justice meets God’s great love, we don’t see a God who simply forgives, just forgetting sin. We see a God that loves through justice. We see Christ taking God’s wrath for us.
Do you see now why God’s wrath and love just can’t be separated? D.A. Carson, my old professor, says, “If you want to see God’s wrath, look at the cross. If you want to see God’s love, look at the cross.” Without the wrath of God, His love just falls apart. Many of you know the song In Christ Alone. There is a lin in that song that says “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” One mainline denomination wanted to put this song in the newest version of their hymnal, but wanted that line taken out. They didn’t like the idea of a wrathful God. They only wanted a loving God. But, the authors of the song knew you can’t separate the two and they said no.
And did you notice that after they stoned Achan, what God had them do with their stones? They made a monument! The covered the bodies with a pile of stones for all to see. Does that sound familiar? They just made a monument to remember God’s faithfulness back at the Jordan and now they are making a monument to remind them of God’s wrath at Ai. Israel needs to be reminded of both and so do we or our faith will be a hollow one.
But, if we do see that God is a God of love and wrath, we will respond accordingly. And, in this passage, we have a great example of what that should look like.
III. The response to God’s wrath (6-15)
Joshua shows us an appropriate response to God’s wrath: repentance. Joshua tore his clothes and fell on his face before the ark of the covenant. He had no idea specifically, what Israel had done, but he knew something had happened. Joshua’s response is the polar opposite of Achan’s. Achan was worried about getting caught, Joshua was worried about getting right. Achan was worried about his own gain. Joshua was worried about God’s glory. He says, “God we would have been ok on the other side of the Jordan. What are You going to do now for Your name?”
I love that when the situation got bad, when the events did not seem to support what He knew about God, Joshua assumes the problem is on His end, not God’s. So, He goes to God. He’s not griping about God, he’s griping to God and there is a big difference. And how does God respond? Two things. First, He shows Joshua the offense.
We may not ever see the whole picture, but if we are sinning against God and if we have the Holy Spirit inside of us and a repentant heart, God will make clear the ways we are out of step with His will.
The second way God responds to Joshua’s repentance is by giving him Ai. That’s in chapter 8. You may remember the story, the Israelites act like there are only a few warriors so the people in the city will come out to pursue them and then all the other soldiers pop out. And it works like a charm. They take the city and hang the king on a tree.
I know hanging a king on a tree sounds harsh, but there was no TV, radio, or newspaper back then. People had to know justice had been served. This is the reason many cities like London would put the heads of those executed in the center of the city or on the city bridge. We can just see on Twitter or Facebook what happened, but not them. This was how everyone can know that justice has been served. And do you know how we know that justice has been served for us? Another man hanging publicly on another tree. Not for His sin, but for ours. Jesus on the cross.
Ok, I can’t move on without pointing one thing out. Did you notice this time what happened to the plunder at Ai? The people got to keep it! Achan would have had even more if he would have just trusted God and waited. But he couldn’t. He had to take matters into his own hands. But if we will trust and follow God, life may not turn out the way we expected, but it will always turn out better.
It’s so interesting to me how this is fleshed out over the course of Scripture. The valley where this all takes place is called what? Achor. What does that sound like? Achan. It’s a play on his name and it means trouble. Here is where your sin brought trouble on you and your people. But this isn’t the last place we hear about this valley. Look at Hosea
The valley of trouble would become a door of hope. What are we talking about here? Jesus! This place of rebellion and punishment would become a metaphorical door of hope. It’s foreshadowing the gospel. There would be a place where punishment would bring hope. Jesus, the perfect God-man would walk up a hill and be nailed to a cross for our sin, He would take on our destruction, and we would go free. God doesn’t ignore the problem of sin, He fixes the problem of sin. The moment we accept God’s wrath, we embrace God’s love and grace.