Achan

Jericho had just fallen. It was perhaps the most incredible thing that had happened in their world, which had become incredible. They had seen it all, heard about it all, and it never stopped happening. Miracle after miracle.  Egypt, of course.  And had they not just seen the River Jordan dammed by the hand of God, the water standing in walls and waiting while the whole nation hurried (What little faith you have; why do you hurry, Oh My People. Do you think I will drown you?) on the way to the Promised Land?     

Had they not just marched around Jericho silent as lambs, barely breathing as they circled those walls day after day, waiting and waiting for the command to shout? Had they not looked at those thick walls and felt foolish and wondered how they would ever come down? How can walls just fall down? What could shouting do that could not be done by the repeated blasts of the Ram’s horn? Had not Pharaoh’s soldiers been drowned? Had they not just seen the River Jordan stand at attention as they crossed? Would they not have Manna and quail until they crossed into the new land?

Why seven days? Why not less? It was burning hot. Walking around those walls day after day was hard and filled with fear. This is a crazy plan. Why be silent? (But hadn’t they…) Walk around again and again. Been silent all these days, silence building strength for the great shout. Oh, how they wanted to shout. But Joshua would have none of it.

WE SHOUT WHEN GOD SAYS WE SHOUT. NOT BEFORE. WALK AND HAVE FAITH.

Oh, to have the faith of Joshua and Caleb, marching so proudly in front, spears raised, an occasional finger to lips, no sound, no sound. Marching, hot, marching, wanting to shout.

Then the day came, the last day of marching with hearts beating in anticipation. Would it really happen! How could those thick walls come down? What if they did not fall? More marching? Try again? Shout louder? Grumbling.

SILENCE MOUTHED JOSHUA. SILENCE MOUTHED CALEB.

No sound from these august men. Just fierce looks, looks so fierce that words were not needed. Words were no good. Only silence. Silence and marching. Now, the last day. This day go around seven times. Then the shout. Throats parched even after drinking. Throats so dry and hearts pounding. Just two more times around. So short after so long, but still so long and hot and hard.

SILENCE.

From the eyes now. Getting closer. Look at Joshua’s face. It is glowing. It is glowing with fierceness. When will he say shout!

Six times around now. Only one more time. Fear pouring like sweat. So hot, so hard, so long, so dry.

SILENCE. SOON.

A second wind where there is no wind. The armies of Jericho on the walls staring. Staring and staring, sockets of fear.

DO NOT LOOK. SILENCE.

The last time around now. When would the shout come! Would it be at the gates? Of course it would be at the gates. But we do not know. We just know it is soon, that we have marched and marched. That it is sick sun hot. We hardly hear the horn blasts any more. There have been so many of them. A cadence to the Ram’s horn. Over and over. Around and around. For days, not for just a little while. You can feel it. No need to shout SILENCE with your eyes Joshua. No need Caleb. It is close now, one more side to go before the gates. It must be at the gates. A spring in our steps. It is close now. Will the walls come down? Does it matter? At least we will know. There will be no more marching. We can stop. How dry is my throat? Oh, Lord, how dry my throat is? When I shout will it just be a silent cloud of dust? Will any sound be heard! Oh, Lord we know you can bring down these walls with our silence. But we will shout. When, Joshua says, we will shout!

We stop. The line of priests lurches to a stop. The people stop. The world stops. There is utter and complete silence. The deepest silence there has ever been. All eyes are on Joshua and Caleb. Their faces are fierce looking into the dropping sun, looking at the soldiers of Jericho melted to the top of the walls.

Spears are lifted; Joshua’s spear is lifted; Caleb’s spear is lifted. We shout. It is not dust. It is a shout. It is a shout to bring Heaven down. It is a shout of joy and a shout of sorrow and a shout of fear. But nothing happens. Joshua raises the spear again and again the shout goes up. And there is nothing. Joshua raises his spear again and again we shout, shout and shout, a frenzy now.  The ground begins to tremble. It trembles ever so slightly, but we feel it. It makes us shout. We shout and shout. There is no dust from our throats, just the lovely water of noise. More rumbling.

Another shout, but not from us. It is a different noise. If fear has a voice, it is the voice of fear. It is from the walls of Jericho. It comes from inside the city. We stop shouting and turn toward those walls as they began to shake and rumble and come crashing down in huge chunks catapulting the soldiers like so many pieces of wood into the air, as if they have been blown up.

Entry is easy. Most inside are dead or cowering. There is no resistance, just the screams of the dying from every man, woman, and child. Every beast. None are spared. It takes the rest of the bloody day. Then it is over. The Lord has had His vengeance against these unholy people. All of them dead, except the one family, the family of the prostitute Rahab. Joshua sent his soldiers in to bring them out before the massacre. Who can judge God? Who can know why a prostitute who would be stoned among us is saved because she was faithful. Because she was faithful. That is what matters. We are in a time of extreme faithfulness. God is purging. God purifying. Whatever is not pure is dross. Rahab’s sins have been purified by the Lord for her loyalty. Loyalty is everything. We are more an army than a people. We can brook no dissent, none at all for any reason. We are molded by the fear we create in our enemies. We triumph only because God is with us. Strict obedience brings the victories. Nothing else we do matters, unless we disobey. We serve a particular God, a very particular God.   

When the evening of the day the wall fell comes, when the carnage is past, still a stark memory even though the dead have been buried, we relax and eat and sleep. All the spirit of celebration is gone. There is no joy in what we have done, but there is gratefulness to the Lord that He has allowed us to triumph and destroy our enemies as He has done over and over again. We are not done. There is more of the same in the future.  We do not get to rest on His accomplishments. But the fall of Jericho is amazing.  Perhaps there will be a few days of respite from our task? Perhaps not. We do not know when the Lord will move us again, when the Pillar of Fire will move forward again, pursuing His holy mission through us. We are not done. We are in no promised land. We are camping in an accursed land that has lost all of its inhabitants. None remain. Except for Rahab and her family. They are quickly one of us. Loyalty and courage has bonded us as family.

And there is no reward, other than the accomplishment of the Lord’s will. Our triumph is in Him. How could it be otherwise? We know who He is and have seen what He has done and know that He is not through. There is no tangible reward except that we are alive and they are all dead.   

They were so rich; Jericho had everything. They had silver, gold, iron and bronze, useless articles of great value and useful articles of little value. And they had idols galore, a myriad of broken idols, some lying there as if grinning about the tragedy.  But none of their wealth is ours. It is the Lord’s. He has made that clear. Not one bit of value is to be ours. Not even the utensils of Jericho, not anything useful or ornamental or even anything menial and worthless. Nothing! It is all sacred. It is to go into the Lord’s treasury. He supplies us with all we need. He uses His treasury for what He wants. He sanctified all of Jericho’s worth and put it aside for His own purposes. We have to trust that. He made it very clear. He is a very clear God, There is no guessing with Him. All we know is that we are to rely on Him totally. When He tells us that the sacred objects of that city are His and not ours, we believe Him. He minces no words. You are to keep nothing for yourself or you will bring destruction on yourself. I will provide for you. Trust Me! What choice do we have but to obey? Why would we do otherwise? No one wants the wrath of God. He is our protector, He has led us through the desert, fed us, slaked our thirst, showed us direction by His pillars.

The next morning, not a surprise, God was up in arms again, this time against the men of Ai. Why no rest! Could we not enjoy our victory a few days? Could we not have some respite from the rigors, the horrors, the joy of battle? No, emphatically no. The men of Ai had to be destroyed. This would be easy though. There were no walls that had to fall down, only a puny army. We don’t even need to send a huge force to slap these gnats away. We completely outnumber them.

But they rout our superior forces. We lost thirty-six men. Unthinkable. How could we lose? But Joshua knew; He was our leader because He always knew. Because He knew the Lord, He knew that the Lord had allowed this impossible thing, had allowed a few straggling men to rout the army that had just taken a major city down. Joshua knew that the Lord allowed this. God gave victory and God gave defeat. Do you want to win? Obey. Do you want to lose? Disobey. Falling on his face before God, Joshua knew there was sin and he knew it had to be purged, would be purged.

God treated Joshua like he treated Moses. They were friends though God was completely holy and Joshua was not, just a great, but fallen leader. God told Joshua to get up and stop acting like a worm before Him. God chose to be intimate when it served His purposes, when it was the just way to be.  He is the God of Love but He is also the God of purposes. He is the God Who Responds. He always tells the truth. He always does what He says. It is in the very fabric of His nature. He could never be otherwise.

There has been sin; there has been disobedience. It has to be annihilated. It could never be ignored. Just like faithful Rahab was blessed for her obedience despite her sinful life, her life that would have made her a pariah among our tribes, so anyone who disobeyed a jot or a tittle has to be confronted and punished, no matter what they did to obey the call to shout down Jericho. No matter how faithful they had been in previous battles. No matter if they had never been one of the main complainers about water and food. Only NOW mattered. Only what you have done now.

God knew. God knew everything, always. How insane it was for anyone to not know that. What man could shake down walls so mighty that all other enemies of Jericho never even bothered to think of attacking that impenetrable city? Only God could destroy them.

And God had said that all the treasure, all the loot was sacred and was to be used by Him in the ways He wanted. Why would anyone want anything for himself when Yahweh had provided and provided, had led and led, and had always brought victory in our relentless march to the Promised Land, which we would be taken into whether we wanted to or not. We were His people; He had chosen us. We did not choose Him. We only chose to obey Him or not. He was our bootstraps. He took us out of terrible Egypt, terrible slavery. And knocked down every wall in our path. He provided all we needed and would move relentlessly forward until He deposited us into the Promised Land, worthy or not so He could be our God and we could be His people. His love would not let us do otherwise nor would His anger.

We had seen plenty of love and rescue. We had seen fierce retribution on our enemies and on our own people when they had turned away for any reason.

Now there had been disobedience. Someone had taken some of the spoils for themselves. We might have never known this and, if we knew, we might have looked the other way, thought it was not a terrible sin. But God is unable to look the other way. Holiness cannot look the other way or ignore what has been done. No matter how small or great to us. There is no small in God.

We should have known. When we arrogantly went up against the men of Ai and were crushed, we should have known that something was wrong. It made no sense and our great leader Joshua confronted God. Our great leader could do that. He, like Moses, was such a friend of God that he could confront Him, confront Him with utter respect, knowing that he would be totally wrong because God was never wrong. You could count on that. God is never wrong. He is greater than walls, greater than Egypt, greater than right and wrong.

Joshua even reasoned, argued with God. How could this be! How could you use us to destroy mighty Jericho, then allow puny Ai to mock us, to even kill us when we lost no one at Jericho?

 We should have known. God orchestrated His response. We have a very dramatic God. Maybe that is why we are such a dramatic people. God is so dramatic; He created a whole universe that probably is still growing. He is not done; He is never done.

Now all of Israel may have to be destroyed—unless we eradicate those who disobeyed, those who were foolish enough, yeah, even stupid enough to hide some of the forbidden loot. What could they have been thinking? Why would they need this stuff? How could they ever

think that they would not get caught? Man is foolish, very foolish, always thinking he can trick God, hide things from God. Like in the Garden when the first parents hid from Him.

God is faithful. He always allows redemption. Although He is bound to destroy His own people, despite the entire history that He has had with them, which He has promised them, which He will always be faithful to, He will destroy them if they do not pluck the evil from their midst.

I wonder when Achan heard of the muster, heard that God had called together this army, this people, for a reckoning? Did his heart begin to quake? Or was he so defiant that he thought it would not matter? Had he not seen what God had done over and over to both bless and curse? Did he really believe that he would not be caught, not be held accountable for his sins? They were individuals and families and still all one, now with Rahab and her whole family too, despite her sinful life.  But it did not matter now. Only what she had done now. Only what one or some of us had done now, today, only, we soon found out, what Achan had done.

We will never know. We just saw and heard what happened, like the crashing down of the walls, like the screaming, dying Egyptian charioteers.

God is dramatic. All the people were called together, all the clans were called together. First the clan of Zerah was found guilty. What great relief washed over all the other clans! They were never totally sure if they had disobeyed. They did not know if one among their clan had lied, had taken something sacred in direct disobedience of God.

The fear in the Zerah clan swelled. Great fear, unlike the cowering people of Jericho who at first felt safe even when these insane people kept walking around and around their walls in dead silence. Why are they doing that! Do they think they can destroy these walls by their silence? Are they crazy, has the heat cooked their brains! Until the first rumble turned their safety into terror.

Great fear in the Zerah clan. Who could have done this! Who would be foolish enough to lie to God. What was of such value to cause this? Then, great fear in the family of Zabdi. It is one of us; one of us did this terrible thing. Who could it be? Names raced through their minds. Did they think of Achan?

Great fear in the family Zabdi. They all knew what it meant. No family stands alone. No one alone will pay. All in the family will pay. Maybe even the children knew.

Quickly it was Achan. He strode out, confessed. He did not cower. He acknowledged his sin. He admitted taking these items of great value to him, a Babylonian coat, perhaps the quality of Joseph’s coat of many colors, and gold and silver, hidden in a hole beneath his tent. When would this even be worth anything? When could the robe be worn or the gold and silver spent? In the Promised Land they had not even entered yet, that some were not sure existed? Later they thought of this, tried to decide why Achan had done what he did, had jeopardized them all. For what? For what!!  But too much fright and horror to think why now.

And some relief; God was fair. Most of them would not die at this time. Only the one part of the one family, only Achan’s family. The women began to tremble, clutching at their children, realizing what waited. They had seen if before. The God who would one day die to forgive us all, could not do that yet, could not accept Achan’s admission of guilt and turn His back on the sin. Had to respond. Holiness had to respond.

He was not ever not, always there, always Holy from the unfathomable beginning.

Not on their minds now. Only the polluted were on their minds. They had been told not to take the loot, to destroy it instead. One, just one, had not obeyed. Now they had to obey. Now they had to purge the disease, the disobedience from their midst. Or there would be no Promised Land; there would be no people.

To Trouble Valley they took them all, Achan, the women, the children, the animals. No recourse now.

Why O God, did you demand it then? It is not enough for me to say that it was to honor Your Holiness. It should be, but my vision of justice is too limited.  In the middle of Trouble the stones fly furiously until everything is still and the loot is burned, and the beautiful robe is smoldering.

BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!

Published in Duende