Achan: the Sin We Are Afraid to Confess
September 28th, 1980 @ 7:30 PM
ACHAN: THE SIN WE ARE AFRAID TO CONFESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-28-80 7:30 p.m.
And we welcome you who are listening to this hour on the Great Southwest Radio Station KRLD, and on our Sonshine station, KCBI. Tonight, we welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening on those radio stations. And this is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled Achan: the Sin We Are Afraid to Confess. And I am honestly confessing to you that as I studied and prepared the message, I was overwhelmed by the vast extensiveness of this aberration before God.
Now, let us turn to the sixth chapter of Joshua, after the five books of Moses, Joshua, Joshua chapter 6. Joshua is leading the people across the Jordan, and the first city on the other side of the Jordan that they are to take, a Canaanite city called Jericho, and God says to them in verses 17 through 19 that the city is to be devoted completely to the Lord [Joshua 6:17-19]. It is a kind of first fruits of the conquest. By being devoted to the Lord, God meant that the judgment had finally come upon the wickedness of the Amorites. These Canaanites are to be completely exterminated, and all that is found in the city, the silver and the gold and the vessels; all of it is to be consecrated to the Lord [Joshua 6:17-19]. It is to be placed in the treasury of God. Now verse 24, in chapter 6: “They burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they placed in the treasury of the Lord” [Joshua 6:24]. That is the sixth chapter of the Book of Joshua.
Now we come to the seventh chapter. Having conquered Jericho, the next object of their conquest was a little city named Ai. And in searching out the land, when they came back to Joshua, the leader of the hosts of the Lord, and they said to him, “It is just a little place. We do not need the entire army of hundreds of thousands of men to go up to fight against it. Just let a few go up, maybe two or three thousand” [Joshua 7:2-3]. So two or three thousand, just a little handful out of the vast host of Israel went against Ai, and they fled before the men of Ai [Joshua 7:4]. “And the men of Ai killed about thirty and six of the soldiers of Israel, and they chased them down from their city” [Joshua 7:5]. It was an awesome, awesome, awesome defeat standing at the beginning of the conquest of Canaan.
Now I want you to read verses 6 through 11; Joshua 7:6-11. And let us read it out loud:
And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.
And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!
O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies!
For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?
And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?
Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.
So the Lord God says to Joshua, “By lot, you take the tribes,” and the lot fell on Judah [Joshua 7:16]. Then God said, “By lot, take the families,” and the families fell on Zabdi [Joshua 7:16-17]. And then, they took the family of Zabdi and the lot fell upon Achan. And Joshua said to him, “What hast thou done?” [Joshua 7:19]. “And Achan answered Joshua, and said, I have sinned against the Lord God” [Joshua 7:20] . . . When I saw, among the spoils, a goodly Babylonish garment—a beautiful mantle of Shinar—and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels, then I coveted them, and took them’ and I hid them in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it [Joshua 7:21]. So Joshua sent messengers, they went into the tent—they found the beautiful mantle of Babylonia; they found the silver and the gold [Joshua 7:22-23]. . . and all of Israel stoned Achan with stones . . . . And the place is called to this day, the Valley of Achor—the valley of trouble [Joshua 7:24-26]. And you will read of the prophetic meaning of that word, even in the days of Isaiah and Hosea.
This is a remarkable story. And it opens to view one of the tremendous weaknesses of all human life. The drive to be acquisitive—turned a certain way— covetousness, it is a universal drive. It is in all of us. Nor can we obviate it, or interdict it, or escape it. All of us know what it is to desire something, to want something, to pant after something. The desire to acquire and to have is universal. It is in all of us. It is a common denominator in the human soul.
Now that is not evil in itself. It is not bad of itself. Sometimes that word “covetous” and “covetousness” is used in a good sense. For example, Paul will say, in the last verse in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, “Covet earnestly the best gifts” [1 Corinthians 12:31]. And he will say at the close of chapter 14, “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy” [1 Corinthians 14:39]—that is to speak out for God, to be a great witness for the Lord. There is a sense in which that human drive to acquire, to reach after, to seize, to have, is good; when a man covets, when he desires something that is pleasing and magnifying the Lord.
But there is a side of covetousness that is also evil in the extreme. This is the sin of Achan [Joshua 7:20-21]. This is the sin of all of the tragedy that overwhelmed Israel when God said, “Touch it not. It is devoted to the Lord” [Joshua 6:18-19], and Achan hid it away for himself [Joshua 7:1, 21]. That human drive of acquisition can sometimes almost destroy the world, as it almost destroyed Israel [Joshua 7:7]. A great conqueror will seize the lands of another nation and of another people. And we are fearful every day of our lives, right now, lest the vast power of Russia will be thrown into the acquisition of the oil fields of the Middle East, and we daily fear the headline of every tomorrow’s newspaper; that drive to conquer and to possess.
Now, Paul says this is the great sin of sins. In Romans, chapter 7, beginning at verse 7, he writes:
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner concupiscence.
it showed me my fallen nature—
Without the law . . .
I was not conscious of that, I was alive, did not realize it—
but when the commandment came, I saw it, and I died before God.
And the commandment, which is ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
The sin of sins, Paul says, is the sin of the soul and of the heart. It is the sin of acquisition and covetousness, the desire for things beyond what God hath intended or proposed.
Now Paul said another thing that is almost unbelievable. In Ephesians 5, chapter 5; in Ephesians 5:5; chapter 5, verse 5, Paul writes, “For this you know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” [Ephesians 5:5]. Then he repeats that same kind of a thing in chapter 3 of Colossians, verse 5. Colossians 3:5, “Mortify your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” [Colossians 3:5]. Gracious, the man who is a covetous man, a grasping man, is an idolater; Paul says, “the sin of idolatry.” He is placing something in the place of God, and instead of seeking after the fullness of the Lord, he is seeking after things, something else.
And to my amazement, as I read and studied the Word of God, this is the commandment, the tenth one— this is the commandment that is separate and apart from all the other commandments. All of the commandments, the first nine, concern outward, objective action. It is to murder, or it is to steal, or it is to lie, or it is to bow down before an idol. All of the first nine commandments have to do with outward conduct [Exodus 20:1-16]. But the tenth commandment has to do with a man’s soul, with his inward life [Exodus 20:17]. This is the commandment that colors all other of God’s commandments, for it arises out of the hidden, inner nature of a man’s being. And like water, it drifts down through every crevice of life. And all of us are subject to it.
I began thinking in preparing this sermon. “Covetousness, which is idolatry” [Colossians 3:5]; it is a selfish, evil sin that afflicts and characterizes every life. And I got to thinking about preachers and pastors. Does that sin of covetousness, of things, enter into their life? Well, let me give you an example. Out of all of my experience, I do not know whether I have ever heard of a preacher who was called to a littler church, a littler salary, a smaller car, a smaller house, a smaller salary, and a less conspicuous pulpit; I’ve been trying to think, did I ever hear of one in my life? But always, the a preacher when he is called and he moves, he goes to a more conspicuous pulpit, to a bigger salary, a bigger house, a bigger car, a greater, famous opportunity; and he says, “This is in keeping, in commencement with my endowments and my gifts. God is placing me in a large place.” I got to thinking about myself when I came here. Dear God, ah! and that’s the sin that nobody confesses. I read of a Catholic priest who had been a priest in a confessional in his church for all the length of his long life. And he said, “I have heard every sin known to man confessed in that confessional, except one. I have never heard anyone confess breaking the tenth commandment. Thou shalt not covet” [Exodus 20:17]. It is something that characterized all of us. Now what is the matter with it? What is wrong with covetousness?
Not only in the Old Testament, not only in Paul, but throughout the Bible, all the writers of the Word of God unanimously condemn it. Why do they do that? Number one, the sin of covetousness is the worship of things as though life were interpreted by things. It leaves God out and places things on the throne of our hearts. The sin of covetous persuades itself that, “If I had this, or if I had that, I would be happy. All I need to make me happy is just to have this. And if I could have this, I would be happy.” And it destroys our lives. It makes us wretched and discontented. Paul wrote in chapter 6 of [1 Timothy]:
Godliness with contentment is great gain.
We brought nothing into this world, we will carry nothing out of it.
And having food and raiment let us therewith be content.
For they that would be rich fall into temptation and a snare, foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
[1 Timothy 6:6-9]
It will ruin your life. God says that about this grasping desire, this inquisitive desire that’s in all of our lives. And isn’t that a strange thing how we are? You know, if I just had that, I would be happy. And if I had that and had this and this and this, I would be happy. And the conclusion would be that the happiest people in the world are the people that have the most of it. The wealthiest, richest people would be the happiest people in the world. And the opposite is true! Everything we learn in life gives the lie to the illusion that, if I just had these things, I would be happy. It is a strange thing how human nature is.
Ahab was the king of Israel and he lived in a palace and he had everything. But right there, in the vale of Jezreel, Naboth had a little vineyard [1 Kings 21:1]. And he decided that he wanted that vineyard. He wanted it for a garden of herbs, he said. And he was miserable and unhappy having everything, but he did not have that [1 Kings 21:2-3]. And he went to bed and turned his face to the wall and pouted and wouldn’t eat [1 Kings 21:4]. And Jezebel, his wife came in and said, “Sugar? What is the matter with you, what is the matter with you?” And he said, “I want Naboth’s vineyard for a garden of herbs, and he won’t give it to me. And I am miserable and unhappy without it” [1 Kings 21:5-6].
You remember the story of Mordecai. In the Book of Esther, [Haman] is a tremendous man. He is a great man and a strong man. He is a foreigner, but he is come to be the most powerful man in the Persian Empire. And wherever he went, everybody bowed down to him, the thousands bowed down to him, all except one; and that was Mordecai the Jew [Esther 3:1-2]. And it enraged Haman, that one man didn’t bow! And he forgot about the thousands and the thousands and the thousands who did bow down. And he couldn’t be happy because Mordecai, one man, didn’t bow [Esther 3:2]. And finally, in the middle of the story, he got himself hanged [Esther 7:10].
Back of promiscuity is that same kind of a covetous desire. You know, if I just had her; and then, if I just had him; and then, if I just had that experience there, why, I would be happy. Isn’t that a strange thing? The titillation of the flesh is momentary, and ephemeral, and transitory, and passing. It’s more and more and more. It’s like drugs. It’s like alcohol. It’s more and more and more. And I won’t be happy if I don’t have it more and more and more. It’s a tragic thing. God says it ruins your life.
You know this thing of having possessions as being a part of our happiness is a delusion of the devil. It hurts us. It destroys us. Did you hear the story about the king that was so unhappy? And one of his sages said, “O king, if you will wear the shirt of a happy man, you will be happy. So they searched throughout the kingdom for a happy man, that the king might wear his shirt. And when finally they found that happy man, he was so poor, he didn’t have a shirt.
The great philosopher Epicurus, said, “If you will make a man happy, do not add to his possessions, but take away from his desires.” Now let me take that, let me say that in the way I would say it. Now this is no aspersion upon the great Greek philosopher Epicurus, it is just, let me say it as I would say it. “A man can be rich in two ways: by the abundance of his possessions or the fewness of his wants. Either way, it is just the same.” It is a wonderful thing when a man can overcome the desire for things.
Covetousness is a rottenness of the inward life. And it will manifest itself in every area of one’s living. Jesus, for example, was delivering one of His immortal and matchless sermons on the Holy Spirit. And a man broke in and said, “Sir, talk about something that is actual and real and that touches our lives. Get down to earth, where we live.” And the Lord kept on talking about the Holy Spirit. And finally, this man could stand it no longer, and he said, “Sir, I say, if You want Your place in the sun, then come down here and talk about something that is practical. Make my brother divide the inheritance with me [Luke 12:13]. If Your sermon has any permanency, let it put money in my pocket.” That is what he said to the Lord Jesus. And the Lord Jesus answered, “Beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth” [Luke 12:15].
What’s wrong with covetousness? Why does the Bible so universally condemn it? Because it leads to all of the other sins. Look for just a moment—look for just a moment at covetousness in action. How does it act? How does it do? It’s the first sin. God interdicted this one tree—just one [Genesis 2:16-17]. All of the rest in the garden you can have, all of it to the abounding affluence of your life and soul, all of it is yours! Just one interdicted, and Eve looked at it, and desired it, and coveted it, and ate of it [Genesis 3:6]—the first sin. That was it. In reading Augustine’s Confessions, he was talking about that failure of fallen human nature. And he said, “When I was a teenager, a friend of mine went over a wall and stole the pears of a neighbor.” And Augustine said, and by the way, he was the first, great psychoanalyst—psychologist, Augustine. Augustine said, “Why did we do that?” He said, “We had better pears on the tree at home, and when we stole them, we fed them to the hogs.” He said, “The reason we did it was because it was interdicted.”
“Thou shalt not,” that’s fallen human nature.
What is wrong with covetousness? Paul writes it. You look at it, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith” [1 Timothy 6:10]. The covetousness of money; and back of that, the Bible says, are all kinds of evil. What does a drug pusher want? He wants money. What does a pimp and a procurer want? He wants money. What does a prostitute want? Is she giving herself out of great love for the man that she is lying with? No! She wants money. What do these politicians want who ask for a bribe under the table? They want money. What do all of these people do who violate the law, and do disgrace to the human family and the name of our country and people and city and state? They want money. It’s a desire. It’s a drive that can ruin human life. May I make one other comment about that, about a thousand that could be made? What is lust? That’s all it is. The word “covetousness” is sometimes translated “lust.” I think of David. David had eight wives, eight of them. He had a number of concubines, I don’t know how many. He lived every night in an Oriental harem. And yet, on the top of his house, looking down into the home of Uriah, the Hittite, he saw Bathsheba taking a bath [2 Samuel 11:2]. And the rest of the story of murder and deception is known to us all, and is a blot on the name of God for ever—covetousness, lust [2 Samuel 11:3-12:12]. But enough; how do I overcome it? How do we overcome? What is the principle of victory over this drive that is in every human heart? What do we do?
God’s Word is simplistic, and it is very plain, and very pertinent, and most workable. It is triumphant. When Paul says, “I have not known sin, but. . . the law said, Thou shalt not covet” [Romans 7:7]. And sin revealed to me, destroyed me [Romans 7:11]. Now look how he concludes, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [Romans 7:24]. How can I overcome it? How can I gain victory over it? And the answer, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 7:25]. And look at Paul again, in this passage on covetousness in the third chapter of Colossians. He says, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” [Colossians 3:2]. That’s it. That’s it; the drive that I have in the heart for things, things; the panting and the desiring for things. My whole life interpreted in the realm and circumference and definition of things, this world, how do I overcome it? I overcome it by loving the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was a great Scots preacher by the name of Thomas Chalmers. And he preached one of the most famous sermons in the world. And it is entitled, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection—The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Falling in love with something else, that does it. Now he didn’t have anything like this in his sermon, so I am going to preach his sermon tonight in ways that I have stumbled into it—the expulsive power of a new affection—loving something else.
I one time saw a fellow and you never saw such a guy in your life. You just never did. He was down. I mean, he was down, down, down. He was down, down, down, down. You know what was the matter of his down, down, down, down? His girl threw him over. Said she didn’t love him, didn’t want him, wasn’t going to marry him, wasn’t going to go with him no more, and he was down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down. The girl didn’t love him anymore. It was awful. It was awful. He said to me, “I can’t sleep.” He said to me, “I can’t eat. I can’t study.” This was in the days of college. “And I can’t live. I don’t know what I am going to do.” Ha, ha, boy, boy, boy, boy, boy! Well, the day came—the day came, and there he was, up and bright and chipper and happy and singing and studying and eating and sleeping and all the rest. And I said, “What is the matter with you?” And he said, “I have fallen in love with another girl.” That’s all it took to get it over with, all done—the expulsive power of a new affection. Just fall in love with another girl. It will be over in a minute, she will see to that. All life is like that; all of it: the expulsive power of a new expulsion.
When the rich, young ruler came to Jesus, he had the world in his heart. And the Lord Jesus said, “The kingdom is stait and narrow, and you cannot enter the door holding the world in your heart. Give it away. Give it away. Give it away. Do this, not that, follow Me, love Me, follow Me.” And the young man went away sad at that saying: “for he had great possessions” [Mark 10:17-22]. He would rather have that than this. He loved the world more then he loved God. Oh, and in how many lives do we see this. And when you do see someone who loves Jesus more then he loves things, it is a beautiful thing to observe, a beautiful thing way live. I have watched one of the members of our church, Mary C, for whom our building is named; one of the richest women in America. And what she does is she lives literally giving what she has to other people. It is marvelous to behold!
We have one of the tremendously gifted players of the new national basketball team here in Dallas, the Mavericks. And as you know, I went out on Friday night to see them play. And I sat by Mary Crowley. She invited Mrs. C and me as her guests there. Now what did Mary talk to me about? You Hebrew congregation there that pray for me so beautifully and earnestly, and I love you more then you could ever know. You know what Mary talked to me about? As I sat by her side at that opening game of the Mavericks, on Friday night, Mary talked to me, and said, “You know, the Aaron ladies? They were in a tragic accident and we must help them. We must help them. We must give to them, and we must help them.” I said, “That’s right Mary, and we are going to do it. We are going to do it.” That’s great. That’s great!
The expulsive power of a new affection: “I have found a friend in Jesus, and He is all the world to me.” You don’t have to worry about any of the rest, if your first love is our Lord. You don’t have to worry about the family; God will help you, if your first love is Jesus. You don’t have to worry about your business, if your first love is Jesus. You don’t have to worry about your personal life, if your first love is Jesus. The expulsive power of a new affection; it just shoves out all of the kingdom of darkness. Dear me it is a wonderful way to live, giving your life to the blessed Savior. It’s a deliverance now. It’s a victory this moment. It is marvelous in its prospect and outlook. It’s blessing and affluence in this life. And it is riches beyond compare in the world that is yet to come. That’s what God says. And the Lord leads us in the way of life eternal [John 10:27-30]. Now may we stand together? Our Lord in heaven, I can’t pray, if first, I don’t confess to Thee ten thousand things of a grasping nature in my own soul. And Lord, I want to love Thee more; that these things might take their proper and subordinate place, and that Jesus might be all in all. The happy life, the beautiful life, the triumphant and victorious life is the life walking in the way of the Lord, and our Father, we pray tonight that God will bless this message and this appeal, and that God tonight shall give us souls. May there be many this moment who say, “I am deciding for Christ, and I am answering with my life.”
And in this moment that we are quiet, and praying, in the balcony round; a family, a couple, or just one somebody you; if you are on the top floor of that last seat in the balcony, there is time and to spare. Down one of these stairways and here to the front, “Here I am pastor, I have decided for God” [Ephesians 2:8]. And in the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, a minister is here. A deacon is here. Jesus is here. The Holy Spirit is here. The angels of God are here. And all of us and them plead for your answer. Yes, Lord, yes. And our Lord thank Thee for the harvest God shall give us tonight, in His saving name, amen.
Now while we pray and while we wait and while we sing this hymn, to accept Jesus as your Savior [Romans 10:9-13], to let Him come into your heart; or to follow the Lord through the waters of the Jordan to be baptized [Matthew 3:13-17]; or to put your life in the fellowship or the communion of this blessed church, while we wait and pray and sing, come now. Do it now, while we sing.
ACHAN: THE SIN WE ARE AFRAID TO CONFESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Human drive of acquisitiveness turned the wrong way is covetousness
1. That drive can be good
2. That drive can be bad
II. What is wrong with covetousness
1. Leaves God out of our lives
2. Believe things will make us happy
3. Inner rottenness
4. Leads to wrongdoing
III. How to conquer