As the people of God stood on the banks of the Jordan River and cast a wishful eye toward the Promised Land, Moses passed the mantle of leadership over to Joshua. As the new leader of the people, Joshua was to take the people across that river, remove the Canaanites, and take possession of the land the Lord had promised them. The first city to be handed over to Israel was Jericho. In a miraculous battle, the Israelites destroyed the city wall with a shout and completely overwhelmed the city. The people were strictly charged that except for Rahab and her family, “all that is within [the city] shall be devoted (hebrew herem) to the LORD for destruction” (Josh 6:17). Silver, gold, bronze, and iron was to go into the treasury of the LORD. This first city was to be offered to the LORD as the firstfruits of their receiving the Promised Land. The dedication of the devoted things was a spiritual offering to God. It was worship.
“But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things” (Josh 7:1). Achan, the son of Carmi, had taken some of the devoted things for himself. But Achan's sin went unnoticed by most for some time. It wasn't until Joshua led the people into battle again that the consequences of Achan's sin were felt by the people.
The next city to be taken was Ai. Joshua sent fewer men than before but these soldiers fled from the men of Ai. Thirty-six of the Israelites died and the hearts of the people “melted like wax” (Josh 7:5). Joshua was undone. He tore his clothes and fell before the LORD asking why this had happened. The LORD responded to Joshua and revealed that the people had broken covenant by taking the devoted things. The people had stolen the things devoted for destruction and lied about it, now the LORD would devote the people to destruction.
Achan still did not confess his sin. Only after Joshua cast lots and narrowed it down to the tribe of Judah, then the clan of the Zerahites, the family of Zabdi, the son of Carmi, and then to Achan, only then was Achan exposed. At this point Achan confessed his sin to Joshua. “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them” (Josh 7:20, 21). The sin of the people was now exposed to the light.
The initial seed of Achan's sin was that he did not obey the voice of the LORD. He was tempted to ignore God's authority by his desire, “then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). Achan's confession revealed three actions in his sin: I saw (hebrew raah), I coveted (hebrew chamad, and [I] took (hebrew laqach). These are the same three verbs used in the Genesis 3:6 depiction of Eve's sin: she saw (raah ) the fruit, it was to be desired (chamad), and she took (laqach). What was the initial seed of Eve's sin? She did not obey the voice of the LORD. She was tempted by the serpent when he questioned and subtly twisted God's Word by asking, “Did God actually say?” Notice also the subtle twisting of Achan's confession, “When I saw among the spoil...” (Josh 7:21). Spoil (hebrew shalal) is booty that a victorious army was allowed to take after a raid. But in this occasion the LORD had prohibited “spoil” and declared all the items as devoted to destruction (hebrew herem). Achan had subtly tried to change God's Word to minimize or rationalize his sin.
Alexander Whyte summarized Thomas A' Kempis' description of the successive steps of successful temptation, “First the bare thought of the sin enters. Then a picture formed of the sin is hung on the secret screen of the imagination. A strange sweetness from that picture is then let down drop by drop into the heart; and then that secret sweetness soon secures the consent of the whole soul, and then the thing is done” (Whyte, A., Bible Characters From the Old and New Testament, 172). Achan was betrayed by his eyes when they caught sight of the gold and silver. He coveted the treasures and had to have them. Then his actions fulfilled the desires of his heart and he took them. His desire gave birth to his sin.
The Psalmist gives the instruction that the Law of the LORD is “more to be desired...than gold, even much fine gold” (Ps 19:10). Achan's sin was that he coveted the silver and gold. This violation of the tenth commandment was born out of a violation of the first commandment. This is similar to how the apostle Paul equates covetousness with idolatry in Colossians 3:5. There is nothing wrong with beautiful things. But when their beauty captivates our eyes and our heart more than the beauty of Christ, then we have begun to worship false gods. Achan had cherished the things devoted to the LORD more than he cherished the LORD. And the consequence for his false worship was that he became what he worshiped. He became devoted to destruction.