Trouble Valley

Trouble Valley

Joshua 7: 1-26

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: sin prevents the power of God in our lives.

Goal: Confess specific sins that you might know the power and purpose of God for your lives and ministries.

On April 10, 1912, the ship Titanic left Southampton for New York. She was four city blocks long and featured a French sidewalk café and luxurious suites, but possessed only 20 lifeboats for the 2200 passengers on board. After five days at sea, she struck an iceberg and sank in two hours and forty minutes. 1523 people lost their lives; only 705 survivors were rescued from her half-filled lifeboats. The greatest shipwreck of modern history was especially tragic in that it was so avoidable.

Throughout the day of April 14, wireless operators on board received at least six messages which described field ice and icebergs on her course directly ahead. One message was not posted until more than five hours after it was received. Another was not shown to the captain, since to do so would have interrupted his dinner. Yet another was never taken to the bridge, as the wireless operator was working alone and could not leave his equipment. A final, crucial message was interrupted and never completed when Titanic’s operator cut it off to continue his own commercial traffic.

There was even a visual warning at 10:30 p.m. from the Rappahannock, whose Morse lamp message about heavy ice directly ahead was briefly acknowledged from Titanic’s bridge. The message went unheeded, and was not even given to Captain Smith, now dozing in his quarters.

One of the reasons God hates sin is that he knows the shipwreck it will bring to our lives. He sends us warning after warning, but so often we sail ahead to destruction. We do not break his laws, but ourselves on them. The consequences of our abused freedom are not his fault but ours. Sin always takes us further than we wanted to go, keeps us longer than we wanted to stay, and costs us more than we wanted to pay. Always.

Last week we explored ways to find and fulfill God’s miraculous purpose for our lives. No Jericho can stand before his people when they walk in his power. This week we will learn the converse truth: God’s people cannot stand before any obstacle or opponent when they live in rebellion against their Lord. Little Ai defeated an army which had just participated in the destruction of mighty Jericho. Sin always blocks the power of God.

Let’s learn why, and discover ways to prevent such titanic catastrophe in our lives and service.

Know that God knows your sin (vs. 1-5)

I read recently of a pesticide warehouse in Hawaii which collapsed. Apparently, its roof was termite-infested. Knowing the problem is only helpful when we do what we know to do.

Rahab did. This infamous Jericho prostitute repented of her idolatry and sin, and received part of God’s promised land. By contrast, an Israelite named Achan, from the famous tribe of Judah, would deliberately violate what he knew to be the word and will of God, and lose his share in the nation’s inheritance. We can be Rahab or Achan—the choice is ours.

God had made extremely clear the fact that his people were to keep none of the plunder from Jericho for themselves (6:18-19). Achan’s theft had no pretense to ignorance. Neither Joshua nor the other leaders of the nation saw his sin. But he did not know that their Leader watched it all.

Now the army was ready for its next battle. Ai, a town 15 miles to the west of Jericho, was perched at the top of a ravine overlooking the surrounding valleys. This was a significant place for military control, but a citadel of no compare to Jericho. Joshua’s scouts reported that “only a few men are there” (v. 3).

So Joshua sent a small force to attack the small city. He did not consult the Lord first. He marched ahead of him, despite all the ways God had proven that the people could win victory only in his will and power. Their Lord would have shown them the tragedy which was about to transpire, if only they had asked. Years ago a friend gave me some memorable advice: don’t get ahead of God, for he may not follow. I’ve learned that God would rather lead us than fix us.

Here he must do the latter. The Israeli army was routed by the smaller forces from Ai; 36 were killed, and the rest forced into retreat. The result was horrific: “At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water” (v. 5).

One man sinned by commission, in deliberate rebellion against God’s prohibition regarding material possessions. But another sinned by omission, failing to consult the Lord before he went into battle in his name. Had Joshua sought the Lord to ensure that his people were ready for the next step, seeking confession and repentance wherever it might be necessary, victory would have been theirs. Such a step is always wise, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23). Job’s practice should be ours: “Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom” (Job 1:5).

Know that God knows your sin and mine. We should give him regular opportunity to tell us what he knows, for we are more inclined to sin than we want to admit. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, once sent identical anonymous telegrams to twelve of his friends: “All has been discovered. Flee at once.” Within 24 hours, all twelve had fled the country. Who wouldn’t?

It is fallen human nature to ignore the reality of sin in our lives, and to excuse that which cannot escape our notice. Thomas Fuller (1608-61) admitted for us all: “Lord, often have I thought to myself, I will sin but this one sin more, and then I will repent of it, and of all the rest of my sins together. So foolish was I, and ignorant. As if I should be able to pay my debts when I owe more; or as if I should say, I will wound my friend once again, and then I will lovingly shake hands with him.” How deceived we are. Billy Sunday was right: one reason sin flourishes is that we treat it like a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake.