In reading the book of Joshua again, I have been struck once again with the seeming severity of judgment upon Achan and his family for his transgression. The punishment has seemed to me to be over and above what was merited, because of the shocking nature of it. However, this time, I have asked the Lord to help me to understand. I believe that He has.
When Satan tempted Eve, he promised her that she and Adam would "be as gods, knowing good and evil." I have not thought as much about that as I have recently, and as I should have, for that is the place where we see the beginning of sin in man. Why do all die in Adam? What was the enormity of a transgression that consisted in eating a piece of fruit? Just a piece of fruit. Well, if it was just the piece of fruit that makes up the totality of the transgression, it might be justifiable to say that the punishment overreaches the crime. A piece of fruit, however, was merely the battleground. Many injunctions of Scripture call for obedience in matters seemingly as trivial as a piece of fruit.
The fruit itself is almost immaterial in the whole matter of Adam's sin. The nature of sin is not in the size of the matter, nor in the obvious deed itself, but in the heart of the man who perpetrates the sin. This is not to say that one thing that is called sin in one case, might not be called so in another. There are arguments for such a statement, and evidence that can be produced to substantiate such claims, but I am not entering into that aspect of the matter at this time. What I am saying is that sin, with respect to its severity, is not in the act itself, but in the heart. So, what was in Achan's heart? What was in Adam's heart? What is in my heart, when I sin?
So, Satan said: "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." What does that mean, knowing good and evil? And how does that make us like gods? The answer is, perhaps obvious to everyone reading this, but it was good for me to see it so clearly. If I can choose what I want to do, deciding for myself what is right and wrong (good and evil), then, in effect, I am taking the place of God. What power! Simply by throwing out God and His ways, His authorities (the Bible, parental authority, governmental authority, etc.), I can have absolute power over my own affairs! I can be all I can be, I can run my own life! I can do it my way! After all, I am God!
Such a manner of thinking was at the heart of Satan's temptation. "You don't have to do what God says, even though He is your Creator. You are an independent, autonomous being. You decide. Follow your heart. If it feels good, do it!"
The only problem with such an outlook on life is this: It was not Adam's call to decide to eat the fruit. God had already made that call, and Adam's deliberate disobedience was an "in-your-face" rejection of God Himself. Achan did the same thing. Satan's "I will be like the Most High" became the fight song of mankind. We have taken it up, even from the womb. That cry of independence. I am God. I have a right. I can choose for myself. "Sure, Satan. I'll be as God. What do I have to lose? After all, fruit is good for me!"
So, the few things Achan took were not the problem. Nor was it a piece of fruit for Adam and Eve. Nor is it just whatever the little thing is in which we love to have our way. It is the rebellion in our hearts. It is our desire to dethrone God, and set ourselves in His place. As our Creator, He has the right to do whatever He wills with His own. As His creatures, we don't have that right.
Our carrying out of this same scenario of sin is a daily event. The only reason God doesn't kill us for it is because of the cross of Christ. The garments of rebellion do not look any prettier upon us than they did upon Adam, or Achan . . . or Satan. As Christians, we are even more culpable, because we know a little about the price that was paid on that cross, by a God who so loved the world . . . And how can we even claim to know Him, when we abide one moment with rebellion to any of His commands in our hearts ? Even the smallest infractions involve the same sin: "I will decide what is right and wrong. I know what is good and evil. I am God." The commands of Christ do not stretch. His rules do not bend. We know that we are His because we keep His commandments, and those commandments are not grievous to us. We would rather have God's way than our own in the matter, if we truly love Christ.
I am not so concerned about Achan anymore. He deserved more than what he got. But so do I. I run to the cross of Christ for refuge. I am ashamed. How dare I assert my rights to do anything, or be anything for the sake of my own understanding. I don't want to be God. I don't want to go my own way. But I can still hear that hiss of the serpent: "Ye shall be as gods." Lord Jesus, come quickly, and make all things new.