9th Sunday after Pentacost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, the spy is ushered into a dark room without any windows. He’s chained to one side of the table. His interrogators pelt him with questions, trying to pry whatever information they can out of him about his organization. But he’s been trained to withstand great suffering without giving up any information. But he knows and his captors know that if he shares any information it will mean dire consequences for his fellow spies and, if he is released from his captors, the top secret information he gave away will most likely mean death for betrayal from his own people. So what do his captors do? They place before him a picture of his daughter implying that if he remains silent, she will suffer. So what does he choose? Of course, he gives up the information putting his own life on the line. The spy valued his daughter most and was ready to sacrifice the most for her.
Well, the same is true in our lives. Probably not in such graphic ways, though. What we strongly desire or “covet” is what we value most and for what we value most we’ll sacrifice the most. What is it that we “covet” or have strong desires for in life? Well, if you really want to run in the Blue Ox Marathon in Bemidji, you may sacrifice all kinds of things in order to do so- maybe sacrifice junk food, sacrifice time relaxing on the couch for some intense running and conditioning. If you really covet straight A’s, you’ll sacrifice play time for study time, maybe sacrifice sleep for a late night cramming session before an exam. If you really desire having that new boat or that new car, perhaps you’ll sacrifice free time for extra hours at work, perhaps sacrifice spending on other things for saving your money. Whatever it is that we covet, it is that which we value and for whatever we value most, we’re willing to sacrifice most, right?
And we see it in the account here with Achan. At this point Joshua is leading the Israelites into the Promised Land which God had promised to their forefather Abraham hundreds of years earlier. God had faithfully led them for 40 years through their wandering in the desert, faithfully provided food and water for them every day, and most recently, faithfully parted the Jordan River which was at flood stage for them to cross over and enter the Promised Land. The first city they were to attack was the city of Jericho – a well-fortified and walled city. And this was God’s direction on how they were to capture this city: they were to march around the city once a day for 6 days. Then on the 7th day they were to march around the city 7 times and after the 7th time the people were to shout and God promised that the walls of Jericho would fall down and they could go right into the city. Sound like a good plan? There was one more piece of instruction that God gave them: all the silver, gold, bronze, and iron were to be saved and put in the Lord’s treasury and everything else in all the city was to be completely destroyed and burned.
Well, everything happened just like God had said and the Israelites won and destroyed the city. Their confidence soared and they moved on to the next city which was significantly smaller and so they decided to send a small force and easily defeat it. However, not only did they not inquire of the Lord before they went, they also had someone in their midst who had acted unfaithfully. So, when they marched against the next city, they were routed and 36 of them died in the battle. Their confidence was shattered. “Now what? This small force defeated us? What if the rest of the Canaanites hear about this? They’ll also come at us and easily defeat us! We’re ruined!”
So Joshua prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered telling him that someone had stolen, had lied, had taken things from Jericho that should not have been taken. So, they couldn’t defeat any enemies until they were right with God again and cleansed themselves from this sin. So they drew lots narrowing it down to find the culprit from tribe, then clan, then family, then individual. Interestingly, the perpetrator never stepped forward until the lot fell to him.
Finally, the lot fell to Achan. And what does he say? “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weight fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” I saw, I coveted, I took. What was he thinking? Hadn’t God faithfully given them an amazing victory? His actions cost 36 people their lives! Well, with our experience at rationalizing sin, perhaps we can guess what was going on in Achan’s mind as he stole those things: “No one will know. God is too strict. What I’m taking is a mere pittance compared with what others have. I’m not really being greedy, I just want to take care of my family. Others are probably doing the same thing. What a waste to burn this nice robe. God is getting so much silver and gold out of this, he won’t miss this little bit.” But regardless, he sinned against God and it affected the whole nation. But when confronted he confessed his sin, they found the robe, the silver, and the gold hidden under his tent. His sinful actions had consequences. They rounded up all that he owned and stoned all of it, including him and burned it all.
Here we see the devastating consequences of the sin of coveting. What does it mean to “covet”? Finally, the word “covet” simply means to have a strong desire for something. We generally think of “covet” in the bad sense, but it is possible to have a strong desire for something in a good sense. This same word “covet” is used in the Bible to describe the desire that exists between a husband and a wife. God also wants us to have a strong desire for Him and His Word. One Psalm says, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” God wants us to have a strong desire for Him, His Word, for what is right and good.
But as we see in the case of Achan there is, of course, all kinds of bad coveting. Bad coveting is always wanting more of something other than God. It’s never content with what one has no matter how much that might be. It wants to gain things at the expense of other people. But here is what coveting boils down to: It is really a deified desire. It moves a desire inside of us to have something at all costs into the place in our hearts that God has reserved only for Himself. This coveting, this wanting, this desire becomes more important to us than God.
It happened with Achan. God had clearly directed the Israelites to destroy everything and put all the silver and gold into the treasury. But to Achan, by denying him something so obviously good (at least in his own eyes) God was being ridiculous and selfish. So, at least in the moment, it was more important to Achan to have silver and gold than to obey God. And that’s what coveting in essence does. It reflects our value system. Shows what is most important to us. People don’t covet what they have determined to be little value. People generally don’t covet someone else’s trash. We covet what we value most and we’ll be ready to sacrifice things we determine of lesser value to have what we value the most. What did Achan value the most? Gold, silver, a robe. What was he ready to sacrifice in order to get it? His honesty, his faithfulness, his trustworthiness, his relationships with friends and family, the lives of his fellow soldiers, but most severely: He was ready to sacrifice his relationship with God in order to have gold, silver, and a robe.
It’s really idolatry. It shows up in our lives too, doesn’t it? In the end, isn’t it God who is the greatest good in life and of infinite value? So, with a proper value system we should covet a strong relationship with Him and be ready to make whatever sacrifices we need to in order to keep that relationship with Him. And whatever we give up in life in order to know God better is far worth the price.
But what so often happens? Just like Achan, our value system gets all messed up. We begin to think that the essence of life, of our happiness, our joy, stems from having something in this life: a better home, a new boat, a better spouse, a new car, more money, a better job, you name it, and we’ll be ready to sacrifice anything in order to get it – time spent in God’s Word, time with our family, our marriage, our credit rating, going into bankruptcy, our relationships with others. What is our value system? Is our faith and our relationship with God of supreme importance in life that we’re willing to sacrifice ANYTHING that might get in its way? Or are we ready to sacrifice our relationship with God and what He wants for us for ANYTHING that we covet? We covet what we value most and what we value most we sacrifice the most for. But as our Gospel states God will not share mastership over us with anything. We may be able to hide our thoughts and desires from people, but He sees it all.
Which leads us to one conclusion: there’s nothing we could possibly do to earn God’s favor. For not only have we done many sinful actions, but God sees even our hearts and condemns the sin of coveting in each of us. So what did God do? Apart from anything humans have done, God strongly desired something, coveted, if you will, and just like we covet what we value the most so did God. Yet, what did God covet the most? God strongly desired the salvation of us humans the most. And what God valued the most, He sacrificed the most for. He sacrificed His one and only Son who laid His life down on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice, shedding His blood for our sins and washing us clean from every covetous thought and feeling and desire.
God doesn’t want to force or demand anyone into being His child. Rather, in pure grace God wants to win our hearts by what He’s done for us on the cross and in the empty tomb. You see, God’s grace in the gospel is what changes our hearts. God’s grace in the gospel moves us to want Him, to strongly desire Him. He changes our value system in life making Him, our Gracious Savior, the most important and priceless treasure in our lives. And since we have Him- and with Him His love and eternal life- we have all we need. We can live content with what He’s given us in life. We can be ready to sacrifice whatever it is in life that gets in our way of knowing God better. And then we can say with the apostle Paul, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” In Christ you have it all! Live with that contentment! Amen.