But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel.
2 And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai.
3 And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few.
4 So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai.
5 And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.
6 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.
7 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!
8 O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies!
9 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?
This scene in Joshua documents the first major battle after the Israelites enter the promised land. Moses has very recently died and Joshua is now the leader of the people. After their victory over Jericho and crossing the Jordan the wandering people of Israel now have a concrete view of the land promised to them. They traveled through the desert and were beset by famine, in-fighting, and dissatisfaction. Moreover they endured betrayal, idolatry, and many scourges.
Finally they had reached the Promised Land with the full hope of conquering the land and establishing a people rooted firmly in God. Yet the first battle in this Promised Land, not even a major one, was a defeat at the hands of a weaker foe. While joy and elation came with the Israelites so too did avarice and complacency.
Now I do not write this to accuse anyone of of being plagued by greed and complacency at this moment, but the Exodus story and the story of the settling of the Promised Land is also a powerful allegory for our own personal spiritual journey.
There are many battles and difficulties we face in life. Similarly there are many moments we look forward to: ordination, marriage, a big job, a new family, more money, a cute girl, etc. When we reach these objects of hope and desire there is also the great temptation of complacency—being content with what we have and becoming lazy with regard to self-knowledge and humility.
In Joshua one man, Achan, becomes avaricious for the gold and wealth won from battle and keeps it for himself. His own greed infects the people of Israel and results in the disastrous consequence related above. In noble matters and seemingly simple, bodily matters none of us are immune to the desire for more—more difficult still is that what we desire may not necessarily be “bad,” but the desire is bad because of its aim. Complacency and greed are self-centered and self-oriented. Ultimately it turns people and things into objects of desire and more dangerously objects that I deserve.
In my own spiritual direction I have looked for the undercurrents of jealousy and avarice that have invaded my habits and dispositions. I have been able to see how stress, disappointment, and dissatisfaction have guided my feelings. Sometimes I find myself envious of those who have more than I do or something nicer than I do because they have more money. Other times I’m upset that I put a lot of hard work into something for little to no encouragement or recognition. These dispositions can manifest themselves instantaneously and feel more like reactions than conscious decisions. If that is the case then it is likely that my feelings about money or recognition have been nurtured by my own desires. Those desires then have become habits and predispositions toward subsequent events.
We must always be on guard about what we desire and who we desire. The moment we feel as if we “have it all” leads to ruin. That moment where we feel we need everything does the same. Humility guards against both extremes. Humility accepts what we are and what we are not.
What guards against the poison of greed and complacency? Here are a few suggestions:
+Accountability: make yourself accountable to others for your spiritual well-being. Confide in friends or relatives whom you trust to be on the lookout for patterns you wish to eliminate (or grow).
+Prayer: Honestly present to God what you are struggling with at this very moment. Pray also for the insight to know yourself more fully and to love yourself for who you are and are not.
+Guidance: Spiritual direction with someone practiced in prayer and the movements of the Spirit can aid us in recognizing patterns we cannot see. While your priest may be a good starting place it does not need to be him out of necessity. He may very well help or direct you to someone he feels can best guide you. Moreover one must also pray about who should guide them.
These are three small ways to strengthen ourselves on our own spiritual journey to the “promised land.” Like the pilgrimage the Israelites made in the desert our own pilgrimage will be filled with wandering, confusion, idolatry, anger, betrayal, and crises of faith. These trials are only bearable with the help of others who wander with us and guide us. Entrust yourselves to the care of others and be a Christian who is trusted to do the same --Matthew Heinrich
As a result of this sacrilege, committed by one man while representing the nation, the nation itself felt the impact of God's judgment. As they sought to capture Ai, not an important city, they found themselves unexpectedly defeated.
20 And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: 21 When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.”