I love the story. You know the one. It's a very loud story. The one where the horns blew, the people shouted, the walls came tumbling down! I like loud stories like that. Israel had trusted God and He had kicked over the walls of their worst enemy. Stepped on it like a bug. No problem for God. Wiped it out, walls came down. You know, I wish I were an angel. I think they had fun that day, don't you? "They think the city is so strong, just watch." There it goes. You know, Jericho fell by no act of the Israelites except one of trust. Right? God asked them to do something that seemed a little crazy and they did it. Boom! There goes their enemies. The promised land was theirs. Or, was it? They knew without a doubt that the battle belonged to the Lord. Jericho did not fall by any act of theirs except for the act of trust.
Turn to Joshua 6. God had spent years in the wilderness teaching people He had taken out of Egypt, out of bondage, out of sinfulnees, out of idol worship, out of everything that was in Egypt, and He spent years in the wilderness teaching them with one lesson after another about relying only on Him. "See! You can't part the Red Sea. I can. You can't make water come out of a rock. I can." God had been teaching them so much, but now He was about to take this lesson a step further.
Joshua 6:17-19. The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rehab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.
That's plain enough, isn't it. It's very specific. Here, God gives instructions about the plunder of Jericho. Don't touch it. It's mine." This was, and is, a lesson in trust as well as tithe. The Israelites have been given the promised land totally by the power of God. Nothing that they did in and of themselves. God's power did this. To remind them that this was His power, His land, He told them that they were to remember Him first by dedicating the first fruits of the promised land to Him. That sounds nice, easy enough. They had learned to trust Him all through the wilderness. Right? Look at Joshua 7:1. How did they do?
Joshua 7:1. But Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord's anger burned against Israel. Notice that this verse starts out by saying that Israel was unfaithful. Israel was unfaithful, then it goes to great lengths to tell us exactly who caused the trouble, all the way down to his family and tribe. And then it concludes by telling us of God's anger against Israel. There's a lesson here. Achan's thievery is not isolated. It affects the whole people of God. Plus it affects how their enemies view them. Joshua cries out to God complaining about how they will be viewed by their enemies because of their defeat at Ai which was a result of Achan's theft. I've discovered something. My actions never affect only me! That's a hard lesson to learn. I'm still learning it. "Oh, it's just going to hurt me. This is just going to affect me." I hear this all the time on the radio. "Why isn't marijuana legal. It only affect me." I challenge anybody here to come up to me with something that they do that only affects them. You'd be surprised. If nothing else, it affects your relationship with someone special: God. Nothing we do effects only us.
Keep this place marked and look at Exodus 20:15. You shall not steal. Well, that's simple. In fact when I first thought, "Hey, I'm going to be preaching on this commandment. There's only four words here. What can I do with this? It's so cut and dried. 'You shalt not steal.'" Well, go home. It's hat God said: "Don't steal." These four little words are what comes next in our series on the Tenderhearted Commandments. What is so tenderhearted about this one? It seems so cut and dried. Just another rule. Something to limit us from having what we want.
Actually, these four little words have a far greater depth than is immediately apparent. They have far reaching implications, just like Achan's breaking of this commandment.
Actually, in Hebrew, this commandment consists of two words. Lo t'ganaf. The word, ganaf, is the word that we translate as steal. It literally means to take by stealth or to carry away secretly. It refers to any transaction that must be kept hidden from the owner of whatever is being taken. In other words, the taker does not have permission or legitimate right to do the taking.
Stealing covers all the regular types of theft that might immediately come to mind:
Stealing also covers more than this. It covers white collar crimes: Embezzlement. We've been hearing about this: Enron. That s breaking this commandment: "Thou shalt not steal." The fraudulent taking of monies or other goods entrusted to one s care. This reminds me of the old song Johnny Cash used to sing. It s about a man that worked at the Cadillac plant who stole a car part every chance he got so that he could build himself a Cadillac at home. This process took so many years that when someone asked what year of Cadillac he was driving, he had to say, "It's a '51, '52, '53, '54, '55, '56, etc." That's embezzlement: taking goods that are entrusted to you. There is also extortion: getting money from someone by means of threats of misuse of authority. And there s racketeering: obtaining money by any illegal means.
There are an infinite number of ways to break this commandment, and not just by taking property or money. We hear talk of stealing intellectual property. You know, ideas. Someone tells you about their invention an you go and patent it. You stole their idea. It might be legal, but not in God's eyes. Music, claiming it to be your own. Plagiarism. This is a big one. Stealing someone s written work and putting your name on it. This is why we pastors list sources of information that we use when our sermons are put on the internet. We don't want to be accuse of plagiarism. We try to give credit where credit is due.
Stealing also includes deception and exploitation. This includes swindling, cheating, price-gouging, and defrauding. If I intentionally exploit someone s ignorance, using it to my advantage, I rob them of the benefit of being reasonably informed about my product. If I am selling something and take advantage of the buyers ignorance of the product to make more money than I would from and informed buyer, this is stealing. There is a true saying, "Let the buyer beware." According to this commandment, God would say, "Let the seller beware!"
We are also stealing when we do not inform the customer of problems with the product. When we moved to this area, we decided to take on the formidable task of selling our own house in Atlanta. And it is quite formidable. You have to put your ad in the paper,; answer the phone; show people your home; have it ready to be shown day after day. There was quite a bit wrong with our house. We were in the middle of remodeling. We had been repairing and there was a lot more that needed to be done. And the temptation was there not to reveal all. But we quickly made the decision to tell everything. In fact, we made a list of everything we knew of that was wrong with the house so we wouldn't forget something when a customer came to look at it. "This is where the termites used to be., but we had that repaired. You can see where we drilled. You might have a problem here in the future. We had it fixed twice." You know. It's on and on. "Here's where the sun room fell of the back of the house because my books were too heavy. We got it fixed, but don't put books right here, okay?" People appreciated our honesty and didn't buy the house. But finally, a customer came who thought that the good points outweighed the bad points and bought the house. I'm glad we told him the truth because now I could meet him on the street and I wouldn't be ashamed to do so. It s a nice feeling to know that if I met this man on the street, he would have no ill thoughts about me, especially since he is twice my size.
Another form of theft which is relevant this week comes from politicians seeking our vote with promises that they don't even intend to keep. Or ones that switch parties after they are elected. This may be legal in the law of the land, but not in the law of God.
Cheating on an exam is stealing a grade. Teachers who are satisfied with doing the minimum are stealing a proper education from their students. Workers who play solitaire while on company time or employers withholding promised wages or benefits are stealing. Taking away a child s innocence is stealing, whether it be through abuse or allowing them to watch unhealthy programs on television. You're stealing their wholesome childhood away from them. Gambling is stealing because you are risking what God has intrusted you in a way that you are almost certain to lose. A person once asked me if I would accept a major offering for my church if he won the Georgia lottery. I told him "No." It would be like receiving benefit from the use of stolen goods. How can God bless that. I would rather receive the widow s mite!
I actually have mixed feelings about the up coming lottery vote for Tennessee. I like the lottery because it is a tax on stupidity. But I can't vote for it because I see what it does to people. Where I used to buy gas in Atlanta close to my church, there were two lines in the gas station inside the store there. One line was for paying for gas and the other was to buy your lottery ticket. If it comes to Tennessee, get ready for long gas... You know, you'll want to pay at the pump. You don't want to go in the store because the line will go to the back of the store. It didn't take long for them t realize they needed two lines. When they got two lines, something became obvious. The lines to buy gasoline and milk was very short. The line to buy the lottery ticket wound around the back of the store and almost into the other line, all the time. And if you looked at the two classes of people, because there were two classes, the class buying gas and milk was usually nicely dressed and fashionable people. They looked like they were in a hurry to get home to their family. The people in the other line looked like they lived a hard life. I though, "That's a shame." I felt sorry for them, losing money they had worked for while trying to get money they had not worked for. They didn't realize it took millions of losers to make one winner.
The Jews were very careful not to break this commandment. They made a law that said it was stealing to ask the price of something that you had no intention of buying. Can you figure that? You were robbing the merchant of his time while raising his hopes that he would have food on his table that night. You were stealing hope from him. You might have prevented him from making a sale to a proper customer. I thought about that a little bit. Now I feel bad about all the sports cars I used to test drive. Well, I had not money to buy them, you know. I wasted a lot of salesmen's time, and their gas, too.
The ancient Jewish rabbis believed that virtually all of the moral law was somehow contained in each of the Ten Commandments. How could this be> This one is only two Hebrew words. If this one is any example, they were right. Nearly every immoral and criminal act is covered under this commandment because, in the end, the whole community loses something to pay for the misdeeds of a few.
Cursing in the name of God steals His integrity. Worshiping idols robs God of His preeminence in our lives. Failing to take time to worship on Sabbath defrauds the Lord of His throne and denies strength and resources to His Church. Not honoring parents robs them of the joy they should have in raising children. Committing murder robs families of their loved ones and communities of talents and resources. Adultery robs people of so many things like self esteem, family harmony, trust, love. Giving false testimony robs a person of his reputation. Coveting undermines another person's relationships. And so on. See why when you break one commandment, you break them all?
I mentioned the widows mite a minute or two ago. This story is amazing! Do you remember when this story took place? Jesus had already cleansed the temple. He had turned over the tables of the money changers and called His Father s house a den of thieves. Yet, here comes a woman, sneaking up to the offering box, to put in her last two pennies, everything she had. Why didn't Jesus jump up to stop her? "You need to go buy some bread with that. Or give it to a poor person someplace. Don't bring it here. Remember this place is a den of thieves. The priests are corrupt. The temple services are going to be irrelevant in a few days anyway." Why didn't He do that? He didn't do any of that. All He did was call her blessed. To have stopped her would have caused her to steal that which she had pledged to God! We are responsible for what God has asked of us as well as what we have promised Him, even if we believe that the storehouse has not used our money as well as it should have. That's not our responsibility except as a group to change that. Turn with me to Malachi 3.
It starts out with a warning and then a tremendous promise. Malachi 3:8-12. "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse the whole nation of you because you are robbing Me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test Me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the Lord Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.
This takes us all the way back to the story of Achan. Turn back to Joshua. Here we find how much Achan missed out on by not trusting God.
Joshua 7. This was after they had gone all through the process of casting lots to find out which tribe, which family, which individual. And all that time Achan staying in there with his hands in his pockets and his mouth shut. Finally it comes down to him. Joshua 7:20-21. Achan replied, "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 weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath."
Achan had been given every opportunity to confess and make it right, but didn't say a thing until he was cornered. Just a few trinkets that he lusted after. When he had stolen these things, he couldn't even enjoy them. He had to hide them in a hole in his tent. They festered in that hole like a cancer, a cancer that spread unknowingly to the whole camp. Achan stole more than he realized. He stole the lives of his fellow soldiers who were defeated at Ai. He stole fathers from their children. He stole husbands from their wives. When we steal from God, we do far more than we realize.
Just look at the first human sin. Eve stole a piece of fruit from God. Not only did she bring death to herself, she brought it to Adam. She brought it to the whole human race. She brought death to your house. She brought death to the Son of God Himself. She also stole away the face to face relationship that God had created them for. All for a piece of fruit. All because she did not trust God!
When we rob God of tithes and offerings, what does it mean? It means that
The affects of this are far reaching as well. When we keep what is Gods, not only can't He bless our homes the way He wants to, He can't bless others as well. He has chosen our faithful giving to provide for the spreading of the Gospel. He could have done it any other way, but He chose this way. If all of us gave what God requires, money would no longer be an issue in the Gospel going to the whole world. We could do so much more with the ninety percent that is ours than by the hundred percent kept for ourselves. Yet we would rather hold onto our few trinkets like Achan than enjoy the vast wealth of Heaven that has been promised.
Rather than waiting on God to supply what he desired, Achan took what did not belong to him, and it brought a stinging defeat to the army of Israel. Instead of marching across the Promised Land in a great victory tour, the Lord s army stumbled over the sin of one man.
It also brought a death sentence to Achan and his family. When the Israelites walked away from the pile of rocks that had become the family grave, they named the place the Valley of Achor, or the valley of trouble.
What Achan didn't know was that, just a few days later, God would have provided him with more than his meager haul at Jericho. Look at Joshua 8.
Joshua 8:1,2. Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid; so not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city." Within hours, had Achan only waited, had he only obeyed and trusted, his family would have been blessed beyond his wildest dreams. How much better it is to trust in God's timing and in God's provisions. Even if we have to wait until we get to Heaven to receive the happiness, comfort, and security that we desire. It s worth every minute of patience. God withholds nothing good from His children.
Dear Achan, wouldn't it have been better to wear the old homespun cloak you carried with you through the wilderness? Wouldn't it have been better to endure a thin wallet and tight finances yet live with your wife and your strong sons and your beautiful daughters to see God's people march triumphantly into the Promise Land? Wouldn't it have ben better than ending it all under a cold pile of rocks in the Valley of Trouble? After all those years of following God through the wilderness, why did you fail to trust God just before receiving your inheritance?
The good news is that Israel dealt with the situation and God was able to bless them once again. They were able to possess the Land of Milk and Honey. Forgiveness is there.
Jack removes the envelope from the small pile of mail and draws in a deep breath. It is from his former employer. He has lost sleep waiting for it. What he is about to read could lead to his exoneration or to imprisonment. He had written to this man two weeks ago, confessing that he had stolen money from the cash deposits he drove to the bank each day as part of his job. After he received Jesus Christ and entered seminary, he felt that confession with an offer of restitution was the only responsible thing to do.
His school advisors warned him that, being a married student, he was taking a huge risk. Should the company decide to prosecute, it could have grave consequences for his family. As a full-time student with a part-time job and a family to care for, there was no way he could afford an attorney if they chose to prosecute. If they were to sue him for the entire amount, that would put his family out of house, home and seminary. All their plans would be gone. He proceeded to send the letter anyway.
Now Jack calls to his wife, Pat, and asks her to come into the kitchen. When she sees the envelope, she nervously goes to the sink and begins washing dishes because that s how Pat works off nervousness. "Could Jack really go off to jail?"
Slipping his thumb under the flap, Jack slowly tears the envelope open. He pulls out a single sheet of paper, pausing only for a second as he considers the possible outcome of his confession.
He begins reading aloud to Pat. "Dear Jack, Thank you for your letter indicating your actions while in our employ. The figures from the deposits were adjusted by our accounting department and there is no need to address this matter further."
"Is that it? Is that all there is to it?" Pat asks in a surprised and delighted tone, pausing from her nervous dish washing to look at the letter for herself. Two sentences; that's it followed by a hug. Their ordeal is over. (Rob Schenck)
There is forgiveness. There is a chance to move on. Achan didn't seek for this forgiveness. He didn't seek for the chance to move on to the Promised Land but stay put in the valley of trouble. Let's trust God with our ordeals, no matter what they are, with helping us to make things right, with helping us to stand honestly before Him and our neighbors, with allowing Him to help us keep His Tenderhearted Commandments. Let's show our love for God by allowing Him to knock down the walls that prevent us from entering the Promised Land.
Major Sources: Ten Words That Will Change a Nations by Rob Schenck The Ten Commandments by Dr. Laura Schlessinger The Tender Commandments by Ron Mehl The Ten Commandments by Taylor G. Bunch God's Finger Wrote Freedom by James J. Londis
Hymn of Praise: #43, When Morning Gilds the Skies Scripture: Hebrews 13:5,6 Hymn of Response: #515, All the Way
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last updated 11/03/2002 by Bob Beckett.