Perilous Progression of Secret Sin

Bible Book: Joshua  7
Subject: Sin, Secret; Sin, Peril of
Series: The Peril of Secret Sin

[Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part sermon series by Dr. Paul E. Brown. The second sermon will be available online beginning August 8, 2012, or you can read it now by clicking on the following link: The Peril of Secret Sin - Part Two ]

We’re going to look this morning at one of the saddest stories in the Old Testament--but it’s also one of the most instructive. It contains some solemn warnings for us all. Verse 1 introduces the story as follows:

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.

Here, in brief, is what happened: Joshua and his army had crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land. They had conquered the major city of Jericho, and now planned to take the city of Ai. Because Ai was a little city, Joshua decided to send only a small force, feeling that this would be an easy victory. However, to Joshua’s complete surprise and consternation, the army of Ai soundly defeated the Israelite troops. Joshua fell on his face and cried out to God, but God rebuked him and said, “There is a reason that I did not bless you with victory. There is sin in the camp of Israel--and if you want my blessings again, you had better root out that sin and deal with it.” Then it was that Joshua found out about the secret sin of the man named Achan.

Achan’s sin took place within the very confines of Jericho, right after God had miraculously caused its walls to fall down flat--but only after Israel’s defeat at Ai did his sin come to light. When Joshua finally identified Achan as the culprit, he confronted him. We read about it in Joshua 7:19: “And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.”

Then verses 20-21:

And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done. When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

We see there four steps in the perilous progression of secret sin.



These were what the Bible calls “accursed” items. God had expressly commanded that Joshua and his troops were to leave such things alone. When Achan saw those objects--the garment, the silver, and the gold--he surely must have remembered that they were utterly off-limits, and he should have immediately turned away. However, he obviously continued to look--and that was his first big mistake.

That was what got King David into trouble. When he saw Bathsheba bathing, he should have quickly averted his gaze, but he kept looking. There is wisdom in that line that the children sing: “Be careful, little eyes, what you see.”

Folks still get into trouble today by looking at the wrong things. For example, watching trashy movies or TV shows is detrimental to one’s moral and spiritual health. Some people say, “Oh, watching all of those immoral bedroom scenes and all of that violence and gore doesn’t affect me.” But you’re kidding yourself. Let me ask you a question: Why do you think sponsors spend millions of dollars for a few minutes of advertising time? They do it because they know, for it has been established by research, that what you and I see does have an effect on us--on our thought processes, and eventually on our actions. Well, don’t think for one second that when the commercial ends and the program resumes, what we see no longer affects us.

It is a proven psychological fact that all we see becomes, in a sense, part of us--and those things that have been stored away in our subconscious have a way of surfacing, sometimes at the most inopportune times and in the most hurtful ways. You and I will do well to make the same vow that the author of Psalm 101:3 made: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes....”



To covet means to desire that which is off-limits. The tenth commandment, recorded in Exodus 20:17, says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.”

The Bible lists covetousness as one of the vilest of all offenses, and equates it with idolatry. Thus, Jesus said, in Luke 12:15, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness....”

The most popular tourist attraction in all of Italy today is the site of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. At the height of its development in the first century A.D. Pompeii was a thriving metropolis, with a population of 20,000. Then, in 79 A.D., the nearby volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, suddenly exploded, spewing tons of ash and rock over Pompeii. Some escaped, but many were trapped and perished. The entire city was buried under about 20 feet of ash. For centuries the city seemed to be forgotten, but it was eventually rediscovered, and in 1748 careful scientific explorations were begun. It was found that the ash that covered Pompeii had served, as one man expressed it, as a sort of mummification of the entire city. To an astonishing degree, the city remained as it was at the instant of its destruction.

It was discovered that within the hardened ash there were spaces left where bodies once had been. The scientists poured plaster into those spaces, and the result was plaster forms of people in their last moments of life. The detail was amazing, even eerie. Some facial expressions could even be seen. Alan Carr said that people were found sitting at their dinner tables, and that others were found in their beds.

He said that one form, however, stood out among all the victims of Pompeii. It was the form of a woman, still clutching in her hands a fortune in precious stones. What apparently happened was that when she realized that the volcano had erupted, rather than immediately running for her life as some had done, she stayed back in an effort to gather up her wealth so as to take it with her. Now, over 2,000 years later, what she gave her life for is the property of others. That is an admittedly unusual, but nevertheless tragically accurate, illustration of what covetousness can do. It can be deadly. In that case, it brought about physical death, but in many other cases covetousness has brought about the death of character, the death of happiness, the death of influence, the death of usefulness.

Proverbs 28:16 says that “he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.”



Once a person compromises by looking upon forbidden fruit and then by coveting it, his resistance crumbles and his unholy desire easily erupts into outward action.

God said to Joshua in verse 11, “Israel hath sinned.” The Hebrew word for sin means “to miss, to err from the wander from the way.” Taking those forbidden objects was an act of flagrant, willful disobedience--and that is basically what sin is: doing what we want to do, rather than what God has commanded.

The middle letter of the word “sin” is “I.” I will do what I want to do, without seeking the will of God. I will “tell off” that person who “got on my case,” in spite of the fact that the Bible says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” I will hold a grudge against that person who wronged me, or who I think wronged me, even though the Word of God says, “be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another.” I will get even, even though the Bible declares, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” I will engage in that questionable activity, in spite of the fact that the Bible says, “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

The Lord also used several other terms in verse 11 to point up the seriousness of what Achan had done. He says, “they have also transgressed”--which means “to cross over.” God has set boundaries for human conduct, and Achan had crossed over the line.

In a football game, if a running back goes out of bounds the ball is dead. Well, in the game of life, when you go out of the bounds which God has established it’s much more serious than a dead ball--it brings a severe penalty. Proverbs 13:15 says that “the way of transgressors is hard.”

Those boundaries which are set forth in God’s Word have not gone out of date, they are not subject to revision, and they’re not up for a vote--they are still just as binding as they’ve always been. Here is an example of one of those boundaries: God has told us that the beautiful gift of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman is to be reserved for marriage. Sexual intimacy is not to be experienced before or outside of the sacred bonds of holy matrimony--and to cross over that line, to be guilty of sexual immorality, is ruinous--to yourself, and to others.

In that same verse, God said that Israel has “stolen”--which was a brazen violation of the 8th commandment, found in Exodus 20:15: “Thou shalt not steal.”

I learned some time ago of a lady--seemingly of good reputation--being caught embezzling funds from the company where she worked. A good friend of Connie’s and mine knows this lady and once worked with her. She visited the lady in jail and asked her, “Why did you do this?” The lady said, “I don’t know what happened to me.” Well, I know, and I wasn’t even there. She looked longingly at that money that she handled for her company, and kept on looking at it in the wrong way. She coveted it; then she stole it; and then she tried to conceal her crime. That’s the perilous progression of secret sin--one thing leads to another. Once you start the process by looking where you have no business looking, you place yourself on a slippery slide.

God also described what had been done by saying that Israel has “dissembled”--and that word conveys the idea of deceit.

Back in verse 1 Achan’s sin is spoken of as a “tresspass”--which means “an act of treachery.” Achan was a traitor--to himself, his family, his nation, and to God. Sin is high treason against the great God of heaven and earth, who has given us every good thing we’ve ever had.



Once we have yielded to temptation and sinned, our reasoning gets all fouled up, and we somehow convince ourselves that if we hide it well enough we’ll get away with it.

The first two people on the earth made that mistake after they had sinned. Genesis 3:8 says, “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.” The meaning of that verse is they attempted concealment. Of course they weren’t really hidden, they just thought they were--but God immediately shattered that illusion.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper.” Psalm 90:8 says, “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.”

Many years ago a small boy whose family lived near the woods found a baby fox. It was cuddly and cute, as baby animals usually are. He wanted to keep it, but his parents had told him that he couldn’t have a pet. So, he decided to try to sneak it past them and take it to his room until he could decide what further to do. To hide it from his parents, he put the baby fox inside his shirt, next to his body. Then he put on his heavy coat and buttoned it. However, enroute home the baby fox, snuggled next to his body, bit him. The bite became infected; the boy became critically ill and died.

Secrets can be disastrous--and that’s especially true of secret sin. And of course secret sin doesn’t always involve material things; it can consist of a wrong inner attitude, such as jealousy, hatred, pride, or an unwillingness to forgive. But, thank the Lord, no one need continue to be endangered by secret sin--because our God stands ready to forgive, cleanse, and give us a new start. Listen to the testimony of the author of Psalm 32:2-5 (NIV):

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord--and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Acts 10:34 says that “God is no respecter of persons”--which means, as the old country gospel song expresses it, that “what he’s done for others, he’ll do for you.” If you’re not saved, you need to repent of all your sins and place your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior--he will change your life, and give you a home in heaven when you die. In what has been called the best known and most loved verse in the Bible, John 3:16, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

If you’re already a Christian but have allowed Satan temporarily to overwhelm you, you need to come to the Lord not as an alien but as an erring, repentant child and ask his forgiveness--he’ll help you to clean up your act and get back on your feet again. In Jeremiah 3:22 the Lord says, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings....”