Day 82: The Valley of Achor
Joshua 5:2-12 The generation of Israelites born during the desert journey were not circumcised. As Israel prepared for battle, Joshua had all the men of military age circumcised in keeping with the covenant. They could then celebrate the Passover for the first time in the Promised Land. The day after Passover, the manna stopped falling from Heaven because the people had food available from their new land. (CCC 1150)
Ch 5:13-15 The commander of the army of the Lord: He appeared to Joshua, who removed his shoes in awe just as Moses did at the burning bush. The scene reinforces the fact that Joshua continued the mission given to Moses. (CCC 208, 2777)
Ch 6:1-27 Jericho fell not from military tactics but through AN ACT OF GOD with the obedient cooperation of his people. The procession around the city and the final shout have a certain liturgical quality about them. In their invasion of Jericho, the Israelites left Rahab’s house alone as was promised by the spies. As the Letter to the Hebrews would later recount, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb 11:30-31). (CCC 2018-2020)
Ch 6:21 The antics of Israel must be understood in the CONTEXT OF SALVATION HISTORY. God revealed himself and his will to his people INCREMENTALLY, bringing them along gradually not only in terms of their knowledge of him but also in their understanding of moral law. The Church, teaching in the name of Christ, forbids any form of GENOCIDE, THE KILLING OF NONCOMBATANTS, AND MISTREATMENT OF WOUNDED SOLDIERS AND PRISONERS OF WAR. Soldiers have the moral obligation to refuse to perform such gravely evil acts EVEN IF ORDERED TO DO SO. (CCC 2313)
Ch 6:22-23 Rahab is seen by some of the Church Fathers as a type of the Gentiles who would someday be welcomed into the Christian Faith and reap the benefits of the Redemption (TYPOLOGY!!). (CCC 674)
Ch 7:1-26 Following the success at Jericho, a raid on the town of Ai failed because Achan kept some of the seized valuablers of Ai for himself rather than giving it to the Lord’s treasury as required by the Law. Achan admitted his deed and, consequently, was put to death. All of Israel had to live by faith in God’s providence, and all had to obey the Lord and work for the common good. In this way, Israel foreshadows the idea of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ in which all members have specific duties and collaborate together in a united fashion (TYPOLOGY!!). (CCC 771, 779)
Psalm 125 The believer can count on the Lord’s help and protection no matter what dangers and risks he or she faces. Evildoers deceitfully promise short-term relief from grief and pain if we would compromise our fidelity to God; his grace, however, will assist us in overcoming the allure of sin. This psalm reiterates the common exhortation to have a deep trust in God. “This is a powerful help in facing difficult situations when the eternal crisis of loneliness, irony, and contempt of believers is associated with the interior crisis that consists of discouragement, mediocrity, and weariness,” said Pope Benedict XVI. “We know this situation, but the psalm tells us that if we have trust, we are stronger than these evils.” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 3, 2005)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
The Battle of Jericho and the Sin of Achan
Oddly, the preparations for taking the city of Jericho seem to consist simply of circumcision and Passover, with little or no military plans described.
The only other instructions for taking the city, given by an angel, consist of circling the city seven times, with the priests leading and blowing trumpets and all following the Ark of the Covenant.
The battle for Jericho is to be fought more by liturgical action than military might.
The weapon of God’s people is worship, in the face of which her enemies cannot stand.
God fights for his people; they have only to trust and keep faith in him.
The last key instruction is that the only things that are to survive the destruction of Jericho are those that can be passed through fire, such as silver and gold; and these are to be devoted to the Lord and given to his treasury.
In the ancient world, booty belonged to the victorious king, so the law regarding the plunder going into the treasury recognizes Yahweh as Israel’s king.
The importance of this is emphasized in a dire warning: Keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction, and bring trouble upon it. (Jos 6:18)
Unfortunately, this is precisely what happens.
A soldier named Achan comes upon a beautiful mantle from Shinar and much silver and gold, and in the same chilling language of the fall of Adam and Eve, the author of Joshua tells us that he saw, coveted, and took it (Jos 7:21).
Thus, Israel’s new creation of the Promised Land is now likewise marked by transgression against God’s law and a fall from grace.
Israel, not knowing Achan’s sin, moves next to fight against a smaller city, Ai, and unexpectedly suffers a humiliating defeat. Joshua, realizing that Israel must have sinned, convenes the people, and Achan, singled out by lot, confesses.
Joshua declares, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today” (Jos 7:25).
Israel goes on to capture Ai, only after Achan and his family are stoned to death.
Joshua names the valley of the stoning Achor, a rare word meaning “trouble,” which connotes death related to violation of the sacred.
Achan violated the covenant by transgressing the law out of covetousness.
The word achor is also found in Genesis 34, where Jacob’s sons enter into covenant with the Shechemites in order to deceitfully slay them for the rape of their sister Dinah.
Jacob fears that this covenant violation will bring down achor upon Jacob’s family (Gn 34:30).
Similarly, in Judges, the foolish Jephthah makes a rash oath that will cost his daughter her life, an oath that is said to bring achor (Jgs 11:35).
Still later, achor will describe a rash oath that King Saul makes that condemns his innocent son Jonathan.
The point is that oath breaking brings deadly consequences, a lesson Israel desperately needs to learn to survive as God’s people in the land.
The irony in the Jericho story is that the faithfulness of a foreign harlot, who hides two spies, brings salvation for herself and her whole family—as well as acceptance into God’s people—whereas the insider Achan brings ruin upon himself and his entire family for hiding treasure dedicated to God.
The lesson contained in this sharp contrast is stunning: what matters most is obedience and fidelity to Israel’s God.
This fidelity is open to all, a lesson the Gibeonites will soon exploit
Human Solidarity, for Good and Bad
The sin of Achan demonstrates the uncontainable nature of sin and its consequences.
Just as Achan’s sin hurts all of Israel, our sin too affects those around us.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance:
“To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. This is the other aspect of that solidarity which on the religious level is developed in the profound and magnificent mystery of the communion of saints, thanks to which it has been possible to say that ‘every soul that rises above itself, raises up the world.’”
Just as one’s virtuous act raises others up, so too one’s sinful act has the effect of dragging others down.
In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it.
With greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the whole human family.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
Key Event 31: Fall of Jericho (Joshua 5:13-6:27)
The Israelites are to conquer Jericho by walking around the city for seven days in liturgical procession, let by priest carrying the Ark of the Covenant. In this unusual strategy, when the priests blow their trumpets and the people shout on the seventh day, the walls of the city come tumbling down. (How’s THAT for EPIC, Game of Thrones fans? 😉)
There are so many things to cover in Joshua
When the Israelites enter the promised land, the Lord said to Joshua that the men needed to be circumcised
This is remarkable because remember those who were set free from slavery in Egypt were circumcised
But during the 40 years in the wilderness, they did not circumcise anyone
Why is that?
Part of it is being fully delivered from their history of slavery
Now they have a new life
The covenant is being RENEWED
As long as an Israelite man is circumcised, he is brought into that COVENANT
The Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
They are breaking free from their history of SLAVERY and being brought into a RELATIONSHIP OF LOVE right now
There is also the recognition that the men of fighting age who were circumcised would be vulnerable
Remember the families of Simeon and Levi had entered into a covenant with the families of the men who RAPED DINAH
The men who raped Dinah were vulnerable after they had been circumcised and the families of Simeon and Levi killed them all
Why did they not get circumcised in the Plains of Moab on the other side of the Jordan River?
There is a certain element of TRUST
The very reality of circumcision when it comes to Abraham is all about making oneself VULNERABLE in a very particular way OUT OF TRUST FOR GOD
This is really remarkable
They now are free to celebrate PASSOVER
The next day, the MANNA CEASES
The Lord cared for them all throughout their wilderness journey and that is OVER
God will now care for them IN A DIFFERENT WAY
Remember, they were being TRAINED by being FED BY THE LORD
At one point, this Angel of the Lord appears to Joshua
Joshua asks the question, “Are you for us, or are you for our enemies?”
The Angel answers, “No; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come” (St. Michael the Archangel, DEFEND US IN BATTLE…)
The question we can ask is, “Is God on our side?”
The response is “Well, that is not the right question.”
The question REALLY should be, “Are we on God’s side?”
What’s revealed in this is not only our need to be ON GOD’S SIDE
We don’t want to just make God AGREE WITH US (how often do we see this in society today?)
This battle is not simply just against the Canaanites
The subsequent battles are not merely against the Philistines, Amorites, or Jebusites etc.
THE BATTLE TRULY IS A COSMIC BATTLE
What gets revealed to us is not only were these other peoples “different”
They were living a CULTURE BUILT UPON WICKEDNESS
They were living a CULTURE BASED ON THE DENIGRATION OF THE HUMAN PERSON
They would offer HUMAN SACRIFICE OF THEIR OWN CHILDREN to the “god” Moloch (or Molek or Mollok etc. I’ve seen it spelled several different ways so pick your “favorite” 😉)
This battle is not JUST AGAINST A PEOPLE
St. Paul said, “Our battle is not just with flesh and blood, but it is with PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS.”
That’s one of the things revealed through Joshua’s vision
This wasn’t merely armies coming together
This wasn’t merely driving out a people who were WICKED
What is really is is a COSMIC BATTLE
WITH EYES OF FAITH WE CAN SEE THIS
If we have EYES THAT DON’T HAVE FAITH, WE QUESTION THIS
We will continue to run into this AGAIN AND AGAIN
There are things that are happening in Scripture that if we read or listen to them through the EYES OR EARS OF FAITH, from the PERSPECTIVE OF FAITH, we can say, “Ok, Lord. I TRUST YOU.”
But if we read them or listen to them through the perspective of DISTRUST, CYNICISM, or SKEPTICISM, then there isn’t too much that we can allow to PENETRATE OUR HEARTS
Even the last story of Achon, where he takes some of the booty (plunder) from the destruction of Jericho
The result is that he, his family, and everything he ever owned WILL BE DESTROYED
If we are CYNICAL, we can say THIS IS SO UNFAIR, THIS IS SO VIOLENT!
AND YET, the TRAGEDY of that was not lost on the People of Israel
The truth was, THIS ONE MAN’S SIN CAME AT A COST
It came at the COST OF 36 PEOPLE’S LIVES!
It was because of Achon’s Sin that they LOST THE BATTLE OF AI
36 Israelites DIED at the BATTLE OF AI
This is towards the level of JUSTICE
It was not a TRIUMPHANT KIND OF JUSTICE
It was NOT A HAPPY MOMENT
They name the place where this JUSTICE is carried out THE VALLEY OF ACHOR
Achor means “TROUBLE” or “SADNESS” or “DESPAIR” or “SHAME”
It is NOT A GREAT MOMENT
The Valley of Achor is the VALLEY OF OUR SHAME
The Valley of Achor is the VALLEY OF OUR TROUBLE
When you read this, read it from the perspective of the People of Israel
Here is the justice that must be doled out
It is NOT A HAPPY MOMENT
NO ONE considered it to be a HAPPY MOMENT
When we read through THE EYES OF FAITH, WE SEE THAT
When we read through THE EYES OF CYNICISM, WE CANNOT SEE THAT AND WE WILL NOT SEE THAT
Later on we will read the Book of the Prophet Hosea
Hosea Ch 2: God says, “I will take your Valley of Achor (your Valley of Trouble, your Valley of Shame) and make it into a DOOR OF HOPE.”
Here is what The Lord can do!!
God can transform the LOW POINT in people’s lives that NO ONE WANTED but HAD TO BE DONE
God can TRANSFORM THAT LOW POINT INTO A DOOR OF HOPE
Can YOU do that? I can’t…
We need to RECOGNIZE that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US HAS A VALLEY OF ACHOR
Maybe it’s something someone has done to us
Maybe it’s something we have chosen (Oh man….If you only knew 😩)
We brought upon ourselves TROUBLE
We brought upon ourselves SHAME
We brought upon ourselves something that WE ABSOLUTELY HATE ABOUT OUR REALITY, ABOUT OUR LIVES
Well Hosea PROMISES that even that LOW POINT that we think WILL HAUNT US FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES, THE LORD GOD SAYS, “Actually, that’s not true.”
“I can take this Valley of Achor and I can transform it into a DOOR OF HOPE.”
We all have a Valley of Trouble
We all have a Valley of Shame
We all have things in our past that have wounded us and continue to linger and HOLD ONTO US
SO SURRENDER THAT TODAY
GIVE GOD PERMISSION
“Ok, Lord, I give you permission. Transform my Valley of Achor, my Valley of Trouble, my Valley of Shame, into a DOOR OF HOPE. I surrender to you. YOU CAN CHANGE IT.”
Fr. Mike is praying for each one of us that we can do that TODAY
Fr. Mike has his Valley of Achor as well (hard to believe, isn’t it?)
PRAY FOR EACH OTHER
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and we thank you. We thank you for sharing this story with us. Thank you for being part of our stories. As we, like Achon, as we can be unfaithful knowing exactly what you have asked us to do. So often, Lord, we turn away and do what we want to do. Lord, the heart of every sin is knowing what you want and yet doing what we want in violation of that. And so, we come back to you knowing that in our guilt you meet us with your mercy. In our shame, you meet us with your reconciliation. And so please, Lord God, transform our Valley of Achor into a door of hope. Hope for our lives, hope for our children, for our families, hope for our culture, hope for our world, hope for your people. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”