Destroying the Accursed Thing


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

“Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed (thing) from among you” (Joshua 7:12).

It is difficult for us to comprehend the importance of the land of Canaan itself in the Old Testament. The land of Canaan was the setting for Scripture because it, more than any other place on earth, could serve to represent spiritual things.

For example, the Sea of Galilee in the north is a lovely freshwater lake that is full of fish. It represents the Word. It flows into the Dead Sea, the surface of which is 1200 feet below sea level, and which is another 1200 feet deep, making it the lowest point on the earth’s crust not under the oceans. It is so full of the dissolved minerals from the surrounding soils that nothing at all can live in its waters. It powerfully and graphically represents the sensual degree of the mind.

And then there are all the different nations living in the land of Canaan: the Hivites, the Amorites, and the Philistines, just to name a few. Each of these nations represent the different hereditary evils that each of us discovers in ourselves as we begin to become rational, begin to look at ourselves from spiritual principles, begin to examine our lives. Just as we cannot shun part of an evil, so the Lord commanded Moses and Joshua to destroy the Canaanite nations utterly, and to keep nothing that belonged to them. The battles they fought, and which are recorded in the Word, describe the internal states in our battles against our hereditary evils.

There is only one thing that is even more basic to the Word than the land of Canaan, and that is the Covenant that was established between Jehovah and His people. First established with Noah at the time of the Flood (See Genesis 6:18 ff.), affirmed with Abram (See Genesis 15:18 ff.), and continually reaffirmed in hundreds of passages thereafter, the Covenant stands out as a message that we should heed, if for no other reason than the sheer number of times God tells us to.

And what was the covenant? In the simplest sense it was the agreement that if the descendants of Abraham would obey Jehovah, and not worship idols, then Jehovah would give them a land to be their own and protect them in it. In some passages, the covenant is defined as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28, Deut. 9:9), and so the ark which carried the tables of stone is usually called the “ark of the covenant” (Numbers 10:33). Sometimes the books of Moses are called the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 24:7), but it soon becomes quite clear that the whole of the three-fold Word is the Covenant between mankind and God.

Joshua had led the armies of Israel in their successful attack on Jericho, which fell to them because they obeyed Jehovah’s commandments to the letter. Certainly there was no military prowess required to take a city when all the fortifications miraculously collapsed at the same moment the army had surrounded it. In spite of the fact that this victory clearly had nothing to do with them, the Israelites wished to try out their newfound power by attacking the nearby city of Ai. Using a traditional frontal assault on the small, lightly defended city, they were driven off, and humiliated.

The contrast between the successful attack on Jericho, and the humiliation at Ai could not be more dramatic. What could be more obvious than that the Lord is telling us in the Word through these stories that when we attack evils with His help and according to His rule, they will fall with relative ease, but if we try to fight from our own power, according to our own wisdom, then we will fail.

And fail we do, often. And yet in our failures are the seeds of our recovery and victory. This is the clear message of Scripture.

The 7th chapter of Joshua begins with the statement that Lord was angry with the children of Israel because one of them had taken “of the accursed things” (JOS. 7:1). Remembering that the Lord had said that all silver and gold were to come into the treasury of the Lord (JOS. 6:19), we can understand that silver and gold represent the holy things: the truths of the church and the goods that result from them. For these to be stolen represents our own states when we turn away from the Lord and the church in order to turn towards ourselves, and our feeling that good and truth originate in our own minds, and not with the Lord (See AC 5135:6).

To believe in our own power gives us delight for a time, usually only until there comes an opportunity to test that power. Just as the army of Israel attacked Ai full of self-confidence, we set out to accomplish some goal, to make some change in our lives, full of self-confidence, only to be rudely awakened by our own failure.

Joshua’s pleading with the Lord as recorded in the 7th Chapter is a powerful picture of the progression of our own states. And since we know that Ai was eventually conquered, we can also know that if we follow all the steps described in the sense of the letter, we too shall conquer our personal Ai.

When Joshua heard of his army’s failure against Ai, he tore his clothes, fell on his face to the earth, and put dust on his head. The doctrines tell us that to “tear clothes” represents a state where a person recognizes that he is in a terrible state of disorder, that the he has not be living by the truths that he has always known, and thought he loved. Tearing the clothes, which themselves represent truths, represents the recognition that the truths that should be with him have been lost, and that their loss is mourned (See AC 2576).

The reason why in the past people would bow so far down that their faces touched the ground, was that ‘the face’ meant man’s interiors. And they did so down ‘to the ground’ because ‘the dust of the ground’ meant that which is profane and condemned. In doing this they represented the fact that of themselves they were profane and condemned. They therefore prostrated themselves face downwards on the ground, indeed they wallowed in dust and ashes, and also cast dust or ashes over their heads. Today, we are far too restrained to physically wallow in dust and ashes, but there are times of disappointment where we instead wallow in our self pity. In our series, this represents the point at which we “hit bottom,” where we realize the full extent of our evils, and where we fully realize that we have to change our life because we cannot continue as we are any longer (See AC 2327).

When we humble ourselves before the Lord in this way, we are ready to break away from the power of hell and the attraction of the love of self. In the words of the Arcana, we are taught that “insofar as the heart is humbled self-love and all resulting evil come to an end; and insofar as these come to an end good and truth, that is, charity and faith, flow in from the Lord. For what above all else stands in the way of their being received is self-love” (AC 2327:3).

We go through several different states while we are getting ready to change our life: Like Joshua, we try to blame others for our failure. He said, “Alas, Lord God, why have You brought us over the Jordan at all – to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites?” (JOS. 7:7) as if it were all God’s fault. After all, if God hadn’t tried to give them this land they would still be nice and safe as slaves in Egypt and wouldn’t have been beaten at Ai.

Then Joshua, much like ourselves, feeling sorry for himself, wanted the God to feel sorry for Him, too, saying that the Canaanites would now surround them, and destroy them, and then no one would know who Jehovah was anymore. It’s a state we know, when we say to ourselves, “They’ll be sorry when we’re gone.”

But the state was complete. Enough is enough. Once we have bottomed out and thoroughly explored and been disgusted by the kind of spiritual life we have from ourselves, the job is done, and it is time to move on, time to get back on the road of spiritual growth. So the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face?” (JOS. 7:10) There is no spiritual growth from wallowing in your sins. You have to see them, and acknowledge them, but only for the sake of leaving them behind.

The Lord then tells Joshua that the reason for their failure is the fact that Israel had broken His laws (See JOS. 7:11); the reason for all our spiritual failures is that we have forgotten and broken God’s law. It is sin that cause failure, and until we realize that, we will continue to sin and continue to fail. The Lord says that the children of Israel cannot stand before their enemies, “Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed thing from among you” (text).

Having told the children of Israel that their natural lives depend on obedience to His laws, He then spells out exactly what they must do to save themselves. These same steps apply to us in our attempts to save our spiritual lives.

The first thing they must do is sanctify themselves (JOS. 7:12), that is, wash themselves. As the prophet Isaiah said, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16, 17). The importance of shunning evils cannot be overemphasized, because the Lord said to Joshua, “You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you” (JOS. 7:13). The plain fact is that hell wins as long as you cling to your evils.

Once the people have washed themselves, Joshua leads them through the process of self-examination. They discover that it was Achan who stole the gold and silver by drawing lots (See JOS. 7:14-18). This makes the important point that self-examination must be God-lead in order to be effective. Evil is good at hiding itself, and we are far too willing to overlook an evil that we really love in favor of shunning one that we don’t love quite so much. Our self-examination must be ruthless, it must be from the light of the Word. It must be God-lead.

Once discovered, Achan is asked to confess his sins, for at this point in the literal story Joshua only knows that Achan is the sinner, but not the nature of the sin (JOS. 7:19-21). Achan acknowledged his sin by saying, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw … the spoils … I coveted them and took them” (JOS. 7:20, 21).

Runners were sent to the tent, the accursed things discovered where Achan said they were, and they were laid out before the Lord (JOS. 7:23). In this way the stolen objects were returned to the treasury of the Lord. This tells us that the next step on the path to spiritual growth is to correct what we have done wrong, to be willing to make it right. If we have stolen, we must return what has been taken. If we have hurt others, we must be willing to go to them to ask for forgiveness and to offer to make it right. There cannot be true repentance while we yet hold on to the things that we acquired through sin.

Finally, Achan, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had were taken to the valley of Achor and stoned to death: and then a great heap of stones was raised over them. As a result, the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger (JOS. 7:26). While we may believe that Achan should suffer death for his sin, most of us have a hard time understanding a system of justice where his sons and his daughters had to suffer the same fate as well. Again, we must always keep in mind when reading these stories that the Jews were a bloodthirsty people, and they were only permitted to do these things because they could not be led to do better, and because these things represented spiritual things.

Specifically, “sons” and “daughters” represent truth and good in the Word, while livestock represents different affections. When they are associated with an evil person, they therefore have the opposite representation of falsities and the evils and delights of lust therefrom. Therefore, this punishment was permitted and recorded because it tells us in the spiritual sense that if we follow the steps outlined in this chapter – the steps of self-examination, confession of sin, repentance, and amendment of life – then the evils within us, with all their related falsities, and evil delights, will be removed from our lives. They will be buried so deep under the truths of the Word that they will not bother us again.

When we read in the Word about the land of Canaan, the battles that were fought there, and the people who lived there, we should remember that the land of Israel was chosen by the Lord to be the scene of all these things precisely because its forms and landscape, and the nations who lived there, all represent the complexity and wonder of the human mind.

And like the human mind, when it was in order, it was a land of milk and honey, a land of great beauty and wealth, but in order to rule that land, in order to make it their own, the children of Israel had to fight their way in. There were giants in the land, and many heavily fortified cities. When they forgot the Lord and tried to do it all themselves, they failed. When they kept their part of the covenant and obeyed Him, there was happiness and peace in the land.

If we get nothing else from the stories of the children of Israel in Canaan, we should always remember these truths: If we rely on our own wits and strength, we will fail, but if we keep the covenant, if we obey the truths in the three-fold Word to the best of our abilities, then the Lord will give us strength. He will stand beside us in our battles against hell, and the spiritual land of Canaan, will become our eternal home. AMEN.

First Lesson: JOS. 7

(Josh 7) But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel. {2} Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. {3} And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.” {4} So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. {5} And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water. {6} Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. {7} And Joshua said, “Alas, Lord GOD, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all; to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! {8} “O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? {9} “For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?” {10} So the LORD said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? {11} “Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. {12} “Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you. {13} “Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the LORD God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.” {14} ‘In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes shall come according to families; and the family which the LORD takes shall come by households; and the household which the LORD takes shall come man by man. {15} ‘Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.'” {16} So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. {17} He brought the clan of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. {18} Then he brought his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. {19} Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” {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.” {22} So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it. {23} And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD. {24} Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. {25} And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. {26} Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.

Second Lesson: AC 5135:2, 4

[2] From infancy to childhood, and sometimes on into early youth, a person is absorbing forms of goodness and truth received from parents and teachers, for during those years he learns about those forms of goodness and truth and believes them with simplicity – his state of innocence enabling this to happen. It inserts those forms of goodness and truth into his memory; yet it lodges them only on the edge of it since the innocence of infancy and childhood is not an internal innocence which has an influence on the rational, only an external one which has an influence solely on the exterior natural. When however the person grows older, when he starts to think for himself and not, as previously, simply in the way his parents or teachers do, he brings back to mind and so to speak chews over what he has learned and believed before, and then he either endorses it, has doubts about it, or refuses to accept it. If he endorses it, this is an indication that he is governed by good, but if he refuses to accept it, that is an indication that he is governed by evil. If however he has doubts about what he has learned and believed before, it is an indication that he will move subsequently either into an affirmative attitude of mind or else into a negative one.

[4] This … is what is meant by ‘theft’, to the extent that thief-like it usurps the position held previously by good. With many people it is thief-like to the extent that it takes away the forms of goodness and truth previously there and uses them to lend support to evils and falsities. So far as is possible with these people the Lord removes the forms of goodness and truth absorbed in early childhood from where these are to a more internal position, where – within the interior natural – He stores them away for future use. These forms of goodness and truth that are stored away within the interior natural are meant in the Word by ‘the remnant’. But if evil steals the forms of goodness and truth there and uses them to lend support to evils and falsities, especially if it does so by the use of deceit, it destroys those remnants; for in this case it mingles evil with good, and falsity with truth, to such an extent that one cannot be separated from the other; and then a person is done for.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified October 20, 2008

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