I have been reading through the Old Testament, and I was impressed by the parallels of this story to our society today.
So Joshua and all of the Israelites had been in the wilderness for 40 years. Finally they get to go and conquer the city of Jericho. We know how they marched around the wall and then blew the shofars and the wall collapsed and they all headed in and killed everyone.
Well, one of the rules about that conquest was that they were not supposed to take any of the riches out of Jericho for themselves. “And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.” (Joshua 6:18) The brass and gold and silver that they found would be consecrated to the Lord’s treasury (for the tabernacle/temple, probably).
Well, there was this guy, Achan, who couldn’t resist. He stole some silver, gold and a really nice “babylonish garment” and then took them back to camp and buried them in the center of his tent.
The very next conquest was a city called Ai, and it was a disaster. Joshua had only sent 3,000 men there and they lost 36 men before they turned and ran away. A total reversal to the miraculous defeat of Jericho. Joshua prayed to know what they had done wrong and the Lord told him that they were being punished because someone had taken “the accursed thing”. So Joshua narrowed it down (presumably through inspiration) to the house of Achan. As soon as Achan was singled out, he confessed, quite penitently.
Fast forward 4,000 years and this is a lovely story of forgiveness and repentance.
Psych. This is the Old Testament. They gathered up Achan, his family, his flocks and cattle, his tent and supplies, and, of course, the accursed things and took them all to the valley of Achor. There they stoned them all and then burned them with fire. Destroyed.
The very next verse, the Lord tells Joshua to try again at Ai, and the Lord would help them just like He did at Jericho. The only difference is that “the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves” (Joshua 8:2). Almost on the way home from the stoning/burning of the man that took treasures, they are told “Now you can take the treasures for yourselves.”
One might argue that the act was now legal and God owes Achan a huge apology. As if the idea or action was the most important thing. My kids feel the same way when I say they can have a popsicle after dinner, not before. Elder Uchtdorf’s message at the General Women Meeting was perfect: “I think God knows something we don’t—things that are beyond our capacity to comprehend! Our Father in Heaven is an eternal being whose experience, wisdom, and intelligence are infinitely greater than ours. Not only that, but He is also eternally loving, compassionate, and focused on one blessed goal: to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.” God doesn’t waste His time with trivial commandments. Nor is His timing ever wrong. And–most importantly–He is focused on one thing: getting us back to Him because He loves us. So we can trust Him.
God does things in the right way, in the right time, every time. If He told them to not take anything for themselves from Jericho, but to collect it for the Lord, that’s what they were supposed to do. If He told them to take treasures from every other city, then that’s what they were supposed to do. The action of treasure-taking itself was secondary to their obedience. And when the Israelites showed their exact obedience, they were blessed. In every city or settlement they conquered thereafter, they were allowed to take the spoils; but the first one was for the Lord. Not unlike our tithing today.
I have never regretted being exactly obedient when the Lord asks. I have always (eventually) regretted doing it my own way, in rebellion or pride, if another way has been revealed. The ends do not justify the means if we are acting in opposition to the commandments we have been given. The action itself is not as important as trusting God’s timing and judgment. He controls the universe–our small battles may seem monumental to us, but He could conquer in our behalf with a snap of His fingers. For God, the real battle is seeing whether we are willing to trust Him and obey Him implicitly.