The Purpose of Punishment

Whitney Capps

Day: 7 | Plan: Joshua-Judges

Today's Reading: Joshua 7

Joshua 7:13 (NIV) “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.’”

When I was in third grade, I was invited to spend the night with my best friend. Unfortunately before her parents came to pick me up, I disobeyed my dad. The consequence was that when her parents showed up at our house, my dad informed them that I wouldn’t be able to spend the night.

I was devastated. I had apologized and begged forgiveness, but my dad explained that I still had to be punished for my behavior. This wasn’t because my dad was unnecessarily harsh or punitive. There was purpose in the punishment.

Today’s chapter tells us a bit about how God views sin and its necessary punishment.

In Joshua 7, God has commanded Israel not to keep any of Jericho’s devoted things for themselves. Nearly all of them obeyed, except Achan. God exacted just and severe consequence for this act of disobedience, and all of Israel faced consequences.

Because of one man’s disobedience, Israel is dealt an embarrassing blow as the people of Ai kill some, and terrify all, of Israel’s army. They retreat in defeat. As Joshua pleads for answers from the Lord, God reveals that someone (as yet unknown to Joshua) has sinned and violated the covenant of God. Israel has sinned. According to God, all Israel is now defiled or unclean because of one man’s sin. And God is rightly angered.

God gives Joshua instructions for dealing with the sin of Israel. The families of Israel come before Joshua and the elders so God can reveal the guilty party. The tribes, clans and families stand before Joshua until finally Achan confesses.

“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 bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath’” (Joshua 7:20-21).

All of the treasure of Jericho was to be devoted to the Lord, but Achan kept some of it for himself. After Joshua confirms Achan’s story, the people stone Achan and burn him and his family.

Scripture records an important detail: “Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger” (Joshua 7:26).

That’s a heavy situation and sobering statement. Let’s pause to consider what it tells us about sin.

Sin must be punished.

Sin’s punishment has a purpose.

Achan acknowledged his sin. But God doesn’t turn away from His anger until the sin is punished. Why? Because God is holy. He cannot do anything that violates His character. To ignore sin would make God unholy. God doesn’t forgive all sin. God only forgives sin that has been punished. God’s anger is turned away, His wrath satisfied, after Achan is punished. One purpose of sin’s punishment is to satisfy the righteous wrath (or anger toward sin) of God.

But sin’s punishment also served another purpose—this one for the people. God commanded Joshua, Israel’s leaders and all of the camp to carry out His judgment on Achan. God could have killed Achan without help or interference. Instead, God calls all of Israel to witness the seriousness of sin. Knowing the consequence of sin, the punishment it deserves, serves as a warning to Israel—and to us.

I don’t know how this passage strikes you. It’s difficult to read a passage focusing on the doctrine of sin. But the weight of our sin is serious. Ask Jesus. He knows just how heavy it was. He bore it all on the cross. Our gossip. Our gluttony. Our pride. Our adultery. Our idolatry. Our selfishness. Our stubbornness. Our materialism. Our laziness.

But there was glorious and gracious purpose in His punishment. On the cross, Jesus set aside God’s righteous wrath toward those who believe. We can be forgiven, but only if we accept that Jesus was punished in our place. We don’t get a pass on sin. Jesus took our punishment. And Jesus is the one who turns away God’s anger toward our sin.

But even after we have been forgiven, it benefits us to think of the cross often. To be reminded the punishment of our sin serves a purpose. The cross warns of the devastating effect of sin and draws us away from rebellion and toward Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You are right and just. You are equally merciful and loving. You do not excuse sin, so You sent Jesus to pay the price that would have bankrupted my soul. Now God, help me purge my sins, my actions and attitudes that offend You, not because I am still under the penalty of sin but because I grieve what my sin cost Jesus. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Dig deeper into your study of Joshua and Judges with study questions that will help you better apply this truth every day. Click here to learn more!

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