What is holding you back? We all have things we want to achieve, goals we want to reach, or areas in which we want to grow. In the Old Testament, the Israelites wanted to take possession of the long awaited land God had promised them as their inheritance. But there was something holding them back.
After wandering the wilderness for forty years due to their sin, the Israelites were finally poised to take possession of the land of Canaan. They had just miraculously taken the city of Jericho, and were gunning to take the next city of Ai. They didn’t think it would be too hard; after all, they had just witnessed a fortified city’s walls fall completely flat! So they only sent a few thousand men to go up against roughly 12,000. Nothing is impossible for the Lord! But they quickly came running with their tails tucked between their legs and thirty-six men dead! What on earth had happened?
Their leader, Joshua, fell on his face before the Lord in lament! Why wasn’t God keeping His end of the bargain?
God quickly rebuked Joshua and commanded him to rise. Why hadn’t Israel triumphed? God’s answer is point blank:
“Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” (Joshua 7:11-12a)
What were “the devoted things” that caused Israel to sin?
Back in Joshua chapter 6, Joshua had given the people God’s explicit instructions for how they were to capture the city of Jericho. They were also commanded to devote the entire city to destruction. They were not to keep any of the plunder for themselves.
“But you, 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.” (Joshua 6:18)
Throughout the law of Moses, the Israelites were expressly warned not to make a covenant with the nations they went in to conquer but to destroy everything, lest those nations become a barb in their eye and a thorn in their side. God intended to keep His people holy, or set apart, and even one thing remaining from those wicked cultures could ensnare, defile, and distract them from worshipping God.
But a man named Achan coveted some of Jericho’s silver, gold, and clothing, took it, and buried it inside his tent. Therefore God spoke, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you (Joshua 7:13b).”
This reminds me of how we hang on to things we should not. How often does God say we must purge things from our lives that He has expressly forbidden, and yet we try to cling to a little piece of it?
Like Gollum and his ring, we try to hold on to things that are supposed to be devoted to destruction as if they were treasures. We foolishly think we can manage them, or compartmentalize them, or even use them for good, but in the end they will control us. As God warned Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7b). Sin wants to have mastery over us.
We must be destroying it, or it will destroy us.
We must devote to destruction, or put to death, what is earthly in us: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
We must put away all “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Col. 3:8).
Even a sliver of sin—a “secret” sin that no one else sees, a sinful thought we like to replay in our minds, a tiny “harmless” reminder of a sin we once enjoyed—must be removed. There must not even be a hint of it left behind, for a little leaven leavens the whole lump. God commands us to cleanse out the old leaven so that we may be a new lump! And indeed, we are a new unleavened lump if we have repented and trusted in Christ the Passover lamb as the sacrifice for our sins!
While we are a new lump, having been made clean and given a right standing before God because of Christ, our struggle with our sinful nature will remain this side of heaven. Therefore, we have to fight against it (hence God’s command for us to actively participate in cleansing out the old leaven), knowing that God has guaranteed us the victory in Christ.
So what are “devoted things” for the Christian? Anything that entices, ensnares, or hinders us from worshipping the one true God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Anything that truly keeps us from being holy or set apart for our God. They are things we are not proud of, or else we wouldn’t have to hide them.
Remember that these things are fool’s gold, empty treasures. They promise pleasure they can’t deliver. They keep us always glancing behind us at the past and hold us back from pressing on toward the true prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. As the Israelites were not able to take full possession of the promised land with devoted things hidden among them, so we will not be able to effectively stand before our enemy (sin) and enjoy the fullness of God’s promises until we remove the devoted things from our midst. Our sin will hold us back from achieving the good things that God has planned for us. We will only bring trouble upon ourselves.
So what things are holding you back from pursuing God with all of yourself and serving His kingdom unhindered?
What things in your life do you need to devote to destruction?
What clear commands of God are you willfully violating, thinking that it’s no big deal?
What tokens of your sinful past are you hanging on to?
What sinful thought patterns are buried deep in your mind?
God wants you to devote these things to destruction. Not because He is cruel, not because He is a killjoy, but because He has better for you: Himself.
“All those things that you hold precious, that you love, that you cherish, that you think are so beautiful and lovely, that attract you to this world and pull you away from God—God loves you enough that, if need be, He will swallow it all up, lay it all in ruins . . . not because He hates you, not because He’s mean, but because of His ‘hesed’, His covenant keeping love. He wants you back.” (Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth)