Michael Andrew Ellis

Writings, Homilies, and Parthian Shots

02 Aug 2022

The Accursed Thing

The Transgression of Achan

In the seventh chapter of Joshua, the Ammorites defeat the Israelites at Ai. Still confident from their victory over Jericho, and from God’s promises, the prophet Joshua is stunned at this loss and takes it very hard, even to accusing the Lord of leading Israel this side of Jordon only to destroy them.

The Lord upbraids Joshua for wallowing in his self-pity and tells him that the loss is because Israel has sinned, for someone among them took of “the accursed thing” when Israel took Jericho. The Lord had instructed Israel to kill every man, woman, and child, and to abstain from taking spoils except for what was to be brought into the treasury of the Lord.

Joshua then ferrets out the guilty party, Achan, who had taken some silver and gold, and a Babylonian garment as a souvenir. The punishment was swift. Israel took Achan, his family, and all his property to a valley called Achor and stoned Achan and his family to death and then burned everything else. What a price to pay for a fancy garment and a bit of gold and silver!

Naturally, our modern sensibilities recoil from what amounts to the complete eradication of this man’s lineage in Israel, root and branch. But for Israel, Achan and his kith and kin had become “the accursed thing” and must be cut out.

It was a different time and place indeed.

Raising the Bar

While considering this story and others of equal violence in the Old Testament, in relation to transgressions of tribal law (God’s laws) and the punishments affixed thereto, I pondered how we moderns often coddle and indulge our “accursed things,” giving ourselves second and third and seventy-times-seven chances to rid ourselves of them when the better choice may be to root it out violently from the first discovery of it.

But let’s back up a step. Before anything in our lives can be an “accursed thing,” there must be some standards we are aspiring to live by, of which the “accursed thing” is a violation. In this modern age, there is the belief that whatever you don’t get caught doing goes, or in general, “anything goes.” Letting this play out to its natural consequences only leads to degradation and self-destruction. If we want to progress and improve in whatever endeavor in life, we must measure ourselves against some standard, and consistently strive to keep it.

Let’s say that my standard is the 10 Commandments. One way of making certain that we don’t violate a standard is to set our personal standard a little higher than the actual standard required. It’s like setting a guardrail several feet from a cliff, in solid ground, so that you never get close to the edge. The Lord did as much when He taught the Sermon on the Mount. Notice how He raised the standard for some commandments from the Old Law:

  • “Thou shalt not kill” became “Thou shalt not be angry.”
  • “Thou shalt not commit adultery” became “Thou shalt not lust.”
  • “Thou shalt not forswear thyself” became “Don’t swear at all.”
  • “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy” became “Love your enemies too.”

Raising your standards protects you. Like a moat around your castle, it adds a barrier against temptation. If we can abide by the higher standard, we won’t violate the lower standard.

Avoiding Our Accursed Things

In addition to raising the bar, we can also take steps to remove the temptations for the “accursed things” in our lives. If we recognize a weakness in ourselves, then we must avoid placing ourselves in a position where resisting that weakness is more difficult. If we have a weakness for eating too many sweets and it’s impacting our health, then we can limit the access to sweets. If we have some addiction to a substance or media, then we must set up barriers to it. If it has already become a habit, then look at replacing it with a new, positive habit instead.

In the same Sermon on the Mount, the Savior said in Matthew 5:29:

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

If you can’t go online without going straight to watching porn, then taking the violent, drastic measure of not using the Internet for a period of 90 days or more may do you some good. Set up filters and other barriers to indulging your weaknesses. And remember that the Savior can help you overcome your weaknesses (Ether 12:27):

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then I will make weak things become strong unto them.

Strict with Self, Merciful to Others

Finally, be strict with yourself, but show consideration, compassion, and mercy to others. We are responsible for our own individual actions and that’s what we can control. We can tell others about our standards, but we cannot force them to adopt them. We can be merciful with ourselves too, but if we find we’re falling short over and over, then those failures erode our character and the meaning of our resolve to do better. So be a taskmaster towards yourself! Violently root out the accursed things!

Wise words: "Die empty."