No Man Is An Island

John Donne

Seen through the lens of Western culture, the response of the nation of Israel to a man named Achan seems excessive and Taliban-like.  All Achan did was take a little stash for himself from the victorious battle against the Jericho-ites.

Who would miss a beautiful robe and a little cash?

By the same reasoning, how serious is a measly stolen credit card or iPhone?  Or a stolen test answer?  Or keeping one’s wallet closed when asked to contribute to some good cause?  Or not signing up to help with a project or provide a meal to someone who is hungry? 

It’s the same argument for not voting.  “I’m just one person.  What difference does my vote make?”  Right?

“The liberals/conservatives are going to win the election.”  “Someone else will show up to clean a park on Love Merced Day.”  “Insurance will pay off the loss caused by my theft.”  It is tempting to believe that nobody really loses anything in the larger scheme of things.  It all evens out.

“Things are just things.  Nobody will be sad or inconvenienced or hurt.”  At least, that was what Achan thought.  People who do what Achan did don’t like to think about the personal implications of their actions.

But for Israel the cost was the loss of the next battle.  The little city of Ai sent the Israeli soldiers running for their lives and turned their bravado into trembling cowardice.  All because Achan hid a gold bar under the corner of his tent.

The logical question that arose from the Ai defeat was “what changed?”  Prior to that battle, Israel was on top of the world.  After the battle, Israel looked like a cowed dog with tail between legs.  A post-defeat investigation found stolen goods under Achan’s tent as the Israelites hissed a collective “ah ha.”

Israel found more than a gold bar; it also found erosion of national pride and integrity.  Instead of “one for all and all for one” the nation was now under threat of becoming “every man for himself.”  EMFH doesn’t win battles, protect one’s neighbor, or inspire confidence in the character of a people.  Who can you trust if you can’t trust your neighbor?

It is true that we would not, today, take Achan and his family out to be stoned to death.  At the same time, how do you instill in a nation or a school kid or a church member the idea that actions have direct effects on the lives of those around us?

Every good deed inspires and empowers those who see it.  Every bad deed lowers the bar on social integrity and optimism.  Good deeds are eminently self-less.  Bad deeds are selfish to the core.

What Israel did to Achan and his family is extreme by any measure.  But so was what was about to happen to a whole nation if it did not pay attention to the erosion of human dignity and nobility.

This blog does not suggest a return to violence, but rather greater attention to caring about generosity and integrity.  Israel would have won the battle if Achan had not believed that a little bit of stolen cash for his family wouldn’t hurt anyone.

John Donne, 17th century priest and poet, correctly said, “No man is an island.”  It was a lesson that Achan failed to grasp when he decided to, island-like, take the spoil from Jericho, supposing that it was no big deal.