“Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’”
There were a few tribes that built an altar far far away from the Tabernacle as Joshua and Israel entered the promised land. The other tribes got their army together to go destroy that altar and punish the transgressing tribe.
Thankfully, they talked the whole thing out and nobody got hurt. It wasn’t the sin that everyone thought it was.
But why did they care?
Jesus died on the cross and took all of the wrath of God upon Himself for us. The punishment that we deserved was put on Him during His precious and awful death on the cross. Now the only direct and sudden consequences of our sin come from what is already established in the natural world. (If you punch somebody and then go to jail, it’s not God’s wrath, it’s the criminal justice system.)
When God was establishing His people, there was a very short judgment and wrath cycle. If one person out of the group committed a grievous sin, God’s punishment would affect the entire group of people. This had the potential to form close bonds. This could have grown them together — interdependent on one another — as they helped one another resist sin.
This ideal would come out in Jesus’ teaching thousands of years later, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If I realize how fully my sin can affect your life, I am giving the Holy Spirit better traction to steer me away from temptation and sin. This can be strengthened by confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another.
God doesn’t open up the East Side and swallow a bunch of people because of their sin anymore, but our spiritual growth and maturity don’t happen in isolation. As we each grow in the Lord, it really does help everyone else around us. You are not alone.