7:1 Israel Breaks Faith With God
But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel.
Despite the very specific instruction of the Lord, communicated by Joshua and the leaders of Israel, Achan took some of the devoted items contrary to the command of the Lord. The devoted items were to be either destroyed or put in the treasury of the Lord (Joshua 6:18). His action caused Israel to be unfaithful to the Lord. This disobedience made the Lord angry. Unfortunately, no one was sufficiently attuned to God to notice.
7:2-5 The Consequence of Sin
Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, "Go up and spy out the region." So the men went up and spied out Ai. When they returned to Joshua, they said, "Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there." So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
The Israelites were in the old stomping grounds of Abraham. After Abraham left Ur and came to Canaan, as recorded in Genesis 12, he came to Shechem and Canaanites were there. The Lord promised him that land. Then Abraham went and pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai, and built an altar there.
As is often the case, everything here looked fine on the surface. Achan had hidden his sin from the Israelites and thought he had hidden it from God. You cannot hide your sin from God, though. My mother always used to say “your sins will find you out”. I thought she made that up, but Debbie Malone, wife of Dr. Fred Malone, pointed out to me that it is Numbers 32:23.
Although you might not see the consequences coming, they are.
So, they continued with business as usual. Joshua sent out spies as he had at Jericho. Their confidence was buoyed by their recent victory, so they counseled sending a small force to conquer Ai. You’ll notice a complete absence of consultation with the Lord or instructions from the Lord as they had at Jericho. I think this is partly because they did not ask and partly because God withheld his instruction and his blessing due to the sin of the Israelites. Had they consulted God first, he might have informed them he would not help them while they were in breach of faith.
Ai was not a large city, but they routed the Israelite force and killed some of them. They chased them off and the Israelites immediately lost their confidence. Since they thought God would give them victory over all the Canaanites, they were stunned to lose. Now they were the ones whose hearts melted.
7:6-9 Before The Lord
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?"
After the defeat, Joshua did what he should have done before the attack. He went to God. He went before the Ark, where God’s presence dwelled, and sought answers from the Lord. He was in anguish and afraid, but he still went to God as the source of relief and explanation. His anguish is because he is afraid it is God who is being unfaithful, since he does not know Israel has been unfaithful.
Joshua appealed to God to help them for the glory of his own name. Our failures diminish the perception of God’s glory among the lost, for they do not know the difference between the failure of God and the failure of God’s people. But God is so concerned with complete obedience and purity, that he will suffer the loss of his own reputation rather than reward sin in his own people.
7:10 The Lord Answers
The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
The Lord informed Joshua of the problem, the breach of the covenant. He listed the sins of Israel for Joshua. The Israelites (1) took devoted things; (2) they stole; (3) they lied; (4) the commingled the devoted things with their own.
There are some things to notice here. First, one sin begets another. You might have only thought of the one sin Achan committed in taking the devoted things. But, the Lord said they stole from Him by taking what was his, they lied by saying they had obeyed the covenant, and they put his stuff with their stuff as if it were theirs. This is like lying, when you have to tell more lies to keep the story going, or stealing and having to lie and cover it up.
Second, the Lord really means it when he says something is devoted to him. Do not take what has been dedicated to the Lord.
Third, despite our American ideas of individualism, God often deals with us in groups, or corporately. He often dealt with families, he kept promises to the descendants of Israel, and he dealt with them as a nation more than he dealt with them as individuals. He did that here.
Only one man took the devoted items, and we do not know if anyone else even knew about it. But, God treated the covenant with the whole nation as violated.
God is concerned about purity and obedience in the church now also. One person living in sin may affect the whole body. 1 Corinthians 5:6 says “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
"Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it." 'In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe that the LORD takes shall come forward clan by clan; the clan that the LORD takes shall come forward family by family; and the family that the LORD takes shall come forward man by man. He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!' "
God instructed the people to prepare themselves for his work. They were again told to consecrate themselves, so you know God was about to do something special. In this case, he was about to reveal the transgressor to the nation.
The procedure called for the Israelites to present themselves before the Lord by tribes, then by clans, then by families, and, finally, man by man. At each stage, God would reveal the guilty.
After God revealed the guilty person, he expected the nation to destroy the devoted things as they were supposed to be destroyed. In addition, they were to destroy all the man had.
7:16-19 Israel obeyed
Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. The clans of Judah came forward, and he took the Zerahites. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was taken. Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. Then Joshua said to Achan, "My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me."
The Lord revealed the transgressor. Zerah was the son of Judah and Tamar, not an illustrious lineage. One of his brothers was so bad, God killed him. Joshua instructed Achan to confess and to acknowledge the Lord in glory and praise. This is a way of encouraging Achan to tell the truth. The Jews used it in John 9:24 when they urged the man born blind to tell the truth about Jesus. It especially fits here, though, since it was the Lord that revealed Achan as the transgressor. To deny it would be to deny God’s power and truthfulness.
Notice that Achan never repented. He only confessed when he was found out. All during the day when Joshua and the Elders lay on the ground before the Lord, he said nothing and neither did his family. All night long when the other Israelites consecrated themselves, he said nothing. All the next day, as God narrowed the group down, he said nothing. It was as if he thought God might not make it to him. He did not reveal himself. He was revealed.
7:20 Achan’s Response
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 wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath."
Achan finally confessed his sin after he was revealed by the Lord. He took a Babylonian robe (literally, a mantle of Shinar), silver and gold. He said he coveted them and, therefore, took them. Coveting the things of others can lead us to other sins. 1 Timothy 6:10 says for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Sadly, God wanted to give Achan an inheritance in the promised land. Achan wanted to settle for a pretty robe and some cash. He could not even wear the robe, as it would have revealed his sin. Achan’s heart was hardened by sin.
7:22 Achan’s Punishment
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD. Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today."
Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.
This is church discipline as you have never seen it. Not only was Achan identified as a sinner in front of the whole congregation, the evidence of his sin was also displayed. The items he coveted were revealed. How would you like to have your sins displayed before the whole congregation of your church during the worship service?
Then, Achan and all that was tied to him was removed from the camp so that it’s purity could be maintained. He was cut off from God’s people. Also, he was removed so that his execution would not make the camp unclean.
Achan was killed and destroyed, as were all his possessions. Theologians argue as to whether his children were also killed and, if so, why. The theories are: (1) they were not killed, since it says they stoned “him” and “the rest” refers to his possessions; (2) they stoned the children also, but because they had knowledge of the sin and did not report it; and (3) they stoned the children and they bore the same punishment as the head of the family.
If only the animals had been stoned, the passage should have mentioned it, since it is otherwise clear that they have taken everything related to Achan out of the camp to destroy. The children were not questioned, although it would not seem Achan could hide the spoils in his tent without his family knowing something was wrong.
The emphasis here is on the sin of Achan in taking the devoted things. I think the children were destroyed for Achan’s sin, as he was head of the family, and he and all traces of him were excised from the camp. He was completely removed from the congregation. God also dealt with this family based on his sin. God described himself in Exodus 20:5 as one who punished the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Matthew Henry agrees on this point.
Remember, also, that God was already punishing the entire nation, and holding that the entire nation was in breach of the covenant, because of the sin of Achan.
After Achan and his family was removed from the camp, the Lord’s anger abated and the Israelites moved again into obedience of the covenant. They built a second memorial. The first memorial was built to the faithfulness of the Lord. Shamefully, the second memorial was built to the unfaithfulness of Israel.
The place was even renamed the Valley of Achor, or trouble, and Achan was later referred to as Achor. It kept that name. Isaiah 65:10 refers to it by that name, as does Hosea 2:15.
There is some resemblance here to the punishment of a blasphemer in the camp. In Leviticus 24:13, the Lord told Moses to take a blasphemer outside the camp and have the entire assembly stone him to death.
I have to admit, this makes me think of the last judgment, in Revelation, when all appear before the throne, and the unbelievers are cast out and into hell forever. We must remember that, although we, as believers, live in a blessed state of forgiveness, God still hates sin and will not tolerate it. The same God who decreed this punishment for Achan will decree punishment for the unbelieving at the final judgment. He still hates sin as vehemently as he did in ancient times, and will again punish it severely.
Believe in Jesus today, repent of your sin, and be saved. It is the only way to escape this terrible judgment.