SynopsisIn the last passage, the Israelites went in and conquered the city of Jericho. However, what the last passage didn’t mention, and what we find out in this passage, is that they didn’t obey the LORD’s commandments fully: A man named Achan—son of Carmi, son of Zimri, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah—took some of the “devoted things” (verse 1), which were supposed to go to the LORD. However, Joshua and the rest of the Israelites don’t know about it.
So Joshua thinks everything is fine, and sends some men to Ai, which is the next region of the Promised Land that the Israelites are going to take over. The men look the place over, and come back with a very confident report to Joshua:
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.” (verse 3)
I’m sure much of this confidence comes from their victory over Jericho. Joshua takes their advice, and sends three thousand men to Ai, but they’re defeated, and chased out of the region. Also, thirty-six of them are killed, in the battle. (Which doesn’t sound like much, in a war, but it’s more than they’re used to.) The people immediately become disheartened.
Joshua, as well, is torn apart with grief. He tears his clothes—an outward sign of grief, in their culture; you’ll see it a lot in the Old Testament—falls facedown before the Ark, and remains there until evening. The elders of Israel do the same, and sprinkle dust on their heads, which is another cultural thing you’ll see a lot in the Old Testament. Then Joshua speaks:
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?” (verses 7–9)
In a way, this almost reminds me of the usual Israelite refrain that we’ve been seeing; “Oh why didn’t you just leave us in Egypt, where we were happy!” But I don’t think this is Joshua’s intent. For one thing, he’s concerned with the LORD’s name being maligned. On the other hand, there is definitely something wrong with Joshua’s response to this crisis, because the LORD’s response to him is pretty curt:
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. (verses 10–12)
So God tells Joshua to have the people consecrate themselves, because He is going to sort this out. (Which is necessary, He tells them, because they won’t be able to stand against their enemies as long as they continue to have any devoted items among themselves. Meaning that He won’t be with them.) They are to present themselves the next day, tribe by tribe, and God will pick the tribe that contains the sinning party. And then within that tribe, they are to come forward clan by clan, and He’ll choose the clan that contains the sinners, and then family by family, and finally man by man.
So the Israelites do this. God chooses the tribe of Judah, then the Zerahite clan, then the family of Zimri. Finally Achan is chosen. So Achan admits his sin, and tells Joshua where the devoted things can be found, hidden in his tent. They go and get the things, to confirm it. So Achan is taken to a nearby valley, and he and his family are stoned to death. They called the valley, where Achan was stoned, the Valley of Achor. (The footnote for verse 26 tells us that “Achor” means “trouble.”)
After this, the LORD turns from his fierce anger (verse 26).
ThoughtsWhen the spies come back from Ai, and tell Joshua that he only needs to send a few thousand men to conquer the region, it doesn’t sound, to my ears, like confidence in the LORD, who will protect them. It sounds like over-confident swagger. However, I have nothing to back that up, except for the way that I’m reading the tone of their message. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were wrong, and they were just showing confidence in the LORD.
That being said, one thing this incident should have taught the Israelites is that they’d only win battles when the LORD was fighting those battles for them.
It always bothers me when a whole family is punished for the father’s sin, as Achan’s family was punished for Achan’s sin. Of course, the harsh punishment is a reminder that the LORD’s commands are absolute, and that the consequences are severe, but I’m still uncomfortable when Achan’s family is punished for his sins.
God will help me to understand that in time, I hope, but in the meantime, there is a lesson for me, too: As a husband, my actions will also impact my wife. If I sin, in many cases she will suffer. Maybe not directly—she won’t be stoned, like Achan’s wife was—but she will suffer the consequences for my sin. In an individualistic society, we don’t like to think about the fact that our sins have consequences on others—“it’s my life, and I can do whatever I want!”—but whether we’d like to admit it or not, our sins do have consequences on others.