Joshua Chapter 7: Achan and the Accursed Thing

Dec 17th, 2009 | By | Category: Joshua, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Joshua Chapter 7: Achan and the Accursed Thing

Josh. 7:1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.

The Israelites committed a trespass by keeping for personal use something that was devoted to destruction (compare Josh. 6:17-19). “Accursed” means devoted to the Lord for destruction. Hence to take something devoted became a curse.

Josh. 7:2 And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai.

Ai was near Jericho. Joshua sent men out to view Ai.

Josh. 7:3 And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few.

The men recommended sending only 2,000 or 3,000 men. It was not necessary to send more because Ai’s population was small and Israel expected a victory (based on the Jericho battle).

Josh. 7:4 So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai.

Joshua agreed to send just 3,000 men, but they had to flee before the men of Ai.

Josh. 7:5 And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.

Only 36 Israelites were smitten, so why did the rest flee? They fled because Jericho had been an awesome victory with NO loss of life. Now, with Ai, which was a much smaller fortified place, the death of 36 Israelites was a foreboding of defeat. The Israelites were fearful.

Josh. 7:6 And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.

Josh. 7:7 And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!

Josh. 7:8 O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies!

Josh. 7:9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?

Joshua’s reaction to the slaying of 36 Israelites was to rend his clothes, put dust on his head, and fall on his face before the Ark until evening. His emotional crying out to God is a reminder of Moses, who also asked what would happen if the people bearing God’s name were cut off.

How did Joshua fall on his face “before the ark of the LORD”? Since the Ark was in transit at this time, it was not set up in the Tabernacle but was covered and out in the open. Therefore, it was easy for Joshua to prostrate himself before the Ark. The elders followed suit and also prostrated themselves before the Ark and put dust on their heads.

Joshua’s words in verse 7 sound like the murmuring of the Israelites before they crossed the Red Sea. What is the difference? Joshua’s words were uttered in a different spirit. He was confused because God had promised victory. Initially, the thought did not occur to Joshua, whose heart was pure, that someone might have disobeyed and taken devoted things. Since both Moses and later an angel had told Joshua he would prosper, the imminent defeat seemed like a contradiction. Joshua included himself with the people as perhaps not having the proper heart condition.

Verse 9 shows Joshua realized that if the other enemies heard about a defeat at Ai, they would combine forces, surround the Israelites to prevent escape, and annihilate them.

Josh. 7:10 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?

Apparently, when Joshua uttered these words, he prostrated himself even more, and perhaps he also clenched his fists and beat the ground with frustration and sorrow. God told Joshua to stand up and then explained the circumstances (verses 11-13).

Josh. 7:11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.

Josh. 7:12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.

Josh. 7:13 Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow: for thus saith the LORD God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.

Israel had transgressed the covenant to not take any of the devoted (accursed) things of Jericho for personal use. First, the nation was charged with guilt, and then they were told to search for the hidden “accursed thing” and the guilty one(s). Notice the plural “they” in verse 11: “they have even taken of the accursed thing.” Although only one person may have committed the sin, others (that is, family members) were aware of the disobedience and sin. Thus there was some plural guilt, even though others did not actually commit the sin. The Israelites’ defeat was linked to this disobedient act.

How did God give this explanation to Joshua? Probably only Joshua heard a voice while he was before the Ark.

The nation would be accursed and alienated from God if they did not find and punish with death the one(s) responsible for the sin. (The guilty party would be stoned and the corpse afterward burned.) This incident is a reminder of Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament. Their sin was professing to give all to the Lord and then holding some back. It was not necessary to give all of their property to a communal arrangement, but when they said they did and were hypocritically keeping some, they sinned—and willfully. They were stealing from God because the property was promised to Him. The principle is stated in the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians: “Put out from among yourselves that wicked person.” After a brother had intimacy with his father’s wife, the Corinthian ecclesia tolerated his presence in their midst. Not only did they fail to act, but they gloried in their false charity. The comparable punishment for stoning in the Old Testament is excommunication in the New Testament.

Comment: There is a strong statement in Reprint No. 5350, “The Sin of Covetousness”: “If they [the consecrated] are keeping back as their own any portion of that which was devoted to the Lord, they are in danger of being part of the antitypical Achan. They are in danger of exercising an injurious influence on others of the church; and … in danger of … the second death.” Ananias and Sapphira were cited as examples of holding back.

The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Peter, was able to discern falsity. It would seem that Ananias and Sapphira went into Second Death. Husband and wife willfully connived in the sin and then willfully agreed to bolster each other up.

When the proposition was made to liquidate their assets and put them in a common pool for use by the brotherhood, Ananias and Sapphira should have voiced their objections. There was no commandment to join the communal arrangement, but to state they were giving all their goods and then hold back was a sin. It was stealing from God. We do not have to literally give 100 percent of our goods and money to the Lord’s service or in our wills to ecclesias, etc., but we must be good stewards. Presumably Ananias and Sapphira were consecrated because they were in the brotherhood and this was after Pentecost (although the latter condition was not necessary because Judas was not Spirit-begotten).

Josh. 7:14 In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which the LORD taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the LORD shall take shall come by households; and the household which the LORD shall take shall come man by man.

Josh. 7:15 And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel.

The next morning, after the explanation came to Joshua, the search would be made for the guilty one(s). The entire day was set aside for this purpose, for the people were to “sanctify” themselves “against tomorrow” (verse 13). The whole nation had to be in attendance.

The Urim and Thummim would have been utilized. But why was the method used of first presenting the tribes, then the families, next the households, and finally each individual? (1) All during the process, the guilty one(s) had opportunity to come forward and confess (although punishment still had to be exacted—see verse 15). (2) Responsibility fell on the whole nation. (3) It was a good lesson for the people to realize how thoroughly the Lord searched them. (4) Not only was there a personal responsibility for the misdeed, but also there was a communal responsibility. The Law teaches that if an individual sees a grievous sin being committed, he has to report it. Thus Israel was a “brotherhood”; they were consecrated to the Lord. At Mount Sinai, they said, “All these things we will do.” (5) The incident struck the people with holy fear (awe) and reverence. It is good to tremble at God’s Word, for reverential fear is a watchdog—it is helpful in connection with worship.

Josh. 7:16 So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken:

Josh. 7:17 And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken:

Josh. 7:18 And he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

The name Achan (Achor or Achar), meaning “trouble,” given to him at birth, was appropriate for the traits he developed (Josh. 6:18; see also KJV margin for Josh. 7:1). In Joshua’s statement to the people about not taking anything accursed, he said that doing so would “trouble” the nation of Israel (1 Chron. 2:7).

The selection to determine guilt started with tribes. If the Urim and Thummim were used with the breastplate, on which the 12 stones were positioned according to tribe, Judah was in the first position. Hence the first stone to be examined was the stone of choice.

Josh. 7:19 And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.

Joshua urged Achan to give glory to God by making a confession. In other words, he was saying, “The Lord has indicated by this process that you are the guilty one. Acknowledge that He knows everything that happened and admit your guilt. Give us the details.”

Josh. 7:20 And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done:

Josh. 7:21 When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

When Achan was pointed out, Joshua urged him to confess, and he did. He had dug a pit under his tent and buried, first, the heavier and larger quantity of silver, then the gold, and finally the Babylonish garment. This was willful sin! Earlier Joshua had given the most explicit instructions not to take the accursed things. Silver and gold were to go in the Lord’s treasury. The garments were to be destroyed. A proof Achan knew he had sinned was that he hid the stolen items.

Moreover, the commandment had just very recently been given—it was not a case of being ignorant of the Law (or willingly ignorant). (Note: A lack of knowledge implies responsibility, for if one does not study and try to learn, he is being disobedient. Therefore, in addition to committing an act, disobedience is sometimes failing to act.)

Achan admitted his guilt when caught. Joshua said, “Tell us exactly what you have done. Admit that you have sinned and that it was a sin against God.”

Comment: Even if Achan had confessed immediately, he still had to be put to death for committing a willful sin. But in regard to his condition when he comes forth from the tomb in the Kingdom, it would have been more to his advantage if he had confessed right way, that is, before the search. However, when we consider the lying that is done in court today and how lawyers are more interested in winning a case than in getting justice done, it was more favorable for Achan to have confessed, even at the last minute when caught, and to be punished, than for the way crimes go unconfessed and unpunished today. The sinner thinks he is getting away with the crime. In fact, the guilty are encouraged to cover up the crime.

Q: Was the “Babylonish garment” dedicated to a god, and did it thus have a heathen religious significance?

A: The garment must have been unusual for Achan to disobey the command and take it. The leaders wore special garments and headdresses.

Josh. 7:22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.

Josh. 7:23 And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD.

Josh. 7:24 And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.

Josh. 7:25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.

Not just Achan was put to death and/or destroyed. Achan’s family and possessions, plus the gold and silver dedicated to the temple and the now polluted garment, were all destroyed. (Back there when one committed a sin worthy of capital punishment, the standard procedure was to first stone the guilty party to death and then burn the corpse.)

Josh. 7:26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.

“They raised over him a great heap of stones.” In other words, a landmark memorial of Achan’s misdeeds was erected between Jericho and Ai. The “Valley of Achor” means the Valley of Trouble (referring to Achan’s sin).

Comment: In the antitype, with excommunication being the New Testament parallel for stoning, the procedure followed for Achan shows that in the case of willful grievous sin, confession is not enough. Excommunication must follow anyway.

Reply: That is right. Otherwise, if immediate forgiveness were granted and the sinner remained in our midst, how would the public know that as a group, we disapprove of such a sin? False love gives a bad example not only for outsiders but also for insiders and the youth growing up. That does not mean, however, that when one is excommunicated, he cannot be retrieved. In fact, that is why the example of excommunication is recorded in 1 Corinthians 5, and then the second epistle shows that, following godly repentance, the brother was received back into fellowship perhaps a year or so later (2 Cor. 2:6-8). Paul mentioned that the brother’s sorrow was so great over his sin and the subsequent lack of fellowship that he was almost at the point of suicide. The scriptural procedure must be followed, but unfortunately today, many are so merciful that they want to bypass this procedure and just grant forgiveness without proper repentance. Sorrow, even to the point of threatening suicide, may occur and yet not be godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:9,10).

With willful grievous sin, if a class will not scripturally act and excommunicate, it is more creditable for the individual to feel so guilty that he withdraws on his own, feeling he is not in the proper condition to fellowship, than for him to continue boldly and prominently in the fellowship with no real evidence of repentance. It is in order and proper that the cutting off be done for a season. As John the Baptist said, “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.” And depending on the case, one can be received back into fellowship after repentance but with a reserve being maintained for a testing period; that is, the individual can be reinstated slowly so that the lesson is properly discerned. Sad to say, discipline is so lacking in the Church today that the sinner must sometimes disfellowship himself. As a whole, the Church does not sense communal responsibility.

The destruction of Achan’s family (like the families involved in Korah’s rebellion) shows that improper sympathy for a misdeed incurs responsibility. There are some things we must hate. The Old Testament gives God’s Law, God’s thinking. When Jesus said, “Moses in the Law did such and such,” he meant that in the Law, God allowed certain things under certain circumstances. Each situation has to be studied.

The antitype of family and household would be the ecclesia and the family, respectively. In disfellowshipping, the local ecclesia is primarily responsible, but if an elder who commits willful grievous sin is of national or international prominence, the communal responsibility becomes greater and goes beyond the ecclesia.

(1987–1988 Study)

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