THE MOMENTUM OF DEFEAT SNOWBALLS UNTIL RENEWED CONSECRATION DEALS WITH THE SIN IN OUR MIDST
Richard Hess: There are three parts to the defeat: the sin of Achan, the anger of God, and the judgment against Israel. This is followed by the identiﬁcation of the cause and the resolution in the death of the perpetrator. The chapter demonstrates the problem of sin in Israel’s mission. It follows the account of Jericho because the sin occurred in the context of the capture of that town. It occupies so much space because the ﬁrst breach of Israel’s purity as a holy nation before God brings the harshest judgment and punishment. This also serves as a warning against yielding to future temptations.
David Howard: Several parallels exist between the accounts in Joshua 2 and 7. In Joshua 2, Rahab, a believing Canaanite, acted faithfully and, as a result, was promised deliverance from destruction. In effect, she became an Israelite. In Joshua 7, Achan, a disbelieving Israelite, acted faithlessly and, as a result, was not delivered but destroyed. In effect, he became a Canaanite. Achan thus stands as a foil to Rahab, and the two characters embody striking contrasts.
Robert Hubbard: Achan’s simple greed has pushed Israel to the brink of disaster, sullying their holiness and souring their relationship with Yahweh. Its secrecy makes it particularly fiendish: There is no protection against a secret crime whose existence only comes to light through unexpected disaster. Thus, the stones also remind Israel that they are by nature not a collection of individuals but a community—a fragile, carefully woven fabric in which disobedience by one thread strains or tears at the integrity of the whole.
Helene Dallaire: The account at Ai reveals a number of similarities with the earlier aborted invasion of Kadesh Barnea (Dt 1:9–3:11). In both accounts, we find:
(1) the sending of spies (Dt 1:22–26; Jos 7:2–3);
(2) the interruption of the campaign because of sin in the camp (Dt 1:26–36; Jos 7:11–12);
(3) Yahweh’s angry reaction (Dt 1:37; Jos 7:1);
(4) Yahweh’s refusal to accompany his unrepentant people in battle (Dt 1:41–42; Jos 7:12);
(5) Israel’s defeat and outcries to Yahweh (Dt 1:43–46; Jos 7:5–9);
(6) melting hearts (Dt 1:28; Jos 7:5); and
(7) guilty parties who confess their sin (Dt 1:41; Jos 7:20).
Trent Butler: Divine anger dominates the opening narrative (cf. v 26). It represents the divine reaction to the human breach of trust and threatens the very existence of the nation. A basic Deuteronomic theme is taken up (cf. Deut 6:15; 7:4; 11:17; 29:26; 31:17; Josh 23:16; compare Judg 2:14, 20; 3:8; 10:7; 2 Sam 6:7; 24:1; 2 Kgs 13:3: 23:26). Israel cannot take its position as the people of God or its possession of the land of God for granted. They are constantly under obligation to God, and when they disregard that, his anger burns, and Israel’s position and possessions are threatened.
Thomas Constable: Israel’s defeat at Ai graphically illustrates the far-reaching impact of sin. The private sin of one or a few individuals can affect the welfare of many other people who do not personally commit that sin. There were really three causes of Israel’s defeat:
(1) the Israelites were self-sufficient because Ai was small,
(2) they failed to wait on God, and
(3) they committed a trespass in the things devoted to the LORD.
Chuck Swindoll drew four lessons from chapter 7:
(1) Surprising defeats can often be traced back to secret sins.
(2) Very private sins can lead to very public consequences.
(3) Temptation’s lies can blind us to reality and deafen us to consequences.
(4) Sweeping acts of disobedience call for severe responses of discipline.
Kenneth Gangel: Sin, even when hidden from everyone but the sinner, corrupts the life of God’s people. Joshua and Israel had to learn the hard way that the behavior of Achan and people like him could not be tolerated.
(:1) SETTING – SIN STIRS UP GOD’S ANGER – SPOILER ALERT
“But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban,
for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe
of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord
burned against the sons of Israel.”
Make no mistake … God takes sin very seriously.
Richard Hess: This part also divides into three sections: the mission and report of the spies, the attack and defeat of Israel, and the reaction of the people.
Robert Hubbard: Without preface or fanfare, the narrator reveals a shocking, deadly secret (v. 1): “Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things [ḥerem]” (v. 1). At Jericho, someone apparently kept them as spoils of war rather than hand them over to Yahweh as he commanded. The language is blunt, emphatic, and fraught with terrible consequences; it casts an “atmosphere of foreboding” over the chapter. The priestly theological term maʿal (“to act faithlessly”) describes a highly serious, treacherous breach of trust between Yahweh and Israel (cf. 22:16, 22). In this case, maʿal (“disloyalty, infidelity”) amounts to stealing Yahweh’s money right out of the offering plate.
The culprit, the one who took items from Jericho, is a man named Achan with an impressive, prestigious pedigree (“son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah”; cf. v. 18). His tribe will soon produce Israel’s royal dynasty, so he is “as Israelite as Rahab is Canaanite, which makes his violation … even more egregious.”
I. (:2-5) WITHOUT GOD NOTHING IS POSSIBLE – UNEXPECTED DEFEAT AT AI
A. (:2-3) Natural Reconnaissance is No Substitute for Seeking the Lord’s Guidance — 3 Signs of Confidence in the Flesh:
1) Self-Willed — Not seeking the Lord’s will up front
2) (:2) Natural Perspective — Evaluating the situation from the perspective of the externals alone
“Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Bethaven, east
of Bethel, and said to them, ‘Go up and spy out the land.’ So the men
went up and spied out Ai.”
Ron Roper: Ai was a little town about twelve miles west of Jericho, up in the central highlands–a very important strategic objective, from the standpoint of the conquest of the Land. Ai, along with its sister-city, Bethel, straddled the north-south caravan route through Canaan. This was the only way armies could travel north and south in Canaan at the time, so it was very important that the Israelites take this place. This was also Abraham’s second campsite when he came into the Land from Haran. Thus this particular location was not only strategic from a military standpoint; it also held rich historical associations. So the Israelites were eagerly anticipating victory as they marched toward the city from Jericho.
3) (:3) Overconfident — Imagining that superior numbers equates to a favorable outcome
“And they returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not let all the people
go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not
make all the people toil up there, for they are few.’”
Doug Goins: The march from Jericho to Ai is over very difficult terrain. The elevation gain in fifteen miles is about twenty-five hundred feet, because Jericho is eight hundred feet below sea level, and Ai is about seventeen hundred feet above sea level. That’s why in verse 3 the spies say, “Don’t make the whole army toil up there.” It’s really a hard march.
Richard Hess: If those in Numbers lacked faith because they did not believe they were strong enough, these lack faith because they believe that Israel is too strong to worry about such a small fortress. The form of the verbal root ‘to weary’ (Heb. yg‘) occurs only in Ecclesiastes 10:15, where its description of the fool who does not know the way to town could serve as a commentary on this passage in Joshua.
Gordon Matties: The advice of the spies in verse 3 is based on their evaluation of the situation. The irony here is that this word for toil (or weary, NIV), used in historical and narrative literature only once outside of Joshua (2 Sam 23:10), is also used in Joshua 24:13, in God’s speech to the people, I gave you a land on which you had not labored (emph. added). Reading the book of Joshua from beginning to end allows us to catch the irony at the end. But it is worth noticing here that the spies wish not to labor or weary the people, which is exactly the point of God’s speech at the end of the book. Yet here their toil is wearisome because it confounds the entire mission.
Trent Butler: The spies demonstrate that “poor reconnaissance is worse than no reconnaissance.”
B. (:4) The Failure of the Flesh Can Be Just as Dramatic as the Victory of the Spirit
“So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai.”
We think something is a snap because we have experienced success earlier in a similar realm. God will surprise us if we are not depending on Him.
C. (:5) Defeat Can be Costly and Deflating
“And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them
from the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent, so the
hearts of the people melted and became as water.”
Richard Hess: A decision reached apart from explicit divine directions and carried out without the explicit leadership of Joshua has all the ingredients of a defeat. When the defeat does come, the description provides details of the number of deaths as well as the extent to which the attack became a humiliating rout.
David Howard: As a result of the defeat, the Israelites feared greatly: their hearts “melted” (mwg), and they became like water. The wordplay involving “melting” here—recalling Rahab’s and the spies’ statements in 2:9, 11, 24— is obvious: because of Achan’s sin, Israel had now become like the Canaanites, alone, without any true god to protect them, and melting away with fear.
II. (:6-9) SPIRITUAL LEADERS CANNOT LET DEFEAT SNOWBALL INTO A DEFEATIST ATTITUDE
Joshua responds to the defeat with the wrong diagnosis and starts to question the plan of God. He immediately falls into the trap of the 3 obstacles to faith which we studied earlier:
- Grasshopper Mentality
- Victim Mentality
- Big Shot Mentality
Helene Dallaire: Joshua’s response is reminiscent of the reaction of Moses and the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea, after the spies had returned from Canaan with a negative report (Nu 14:1–5). Echoing the complaint of the Israelites in the desert, Joshua questions Yahweh’s plan and expresses regret for crossing the Jordan (Nu 14:1–5; 20:2–6; 21:4–5). Joshua desperately addresses Yahweh with three questions: “Why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan . . . ?”; “What can I say now . . . ?”; “What then will you do for your own great name?”. Imitating Moses the intercessor, Joshua falls face down on the ground in despair over the tragic situation and laments to Yahweh regarding his plight as the leader of a vanquished people (Nu 11:1–2; 21:7). Joshua blames Yahweh for leading them across the Jordan and for giving them into the hands of the Amorites. Afraid of a Canaanite offensive, Joshua dramatizes before Yahweh the threat that Israel will become the laughingstock of the surrounding nations and that Yahweh’s great name will be wiped out from the earth and thus he will lose his good reputation. At this point, Joshua is still unaware of the reason for the defeat.
A. (:6) Misdirected Mourning – should have been directed towards the cause (the sin of the people) rather than the effect (the defeat itself)
“Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of
the Lord until the evening; both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.”
Trent Butler: The “elders of Israel” have not appeared earlier in the book. They are included here to show what was taking place was national lamentation rather than individual lament. The elders represented tribal, then city and political leaders at different periods of Israel’s development with fairly wide-ranging functions (cf. Judg 8:14, 16; 11:5–11; Ruth 4:1–12; 1 Sam 11:3; 16:4; 2 Sam 3:17; 5:3; 17:4; 19:12–13).
B. (:7a) Blaming God is Never the Right Approach
“And Joshua said, ‘Alas, O Lord God, why didst Thou ever bring this people
over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?”
Kenneth Gangel: Failure brings such humiliation and despair that even a leader like Joshua can be driven to blaming God for what happened. Madvig says, “In self-piety Joshua charged God with capriciousness. Though Joshua could not be expected to know about Achan’s sin, confidence in God’s faithfulness should have made him look elsewhere for the reason for Israel’s defeat” (Madvig, 285).
C. (:7b) Lowering Expectations is Never the Right Approach
“If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!’”
D. (:8-9a) A Defeatist Attitude Can Never be Tolerated
“O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies?
For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they
will surround us and cut off our name from the earth.”
E. (:9b) Selfish Appeals to God’s Glory Lack the Power of Faith
“And what wilt Thou do for Thy great name?”
Richard Hess: In Joshua 7, both Joshua and Israel thought they were obeying God. The problem was not willful disobedience but ignorance of a hidden transgression. For these reasons, God did not seek to destroy the nation, but to warn it of the problem that rendered it impotent.
III. (:10-15) REPENTANCE AND RENEWED CONSECRATION ARE THE ONLY REMEDY
A. (:10) Rebuke of Response that demonstrated a lack of faith
“So the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?”
Kenneth Gangel: God wasted no time in responding to Joshua, and his language was less than gentle. The problem was not God’s abandoning Israel as Joshua presumed but sin in the camp. How often we try to blame God for our own problems and then realize they have arisen from our own failures and sins.
B. (:11-12) Simple Diagnosis: Sin Leads to Failure
- (:11) Diagnosis of Sin – Don’t mix the holy and the profane
“Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I
commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under
the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also
put them among their own things.”
Charles Ryrie: Note how the sin of one family was imputed to the entire nation so that it can be said that “Israel has sinned”.
Gordon Matties: “Transgression of the covenant” forms an inclusio around God’s speech (my covenant in v. 11; covenant of the Lord in v. 15). The verb transgressed could be translated violated (NIV) or broken (NJPS). It means, literally, “to cross a boundary.” In other words, Israel has overstepped the boundary, or the terms of the agreement (covenant). The expression occurs again in chapter 23, where Joshua sounds an ominous note, warning that, if Israel does transgress the covenant, they will perish quickly from the good land that he has given you (23:16).
- (:12) Expectation of Failure – Presence and Favor of God Removed
“Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they
turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban
from your midst.”
Gordon Matties: The language of accusation and accountability continues to be plural (the three you pronouns of v. 12b are all pl.). The action of Israel has jeopardized the divine presence (in a way that the presence of Rahab does not). I will be with you no more is a terrifying prospect. The only way out is to destroy the proscribed objects (cf. Num 33:52-56).
Trent Butler: The key promise to Joshua in the book is the presence of God (Josh 1:5, 9; 3:7). Divine presence is the prayer of the people for Joshua (1:17), the basis of Joshua’s exaltation (3:7), and the hope of possessing the land (3:10). Transgressing the covenant has let all this pass away. But all is not totally hopeless. There is a big “if.” If the obedient people will destroy the banned goods in their midst, they can again experience divine presence. Israel must choose between the presence of God (v 12) and the presence of ḥērem (v 13).
C. (:13) Call for Renewed Consecration
“Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow,
for thus the Lord, the God of Israel, has said, There are things under the ban in
your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have
removed the things under the ban from your midst.’’”
D. (:14-15) Accountability for Transgression
- (:14) No Escaping the Eye of the Lord
“In the morning then you shall come near by your tribes. And it shall be
that the tribe which the Lord takes by lot shall come near by families,
and the family which the Lord takes shall come near by households, and
the household which the Lord takes shall come near man by man.”
John Hamby: There is no such thing as a secret sin.
Robert Hubbard: An interesting ancient Near Eastern parallel suggests what the process may have been like. The lots would have been two stones, one white and one black, respectively signifying a “yes” or “no” answer to the question, “Is this tribe/clan/family/individual the one?” As Joshua presided, someone (perhaps a priest) would draw out one stone hidden in his clothing to evaluate each candidate. A “no” would exclude the party from further consideration, while a “yes” would lead to further winnowing until the individual was “taken.” Theologically, the procedure assumes that Yahweh’s hand invisibly guides the lot drawing to flush out the secret crook. The officiant might even repeat the process three times with each candidate to verify that divine guidance rather than mere chance lay behind the result.
- (:15) God’s Discipline Demonstrates How Seriously He Takes Sin
“And it shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban
shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has
transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has committed a
disgraceful thing in Israel.”
Kenneth Gangel: Why didn’t God just tell Joshua who was guilty so he could take care of Achan and get on with the war? Why this whole process involving tribes and clans and families? Part of the answer lies in the fact of the collective sin of the group. Just as God’s blessing could be removed from a church in which one or two people are sinning, so God’s blessing was removed from an entire nation in which one man was guilty. All Israel needed to search their hearts and learn from this tragedy. Not a person was allowed to stand by without feeling the fear of God’s pointing figure—tribe by tribe, clan by clan, family by family. And the word takes could be rendered “catches.” This was a manhunt pure and simple, and the whole nation watched the process.
Joshua also realized that perhaps God was giving the guilty an opportunity to repent. As the people consecrated themselves, or even as lots were being cast, the guilty could confess and plead for forgiveness. But no one knocked on Joshua’s door that night or the next day.
IV. (:16-21) CONFESSION OF COVETOUSNESS VINDICATES THE GLORY OF GOD
A. (:16-18) Process of Pinpointing the Sinner
B. (:19) Exhortation to Repent to Vindicate the Glory of God
“Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, I implore you, give glory to the Lord, the
God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do
not hide it from me.’”
Trent Butler: The command to confess is a call to self-condemnation. The culprit discovered in the sacral process is called upon to confess his guilt, which gives praise and glory to God by showing that the divine judgment has been just.
C. (:20-21) Confession of Covetousness
“So Achan answered Joshua and said, ‘Truly, I have sinned against the Lord,
the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful
mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty
shekels in weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are
concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.’”
Richard Hess: The verb ‘to covet’ (Heb. ḥmd) is identical to that found in the tenth commandment of the Decalogue (Exod. 20:17; Deut. 5:21). It describes the desire for that which one has no right to possess.
Francis Schaeffer: What Achan took is also instructive. He took two kinds of things. First, he took two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight. We can understand easily why he took something which had monetary value. But he also took a “goodly Babylonish garment.” Why did he bother with this? The Hebrew literally calls it “a mantle of Shinar.” Because Shinar is Babylonia the Authorized Version translates it “Babylonian garment.” Babylon was one of the great cities of the world. Babylon became the cultural leader of Mesopotamia. It was the mark of success and power. Anything from Babylon was chic. . . So this mantle of Shinar was not just an old shepherd’s cloak, but a very stylish garment. It marked somebody as being “in,” as really being “a man of the world.” Achan wanted to be marked with success, to be chic. Achan’s sin, then, had two parts: simple theft and prideful desire deep in his heart.
V. (:22-26) THE HARSH REALITY OF JUDGMENT STANDS AS A SOBER MEMORIAL TO THE HOLINESS OF GOD
A. (:22-23) Urgency of Exposing the Sin
“So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was
concealed in his tent with the silver underneath it. And they took them from
inside the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the sons of Israel, and they poured them out before the Lord.”
Helene Dallaire: Achan’s deception was clearly premeditated. He has chosen a safe location for the stolen plunder—so he thought—and executed his plan in secret. God saw Achan’s scheming heart; he watched him hide what belonged to him. Achan could not conceal his sin forever. . .
Achan showed ignorance of an important truth, namely, that “the secret things belong to the LORD” (Dt 29:29). The prophet Jeremiah testifies, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ . . . Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jer 23:24). As stated by the author of Hebrews, “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we give account” (Heb 4:13).
B. (:24-26) Sad Execution of Discipline
- (:24) Staging the Discipline – make sure you get all of the cancer
“Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the
silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his
donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they
brought them up to the valley of Achor.”
- (:25) Reaping What You Sow
a. Sin Hurts the Entire Body
“And Joshua said, ‘Why have you troubled us?’”
b. Discipline Derives from the Lord
“The Lord will trouble you this day.”
Play on name of location = Achor
c. Stoning to Death – corporate participation
“And all Israel stoned them with stones;”
d. Burning with Fire – removing all traces of the sin
“and they burned them with fire after they had stoned the with
- (:26) Sad Memorial – another monument of stones
“And they raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day,
and the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the
name of that place has been called the valley of Achor to this day.”
“Achor” means “trouble”
David Howard: The connection between this pile of stones and the earlier set of twelve memorial stones that Joshua erected on the banks of the Jordan River is hard to ignore. The reason for each one was different, but both piles of stones remained in their place “until this day” (4:9; 7:26; see also 10:27). The first set was specifically to be a reminder to Israel of God’s presence with them (see 4:7). The pile of stones over Achan is not infused with the same meaning, but the very fact that it remained “until this day” shows us that it was a reminder to Israel of the story of Achan and the consequences of sin.
David Holwick: Come clean before it is too late.
1) Achan was remembered by a pile of rocks.
2) What will your life be remembered for?