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 . . .
And they raised over him a great heap of storm 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 (i.e., trouble) unto this day.
It was a miracle beyond question. In all of Canaan there was not a city more impressive in size and power, more strongly fortified, more forbidding to an enemy than was Jericho. When Israel approached, its heavy gates were closed up tight, its lofty bulwarks and towers heavily manned, it was a city on guard. But Israel made no attack. Without a display of force, the army merely took to marching around it. Seven days they marched around and on the seventh day seven times led by seven priests with seven great trumpets in their hands, each repetition of that number reminding Israel anew of the covenant of God which the number seven represented. And then it happened; the seven trumpets were lifted to the lips and sounded, as though to announce the approach of Israel’s God and King, Jehovah; with a shout of triumph the voices of the people were added; and without the touch of a human hand the walls of the city instantly crumbled. Here was a work that could only be the hand of Almighty God. All that remained was the portion of wall in which Rahab dwelt, a monument to her faith.
Without resistance of any kind the army of Israel climbed over the rubble into the very heart of the city. Missing were the usual shouts of a plundering army. Instead there hung over the men of Israel a reverential awe, almost as if they were entering a sacred temple. This great demonstration of divine power could not be lightly ignored or even taken for granted, while in their ears still seemed to echo the command which had been given, “And the city shall be accursed even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD . . . And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.” Systematically they went through the city gathering the silver and gold and vessels of metal, to bring them to the priests of God, and destroying everything else, including all living creatures, animals and people. The entire city was presented as one great sacrifice unto Jehovah, by whose power alone it had-been overcome. This was the first fruits of the promised land. To the Lord it was given.
Once Israel turned from the smoldering rums of that once great city, the enthusiasm of the people began to run high, until they were impatient to be on into the heart of the land. The gates of Canaan had very apparently been thrown open wide before them. Henceforth it seemed nothing would be able to interfere with their advancement. They had seen the power of their God and no one could fail to trust in Him any longer. He would go forth in power before them, and in faith they would follow after. Could anything withhold the power which had brought down this great destruction upon the city of Jericho?
The next logical step in their advancement was quite evident. On the hills overlooking the plains of Jericho was a city named Ai, guarding the way to the mountain plains and passes. But the city was small and one could hardly anticipate from it any real trouble. It almost seemed a shame to send against so small a fortification Israel’s entire army. Joshua sent forth scouts to investigate and soon they returned to confirm what he had already suspected. The advice of the scouts was, “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 labor thither; for they are but few.”
The whole matter seemed quite simple and quite insignificant compared to Jericho. With confidence the three thousand men of Israel went up to engage the men of Ai in battle. But somehow it did not work out the way that they had expected. Going into battle the first casualties suffered were of Israel and not of the men of Ai. In fact, at every turn of the battle the children of Israel saw that they were being bested. Soon the army of Israel was falling back until at last it turned in full retreat. Israel had been defeated.
The first stragglers from the battle of Ai were met at the camp of Israel with cries of anguished disbelief. How could this have ever happened? In a matter of moments the whole camp of Israel was thrown into utter confusion. What had happened to their faith? Here they had fully expected that henceforth Jehovah would lead them on from victory to victory until they had taken total possession of the land. They had all trusted this. No one any more had been holding back. And now this. What was wrong? Had their God deceived them? Was he unable to perform for them all that he had promised. Utter dismay swept like a tidal wave through the camp. No one knew how to explain it.
Even Joshua was beside himself with disappointment. He could not understand it either. No, he would not utter words of open rebellion as the people might, but neither could he keep himself from thinking that somehow God had let him down. In anguish he tore at his clothes, covered his head with dust and threw himself upon the ground before the ark of the Covenant. Until evening he lay there, and then he prayed, “Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us unto the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of Jordan. O Lord what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! 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?” Try as he might, Joshua had not been able to keep the discouragement out of his voice. He felt that God had failed them, and it became evident in his prayer.
But for prayers such as that the Lord had no patience. Not as though it was so strange for Joshua to pray that way; Moses had done much the same in one of the early crises of his ministry (Ex. 14:15). But it was finally a prayer of weakness more than faith. The Lord’s answer to it was a harsh rebuke, “Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 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. 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.” Here was Joshua’s trouble. He had looked for Israel’s weakness in God instead of in the people. Ought he not to have known that God would not change from His purpose and that the cause of Israel’s defeat was to be found in the unfaithfulness of the people. Rather than bring his prayer of bitter accusation, he should have been searching for the transgressor among the people. Exactly, God continued to spell out for him how he ought to be proceeding. “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. 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. And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and that he hath: because he hath wrought folly in Israel.”
Here was a thing which Israel had not thought to imagine, that in the very face of God’s power demonstrated at Jericho anyone should have dared to transgress the holy command dedicating the whole of the city as a sacrifice to God. One can well imagine the tension among the people as they came together wondering who could have done a deed like that, stealing, as it were, directly from the Lord. Hardly a sound was to be heard in the charged atmosphere as Israel went through the formalities in the drawing oflots. Slowly the finger of God began to point. First the tribe of Judah was singled out; then the family of Zerah; then the household of Zabdi; finally it was Carmi, and his son Achan. Before the cold, cutting glance of all Israel the man stood, exposed. Here was a man who had fallen deeply into the way of sin. Not only had he taken of the goods of Jericho, but when the wrath of Jehovah turned against his nation, he had continued not to recognize that he was the cause of this trouble. Even when the nature of the sin was announced by special revelation he had not spoken, half trusting that his care in secrecy would keep him hidden. Closer and closer the finger of God came through the means of the lot until it rested directly upon him, and still he was silent. Finally Joshua spoke, “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.”
At last, while Israel waited, Achan opened his mouth and explained, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and, thus and thus have I done: 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.” Achan’s voice was cold with resignation. He acknowledged his deed but without a real confession. His regret was not for that he had sinned but for that he had been discovered.
Quickly Joshua sent messengers and quickly they returned again. In the ground under Achan’s tent they had found the spoil just as he had explained they would. Concerning his guilt there could no longer be any question.
It was a solemn procession that left the camp of Israel: that day for the administration of justice. With them was taken Achan, the spoil he had stolen, his family, and all his possessions. There in the presence of all they were stoned to death and all was burned with fire. It was necessary, as Hell is, that Jehovah God might be justified. Over all that remained of Achan was raised up a great heap of stones, and from that time forth the place was known as the valley of Achor. It was the valley of trouble in which Israel first learned that even in the promised land sin would sitll remain to afflict them.