Jericho has been captured. Its walls fell by faith. The victory was solely God’s and His gracious gift to His people in response to their faith—a faith of which their compassing the walls of the city was the living expression. Thus the victory was not of them, of anything they had done, for they had done nothing at all except march, shout, and blow the trumpets.
Certainly the falling of the walls could not be attributed to their marching. The victory was the Lord’s; andthough in the warfare that was to follow, the people would take an active part—they must engage the enemy on the battlefield—the victory would continue to be the Lord’s. They must strive to enter in; but their striving—their joining battle with the adversary—must be the expression, not of a sinful and vain determination to achieve by their own strength (being God’s handiwork, they are without strength in themselves) but of a living faith in their redeemer-God, of the assurance that He will continue to qualify them for His warfare and respond to His work in them by making the adversary their footstool. Thus the victory that conquers the cursed tribes that infest Canaan is solely their faith. It was to drive home this vital truth that the miracle of the fall of Jericho’s walls was worked at the very commencement of the conquest of Canaan. It is so evident from the history of this warfare that victory is theirs solely because the Lord fights for them.
Because the victory is God’s, the spoils of war—Canaan, its inhabitants together with all their possession in their silver and gold and iron and cattle—is also exclusively the Lord’s. Hence, with these spoils He may do as He pleases. That the people might have understanding also of this, the city was accursed to the Lord. (). It was burnt with fire, and all that was therein—both men and women, young and old, and ox and sheep and ass—was destroyed with the edge of the sword. And the silver and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron were put in the treasury of the Lord. Of His spoils, He will freely give them. But what they receive, they will hold merely as a trust. He will remain the absolute proprietor. They will be dwelling in God’s country as His servants in duty bound to consecrate themselves with all their possessions exclusively to Him, their Savior and Redeemer. Being, as it was, the key city of the Canaanites, the capture of Jericho was the pledge of all the victories that were to follow. With this city vanquished, they were now in the possession of the first fruits of the conquest.
There was still another lesson that was learned at this juncture in connection with Achan’s theft and the resultant reverses suffered by the army in its war with the city of Ai. Let us get before our mind the facts in this sad case.
The first words with which the account begins are to the effect that Israel committed a trespass in respect to that which was devoted. But the individual directly involved was Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zaibdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah. His sin was that he took of what had been devoted, a Babylonish garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight. The sin has its evil effects in the expedition against Ai. For the anger of the Lord was kindled to a blaze and it turned its destructive force first against the whole people.
Joshua sends men from Jericho to Ai, to explore the land. The report was brought back that the entire population of the city amounted to only twelve thousand and that therefore a few thousand chosen warriors would be sufficient to overcome its military force. But the movement results in a dismal failure not because the strength of Ai had been underrated. Thirty six of their number are smitten in the flight from the gates of Ai. The loss is very small, but the people are thoroughly disheartened. Their heart melts and becomes water. And there is reason. If the Lord no longer fights for His people, they have no prospect save that of being annihilated by the combined forces of the adversary.
Joshua’s distress is deep. With the elders he falls down before the ark of God and continues with them in lamenting their lot in the ear of God until the evening. They rend their clothes and put dust upon their heads in deepest displeasure. “Alas,” says Joshua, “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 of Jordan! O Lord what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before the 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?”
That Joshua, a man trusting in God and wholly consecrated to His cause, could voice in the ear of God sentiments such as these—there is in his complaint the suggestion that God might be betraying His people—shows how Israel’s defeat has amazed, confounded, and distressed him. He does not ready mean to accuse God. But being ignorant of Achan’s theft and of the guilt in which the deed has involved the whole nation, he is at a loss how to explain the disaster. And the elders share his ignorance and likewise the whole people. Yet it should have occurred to him that someone must have sinned and that therefore the cause of the defeat lies not in want of faithfulness on the part of God but on that of Israel. The Lord’s reply to him partakes therefore of the nature of a stern rebuke. “Get thee up,” says the Lord to him, “Wherefore best thou thus upon thy face, Israel has sinned. . . .” God’s displeasure is vehement as appears from the several designations of their sin. “They have transgressed my covenant. . . .for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.”
Though the actual stealing was the evil work of one individual, the whole people are accused. The sin is communal. All are held responsible. The sin of the one is the sin of the many, not certainly because Achan legally represented the whole nation but on the ground of the solidarity of the family and race, i.e., of the entire union of interests and responsibilities in a social group. It is useless and vain to ask whether it is right and just that there should be this union of responsibilities. Irrespective of whether the justice of it appears to us, it is just, because God so wills. We deal here with a divine ordinance. With God there can be no injustice. But it must also be clear to every unprejudiced mind that God does the group no injustice by holding it responsible for the actual sins of its members. For the group is as sinful as the members of which it is formed; and therefore it commits, if not actually then potentially, all the sins committed by its members. The lust of which Achan’s theft was the conclusion, rioted in the flesh of every Israelite, but with this difference that in Achan lust had crystallized into action. All lusted. All stole. But in them the will to obey had triumphed over lust. Achan, as consumed by lust, had taken of the accursed thing.
And the responsibility is also theirs. They all are now under the ban of God (v. 12). The Lord no longer fights for them. But of this they remain ignorant until confronted by the men of Ai. Then the Lord fails to gird their warriors with courage and daring for the battle. At the sight of the onrushing foe, they are seized by a panic and take refuge in disgraceful flight. Joshua is astonished. And the hearts of the people melt.
It is not easy to know just what construction is tobe placed on the complaint of Joshua. What we must bear in mind, in the attempt to discover the thrust of this complaint, is that he who here prostrates himself before the Lord is a believer, a child of grace. Though as to the form of the words, the complaint has something in common with the murmurings of the rebellious generation that had perished in the wilderness, it must differ radically from these murmurings as to the spirit that pervades it. “And what,” so he wails, “wilt thou do unto thy great name?” This is the language of love. God would do His name greatest injury, should he now destroy His people. For promises have been made, for one thing. Unless these promises are kept, the Lord will disgrace Himself in the eyes of the nations. For Joshua, the though is too painful to contemplate. Then, too, he knows that in themselves the people whom he must lead in battle are sinful and condemnable so that, should the Lord do with them according to their sins, He would certainly deliver them into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy them at this very juncture. The thought rises in his soul that the Lord might be resolved ta “do–this very thing, destroy them for all sins committed in the past and unforgiven. But he well knows that this cannot possibly be. Yet there is the defeat of Israel’s warriors. What, since the capture of Jericho, could have occasioned this disaster, what new sin committed by the people. He knew of no sin; “O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before the enemies.” Joshua knows not what to say or what to think. He is in a quandary. He feels that already he has said too much, has offended with his speech.
It must have come to him somewhat as a relief when the Lord, helping him out of his dilemma, said to him, “Israel has sinned. . .for they have taken of the accursed thing.” The Lord’s reply, though dreadful and saddening, is the answer to his questionings. There is am accursed thing in their midst (v. 13).
A great sin has been committed indeed since the capture of Jericho in connection with the spoils of war. The Lord becomes very definite. Directly the matter concerns a lone individual. The actual theft was committed by one man only (11-14). And except they destroy the accursed thing from among them the Lord will not be with them anymore. However ominous this threat, it is full of comfort. There is salvation for the whole people if only they denounce and repudiate the great sin through bringing to trial and in the name and by the direction of the Lord inflicting punishment upon the offender. The punishment demanded is not any more severe than the sin is heinous. He that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire (after being put to death by stoning (v. 25), “he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel.” The Lord points out to the judges the offender through the lot. Conformably to God’s command, Joshua the next morning brings the tribes of Israel before Jehovah, when Achan is indicated as the transgressor. There are four lots. By the first the tribe of Judah is taken; by the second the clan of Zerah; by the third the house of Zabdi; and by the fourth the man Achan.
Being exhorted by Joshua to confess his sin Achan owns all (vv. 16-18). The stolen property is found in his tent according to his statement (vv. 22-23).
He himself with all what belongs to him is stoned and burnt (vv. 24-26). And they raise over him a great heap of stones. So the Lord turns from the fierceness of His anger. And the name of the place is called “Achor” or trouble. The memory of this ‘terrible story lives in the mind and heart of the people for judgment, to be sure, but, in latest times, also for hope. The valley of Achor will be given for a door of hope, where God’s people shall sing. ().
Something more must be said about the man Achan and his sin. As to his sin, it is truly atrocious as to its character. Israel’s warfare is God’s. He willed and declared the war and commanded and qualified His people. The war was a holy crusade against men who were sinners directly before God—sinners who had filled their measure of iniquity and who, therefore, by divine direction, had to be destroyed, devoted to God without redemption for the enhancement of His glories. To the people of Israel it is given by grace to be co-workers with God in this warfare and fight His battles out of faith, in obedience to His command, as constrained by the love of God, and as sustained by the gladdening prospect that Israel will dwell with the Lord their redeemer in Canaan, when this country shall have been cleansed from its present corruptors. But as to the man Achan, his interests lie elsewhere. His god is gold, the things below. And the Just of these things constrain him. God is not in all his thoughts. Hence, the warfare, as he has been warring it is, as are all modern wars, but an unholy, a mad scramble for this earth, a vile contest with men as corrupt and depraved as he for the riches of this earth. Thus that warfare, in so far as it was waged by him, was murder, thievery, idolatry, the achievement of carnal ambition. It was the breaking of God’s covenant indeed.
We must not minimize Achan’s sin, reduce it to small proportions and then begin to wonder how God could deal so severely with the man for a sin so trifling: the taking of a little gold and some silver from a store so vast. When the Sin was still in its contemplative stage, the man himself must have made light of it. All that he was about to do is to appropriate for his own use an insignificant portion of the substance of men accursed by God. He would not be robbing his brothers. And wasn’t he entitled to some small reward for his war effort? And what were the priests to do with that vast treasure? Certainly, he would not be the only offender. So he must have reasoned by himself.
True it is that others also offended. There were many perhaps who complained of the shamefulness of the destruction of so many fine cattle and costly finery. But when the deed was, done, God said that His covenant has been broken.
Achan’s sin was great also on this account that Joshua, in behalf of the Lord had with such emphasis and in speech so unmistakable commanded the people. “And ye,” he had said, “Ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourself accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse and trouble it” (Josh. 6:18). As for Achan, the Lord might just as well not have spoken.
The disobedience of the man, his defiance of God, brands him a hardened sinner. God is not real to him. There are several indications that Achan is just this kind of a man. Firstly, his sole consideration h how to make away with his loot without being detected by Joshua and the elders. He has to do solely with Joshua, so he thinks, and thus not with God through Joshua. So he hides his treasure in the earth in the midst of his tent as willingly ignorant of the fact that all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (). That he has now made the camp of Israel a curse, and troubled it, is to him a thought too ridiculous to contemplate. He is that kind of a person. Apparently, the defeat of the three thousand leaves him unaffected. He perhaps even denounces them in his heart for their lack of courage or criticizes Joshua for underrating the strength of the adversary. Of course the man is pretending. He really is ill at ease especially now when word passes through the camp that the defeat is to be ascribed to the presence of an accursed thing in the camp. How could they know? Had someone, who saw him bearing home his loot, reported his theft to Joshua? But this could not be as he was certain that he had taken all the necessary precautions. He is again confident when he hears that the offender must be ascertained by the use of the lot. The offender is still unknown; and he has no faith in the lot as a means of detecting crime. Yet it is strange that the tribe of Judah is taken, for to this tribe he belongs. Fear grips his soul; and when Joshua finally brings before the Lord his own household, man by man, and he, himself, is then, he stands speechless yet impenitent; for he is a hardened sinner.
The plight of the man deeply affects Joshua. He has sorrow in his heart on account of the terrible punishment which must be inflicted upon the culprit. Speaking kindly and earnestly, he says to the man, “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.” ‘Own Him as the God who seeth and knoweth all sin, however deeply hidden.’ The man by this time has regained his composure. He steels himself. Finally he speaks, “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 Babylonian 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 in the earth in the midst of my tent and the silver under it.” This is not the language of true penitence. It bears not the marks of a true confession. Judging from the reactions of Joshua, the tone of the man is defiant. It bespeaks a wrong spirit. Perhaps the thrust of his reply is well set forth in this language, “Yes, indeed, I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, but what of that.”
The tent of Achan is now explored, and it is found that he has spoken the truth. It seems unlikely that he could have brought as unassisted, so much silver and gold to his tent. There must have been, so it would seem, an accomplice. The man’s own wife and children must have known of the theft.
The recovered loot is brought before Joshua and the elders, who lay it out before the Lord. They thus present to the Lord the evidence of the sin, meaning to take Him as their witness that in inflicting punishment upon Achan there is no miscarriage of justice.
Achan, his loot, his sons and his daughters, his oxen, asses, and sheep, arid all that he has, is subsequently brought to the valley of Achon. Joshua is now very stern. Facing the man, he utters these terrible words, “Why hast thou troubled us? The Lord shall trouble thee this day. Achan is stoned, he and his sons and daughters. And all that he has is burnt,
So do they make of him a terrible example. And the truth set forth for the instruction of the whole people is that the warriors of God must be consecrated to Him in love and not to an idol and that, except they are this, their warfare is an abomination to the Lord and they themselves cursed. It was needful that this truth be emphasized now that the conquest of Canaan had commenced.