Joshua 7 – Defeat at Ai and Achan’s Sin
A. Defeat at Ai.
1. (1) Not all of Israel obeyed the law of the devoted things.
But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel.
a. The children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things: Joshua commanded the nation in Joshua 6:18-19 that they should not take of any of the accursed things. These included objects associated with the demonic and debasing worship and practices of the Canaanites, and treasures that were only for the house of the Lord.
i. The chapter begins with the word but connecting it to the last verse of Joshua 6, which spoke of Joshua’s spreading fame. “There is an intentional contrast. Although Joshua’s fame spread because of Jericho, Israel’s unfaithfulness provoked God’s anger.” (Hess) A leader of God’s work may enjoy great fame and attention, while sin works its deadly rot among the people of God.
ii. “We must learn from this that God takes sin seriously, even if we do not, and that sin is the real cause of defeat for God’s people.” (Boice)
iii. Committed a trespass: “More generally, the sin was that Israel ‘acted unfaithfully’ with regard to the things devoted to destruction. The term in question here (ml) is used to describe a wife’s adultery (see Numbers 5:12–13): it was a betrayal of a trust that existed between two parties.” (Howard)
b. The accursed things: The wars fought by Israel in Canaan were not fought as plundering wars of personal gain; they were an unusual, sacred instrument in God’s hand, used for judgment against a society over-ripe for judgment. Therefore, the spoil or plunder of Jericho was either regarded as accursed or as specially devoted to the Lord.
i. “God owned the devoted things (ḥerem) in the capture of Jericho (Joshua 6:18–19, 24). To take God’s property is theft. The denial of the theft is deceit…. Either Israel must destroy the devoted things that it possesses or it will be destroyed as devoted things.” (Hess)
c. So the anger of the Lord burned against: Israel’s disobedience brought the anger of God against them. Israel could not be defeated by the Canaanites, but they could defeat themselves by their disobedience, inviting the corrective judgment of God.
i. “It is certain that one only was guilty; and yet the trespass is imputed here to the whole congregation; and the whole congregation soon suffered shame and disgrace on the account.” (Clarke)
2. (2-3) Spies report from the city of Ai.
Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.”
a. So the men went up and spied out Ai: When the returning spies recommended sending only two or three thousand men, it could have been a response of faith or of self-confidence. In the end, it did not matter which it was. In their state of disobedience, Israel could have sent 100,000 troops against Ai and it would have made no difference.
i. “This was the first time in the Conquest that Joshua did anything on his own initiative, and it was doomed to failure. It is ominous that nothing is said about Joshua seeking guidance from the Lord. The great victory at Jericho made him overly confident of God’s help.” (Madvig)
ii. To Ai: “This is the place called Hai, Genesis 12:8. It was in the east of Beth-el, north of Jericho, from which it was distant about ten or twelve miles.” (Clarke)
b. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few: Israel’s success in the conquest of Canaan depended on their own surrender to God. Achan’s rebellion showed that in that respect, they were not surrendered to the Lord – and therefore powerless before even relatively small and weak enemies.
3. (4-5) Israel is defeated at Ai.
So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
a. About three thousand men went up: Joshua, a wise military leader, commanded the larger number recommended by his military intelligence (Joshua 7:3). But the number of men made no difference. Israel was defeated at Ai, and they fled before the men of Ai.
i. “When God is with us, Jericho is not too strong to be captured; when He is driven from us by our own sin, Ai is not too weak to defeat us.” (Maclaren)
b. And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men: The thirty-six men killed were thirty-six more than were killed at Jericho, which was thought to be a much more difficult city to conquer. Though this number was small from a military standpoint, the meaning of these losses was a disaster for Israel. It meant that Israel could be defeated in the Promised Land.
i. As far as Shebarim: “Shebarim signifies breaches or broken places, and may here apply to the ranks of the Israelites, which were broken by the men of Ai; for the people were totally routed, though there were but few slain. They were panic-struck, and fled in the utmost confusion.” (Clarke)
ii. The defeat at Ai showed that what mattered was not the strength of the opponent, but the help of God. Without God’s help, all would be lost.
c. Therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water: The people of Israel had good reason to be afraid. Their panic was completely logical, because if God did not fight for them, they could expect only defeat.
i. “The very same words that Rahab used to describe the demoralized population of Jericho (Joshua 2:9, 11; cf. Joshua 5:1) are here applied to Israel.” (Madvig)
B. In a time of crisis, Joshua goes before the Lord.
1. (6-9) Joshua’s fear: God’s unfaithfulness was the cause of defeat at Ai.
Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?”
a. Then Joshua tore his clothes: Joshua followed his culture’s customs in times of mourning for the dead. He and the elders of Israel tore their clothes and put dust on their heads. They mourned not only the death of thirty-six men, but more so, they mourned the loss of God’s blessing, guidance, and protection.
b. Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all: For Joshua and the elders of Israel, this defeat was a national calamity. They understood that every battle mattered, and that there is always a reason for defeat.
i. “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)
c. Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! Joshua knew that if God’s blessing, guidance, and protection were not with them, it would have been better if they had not come to Canaan at all. If God did not deliver them, all would be lost.
i. Israel relied on God so greatly that the loss of His constant support or the lessening of His hand of blessing meant certain disaster. Sadly, many churches and ministries are so reliant on the programs and power of men that if God withdrew His blessing and guidance, it wouldn’t be noticed for a long time.
d. Then what will You do for Your great name? Joshua’s greatest concern was for the glory of God. When God’s people stumble or fail, their greatest disappointment should be that they may have caused some great shame to the great name of God.
2. (10-11) The real reason for defeat: Israel has sinned.
So the Lord said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff.
a. Israel has sinned: God spoke to Joshua and Israel directly, explaining that He had not failed Israel. The defeat was caused by the sin of Israel. The problem was not with God but with the people of God.
i. This was why God told Joshua to get up. Joshua didn’t need to ask God to change His heart towards Israel. Joshua had to change Israel’s heart before God. Schaeffer paraphrased God’s response to Joshua: “Don’t you remember that, Joshua? You should not be here on your face. You should be out dealing with sin among the people, for sin has made the difference.”
ii. God provides the believer with the resources for victory over sin, but God will never, on this side of resurrected glory, make defeat impossible, taking away the ability of His people to choose sin or obedience at a particular moment.
b. Israel has sinned…they…. they… they also: God explained that Israel had sinned, not only one man. The whole nation was declared guilty, and thirty-six men were dead, all for the sin of one man and his family.
i. Hundreds of years later, the same principle was at work among the Corinthian believers. Regarding sin among the Corinthian church, Paul wrote: Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (1 Corinthians 5:6) A small amount of sin accepted and tolerated among God’s people can invite God’s response against the whole group.
ii. “This passage shows that God was not open to the charge of a double standard with reference to his treatment of Israel and the Canaanites. He had ordered Israel to exterminate the Canaanites because of their sin, but here he allowed all Israel to be affected by the sin of one man.” (Howard)
c. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived: This was the sin of taking things that were devoted to God alone. These objects were devoted either by their donation to His tabernacle or by their complete destruction. When this man took some of the accursed things, he was stealing from God and deceiving the people of Israel.
i. The failure to honor God through giving was regarded as robbing God (Malachi 3:8-11). Under the law of Israel, if one wanted to keep something that belonged to God, they had to give to God the value of the object plus a 20% (one-fifth) penalty (Leviticus 22:14, 27:15, 27:19, 27:31). This was the same amount required for restitution in theft (Leviticus 6:4-5).
ii. The New Testament teaches us that giving should be regular and proportional (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and that it should be generous, purposeful, and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). When we don’t give as God directs us, we must regard it as sin and repent of it.
3. (12-13) The effect of the sin: Israel had no power against their enemies.
Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you. Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the Lord God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.”
a. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies: Israel could not fight in God’s power and with His presence unless they walked in obedience to Him. Israel was under a covenant with God that promised blessing for their obedience and promised curses on their disobedience (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28).
i. Believers today are not under the same covenant. The believer’s standing with God is established by the work of Jesus on our behalf, not the works of the believer. Nevertheless, if the people of God desire the power and presence of God in their daily battles to live righteously, they must walk in fellowship with Him, and this fellowship is hindered by the believer’s sin and rebellion.
ii. The believer’s position before God is secure in Jesus, but their fellowship with Him may be hindered by their sin (1 John 1:6). This fellowship with God is the source of power for life in the Spirit.
b. They have become doomed to destruction: This was the tragic destiny for a disobedient Israel under the Law of Moses. The curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 would surely find them and bring great destruction.
c. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you: Israel could not successfully continue their conquest of Canaan without dealing with the accursed thing that should have been devoted to God but was taken for the benefit of man.
i. “When either life in the church or doctrine is not cared for, the blessing stops as much as when an individual sins. Sin among the people of God either diminishes the blessing or brings the blessing to a halt until that sin is confessed, judged, and removed.” (Schaeffer)
ii. “No individual Christian can sin without affecting the whole Church. No child of God can grow cold in his spiritual life without lowering the temperature of everybody else around him. The victory of the whole community depends on the victorious life of every individual church member.” (Redpath)
4. (14-15) Instructions for judgment of the sin.
In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the Lord takes shall come according to families; and the family which the Lord takes shall come by households; and the household which the Lord takes shall come man by man. Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.’”
a. The tribe which the Lord takes: Though the identity of the sinning family was unknown to Joshua, it was known to God. Sin may be kept secret among men but is never hidden before God. Living with this recognition can help the believer walk in obedience
i. “Yet all this while Achan repenteth not, confesseth not his fault. The devil had gagged him, and his heart was hardened by the deceitfulness of that cursed sin of covetousness, the property whereof is first to turn men’s hearts into earth and mud, and afterwards to freeze and congeal them into steel and adamant.” (Trapp)
b. Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire: The judgment against the sinning individual would be strong and complete. Once this was dealt with, blessing could come again on all Israel.
C. The public judgment of Achan’s sin.
1. (16-18) God reveals the identity of the head of the family that had sinned.
So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. He brought the clan 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. Then 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.
a. Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken: The text does not explain how the tribe, family, and individual was chosen or taken. It’s possible that Joshua or the high priest used the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30).
i. The use of the discerning tools of the Urim and Thummim is described on a few occasions (Numbers 27:21, 1 Samuel 28:6, Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65) and their use may be implied in other passages (Judges 1:1, 20:18, 20:23). It is commonly thought that the Urim and Thummim were stones drawn from a pouch, one indicating “yes” and the other “no.” By asking, “Is this the tribe/clan/family/household?” and receiving a yes or no answer, an individual from all Israel could be identified.
b. Achan the son of Carmi: Achan knew he was the guilty one, and it must have been agonizing for him to see his tribe, clan, family, and household chosen – until he was revealed as the guilty man. Achan was filled with regret, but it was too late.
i. In some way, taking some of the accursed things from Jericho pleased Achan. He was pleased to have them. He was pleased by the thrill of transgression. He was pleased to have his wealth increased. He was pleased that he was not immediately found out. He was pleased he was able to hide them. Those pleasures were real, but they were also fleeting, temporary. The penalty of his sin would outweigh any pleasure it gave, and the penalty would last much longer than the pleasure of the sin.
ii. “I have often wondered that only Achan did it, but that one Achan brought defeat upon Israel at the gates of Ai. I wonder how many Achans there are here this morning. I should feel myself very much at ease if I thought there were only one, but I am afraid that there are many who have the accursed thing hidden within them, the love of money, or wrong ways of doing business, or unforgiving tempers, or an envious spirit towards their fellow Christians.” (Spurgeon)
2. (19-21) Joshua confronts Achan, and he confesses.
Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.”
a. My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him: Even when sin is committed and covered up, it is still possible to give glory to the Lord by openly and honestly confessing the sin. Hidden sin always has a special power over the one who practices it.
i. Confession of sin is an important way that people may give glory to God. Often, we would rather glorify God in any other way, but Joshua’s words still stand. He called on Achan to make an open confession of his sin and in so doing to give glory to the Lord God of Israel.
ii. This is not the only place in the Scriptures where the idea of giving glory to God and confessing sin are linked together. 1 Samuel 6:5, Malachi 2:2, and John 9:24 carry the same idea.
iii. The confession of sin brings glory to God in several ways.
·Confession of sin recognizes God’s omniscience.
·Confession of sin recognizes God’s righteousness.
·Confession of sin recognizes God’s authority.
·Confession of sin recognizes God’s judgments.
·Confession of sin demonstrates a desire to be in a right relationship and fellowship with God.
iv. “Confession of sins is a neglected doctrine. It only comes into its rightful place in times of revival, when the Holy Spirit comes in doubly-convicting power and makes it impossible for the erring believer to have any peace of mind until the wrong is confessed whenever necessary.” (J. Edwin Orr)
b. A beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels: This was enough to make Achan and his family rich, yet measured against the lives of the thirty-six men who died at Ai and the welfare of the entire nation, what Achan gained was insignificant. Truly, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
i. A beautiful Babylonian garment: “It is very probable that this was the robe of the king of Jericho, for the same word is used, Jonah 3:6, to express the royal robe, of the king of Nineveh, which he laid aside in order to humble himself before God.” (Clarke)
c. I coveted them and took them: Achan’s honesty was welcome. There were many excuses he could have made, but he honestly revealed his covetousness and his theft. Achan’s guilt was plainly seen because he carefully hid the stolen articles to begin with.
i. “This verse gives us a notable instance of the progress of sin. It 1. enters by the eye; 2. sinks into the heart; 3. actuates the hand; and, 4. leads to secrecy and dissimulation. I saw, etc. I coveted, etc. I took and hid them in the earth.” (Clarke)
ii. “The same three verbs ‘I saw,’ ‘I coveted,’ ‘I took’ are found in the story of the Fall (Genesis 3:6).” (Madvig)
iii. Achan could have rationalized his sin in many ways.
·“No one will know.”
·“These things won’t be missed.”
·“Think of how I’ll be admired in this beautiful Babylonian garment.”
·“The people I am taking this from are bad people, deserving of judgment.”
·“I’m not hurting anyone.”
·“I deserve this.”
None of these excuses or rationalizations justify what Achan did. Believers must avoid making excuses for their sin and should confess as honestly as Achan did. Maclaren noted this about Achan’s covetousness: “Did anybody ever hear of church discipline being exercised on men who committed Achan’s sin? He was stoned to death, but we set our Achans in high places in the Church.”
iv. There is a sense in which Achan was honest, but too late with his honesty. “His silence during the long process of casting lots is evidence of the hardness of his heart. As the selection came closer and closer to him—first his tribe, then his clan, then his family—he obviously hoped to avoid detection. His confession is not indicative of repentance because he would not have confessed if he had not been caught.” (Madvig)
v. “The confession he made was complete, but it was worthless. The reason of its worthlessness lay in the fact that it was never made until there was no escape.” (Morgan)
2. (22-26) The confession confirmed, and judgment executed.
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it. And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the Lord. Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.
Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So 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.
a. His sons, his daughters: Achan’s sons and daughters had specific knowledge of the sin because it is unlikely that he could bury so much under their tent without their knowledge. At the same time, they were not necessarily stoned with Achan. Instead of being killed with their father, Achan’s children were probably brought forward to witness the judgment against their father.
i. There is notable usage of the singular in Joshua 7:25 and 7:26 (you…. you…. him…. him), in reference to a person being stoned. The use of the plural in Joshua 7:24 and 7:25 (them…. them… them) probably has reference to Achan’s possessions, not his children.
ii. “With great deference to the judgment of others, I ask, Can it be fairly proved from the text that the sons and daughters of Achan were stoned to death and burnt as well as their father? The text certainly leaves it doubtful, but seems rather to intimate that Achan alone was stoned, and that his substance was burnt with fire.” (Clarke)
iii. And laid them out before the Lord: “The return of the goods and their display before the Lord.… symbolizes the return by Israel of these items to God’s possession. The act called upon God to bear witness that Israel held back nothing that belonged to him.” (Hess)
iv. “Because he had violated God’s command concerning the booty from Jericho, Achan found himself in the position of the inhabitants of Jericho: he himself was devoted to destruction. He in effect had become a Canaanite by his actions.” (Howard)
b. The name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day: The Israelites aptly named this place Valley of Trouble (or, disaster, as it is in the NIV). It was trouble for Israel, because of the defeat at Ai and what it could mean for the continued conquest of Canaan. It was trouble for Achan and his family because they were severely judged for their sin.
i. Adam Clarke gave an appropriate warning: “Reader, is the face of God turned against thee, because of some private transgression? Are not thy circumstances and family suffering in consequence of something in thy private life? O search and try thy ways, return to God, and humble thyself before him, lest thy iniquity instantly find thee out!”
c. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger: Even sin as great as Achan’s can be forgiven, and the occasion can contribute to future victory and success. Having dealt with Achan’s sin, Israel was once again in a position to walk in the power, protection, and guidance of God.
i. This kind of victory came only after a death. The believer today must die to such besetting sins and know that those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). The power and victory of Jesus’ resurrection are active for believers as they crucify their flesh with Him every day.