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"But" very significantly introduces this chapter. Chapter 6 is a record of supernatural victory, but chapter 7 describes a great defeat.
Even though Achan was the individual who sinned, and even though his sin was private, God regarded what he did as the action of the whole nation. This was so because he was a member of the community of Israel and his actions affected the rest of the Israelites. The Hebrew word translated "unfaithfully" (maal) means "treacherously" or "secretly."
Achan had not just taken some things that did not belong to him. This would have been bad in itself. He stole what was dedicated to God, and he robbed the whole nation of its innocence before God. The Lord’s blazing anger against Israel fell on Achan and literally consumed him (Joshua 7:25; cf. Hebrews 12:29).
2. Defeat at Ai ch. 7
At Jericho, Israel learned God’s strength. At Ai, she learned her own weakness. She could only conquer her enemies as she remained faithful to God’s covenant.
"We are never in greater danger than right after we have won a great victory." [Note: Henry Jacobsen, Claiming God’s Promises: Joshua, p. 62.]
"The pinching of the [east-west] ridge route by Ai . . . makes it a natural first line of defense for the Hill Country around Bethel. Therefore, tactically speaking, the strategic importance of the region and routes around Bethel . . . and Bethel’s natural eastern approach from Jericho via Ai explain Joshua’s choice of this region and this site as his first objective in the Hill Country. This basic fact cannot be ignored in any discussion of the identification of the location of Ai.
"In the Bible the site of Ai (HaAi in Hebrew means the ruin or the heap of stones) is linked with Bethel. The most prominent ruin in the entire area east of the Bethel Plateau is called in Arabic et-Tell . . . at the junction of the two main natural routes from Jericho to the Hill Country. . . . The site of et-Tell has no equal in the region both in terms of strategic importance and in terms of surface debris indicating an ancient city.
"Excavations at et-Tell have revealed a large city from the Early Bronze Age [3150-2200 B.C.] in the millennium prior to Joshua’s conquest. A small village later than Joshua’s conquest (later than both the early and the late dates for the conquest) does not provide the answer to the question of the lack of remains at et-Tell. Therefore, although the setting of et-Tell fits perfectly the detailed geographical information in Joshua 8, 9, an archaeological problem exists due to the lack of remains from the period of Joshua at the site." [Note: Monson, pp. 168-69. For a review of excavations in search of Ai and the problem of the lack of archaeological evidence for Ai’s existence at et-Tell in Joshua’s day, see Ziony Zevit, "The Problem of Ai," Biblical Archaeology Review 11:2 (March-April 1985):58-69. See also Archer, "Old Testament . . .," p. 111.]
One scholar argued for et-Tell being the Ai of Abraham’s time, el-Maqatir being the Ai of Joshua’s time, and still another close site being the Ai of Nehemiah’s time (Ezra 2:28; Nehemiah 7:32). El-Maqatir is less than a mile west of et-Tell. [Note: Peter Briggs, "Testing the Factuality of the Conquest of Ai Narrative in the Book of Joshua," a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Colorado Springs, Colo., Nov. 15, 2001.]
The spies who reconnoitered Ai based their advice on the numbers of these Canaanites and the Israelites.
"East of Ai . . . one route descends due east to the pass across Wadi Makkuk. This pass affords the last crossing before the wadi deepens into a major canyon and obstacle. From there on, the unified stream bed of the wadi cuts a twisted path through the uplifted limestone resulting in rocky scarps of up to 200 meters or 660 feet before continuing east through the rough chalk wilderness. The difference between this rugged region and the pass just west of it is very dramatic. It may reflect what the Biblical writer states in Joshua 7:5 when he says that the defenders of the Hill Country pursued the Israelites as far as the broken/fractured area (shebarim), striking them down along the descent [from the pass]. (If this first attack came from the route southeast of Ai, the word shebarim may point to the same type of broken terrain, but the descent would refer to the steep slope off the eastern side of the uplifted limestone where this route to Jericho turns due east.)" [Note: Monson, p. 168.]
The spies in Numbers 13, 14 lacked faith in God because they did not believe that the Israelites were strong enough to defeat their enemies. They failed to reckon on God’s help. The spies in Joshua 7 lacked faith in God because they believed the Israelites were strong enough to defeat their enemies. They disregarded the need for God’s help. The fact that the people’s hearts melted (Joshua 7:5; cf. Joshua 2:11) hints that Israel may have been trusting in her own strength rather than in the Lord.
"It is strange indeed that the description which was originally used for the Canaanites about to be defeated now describes the heart of the Israelites . . ." [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, p. 54.]
Even Joshua had lost the divine perspective temporarily. His complaining lament sounds like Israel’s murmuring in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 16:3; Numbers 14:2-3; et al.). However, he also had a concern for the continuing honor of Yahweh (Joshua 7:9; cf. Exodus 32:11-12; Numbers 14:13; Deuteronomy 9:28). As Moses, Joshua desired above everything that God would receive glory. Unfortunately he did not yet possess the stability and objectivity that characterized Moses’ later years because he had not yet walked with God as closely or as long as Moses had.
"Joshua had fallen on his face once before, when he confronted the divine messenger (Joshua 5:14). That was in the humility of worship. This is in the humility of defeat and shame." [Note: Butler, p. 84.]
God reminded Joshua that he should not look for the reason for Israel’s defeat in God but in Israel.
"The first three clauses [in Joshua 7:11] describe the sin in its relation to God, as a grievous offense; the three following according to its true character, as a great, obstinate, and reckless crime." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 79.]
Israel resorted to the casting of lots when no eyewitness could testify against a criminal (cf. 1 Samuel 14:41-42; Jonah 1:7; Proverbs 18:18). Probably the high priest used the Urim and Thummim to identify Achan (cf. Numbers 27:21).
The burning of a criminal after his stoning was one way of emphasizing the wickedness of his crime (Leviticus 20:14; cf. Deuteronomy 13:15-16). It was a "disgraceful thing" (Joshua 7:15) to steal something under the ban (devoted to God).
Even though Achan’s sin carried a punishment that he could not decrease or postpone, Achan could at least reduce his guilt by confessing his sin. This he did in response to Joshua’s paternal entreaty (Joshua 7:19). Confessing one’s sin is one way to glorify God.
Achan’s confession clearly revealed the process involved in yielding to temptation (Joshua 7:21). He allowed the sight of something attractive to grow into covetousness. Then he took the step from covert mental sin to overt physical sin. Finally he sought to cover his action rather than confessing it. The same progression appears in the story of the Fall and in the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba (Genesis 3:6-7; Genesis 3:10; 2 Samuel 11:2-4; 2 Samuel 11:8). One shekel weighed about four ounces. Josephus wrote that the mantle from Shinar that Achan took was "a royal garment woven entirely of gold." [Note: Josephus, 5:1:10.]
The Israelites punished Achan’s children with him (Joshua 7:24), evidently because they had participated in his sin (cf. Proverbs 15:27). [Note: Woudstra, p. 130.] It would have been difficult for Achan to hide the amount of spoil he took under his tent without his family’s knowledge. The people also destroyed all of Achan’s possessions (cf. Deuteronomy 13:16-17). Achan’s sin was high-handed defiance against God (cf. Numbers 15:30; Numbers 15:35).
The heap of stones the people raised over Achan, his family, and his possessions (Joshua 7:26) memorialized this act of rebellion for the Israelites and their children (cf. Joshua 8:29; 2 Samuel 18:17). They named the valley in which the execution took place "Achor" (lit. troubling or disaster) as a further reminder (cf. Hosea 2:15; Isaiah 65:10). Note the wordplay with Achan’s name.
"Whilst they [the Israelites] learned from his mercies how greatly he was to be loved, they needed also to learn from his judgments how greatly he was to be feared." [Note: Bush, p. 85.]
Israel’s defeat at Ai graphically illustrates the far-reaching influence 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.
Achan and his family were to Israel at this time what Ananias and Sapphira were to the early church (Acts 5). They were a strong warning of the consequences of sin among God’s people. Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10), and Korah and his cohorts (Numbers 16), were similar examples. The fact that God does not judge sin today as He did on these occasions does not mean He feels any less strongly about it. He mercifully withholds judgment in most instances. Nevertheless sin still produces the same destruction and death.
"God’s first revenges are so much more fearful, because they must be exemplary." [Note: J. Hall, Contemplations on the Old and New Testaments, p. 99.]
God’s punishment on Achan was not unfair. It is only by God’s mercy that any sinner lives to old age. God can judge any sinner at any time in his or her life and be perfectly just. No sinner has any claim on God’s grace. God is no man’s debtor.
"As we read in ch. vii the story of Israel’s first fight and first failure, we shall see that there were in the main, two causes of defeat: self-confidence, and covetousness; and these are still prime causes of failure in a Christian life." [Note: W. Graham Scroggie, The Land and Life of Rest, p. 38.]
Chapters 1-7 form a unit of text: the Jericho siege narrative. Rahab and Achan open and close this section respectively forming its "bookends." Rahab was a female Canaanite prostitute; Achan was an Israelite man. Rahab hid the spies under her roof; Achan hid stolen loot under his tent. Rahab, her house, and her family were saved; Achan, his tent, and his family were destroyed. The writer was teaching theology by the way he constructed his narrative. [Note: J. Daniel Hays, "An Evangelical Approach to Old Testament Narrative Criticism," Bibliotheca Sacra 166:661 (January-March 2009):12.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany