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Israel's defeat at Ai
v. 1. But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing, the sin of one man being regarded as compromising all and making the entire host of Israel guilty in the sight of God; for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi (or Zimri, 1 Chronicles 2:6), the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing, appropriated some of the booty of the city, all of which had been declared devoted to the Lord, for his own use; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel, it was fanned to a blaze, like a flame which shoots up with destructive force. Achan's sin had robbed the entire people of that purity and holiness which it was supposed to have in the sight of God, just as the impurity of a single member in the body infects all the members.
v. 2. And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, northeast of Jericho and almost due north of Jerusalem, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. They were spies, entrusted with the task of obtaining the information necessary to send a successful expedition against the city. And the men went up and viewed Ai.
v. 3. And they returned to Joshua and said unto him, Let not all the people, the entire army, go up, but let about two or three thousand men, literally, "two thousand men or some three thousand men," go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labor thither; for they are but few. The city having but 12,000 inhabitants, Joshua 8:25, the number of able-bodied defenders probably did not exceed between two and three thousand, according to the estimate of the scouts.
v. 4. So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men; and they fled before the men of Ai. They not only were unable to accomplish their purpose, but they were even put to shameful flight.
v. 5. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men; for they chased them from before the gate, where the attack had been delivered, even unto Shebarim, stone quarries at some distance toward the south, and smote them in the going down, as they fled toward the valley of the Jordan; wherefore the hearts of the people melted and became as water, in utter discouragement and despondency.
v. 6. And Joshua rent his clothes, as a sign of the deepest distress and mourning, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, in a silent and yet eloquent appeal to the Lord, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads, another custom betokening the deepest mourning, 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; 2 Samuel 13:19.
v. 7. And Joshua said, in a mournful complaint, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, the heathen nation in this part of Canaan, to destroy us? For the defeat of the small army was a sign that the Lord had withdrawn His assistance. Would to God we had been content and dwelt on the other side Jordan! literally, "Had we but made up our minds to remain on the east aide of Jordan!" It was the bold language of a faith battling with the Lord, unable to understand the ways of the Lord and including the most urgent appeal to the Lord to continue as the Ally of Israel. To this complaint is added an anxious question.
v. 8. O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies in shameful flight?
v. 9. For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, completely surrounding them, and cut off our name from the earth, destroy them so completely that even their memory would be forgotten; and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name? Joshua implies that the Lord had not had the due consideration of His honor in mind in permitting this misfortune to strike Israel, that it would now be a difficult matter to secure His honor against misunderstanding and blasphemy. Note: If any Christian congregation suffers a transgressor to remain in its midst, then all the members are guilty before the Lord.
Achan Found Guilty and Punished
v. 10. And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? This direct answer of Jehovah implied that Joshua had no reason to doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, but that the fault lay with the people.
v. 11. Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. It was Israel that had broken faith by setting aside the obligations of the covenant of Jehovah; for they have even taken of the accursed thing, thus far have they forgotten themselves, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, acting a lie before Jehovah, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Since the stolen goods were devoted to Jehovah by His express command, their being taken for private use was the height of blasphemous violence. The language of the Lord is very dramatic, laden with the most intense emotion.
v. 12. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed, lying under the ban of Jehovah, destined for destruction unless the cause were removed; neither will I be with you any more except ye destroy the accursed from among you, the person actually guilty, who had involved the entire people in his guilt.
v. 13. Up, sanctify the people and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, as in Joshua 3:5; for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing, something under Jehovah's ban, in the midst of thee, O Israel; thou canst not stand before thine enemies until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.
v. 14. In the morning, therefore, ye shall be brought, into the presence of Jehovah, before the Tabernacle, 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. So lots were to be cast, first upon the tribes, then upon the clans into which the guilty tribe was divided, then upon the houses of the fathers, the groups of families under one patriarchal ancestor, and finally upon the heads of the households included in the guilty house of the fathers.
v. 15. And it shall be that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, after having been stoned to death. Leviticus 20:14, he and all that he hath, because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord and because he hath wrought folly in Israel, moral foolishness and iniquity, resulting in trouble for the entire people.
v. 16. So Joshua rose up early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken, declared to be the guilty one by the falling of the lots, under the direction of Jehovah.
v. 17. And he brought the family of Judah, the various clans into which the tribe of Judah was divided; and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family, or clan, of the Zarhites man by man, the heads of the various houses of the fathers; and Zabdi was taken;
v. 18. and he brought his household man by man, all the heads of the individual families; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken, declared to be the guilty man by the testimony of the lots, whose falling or drawing was directed by Jehovah.
v. 19. And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, a very solemn formula of adjuration, and make confession unto Him; by admitting the truth Achan was to give praise to God, declaring His judgments to be righteous, also in the matter of his own punishment; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. Achan should confess his sin in order to clear the rest of the people and to receive forgiveness for himself, although he had outwardly fallen under the irrevocable sentence of God.
v. 20. And Achan answered Joshua and said, Indeed I have sinned. against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done:
v. 21. when I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, a very precious, skillfully woven mantle, such as were made in Babylon and sold far and wide in the neighboring countries, and two hundred shekels of silver (about $128), and a wedge of gold, a piece of jewelry in the form of a tongue, of fifty shekels' weight (worth about $480); 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. That is the progress of sin: seeing, coveting, taking, hiding, dissembling.
v. 22. So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran into the tent; and, behold, it, the stolen mantle, was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.
v. 23. And they took them out of the midst of the tent and brought them unto Joshua and unto all the children of Israel, as they were assembled before the Lord, and laid them out before the Lord, probably in the court of the Tabernacle.
v. 24. And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan, the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, the detailed enumeration serving to emphasize his guilt, and his sons, and his daughters, since they shared in their father's guilt by concealing his theft, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had, all his possessions coming under the curse; and they brought them unto the Valley of Achor.
v. 25. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us, brought misfortune upon us? The Lord shall trouble thee this day. Achan, as the chief transgressor, is addressed. And all Israel stoned him with stones, this form of punishment signifying that Achan had by his robbery violated the honor of God, in the same way as blasphemers did, and burned them, his sons and daughters with him, with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.
v. 26. And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day, commemorating his disgrace and serving as a warning for many years, until this account was embodied in the book. So the Lord, after the punishment of the guilty, turned from the fierceness of His anger, which includes the certainty that His assistance was assured for the future. Wherefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Achor (trouble) unto this day. The story of Achan contains an earnest lesson; for, although he was truly repentant, yet he had to suffer the penalty of his transgression. Thus a repentant sinner may be assured of the forgiveness of God and yet be obliged to suffer the punishment which was set upon his transgression. It is in this connection that a false sentimentalism is working more harm than good and making hypocrites out of many criminals who learn to play upon men's feelings.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Joshua 7". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany