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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Joshua 7

Joshua 7:0

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASBNKJVNRSVTEVNJB
Israel Defeated at AiDefeat At AiDefeat At AiAchan's SinViolation of the Curse of Destruction
Joshua 7:1Joshua 7:1Joshua 7:1Joshua 7:1Joshua 7:1
The Sacrilege Punished by a Repulse at Ai
Joshua 7:2-5Joshua 7:2-5Joshua 7:2-5Joshua 7:2-5Joshua 7:2-3
7-4-5
Achan's SinJoshua's Prayer
Joshua 7:6-9Joshua 7:6-9Joshua 7:6-9Joshua 7:6-9Joshua 7:6-9
The Sin of AchanThe Sin of AchanYahweh's Answer
Joshua 7:10-15Joshua 7:10-15Joshua 7:10-15Joshua 7:10-15Joshua 7:10-12
Joshua 7:13-15
The Culprit Discovered and Punished
Joshua 7:16-21Joshua 7:16-21Joshua 7:16-21Joshua 7:16-19Joshua 7:16-18
Joshua 7:19-21
Joshua 7:20-21
Joshua 7:22-26Joshua 7:22-26Joshua 7:22-26Joshua 7:22-26aJoshua 7:22-23
Joshua 7:24
Joshua 7:25
Joshua 7:26bJoshua 7:26

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Historical narratives usually do not specifically state the theological purpose for their inclusion. See Introduction.

B. There is an obvious contrast between Rahab and Achan. The actions of both affected their whole families (Hebrew corporality). YHWH is no respecter of persons. If a Canaanite prostitute repents and believes, she is included in Israel. If one, even from the royal tribe, is disobedient to the clearly expressed will of God, he and his family are eliminated.

C. This chapter clearly shows the Hebrew concept of corporality (one affects many).

1. Adam and Eve's sin affects all humanity (Genesis 3:0).

2. Sacrifice of innocent animals affects humans (Leviticus 1-7).

3. Korah and Reuben's sin affects their whole family (Numbers 16:0).

4. Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29; Mark 10:45), affects the redemption of fallen mankind (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Verse 1

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 7:1 1But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the LORD burned against the sons of Israel.

Joshua 7:1 “the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully” The VERB “acted unfaithfully” (BDB 591, KB 612, Qal IMPERFECT) means “to act under cover” or “trust-breaking.” Although this was only done by one soldier it was seen as an unfaithful act on behalf of all the people. This illustrates the Hebrew concept of corporality. As Adam sinned, all mankind sinned; as one animal dies, humans are forgiven; as Jesus gave Himself to die, all mankind is potentially saved (cf. Isaiah 53:0; Romans 5:17-19). The one affects the whole, either negatively or positively!

In the Hebrew text the NOUN form of the VERB “acted unfaithfully” is repeated, which intensifies the scandal of the act of rebellion.

“under the ban” This is the term herem (BDB 356 ). It meant “something dedicated to God” and, therefore, it became too holy for human use.

“the anger of the LORD burned against the sons of Israel” The Bible that speaks of the tremendous love of God is the same Bible that speaks of the burning (BDB 354, KB 351, Qal IMPERFECT, e.g., Exodus 4:14; Exodus 22:24; Exodus 32:10; Numbers 11:1, Numbers 11:10; Numbers 12:9; Numbers 22:22; Deuteronomy 6:15; Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 29:27; Deuteronomy 31:17) anger of God. They are both anthropomorphic phrases (from Greek terms “man” and “form”, see Special Topic: God Described As Human [anthropomorphism]). However, they both speak of the true nature of a personal, holy God.

Verses 2-5

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 7:2-5 2Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3They returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few.” 4So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. 5The men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

Joshua 7:2 “Ai” This seems to be a name to describe “a heap” or “ruin” (BDB 743). It always has the DEFINITE ARTICLE in Hebrew, which implies a previous destruction (possibly a former large fortress). Archeology is not sure whether Ai was settled during the time of Joshua's conquest. However, (1) we are not sure of the date of the conquest and (2) archeology is a rather imprecise science and we cannot base interpretation solely on inconclusive evidence. Because of the use of the terms “Beth-aven” (BDB 110) and “Bethel” (BDB 110) in this verse, many have assumed that Ai is somehow connected with the city of Bethel for the following reasons:

1. the term “Beth-aven” is often used of Bethel in the Bible (cf. 1 Samuel 13:5; Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5; Amos 5:5)

2. the two sites are linked in this account (cf. Joshua 8:9, Joshua 8:17)

3. although Bethel's king is listed with the defeated kings in Joshua 12:16, the destruction and capture of Bethel is never mentioned

4. there seems to be some confusion in chapters 7-8 of Joshua sending two different groups of men for an ambush; one possible explanation for this is that they ambushed both Bethel and Ai at the same time.

The exact relationship between Bethel and Ai is uncertain. Some have said that it was a military camp or some type of outpost but we are simply not certain.

There are several commands given in Joshua 7:2-3:

1. “go up,” Joshua 7:2, BDB 748, KB 828, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. “spy out,” Joshua 7:2, BDB 92, KB 1183, Piel IMPERATIVE

3. “go up,” Joshua 7:3, Qal JUSSIVE (negated)

4. “go up,” Joshua 7:3, Qal IMPERFECT, but in a JUSSIVE sense

5. “attack” (not in NASB), Joshua 7:3, BDB 645, KB 697, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

6. “toil,” Joshua 7:3, BDB 388, KB 386, Piel IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

There are many “doublets” in OT narrative literature. The literary purpose of these is unknown to modern interpreters. We must be careful not to project current literary models onto ancient Near Eastern texts.

“Beth-aven, east of Bethel” The term “Beth-aven” means “house of vanity” (cf. Joshua 18:12; 1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 14:23). The term “vanity” was used in the sense of “nothingness” and was often used to describe idolatry. The term “Bethel” means “house of God” because it had holy and sacred associations with the life of Jacob in Genesis 28:0. Hosea seems to put the two names together (cf. Joshua 4:15; Joshua 5:8; Joshua 10:5).

Joshua 7:3 “Do not let all the people go up. . .toil up there” The ADVERB “toil up” (BDB 1027) has very distinct topological associations. It is interesting in these two chapters how much eyewitness evidence from geography and topology is apparent in the account. From the place of encampment at Gilgal the land rose 3,400 feet in the space of sixteen miles to this small city of Ai.

“two or three thousand” The Hebrew term “thousand” can mean (1) a literal thousand (cf. Genesis 20:16; Exodus 32:28); (2) a family unit (cf. Joshua 22:14; Judges 6:15; 1 Samuel 23:23; Zechariah 9:7); or (3) a military unit (cf. Exodus 18:21, Exodus 18:25; Deuteronomy 1:15; compare 2 Samuel 10:18 and 1 Chronicles 19:18). See Special Topic: Thousand (eleph).

“they are few” We learn from Joshua 8:25 that the total population of Ai was under 12,000. This makes Israel's defeat all the more poignant.

Joshua 7:5 “the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them” At this point Joshua does not know that his first attempt to take even a small village after the victory at Jericho was met with defeat and failure.

Notice the VERBS used to describe Israel's defeat.

1. “struck down,” BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil IMPERFECT

2. “pursued,” BDB 922, KB 1191, Qal IMPERFECT

3. “struck down,” repeated

4. “the hearts of the people melted,” BDB 587, KB 606, Niphal IMPERFECT

5. “became as water,” BDB 224, KB 243, Qal IMPERFECT

The absence of YHWH's blessing makes all the difference in effect and attitude!

“Shebarim” This is a proper name in both the English and Latin translations. However, in Greek it means “to break,” while in Hebrew it seems to imply “a stone quarry” (BDB 991, cf. New Berkeley Version) or ravine. The exact location of it is uncertain, but this is another eyewitness account.

One wonders if the form of Achan's death (stoning) is a play on Israel being chased to the stone quarry.

“so the hearts of the people melted” This is the same metaphor used to describe the fear of the Canaanites (cf. Joshua 2:11; Joshua 5:1). Now, because of sin, it is experienced by God's own people.

and became as water” It is possible that this is related to the idiom of Ezekiel 7:17; Ezekiel 21:7, where it may refer to urinating on oneself in fear (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 756).

Verses 6-9

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 7:6-9 6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7Joshua said, “Alas, O LORD God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8O LORD, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? 9For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

Joshua 7:6 “Then Joshua tore his clothes” In this text there are three typical signs of Hebrew mourning: (1) the tearing of the neckpiece of a person's clothing (cf. Genesis 37:29, Genesis 37:34; Genesis 44:13; Job 1:20; Job 2:12); (2) the putting on of dust on one's head (cf. Job 2:12; Lamentations 2:10; Ezekiel 27:30); similar signs of mourning can be seen in the face of death in 1 Samuel 4:12; and 2 Samuel 1:2; and (3) prostration before God (cf. Joshua 7:10). See Special Topic: Grieving Rites.

Joshua 7:7-8 “and Joshua said” These verses reveal Joshua's doubts. Some of these phrases imply (1) dramatic unbelief in the purpose and power of the covenant of God or (2) language he had heard Moses use in prayer during the wilderness wandering period.

NASB“O LORD God” NKJV, NRSV“Lord God” TEV“Sovereign LORD” NJB“Lord Yahweh”

Joshua 7:7 “O Lord God” This is Adon and YHWH. See Special Topic: Names for Deity.

“why did You ever bring” There is an intensity in this phrase by the use of a Hiphil PERFECT and Hiphil INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE of the same VERB (BDB 716, KB 778).

Joshua 7:9 “cut off our name from the earth” This is a Hebraic idiom of the death of all of a family line. No descendant remained alive!

“and what will You do for Your great name” This is the same approach that Moses took in praying to God. God's character (as well as His plan for redemption) was involved in what happened to the people of Israel (cf. Joshua 5:9; Exodus 32:12; Deuteronomy 9:28; Ezekiel 36:22-38).

Verses 10-15

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 7:10-15 10 So the LORD said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? 11Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things. 12Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst. 13Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the LORD, the God of Israel, has said, There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst. 14In the morning then you shall come near by your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes by lot shall come near by families, and the family which the LORD takes shall come near by households, and the household which the LORD takes shall come near man by man. 15It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.'“

Joshua 7:10 “so the LORD said to Joshua, 'Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face'“ This is very similar to God's words to Moses (cf. Exodus 14:15-16) when he was confronted with the Egyptian army. There is a time to pray, but there is also a time to act (“rise up,” BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERATIVE). Joshua had been told what to do and now he should act on it. At this point it is uncertain whether Joshua knew that sin was the problem.

Joshua 7:11 “Israel has sinned” God revealed to Joshua that both theft and deceit had caused the whole nation to suffer. This is a balance between the Old Testament emphasis on individual responsibility (cf. Ezekiel 18:32; Deuteronomy 24:16) and corporate responsibility (cf. Numbers 25:0 and Deuteronomy 5:9).

Notice all the VERBS used to describe Israel's sin.

1. “sinned,” Joshua 7:11, BDB 306, KB 305, Qal PERFECT

2. “transgressed,” Joshua 7:11, BDB 716, KB 778, Qal PERFECT

3. “taken some of the things,” Joshua 7:11, BDB 542, KB 534, Qal PERFECT

4. “stolen,” Joshua 7:11, BDB 170, KB 198, Qal PERFECT

5. “deceived,” Joshua 7:11, BDB 471, KB 469, Piel PERFECT

The results of this intentional rebellion against the clearly stated will of YHWH.

1. “can not stand,” Joshua 7:12, BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (negated)

2. “turn their backs before their enemies,”Joshua 7:12; Joshua 7:12, BDB 815, KB 937, intensified by the use of the Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE and a QAL IMPERFECT of the same VERB

3. “become accursed,” Joshua 7:12, BDB 224, KB 243, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

4. “I will not be with you anymore,” Joshua 7:12, BDB 414, KB 418, Hiphil IMPERFECT and BDB 224, KB 243, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

Joshua 7:13 What must Israel do?

1. “rise up” (i.e., act), BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. “consecrate the people,” BDB 872, KB 1073, Piel IMPERATIVE

3. “consecrate yourselves,” BDB 872, KB 1073, Hithpael IMPERATIVE, cf. Genesis 35:2; Exodus 19:10, Exodus 19:14; 1 Samuel 16:5

4. “remove the things under the ban from your midst,” BDB 693, KB 747, Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

Notice there was a procedure by which Israel could be restored. YHWH provided a way back!

Joshua 7:14 “which the LORD takes by lot The phrase “by lot” is not found in the Hebrew text, but it implies the use of the Urim and Thummin (cf. Numbers 27:21). This method of knowing God's will is also found in 1 Samuel 10:20 and will be the means by which the Promised Land will be divided among the tribes (cf. Joshua 18:6, Joshua 18:11; Joshua 19:1).

Joshua 7:15 “shall be burned with fire, and all that belongs to him” Notice that there are two methods of judgment in this account of Achan. First of all he will be stoned and then all that he has will be burned (cf. Joshua 7:25). Achan's family and animals were destroyed with him. This is another example of Hebrew corporality.

NASB“a disgraceful thing” NRSV“an outrageous thing” TEV“brought terrible shame” NJB“an infamy”

This term (BDB 615) is used of several actions.

A. related to sexual promiscuity

1. Shechem's violation of Jacob's daughter, Dinah, Genesis 34:7

2. extra-marital affairs, Deuteronomy 22:21

3. the rape of the Levite's concubine, Judges 19:23; Judges 20:6

4. Ammon's rape of his half sister Tamar, 2 Samuel 13:12

5. Israel's adultery, Jeremiah 29:23

B. related to people's foolish actions and speech

1. Nabal's folly in rejecting David's request for help, 1 Samuel 25:25

2. those who speak foolishly, Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 32:6

C. Achan's violation of YHWH's words, Joshua 7:15

Verses 16-21

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 7:16-21 16So Joshua arose early in the morning and brought Israel near by tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17He brought the family of Judah near, and he took the family of the Zerahites; and he brought the family of the Zerahites near man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18He brought his household near man by man; and Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” 20So Achan answered Joshua and said, “Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.”

Joshua 7:19 “My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him” It is interesting that Achan did not voluntarily confess his sin until it was obviously pointed out by God (lot) that he was the one in the wrong. This was a Hebrew idiom of telling the truth. The rabbis say that because of the phrase in Joshua 7:25, “the LORD will trouble you this day,” Achan did not lose his eternity with God, but was condemned to death for his acts.

Notice the commands in Joshua's confrontation with Achan.

1. “I implore you, give glory to the LORD” (this idiom has only one IMPERATIVE), BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal IMPERATIVE (idiom for prayer)

2. “give praise to Him,” BDB 678, KB 733, Qal IMPERATIVE

3. “tell me now,” BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

4. “do not hide it from me,” BDB 470, KB 469, Piel IMPERATIVE used as a JUSSIVE

Joshua 7:21 Achan took several things out of Jericho (he was militarily involved in the attack) which had been totally dedicated to God: (1) a beautiful, multi-patterned or colored Babylonian garment (BDB 12); (2) 200 shekels of silver (BDB 494); and (3) a bar of gold (BDB 262).

In the ancient world wealth was accumulated by (1) expensive clothing; (2) weights of precious metal; and (3) food stuffs.

“shekel” See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN WEIGHTS AND VOLUMES (METROLOGY)

“I. . .” Achan's sin developed.

1. “saw,” BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal IMPERFECT

2. “coveted,” BDB 326, KB 325, Qal IMPERFECT

3. “took,” BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERFECT

4. “concealed,” BDB 380, KB 377, Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLE

Verses 22-26

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 7:22-26 22So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was concealed in his tent with the silver underneath it. 23They took them from inside the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the sons of Israel, and they poured them out before the LORD. 24Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor. 25Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. 26They raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day, and 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.

Joshua 7:22 “it was concealed in his tent” It is possible, because he hid it among his family's possessions, that both his wife and children knew of his theft. They did not tell anyone. They will be killed also!

Joshua 7:23

NASB“poured them out before the LORD” NKJV, TEV, NJB“laid them out before the LORD” NRSV“spread them out before the LORD”

This is literally the term “poured,” but it can mean “cast” or “to set before” (BDB 427, KB 428, Hiphil IMPERFECT).

Joshua 7:25 “and all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones . . . And they raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day” Basically there are two Hebrew words for “stone.” The first (BDB 920, KB 1187, Qal IMPERFECT) is used in the beginning of Joshua 7:25 and refers to the use of stones for capital punishment. The second term (BDB 6) is used at the end of Joshua 7:25 and means to raise a pile of stones over a dead person and his possessions as a memorial of the crime and its judgment. Obviously Achan was killed, and then he and his possessions were burned (because they were under the ban), and on top of them a great heap of stones was raised.

“burned them with fire” The VERB (BDB 976, KB 1358, Qal IMPERFECT) was used of destroying the golden calf of Exodus 32:20 (cf. Deuteronomy 9:21). It could be used

1. positively (ashes of the Red Heifer), Numbers 19:5 and means of sacrifice, Leviticus 23:25

2. negatively (Asherim), Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3

For “fire,” see Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE

“great heap of stones” This is a burial site (BDB 164 CONSTRUCT 6, cf. Joshua 8:29; 2 Samuel 18:17).

Joshua 7:26 “called the Valley of Achor” This means “the valley of trouble” (BDB 770 CONSTRUCT 747) and refers to the fact that one man's sin brought failure, reproach, and condemnation to the entire nation. However, this same valley is mentioned in Isaiah 65:10 and Hosea 2:15 as a source of hope.

to this day” This is the mark of an editor; the time-frame of the phrase is uncertain (cf. Joshua 6:25; Joshua 8:28, Joshua 8:29; Joshua 9:27; Joshua 13:13; Joshua 14:14; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10; Joshua 22:3, Joshua 22:17; Joshua 23:8, Joshua 23:9). See note at Joshua 15:63.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did the sin of one man affect the whole nation?

2. How are Bethel and Ai related?

3. List the mourning rites of the Hebrew people.

4. How do verses Joshua 7:7 and 9 show that Joshua is simply a mere human being who also has doubts and sins?

5. What does “herem” or “under the ban” mean?

6. Was Achan stoned, burned, or what (cf. Joshua 7:25-26)?

7. What exactly did Achan take from the city of Jericho?

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Joshua 7". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/joshua-7.html. 2021.