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Go to Bible: Joshua 7
“But...” The main theme of this chapter is the covetous sin of Achan, which affected all Israel. Israel was to be individually and corporately set apart, holy, to Yahweh. The one person’s sin affected the whole camp. The severity of the judgment upon Achan and his family may seem shocking to modern ears, but it must be remembered that the sin of Achan and his family (because they all knew about it) caused the death of 36 people! Most modern legal systems do not, in practice, acknowledge that the only thing as valuable as a life is another life, and that is the logic of God’s law. Achan’s sin involved a disobedience and covetousness which claimed a right to ownership of the spoils, and therefore the land, apart from God. But the land and what is on it belongs to Yahweh, and He gives it to His people, who are separate from the world. If Israel was to become like the Canaanites, they would, like the Canaanites, be destroyed.
“the children of Israel were unfaithful.” The family of Achan was unfaithful, but from God’s perspective, the nation as a whole was unfaithful. There is a community aspect to life, and in the Middle East people were not so much thought of as an individual as they were as part of a community. Often we see the king of Israel represent the whole nation.
“unfaithful, yes, unfaithful.” The figure of speech polyptoton for emphasis (cp. Gen. 2:16).
“the son of Zerah.” Judah and Tamar had more than one son. The Christ line came from Perez, but this is a line of Judah that did not lead to Christ (cp. Gen. 46:12; 1 Chron. 2:4).
“the anger of Yahweh burned.” The Hebrew is idiomatic: “the nose of Yahweh burned.” When we are angry our nose gets red and hot.(top)
“Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai.” Joshua and the Israelites were camped at Gilgal, near Jericho (Josh. 5:10). They would not have camped in the ruined city of Jericho because it was cursed (Josh. 6:26) and because having just been burned with fire it would not have been habitable. But the large and strongly fortified city of Jericho controlled the whole area, so it is called “Jericho” here, especially since Gilgal was not a city, it was simply the place where Israel was camped.
“east of Bethel.” Bethel was an eventual target, and no doubt highly desired because of its association with Abraham and Jacob (e.g. Gen. 12:8).
“Go up.” This is literal. In making the simple statement that “Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai,” we must understand that Jericho was about 900 feet (c. 275 meters) below sea level while Ai was about 2,500 feet (c. 750 meters) above it, so the men made an uphill march of some 3,500 feet (c. 1000 meters).
“and spy out the land.” Compare this to Numbers 13:17, when Moses told men to go and spy out the land. In that case, the men came back and said that the people of the land were too many and too strong to conquer. This time the spies come back and say that not all the men of Israel are required to conquer Ai, and they would not have been except for Achan’s sin.
“the land.” In this context, the city and the area around it.(top)
“Do not make all the people toil up there.” The uphill hike from Gilgal to Ai was over 3,000 feet uphill.(top)
|Jos 7:4||- (top)|
“Shebarim.” Shebarim means “broken.” It may be a place in the valley where the rocks or banks are broken, but it fits here because Israel was symbolically “broken.”
“the hearts of the people melted.” This was supposed to happen to the Canaanites, but here it happens to Israel (cp. Josh. 2:11; 5:1).(top)
“fell to the earth on his face before the ark of Yahweh.” After the miraculous conquest of Jericho, the fact that the Israelite army was defeated by the men of Ai showed that God’s favor was no longer on Israel, but why? That is what Joshua needed to find out.(top)
“across, yes, across.” This is the figure of speech polyptoton for emphasis (see commentary on Gen. 2:16).
“this people.” This seems to be poor English grammar (we would say “these people”) but the Hebrew is singular, “this,” here again pointing out that God considered Israel to be a single people, not a collection of independent persons.
“into the hand of the Amorites.” Joshua knew that the people in the hill country of Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim were Amorites. He had acute political awareness.
“to destroy us?” Here Joshua is very honest and frank in his prayer, as we should be.(top)
“turned their backs.” The Hebrew word translated “back” is the back of the neck, and it is the word used when Israel is called “stiff-necked” people.(top)
“all the inhabitants of the land...will surround us.” Joshua understood that the inhabitants of the land would form a coalition to defend themselves, which they did. Joshua was no doubt hoping to come against the people city-kingdom to city-kingdom, but that made no difference to God.
“And what will you do for your great name?” Here, Joshua is interceding like Moses (cp. Exod. 32:11-14, 32-35; Num. 14:13-19). Joshua understood the fact that when Yahweh chose Israel and made a covenant with them that He was binding Himself to Israel, and Joshua used that connection as leverage when he prayed. Joshua has a genuine concern for both Israel and Yahweh.(top)
“Get up.” Joshua had been very frank and honest with God in his prayer; now God is frank and honest with Joshua in His response.
“Why have you fallen on your face?” In the next verses God tells Joshua the reason for Israel’s defeat. Nevertheless, He asked Joshua the question because He had a reasonable expectation that Joshua was spiritually aware and mature enough to realize that since God had promised Israel success if they obeyed Him, if Israel was defeated then there must have been some failure on the part of Israel. At that point it was Joshua’s job as the leader of Israel to do the hard work of finding out where the failure was. As it turned out, God gave Joshua an idea of the problem, but Joshua still had to ferret out the whole truth and deal with it.
Too often people blame God for a bad situation when the problem is entirely a human failure.(top)
“and also they have...and also they have...and also they have.” This is the figure of speech anaphora (the same beginnings), and the force of the figure is to emphasize each individual point. Every part of Achan’s transgression was important to God.(top)
“devoted for destruction.” [For more on things “devoted” to Yahweh and devoted to destruction, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].(top)
“Make yourselves holy.” The people were to do what it took to make themselves holy in the sight of God (cp. Lev. 11:44). [For more on “make yourselves holy,” see commentary on Joshua 3:5].(top)
“you must draw near.” This is the terminology for drawing close to the Tent of Meeting, where the ark (and thus God) was.
“tribes...family...household...man.” Israel was in Egypt for four generations (Josh. 7:1, 18; Gen. 15:16), and descending from Jacob there were first tribes, then families, then households, then individuals.
“Yahweh captures by lot.” The High Priest would use the Urim and Thummim in his breastplate to “take” or “reject” the thing in question (cp. Exod. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8). The word “capture” (cp. Fox, The Schocken Bible) is a strong word in Hebrew. Israel was to “capture” Ai after “capturing” Jericho (Josh. 8:19; 10:1; 11:12-16), but they could not because Achan stole the devoted thing and made the camp of Israel devoted to destruction. So now the Israelites must “capture,” by use of the Urim and Thummim in the High Priest’s breastplate, the one who was causing the problem, and they “captured” Achan and his family.(top)
|Jos 7:15||- (top)|
“So Joshua rose up early.” Here again we see the theme in Joshua of Joshua obeying the words of Yahweh (cp. Josh. 7:14. See commentary on Josh. 4:16).(top)
|Jos 7:17||- (top)|
|Jos 7:18||- (top)|
“give glory to Yahweh.” In this context, giving glory to Yahweh was acknowledging that Yahweh directed the process in finding Achan, and then confessing his sin and telling what he had done without hiding anything. It was an idiomatic way of expressing an oath to tell the truth (cp. John 9:24).
“Do not hide it from me!” In many ways this parallels the record of Peter with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. Both Achan and Ananias and Sapphira were trying to hide the fact that they lied and kept things for themselves, in both cases the facts were not hidden from God (cp. Heb. 4:13), and in both cases it was early in the formation of the community. Here in Joshua 7, Israel had just crossed the Jordan and was forming a nation, and in Acts 5 the early Church was still forming as a believer community.(top)
|Jos 7:20||- (top)|
“bar of gold.” The Hebrew is literally, “tongue of gold.” When the gold was poured out, it usually came out in an oblong or “tongue” shape.(top)
“they ran to the tent.” There is an urgency to this event.(top)
“brought them to Joshua and...poured them out before Yahweh.” The articles were brought to Joshua, who took them before the ark of God so Yahweh could see them.
“poured them out.” This is the standard vocabulary for the pouring out of the drink offering. Here, the stolen articles were poured out on the ground as if they were a drink offering to Yahweh. The English is somewhat awkward, but the Hebrew text is trying to make a point that should not be lost in the English translation. Jericho had been an offering to Yahweh, it had been devoted, and this was part of the spoils of Jericho.(top)
“the valley of Achor.” The word Achor means “disaster” or “trouble,” and the valley was named “the Valley of Disaster” after the incident with Achan and because of it (cp. Josh. 7:25-26).(top)
“brought disaster.” Not only had 36 men died, but the hearts of the Canaanites, realizing the weakness in Israel, could well have been strengthened, and they could have attacked Israel in masse.
“Yahweh will bring disaster upon you...And all Israel stoned him.” This is one of the verses where Yahweh is said to act, but He does so through the actions of His people.
“All Israel stoned him with stones.” This may seem harsh, but about 36 men were dead because Achan and his family could not control their lust, and we must make no mistake, Achan’s whole family was in on the deception. Justice demanded the death penalty. The only thing as valuable as a human life is another human life, which is why God commanded the death penalty for murderers (Exod. 21:12-16). To demand less than the death penalty, though that is done regularly today, is to send the message that one life is more valuable than another; the murderer's life is more valuable than the life of the one he or she murders.
Achan knew that if he stole something devoted to destruction that he would be devoted to destruction too, because that is what the Law said (Deut. 7:26). Achan was a fool. He and his family took a chance that they could enrich themselves with things from Jericho, and it cost 36 innocent people, and then they themselves, their lives. [For more on things that are “devoted” to God, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].(top)
|Jos 7:26||- (top)|