For those who don’t know the story, God told the Israelites not to take the spoils from Jericho after they conquered the city. Achan, however, disobeyed and took some expensive items and hid them. Like my mom taught me, however, “you may cover your sin, that no one might know. You cannot hide it from God”.
In their next battle, the Israelites fought the town of Ai. They lost the battle and 36 men because God did not fight with them. When Joshua cries out to him, he informs Joshua that Israel had sinned and he wasn’t going to help them until they got rid of the sinner. They discovered Achan and killed him and his children, then burned the bodies along with all their possessions.
- Achan sinned and God was angry and punished the whole Israelite community. He refused to fight with them and they lost their battle. (7: 1 – 5)
- When Joshua cried out to God, God seemed angry with him. He spoke as if Joshua was doing something unnecessary. He basically said “O course I’m angry with you. Israel has sinned.” (7: 6 – 11)
- God said “Israel has sinned”. He didn’t say that Achan had sinned. He counted Achan’s sin as the sin of the whole Israelite community (even though they knew nothing about it) and refused to fight with them until they got rid of the person responsible for the crime. (7: 10 – 13)
- When Achan was discovered, the community took he and his children, livestock and posessions and stoned them to death. Then they burned them. (7: 24 -26)
- Joshua’s justification for the severity of the punishment was that the crime was a very severe one. (7:15)
Evaluating the Incident
I have two issues with this passage:
1. One man’s sin is counted as the sin of ‘Israel’. The notion of collective guilt has never made much sense to me. In my mind, there is no such thing as ‘Israel’. Nor does it make sense to say that ‘Israel’ sinned unless every single member of the community committed the offense. I’m having trouble making the jump from “Achan sinned” to “Israel sinned”.
2. A man’s children were killed along with him for his sin. This is different from God punishing the whole community for something that one person did. This is a group of people being singled out by their relationship to the perpetrator and stoned to death.
I’ve thought about that for a long time and sorted out a few facts.
A. These people are not being accused of the crime, nor are they being punished for it (in the sense that no one accuses them of being guilty of it). Rather, they are being killed to punish their father. It should warn other people about disobeying God and consequently causing the death of their fellow Israelites.
B. Achan’s sin was against God and caused the death of thirty six Israelites. It was intentional rebellion. He knew what he was doing. It does deserve a harsh punishment.
C. The one thing I always run into when I get to issues about killing: God has the right to kill anybody. He is our creator. He can also delegate his power to take life to other humans (e.g. to the leaders in punishing guilty people and to the community at large in wars.)
As a result, I can’t say anything more about this story than that it offends my sensibilities and it is very harsh.
I feel the need to balance out my exegesis of this passage. I adore God’s care for his people and his strong desire to keep them away from sin. I understand why what Achan did was wrong. I see God’s holiness. Sometimes the intensity of his hatred for sin and love for us scares me. I know very well that I do not measure up to him. I am glad that by Christ’s blood I can stand before him. I look forward to the day that he completes our redemption.