Read the Passage: Joshua 7
Result of Sin (7:1–9)
The first verse in Joshua 7 gives an overview of the contents of the chapter. In sum, this chapter narrates the results of Israel taking the “accursed things” (Josh. 7:1) from Jericho in direct violation of Josh. 6:18. Josh. 7:1–5 gives the details, explaining that Israel presumptuously sent an armed force of less than 3,000 men to attack the city of Ai. This city, which was first mentioned in Gen. 12:8, was about 15 miles west of Jericho and had a population of roughly 12,000 people (cf. Josh. 8:25). Unexpectedly, the Israelite forces were routed by the inhabitants of Ai, as 36 men were killed. These were the first Israelites to die during the conquest of the Promised Land. Joshua records the result of this defeat was that “the hearts of the people melted and became like water” (Josh. 7:5). Note the parallels between this setback and Israel’s futile invasion attempt some 38 years earlier recorded at Num. 14:39–45 during the time of Moses.
Josh. 7:6–9 reports the deep mourning and prayer of Joshua and the elders of Israel over the death of the 36 Israelites at Ai. The contents of this prayer are jumbled and surprising, as Joshua seems to charge God with unfaithfulness for allowing the Israelites to be defeated. Surely, Joshua’s prayer was prompted by the grumbling and lack of courage of the people (cf. Josh. 7:5), which contradicted God’s charge at Josh. 1:6 to “be strong and of good courage.” Joshua’s prayer includes five elements: first, accusing God of bringing Israel into Canaan in order to kill them (cf. Josh. 7:7a); second, a feigned admission of a lack of contentment (cf. Josh. 7:7b); third, expressing anxiety that Israel would mutiny against Joshua (cf. Josh. 7:8); fourth, revealing that he feared the Canaanites would destroy Israel (cf. Josh 7:9a); and fifth, a concern for God’s reputation (cf. Josh. 7:9b).
Identification of Sin (7:10–15)
At Exod. 17:4, and again at Num. 11:10–15, Moses expressed an exasperated prayer to God, just as did Joshua at Josh. 7:6–9. As was the case with Moses, so here with Joshua is God extremely gracious in His response. Perhaps the secret in these instances is that both Moses and Joshua were praying—albeit prayers of frustration. God invites us to “cast your burden upon the Lord” (1 Pet. 5:7). At Josh. 7:10–15 God reveals to Joshua the reason for the defeat of the army—namely, that the people had “taken some of the accursed things” (Josh. 7:11). As was the case at Josh. 7:1, so in this passage God speaks of corporate sin, noting that “Israel has sinned” (Josh. 7:10). This speaks to the idea of the corporate nature of many sins (cf. Exod. 34:6–7; Num. 14:18), which includes not only the effects of sin, but also our responsibility toward promoting the welfare of others.
Judgment of Sin (7:16–26)
God had Joshua announce the plan of discovering the offender to the people (cf. Josh. 7:13–15). This plan included the narrowing down of the people by tribe, family, household, and eventually individual. It seems that the call for sanctification and the announcement regarding the presence of sin may have occurred in order to give the offender time to repent. Josh. 7:16–19 recorded this process of discovery and the identification of Achan the son Carmi, of the tribe of Judah, as the offending party. This unveiling and the holding of Achan accountable was important, for earlier God had told Joshua that he would not “be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed thing” (Josh. 7:12). Upon Achan being identified, Joshua urged Achan both to publically confess his sin and to give glory to God (cf. Josh. 7:19).
In Josh. 7:20–21 Achan confessed his sin and admitted to taking silver, gold, and a garment during the overthrow of Jericho. Interestingly, Achan does not explicitly glorify God, as Joshua had asked him to do at Josh. 7:19. Following Achan’s confession, at Josh. 7:22–25 we read that Achan and his entire household were stoned by Israel and burned with fire. Other occasions where family members were executed for the sins of one member include the family of Korah (cf. Num. 16) and the family of Haman (cf. Esth. 9:13–14). Such punishment may seem harsh, however several observations can be made. First, God was teaching the people that sin is never private; it always affects others—especially those to whom we are the closest. Second, since Achan had hidden the accursed things under his tent, it is likely that members of his family were complicit in covering up his sin.
- How does the sin of one person affect others? Does God ever judge one person for the sins of another person (cf. Deut. 24:16; Ezek. 18:20)?
- If Achan’s sin was the cause of Israel’s defeat, why does Josh. 7:1 say that “the children of Israel committed a trespass”?
- Like Joshua, in the midst of unexpected trials, have you ever jumped to irrational conclusions, expressed unfounded anxiety, or even accused God of wrongdoing?
- In light of Joshua’s exasperated prayer, do you find the Lord’s response in Josh. 7:10–15 to be kind? Why were the things Achan stole accursed by God?
- Does it seem just and fair that Achan’s entire household was held accountable for his personal sin? How can we explain this event?