The Word Made Fresh
1However, the Israelites were not completely faithful, for Achan (son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah) of the tribe of Judah took some of the things devoted to the LORD and the LORD was angry.
2Meanwhile, Joshua sent some men to Ai, which is near Beth-Aven east of Bethel, to study their defenses. 3When they returned they told Joshua, “You don’t need to send us all there; two or three thousand men can handle Ai. There aren’t enough of them to warrant sending everybody.” 4So about three thousand men attacked Ai, and the men of Ai routed them, 6and killed about three dozen of them on the hillsides as far as Shebarim. The Israelites were afraid then and their courage melted.
6Joshua tore his clothes and fell face down before the LORD’s wooden chest until sundown. The leaders of Israel did also. They grieved with dust on their heads. 7Joshua said, “Ah, LORD God, why did you bring us over here? Are you handing us over to our enemies to wipe us out? We would have been happy to stay beyond the Jordan. 8What can I say, LORD, now that Israel turned tail and ran from our foes? 9The Canaanites and all the others will hear what happened. They’ll come and surround us and cut us down. Then what will you do to protect your reputation?”
10The LORD said, “Get up! Why are you lying on your face? 11The people have sinned. They disobeyed me and have stolen some of the silver and gold devoted to the sanctuary. 12That is why their enemy routed them. They ran from their enemy because they have made themselves deserve defeat. I will not abide with you unless you destroy the stolen goods. 13So, tell the people to purify themselves for tomorrow, because the LORD, the God of Israel, knows you have stolen some of the sacred items. You must find the stolen things and put them where they belong, or you will never be able to withstand your enemies. 14Tomorrow morning you will come forward tribe by tribe. The tribe the LORD chooses will then come clan by clan. The clan chosen will come by households, and the household I choose will come one by one. 15The thief who took the sacred things will be burned to death along with all his belongings because he has deliberately disobeyed the LORD and broken the covenant between us.”
16The next morning Joshua rose early. He summoned the Israelites to come forward tribe by tribe, and Judah was chosen. 17He brought the clans of Judah forward and the clan of Zerah was chosen. He brought the Zerahites forward by families, and the family of Zabdi was chosen. 18Then the households of Zabdi’s family were brought forward one by one, and Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah of the tribe of Judah was chosen.
19Joshua said to Achan, “Son, praise the LORD God of Israel, and confess. Tell me what you’ve done. Don’t lie.”
20Achan said, “It is true. I’m the one who sinned against the LORD God of Israel. I took some things. 21I saw in the pile of things we plundered a beautiful robe from Shinar, and two hundred shekels (five pounds) of silver, and a gold bar that weighs fifty shekels, and I took them. I buried them in the ground inside my tent with the silver underneath.”
22Joshua sent some men to Achan’s tent and they found the stolen items as Achan had said. 23They brought them to Joshua and displayed them before the Israelites and before the LORD. 24Then Joshua and the Israelites took Achan son of Zerah, the silver and gold and robe he had stolen, along with his children and his animals, his tent and everything that belonged to him, to the valley of Achor.
25Joshua said, “Why did you bring this trouble on us? The LORD is bringing trouble on you today.”
Then the Israelites stoned him to death and burned them all with fire and then covered them with stones, 26a huge pile of stones that is still there. And the LORD’s anger was allayed.
To this day that place is called the Valley of Achor (“trouble”).
1: We are told at the beginning of the chapter that Achan, son of Zabdi, took some of the “devoted things” in Jericho. (In verse 21 we will learn that this consisted of silver and gold and an expensive robe.)
2-5: Then the tale turns to a continuation of the conquest of the land, and spies are sent to Ai, about 15 miles north of Jerusalem. They return with a positive report, and Joshua dispatches 3000 soldiers to capture that city next, but the Israelites are defeated.
6-9: Joshua fears the setback will result in their being ousted from the land altogether, and he complains to God.
10-15: God tells him that someone has “broken my covenant that I imposed on them.” Breaking the covenant sounds like a sweeping accusation, but it is only the sin of theft (“Thou shalt not steal!”) that is being punished here. The punishment hardly fits the crime, but in this case is imposed by God. The guilty party will be found and burned along with all his possessions.
16-21: The manner of “choosing” is not specified; perhaps lots were cast in some way to choose first the tribe, then the clan, then the household, and finally the individual. Achan, for his part, readily confesses.
22-26: The stolen goods are found in Achan’s tent, and God tells Joshua to destroy all that he has. Joshua interprets that to include Achan’s sons and daughters (but apparently not his wife? Is he widowed?). The text is not entirely clear that the children are stoned along with Achan. I hope not.
Joshua is fond of raising heaps of stones, isn’t he?
I’m sorry, but I recoil at the brutality God tells Joshua to unleash on Achan (and his whole family?) for the sin of theft. This is not the God I have come to know through my Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we cannot know what consequences may have followed had Achan not been executed. This is a critical time in Israel’s history and God must do what God must do in order to steer the course of events toward Bethlehem. In the end, we have no choice but to trust in God’s judgment. Still, I wonder if some of those who wrote down these records inserted God where God was not. Also, we will learn in later records (Judges, for example) that Israel’s taking of the land did not at all completely eliminate the people who were living there.