by Sam E. Stone
God handed Jericho over to the Israelites when they obeyed his directions. Last week we reviewed their march around the city walls, concluding with a trumpet call and shout. The walls then collapsed, and the Israelites rushed in. “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21). God permitted only Rahab and her family to be spared because of the help she had given to the spies. Chapter 6 concludes, “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land” (v. 27). Everything was great!
Then we come to one word that changes everything—”But.” God had commanded that everything in the city be considered herem, a word meaning “utter destruction” in the Hebrew (see Isaiah 43:28). Whatever is “devoted to destruction” belongs to God exclusively. In Jericho, not everything was treated in this way. One man—Achan—had taken some valuable items for himself. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.
Verses 2-9 (not in our printed text) explain how the sin was discovered. When the Israelites went into battle again, trouble was waiting for them. The city of Ai was about 15 miles from Jericho. Spies who checked out the area reported it would be an easy victory. “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai.” When they sent fewer troops up there, however, they were easily routed by the people of Ai, and a number of Israelites were killed.
This was devastating to Joshua and the people. He tore his clothes, fell face down on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and remained there till evening. He prayed, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?” (vv. 6, 7). God answered quickly. One writer said, “Yahweh rapidly ticks off what has him so ticked off.” “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things….”
Then the Lord declared, “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” God then directed them to consecrate themselves and present themselves tribe by tribe before the Lord. Through a process of elimination, the guilty person was located and punished. The Israelite who did this terrible thing was from the tribe of Judah, a man named Achan. Joshua confronted him. “Tell me what you have done,” he demanded. Achan confessed. “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel.” He went on to list what he had kept back for himself—a beautiful Babylonian robe, 200 shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing 50 shekels. He had hidden them in the ground inside his tent.
Achan’s action shows how one person’s sin was considered that of the whole nation. God could not bless them until they repudiated and removed what caused their defeat. When the messengers arrived at Achan’s tent, they found everything hidden where he said. All of the items that were to have been devoted to destruction were spread out before the Lord, in the presence of all the Israelites.
Joshua directed that Achan, his sons and daughters, his livestock, his tent, and all that he had be taken to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said to him, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.” Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. An interesting sidelight is that Achor is another form of the name Achan and means “trouble.” Later in Joshua 22 the name of Achan comes up again when some Israelites built an unauthorized altar. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. writes, “By then the Achan affair has become a cautionary tale about the deadly seriousness of apostasy, holiness, and corporate culpability. In sum, the stone heap at Trouble Valley forewarns ‘potential Achans’ within Israel’s ranks to practice the fear of God by doing what he commands.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.