free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
1. But the children of Israel committed, etc Reference is made to the crime, and indeed the secret crime, of one individual, whose guilt is transferred to the whole people; and not only so, but punishment is at the same time executed against several who were innocent. But it seems very unaccountable that a whole people should be condemned for a private and hidden crime of which they had no knowledge. I answer, that it is not new for the sin of one member to be visited on the whole body. Should we be unable to discover the reason, it ought to be more than enough for us that transgression is imputed to the children of Israel, while the guilt is confined to one individual. But as it very often happens that those who are not wicked foster the sins of their brethren by conniving at them, a part of the blame is justly laid upon all those who by disguising become implicated in it as partners. For this reason Paul, (1 Corinthians 5:4) upbraids all the Corinthians with the private enormity of one individual, and inveighs against their pride in presuming to glory while such a stigma attached to them. But here it is easy to object that all were ignorant of the theft, and that therefore there is no room for the maxim, that he who allows a crime to be committed when he can prevent it is its perpetrator. I certainly admit it not to be clear why a private crime is imputed to the whole people, unless it be that they had not previously been sufficiently careful to punish misdeeds, and that possibly owing to this, the person actually guilty in the present instance had sinned with greater boldness. It is well known that weeds creep in stealthily, grow apace and produce noxious fruits, if not speedily torn up. The reason, however, why God charges a whole people with a secret theft is deeper and more abstruse. He wished by an extraordinary manifestation to remind posterity that they might all be criminated by the act of an individual, and thus induce them to give more diligent heed to the prevention of crimes.
Nothing, therefore, is better than to keep our minds in suspense until the books are opened, when the divine judgments which are now obscured by our darkness will be made perfectly clear. Let it suffice us that the whole people were infected by a private stain; for so it has been declared by the Supreme Judge, before whom it becomes us to stand dumb, as having one day to appear at his tribunal. The stock from which Achan was descended is narrated for the sake of increasing, and, as it were, propagating the ignominy; just as if it were said, that he was the disgrace of his family and all his race. For the writer of the history goes up as far as the tribe of Judah. By this we are taught that when any one connected with us behaves himself basely and wickedly, a stigma is in a manner impressed upon us in his person that we may be humbled — not that it can be just to insult over all the kindred of a wicked man, but first, that all kindred may be more careful in applying mutual correction to each other, and secondly, that they may be led to recognize that either their connivance or their own faults are punished.
A greater occasion of scandal, fitted to produce general alarm, was offered by the fact of the crime having been detected in the tribe of Judah, which was the flower and glory of the whole nation. It was certainly owing to the admirable counsel of God, that a pre-eminence which fostered the hope of future dominion resided in that tribe. But when near the very outset this honor was foully stained by the act of an individual, the circumstance might have occasioned no small disturbance to weak minds. The severe punishment, however, wiped away the scandal which might otherwise have existed; and hence we gather that when occasion has been given to the wicked to blaspheme, the Church has no fitter means of removing the opprobrium than that of visiting offences with exemplary punishment.
2. And Joshua sent men from Jericho, etc To examine the site of the city and reconnoiter all its approaches was an act of prudence, that they might not, by hurrying on at random through unknown places, fall into an ambuscade. But when it would be necessary shortly after to advance with all the forces, to send forward a small band with the view of taking the city, seems to betray a want of military skill. Hence it would not have been strange that two or three thousand men, on a sudden sally were panic-struck and turned their backs. And it was certainly expedient for the whole body that twenty or thirty thousand should have spread in all directions in foraging parties. We may add, that even the act of slaying, though no resistance were offered, was of itself sufficient to wear out a small body of troops. Therefore, when the three thousand or thereabouts were repulsed, it was only a just recompense for their confidence and sloth. The Holy Spirit, however, declares that fewness of numbers was not the cause of the discomfiture, and ought not to bear the blame of it. The true cause was the secret counsel of God, who meant to show a sign of his anger, but allowed the number to be small in order that the loss might be less serious. And it was certainly a rare display of mercy to chastise the people gently and without any great overthrow, with the view of arousing them to seek an instant remedy for the evil. Perhaps, too, the inhabitants of Ai would not have dared to make an attack upon the Israelites had they advanced against the city in full force. The Lord therefore opened a way for his judgment, and yet modified it so as only to detect the hidden crime under which the people might otherwise have been consumed as by a lingering disease.
But although there is nothing wonderful in the defeat of the Israelites, who fought on disadvantageous terms on lower ground, it was, however, perfectly obvious that they were vanquished by fear and the failure of their courage before they came to close quarters; for by turning their backs they gave up the higher ground and retired to the slope of a valley. The enemy, on the other hand, showed how thoroughly they despised them by the confidence and boldness with which they ventured to pursue the fugitives at full speed in the direction of their camp. In the camp itself, such was the trepidation that all hearts melted. I admit, indeed, that there was cause for fear when, after having gained so many victories as it were in sport, they saw themselves so disgracefully defeated. In unwonted circumstances we are more easily disturbed. But it was a terror from heaven which dismayed them more than the death of thirty men and the flight of three thousand.
6. And Joshua rent his clothes, etc Although it was easy to throw the blame of the overthrow or disgrace which had been sustained on others, and it was by no means becoming in a courageous leader to be so much cast down by the loss of thirty men, especially when by increasing his force a hundred-fold it would not have been difficult to drive back the enemy now weary with their exertions, it was not, however, without cause that Joshua felt the deepest sorrow, and gave way to feelings bordering on despair. The thought that the events of war are doubtful — a thought which sustains and reanimates the defeated — could not be entertained by him, because God had promised that they would always be victorious. Therefore when the success did not correspond to his hopes, the only conclusion he could draw was, that they had fought unsuccessfully merely because they had been deprived of the promised assistance of God.
Accordingly, both he and the elders not only gave themselves up to sorrow and sadness, but engage in solemn mourning, as used in the most calamitous circumstances, by tearing their garments and throwing dust on their heads. That mode of expressing grief was used also by the heathen, but was specially appropriate in the pious worshippers of God in suppliantly deprecating his wrath. The rending of the garments and other accompanying acts contained a profession of repentance, as may also be inferred from the annexed prayer, which, however, is of a mixed nature, dictated partly by faith and the pure spirit of piety, and partly by excessive perturbation. In turning straightway to God and acknowledging that in his hand, by which the wound was inflicted, the cure was prepared, they are influenced by faith; but their excessive grief is evidently carried beyond all proper bounds. Hence the freedom with which they expostulate, and hence the preposterous wish, Would God we had remained in the desert! (70)
It is not a new thing, however, for pious minds, when they aspire to seek God with holy zeal, to obscure the light of faith by the vehemence and impetuosity of their affections. And in this way all prayers would be vitiated did not the Lord in his boundless indulgence pardon them, and wiping away all their stains receive them as if they were pure. And yet while in thus freely expostulating, they cast their cares upon God, though this blunt simplicity needs pardon, it is far more acceptable than the feigned modesty of hypocrites, who, while carefully restraining themselves to prevent any confident expression from escaping their lips, inwardly swell and almost burst with contumacy.
Joshua oversteps the bounds of moderation when he challenges God for having brought the people out of the desert; but he proceeds to much greater intemperance when, in opposition to the divine promise and decree, he utters the turbulent wish, Would that we had never come out of the desert! That was to abrogate the divine covenant altogether. But as his object was to maintain and assert the divine glory, the vehemence which otherwise might have justly provoked God was excused.
We are hence taught that saints, while they aim at the right mark, often stumble and fall, and that this sometimes happens even in their prayers, in which purity of faith and affections framed to obedience ought to be especially manifested. That Joshua felt particularly concerned for the divine glory, is apparent from the next verse, where he undertakes the maintenance of it, which had been in a manner assigned to him. What shall I say, he asks, when it will be objected that the people turned their backs? And he justly complains that he is left without an answer, as God had made him the witness and herald of his favor, whence there was ground to hope for an uninterrupted series of victories. Accordingly, after having in the loftiest terms extolled the divine omnipotence in fulfillment of the office committed to him, it had now become necessary for him, from the adverse course of events, to remain ignominiously silent. We thus see that nothing vexes him more than the disgrace brought upon his calling. He is not concerned for his own reputation, but fears lest the truth of God might be endangered in the eyes of the world. (71) In short, as it was only by the order of God that he had brought the people into the land of Canaan, he now in adversity calls upon him as author and avenger, just as if he had said, Since thou has brought me into these straits, and I am in danger of seeming to be a deceiver, it is for thee to interfere and supply me with the means of defense.
(70) French, “ O que je voudrove que nous eussions prins a plaisir de demeurer au dela du Jordain;” “O how I wish that we had been pleased to remain beyond the Jordan.” — Ed.
(71) French, “ Soit revoquee en doute, ou moins estimee devant le monde;” “Be called in question, or less esteemed before the world.” — Ed.
9. For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants, etc He mentions another ground of fear. All the neighboring nations, who, either subdued by calamities or terrified by miracles, were quiet, will now resume their confidence and make a sudden attack upon the people. It was indeed probable, that as the divine power had crushed their spirit and filled them with dismay, they would come boldly forward to battle as soon as they knew that God had become hostile to the Israelites. He therefore appeals to God in regard to the future danger, entreating him to make speedy provision against it, as the occasion would be seized by the Canaanites, who, though hitherto benumbed with terror, will now assume the aggressive, and easily succeed in destroying a panic-struck people.
It is manifest, however, from the last clause, that he is not merely thinking of the safety of the people, but is concerned above all for the honor of the divine name, that it may remain inviolable, and not be trampled under foot by the petulance of the wicked, as it would be if the people were ejected from the inheritance so often promised. We know the language which God himself employed, as recorded in the song of Moses, (Deuteronomy 32:26)“
I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them cease among men; were it not that I feared the wrath (pride) of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord has not done all this.”
The very thing, then, which God declares that he was, humanly speaking, afraid of, Joshua wishes now to be timelessly prevented; otherwise the enemy, elated by the defeat of the people, will grow insolent and boast of triumphing over God himself.
10. And the Lord said unto Joshua, etc God does not reprimand Joshua absolutely for lying prostrate on the ground and lamenting the overthrow of the people, since the true method of obtaining pardon from God was to fall down suppliantly before him; but for giving himself up to excessive sorrow. The censure, however, ought to be referred to the future rather than to the past; for he tells him to put an end to his wailing, just as if he had said, that he had already lain too long prostrate, and that all sloth must now be abandoned, as there was need of a different remedy. But he first shows the cause of the evil, and then prescribes the mode of removing it. He therefore informs him that the issue of the battle was disastrous, because he was offended with the wickedness of the people, and had cast off their defense.
We formerly explained why the punishment of a private sacrilege is transferred to all; because although they were not held guilty in their own judgment or that of others, yet the judgment of God, which involved them in the same condemnation, had hidden reasons into which, though it may perhaps be lawful to inquire soberly, it is not lawful to search with prying curiosity. At the same time we have a rare example of clemency in the fact, that while the condemnation verbally extends to all, punishment is inflicted only on a single family actually polluted by the crime. What follows tends to show how enormous the crime was, and accordingly the particle גם is not repeated without emphasis; as they might otherwise have extenuated its atrocity. Hence, when it is said that they have also transgressed the covenant, the meaning is, that they had not sinned slightly. The name of covenant is applied to the prohibition which, as we saw, had been given; because a mutual stipulation had been made, assigning the spoils of the whole land to the Israelites, provided He received the first fruits. Here, then, he does not allude to the general covenant, but complains that he was defrauded of what had been specially set apart; and he accordingly adds immediately after, by way of explanation, that they had taken of the devoted thing, and that not without sacrilege, inasmuch as they had stolen that which he claimed as his own. The term lying is here used, as in many other passages, for frustrating a hope entertained, or for deceiving. The last thing mentioned, though many might at first sight think it trivial, is set down, not without good cause, as the crowning act of guilt, namely, that they had deposited the forbidden thing among their vessels. Persons who are otherwise not wholly wicked are sometimes tempted by a love of gain; but in the act of hiding the thing, and laying it up among other goods, a more obstinate perseverance in evil doing is implied, as the party shows himself to be untouched by any feelings of compunction. In the last part of the 12th verse, the term anathema is used in a different sense for execration; because it was on account of the stolen gold that the children of Israel were cursed, and almost devoted to destruction.
13. Up, sanctify the people, etc Although the word קדש has a more extensive meaning, yet as the subject in question is the expiation of the people, I have no doubt that it prescribes a formal rite of sanctification. Those, therefore, who interpret it generally as equivalent to prepare, do not, in my judgment, give it its full force. Nay, as they were now to be in a manner brought into the divine presence, there was need of purification that they might not come while unclean. It is also to be observed in regard to the method of sanctifying, that Joshua intimates to the people a legal purgation. But though the ceremony might be in itself of little consequence, it had a powerful tendency to arouse a rude people. The external offering must have turned their thoughts to spiritual cleanness, while their abstinence from things otherwise lawful reminded them of the very high and unblemished purity which was required. And they are forewarned of what is to take place, in order that each may be more careful in examining himself. Nay, the Lord proceeds step by step, as if he meant to give intervals for repentance; for it is impossible to imagine any other reason for descending from tribe to family, and coming at length to the single individual.
In all this we see the monstrous stupor of Achan. Overcome perhaps by shame, he doubles his impudence, and putting on a bold front, hesitates not to insult his Maker. For why, when he sees himself discovered, does he not voluntarily come forward and confess the crime, instead of persisting in his effrontery till he is dragged forward against his will? But such is the just recompense of those who allow themselves to be blinded by the devil. Then when first by the taking of his tribe and next by that of his family, he plainly perceived that he was urged and held fast by the hand of God, why does he not then at least spring forward, and by a voluntary surrender deprecate punishment? It appears, then, that after he had hardened himself in his wickedness, his mind and all his senses were charmed by the devil.
Though God does not bring all guilty actions to light at the very moment, nor always employ the casting of lots for this purpose, he has taught us by this example that there is nothing so hidden as not to be revealed in its own time. The form of disclosure will, indeed, be different; but let every one reflect, for himself, that things which escape the knowledge of the whole world are not concealed from God, and that to make them public depends only on his pleasure. For though a sin may seem as it were to have fallen asleep, it is however awake before the door, and will beset the miserable man till it overtake and crush him.
19. And Joshua said unto Achan, etc Although only by lot, which seems to fall out fortuitously, Achan is completely caught; yet, as God has declared that he will point out the guilty party, as if with the finger, Joshua interrogates without having any doubt, and when the discovery is made, urges Achan to confess it. It is probable, indeed, that this was the usual form of adjuration, as we read in John’s Gospel, (John 9:24) that the scribes and priests used the same words in adjuring the blind man whose sight our Savior had restored, to answer concerning the miracle. But there was a special reason why Joshua exhorted Achan to give God the glory, because by denying or equivocating he might have impaired the credit of the decision. The matter had already been determined by lot. Joshua, therefore, simply orders him to subscribe to the divine sentence, and not aggravate the crime by vain denials.
He calls him son, neither ironically nor hypocritically, but truly and sincerely declares that he felt like a father toward him whom he had already doomed to death. By this example, judges are taught that, while they punish crimes, they ought so to temper their severity as not to lay aside the feelings of humanity, and, on the other hand, that they ought to be merciful without being reckless and remiss; that, in short, they ought to be as parents to those they condemn, without substituting undue mildness for the sternness of justice. Many by fawning kindness throw wretched criminals off their guard, pretending that they mean to pardon them, and then, after a confession has been extracted, suddenly hand them over to the executioner, while they were flattering themselves with the hope of impunity. But Joshua, satisfied with having cited the criminal before the tribunal of God, does not at all flatter him with a vain hope of pardon, and is thus more at liberty to pronounce the sentence which God has dictated.
20. And Achan answered Joshua, etc As he was now struck with astonishment, he neither employs subterfuge, nor palliates the crime, nor endeavors to give any coloring to it, but rather ingeniously details the whole matter. Thus the sacred name of God was more effectual in extorting a confession than any tortures could have been. Nor was the simplicity he thus displayed a sure indication of repentance; being, as it were, overcome with terror, he openly divulged what he would willingly have concealed. And it is no new thing for the wicked, after they have endeavored for some time to escape, and have even grown hardened in vice, to become voluntary witnesses against themselves, not properly of their own accord, but because God drags them against their will, and, in a manner, drives them headlong. The open answer here given will condemn the hypocrisy of many who obscure the clear light by their subterfuges. The expression is emphatic — thus and thus did I; meaning that each part of the transaction was explained distinctly and in order. Nor does he only acknowledge the deed, but by renouncing all defense, and throwing aside all pretext, he condemns himself in regard to its atrocity. I have sinned, he says; this he would not have said had he not been conscious of sacrilege, and hence it appears that he did not pretend mistake or want of thought.
22. So Joshua sent messengers, etc Although it is not singular for messengers to prove their obedience by running and making haste, yet the haste which is here mentioned, shows how intent all were to have the work of expiation performed as speedily as possible, as they had been filled with the greatest anxiety in consequence of the stern denunciation — I will not be with you until you are purged of the anathema. They therefore ran swiftly, not merely to execute the commands of Joshua, but much more to appease the Lord. The things carried off by stealth, when placed before their eyes, were more than sufficient to explain the cause of the disgrace and overthrow which had befallen them.
It had been said that they had turned their backs on the enemy, because, being polluted with the accursed thing, they were deprived of the wonted assistance of God; it is now easy to infer from the sight of the stolen articles, that the Lord had deservedly become hostile to them. At the same time, they were reminded how much importance God attached to the delivery of the first-fruits of the whole land of Canaan in an untainted state, in order that his liberality might never perish from their memory. They also learned that while the knowledge of God penetrates to the most hidden recesses, it is in vain to employ concealment’s for the purpose of eluding his judgment. (73)
(73) French, “ C’est folie de chercher couverture et deguisement pour eschapper son jugement et l’abuser;” “It is folly to seek cover and disguise in order to escape his judgement and deceive him.” — Ed.
24. And Joshua, and all Israel with him, etc Achan is led without the camp for two reasons; first, that it might not be tainted and polluted by the execution, (as God always required that some trace of humanity should remain, even in the infliction of legitimate punishments,) and secondly, that no defilement might remain among the people. It was customary to inflict punishment without the camp, that the people might have a greater abhorrence at the shedding of blood: but now, a rotten member is cut off from the body, and the camp is purified from pollution. We see that the example became memorable, as it gave its name to the spot.
If any one is disturbed and offended by the severity of the punishment, he must always be brought back to this point, that though our reason dissent from the judgments of God, we must check our presumption by the curb of a pious modesty and soberness, and not disapprove whatever does not please us. It seems harsh, nay, barbarous and inhuman, that young children, without fault, should be hurried off to cruel execution, to be stoned and burned. That dumb animals should be treated in the same manner is not so strange, as they were created for the sake of men, and thus deservedly follow the fate of their owners. Everything, therefore, which Achan possessed perished with him as an accessory, but still it seems a cruel vengeance to stone and burn children for the crime of their father; and here God publicly inflicts punishment on children for the sake of their parents, contrary to what he declares by Ezekiel. But how it is that he destroys no one who is innocent, and visits the sins of fathers upon children, I briefly explained when speaking of the common destruction of the city of Jericho, and the promiscuous slaughter of all ages. The infants and children who then perished by the sword we bewail as unworthily slain, as they had no apparent fault; but if we consider how much more deeply divine knowledge penetrates than human intellect can possibly do, we will rather acquiesce in his decree, than hurry ourselves to a precipice by giving way to presumption and extravagant pride. It was certainly not owing to reckless hatred that the sons of Achan were pitilessly slain. Not only were they the creatures of God’s hand, but circumcision, the infallible symbol of adoption, was engraved on their flesh; and yet he adjudges them to death. What here remains for us, but to acknowledge our weakness and submit to his incomprehensible counsel? It may be that death proved to them a medicine; but if they were reprobate, then condemnation could not be premature. (74)
It may be added, that the life which God has given he may take away as often as pleases him, not more by disease than by any other mode. A wild beast seizes an infant and tears it to pieces; a serpent destroys another by its venomous bite; one falls into the water, another into the fire, a third is overlain by a nurse, a fourth is crushed by a falling stone; nay, some are not even permitted to open their eyes on the light. It is certain that none of all these deaths happens except by the will of God. But who will presume to call his procedure in this respect in question? Were any man so insane as to do so, what would it avail? We must hold, indeed, that none perish by his command but those whom he had doomed to death. From the enumeration of Achan’s oxen, asses, and sheep, we gather that he was sufficiently rich, and that therefore it was not poverty that urged him to the crime. It must therefore be regarded as a proof of his insatiable cupidity, that he coveted stolen articles, not for use but for luxury.
(74) These admirable remarks are well fitted to satisfy every candid mind, not only as to the nature of this very remarkable execution, but also as to its expediency and strict justice, notwithstanding its admitted severity. Several expositors, however, continue to be dissatisfied, and to bring it more into accordance with their views, attempt to explain parts of it away by means of a minute and forced criticism. On finding this process not very successful, they endeavor to supply its deficiency by extraordinary conjectures. First, with regard to the criticism, it is said that in the directions which the Lord gives to Joshua, (Joshua 7:10) he receives no authority to put any person to death, except the one who should be found to have actually committed the crime. When the words of the 15 th verse, “he and all that he has,” are quoted in opposition to this view, the answer is, that the expressions does not necessarily mean more than the man himself, his cattle, and other property, and therefore may not have included his family, properly so called, or the persons who formed his household. Another criticism, still more extraordinary, would scarcely be deserving of notice had it not received the countenance of so distinguished a name as that of Grotius, who insists that Achan was the only person who actually suffered death, though his children were taken out to the place of execution and verse, in which it is said that “All Israel stoned him (Achan) with stones, and burned them with fire;” i.e., as he explains, stoned Achan only, and then burnt his dead body, and his cattle, and other effects designated by them. Such are specimens of the criticism which this transaction has called forth, and it would almost be an insult to the reader to give a serious refutation of them. The conjectures to which we have referred are equally extravagant. One of them is given in the Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, under the article Achan, and as the writer appears both to have invented it, and to plume himself on the invention, it is but fair to give it in his own words; — “We prefer the supposition that they (Achan’s family) were included in the doom by one of those sudden impulses of indiscriminate popular vengeance, to which the Jewish people were exceedingly prone, and which, in this case, it would not have been in the power of Joshua to control by any authority which he could, under such circumstances, exercise.” — Ed.
25. And Joshua said, etc The invective seems excessively harsh; as if it had been his intention to drive the wretched man to frantic madness, when he ought rather to have exhorted him to patience. I have no doubt that he spoke thus for the sake of the people, in order to furnish a useful example to all, and my conclusion, therefore, is, that he did not wish to overwhelm Achan with despair, but only to show in his person how grievous a crime it is to disturb the Church of God. It may be, however, that the haughty Achan complained that his satisfaction, by which he thought that he had sufficiently discharged himself, was not accepted, (75) and that Joshua inveighed thus bitterly against him with the view of correcting or breaking his contumacy. The question seems to imply that he was expostulating, and when he appeals to God as judge, he seems to be silencing an obstinate man. The throwing of stones by the whole people was a general sign of detestation, by which they declared that they had no share in the crime which they thus avenged, and that they held it in abhorrence. The heap of stones was intended partly as a memorial to posterity, and partly to prevent any one from imprudently gathering particles of gold or silver on the spot, if it had remained unoccupied. For although the Lord had previously ordered that the gold of Jericho should be offered to him, he would not allow his sanctuary to be polluted by the proceeds of theft.
(75) French, “ Combien qu’il se peut faire, qu’Achan estant fier se soit plaint de ce qu’on ne se contentoit pas de la reparation, et payement qu’il avoit fait, par lequel il pensoit s’estre bien acquitte, et avoir grand devoir;” “Although it may be that Achan complained of their not being contented with the reparation and payment which he had made, and by which he thought that he had acquitted himself well, and performed a great duty.” — Ed.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 7". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30