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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 7

Verses 1-26

DEFEATED BY AI

(vs.1-9)

Though Joshua and Israel as such were unaware of it, there was sin in the camp that affected all of Israel, for we are told that "the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things" (v.1). Only one man had done this, but God held the nation responsible because the man, Achan, was part of Israel. He had taken some things that were under the curse and God was therefore angry with Israel (v.1).

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai to spy out that city (v.2). Notice, they had not returned to Gilgal after the defeat of Jericho. If they had taken time to go back to Gilgal, the place of self-judgment, the Lord would likely have revealed to them that sin was in the camp. But we do not even read that Joshua enquired of God as to attacking Ai. He had before depended fully on the Lord in reference to Jericho, but we too easily fall into the snare of being flushed with a great victory and thinking therefore that we can easily win a lesser victory. Are we any more capable of a small thing than a large thing? No! If God is not in it, the small as well as the large will defeat us.

The advice of the spies to Joshua was to send only about 3000 men against Ai because it was small (v.3). Joshua took this advice from men without asking God's counsel, and the result was that the men of Ai came out and soundly defeated Israel, killing 36 men.

Jericho is a picture of the world in principle. All believers by faith in Christ Jesus "overcome the world" (1 John 5:4-5), as Israel overcame Jericho. But Ai pictures the world in its details. these things may seem small to us, and we can easily be defeated by them. Young men are told, "Do not love the world or the things in the world" (1 John 2:14-15). They had overcome the wicked one, yet in spite of this there was danger that they might be defeated by attraction to the world or its things. Through faith they had become strong, but if faith becomes virtually inactive in our lives, we may be overcome by even small worldly attractions.

When Israel was defeated the hearts of the people melted in apprehension (v.5). This was a shock they had not expected. Joshua tore his clothes and prostrated himself before the Lord, together with the elders of the people, putting dust on their heads (v6). These things speak of repentance which they saw was evidently needed, though they were still not aware of the sin in the camp that had occasioned their defeat.

At least Joshua pled with the Lord then, though he did not think of asking what was the reason for this defeat: rather he asked why God had even brought Israel across the Jordan just to deliver them into the hand of their enemies. He thought it would have been better to remain on the other side of Jordan. Did he not stop to consider that the mighty way in which God had already reduced Jericho's opposition to nothing?

"O Lord," he says, "What shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies?" (v.8). He felt that the news of this would imbue the Canaanites with boldness and strength to surround Israel and destroy them. Then he adds, "then what will You do for Your great name?" (v.9). He did not realize that in Israel's painful defeat God was rightly caring for the honor of His great name.

ACHAN'S SIN EXPOSED AND JUDGED

(vs.10-26)

The Lord answered Joshua's prayer by telling him to get up and act. For He says, "Israel has sinned" (v.11). Though only one man was guilty and his guilt was concealed, yet all Israel was held accountable. If they had consulted God before attacking Ai, He would have told them about this, but our lack of communion with God will too easily leave us ignorant of Satan's attacks. This is a serious lesson for the Church of God today.

God told Joshua that Israel had taken some of those things that were under the curse and put it among their own goods. Therefore they could not stand before their enemies, and could not stand until they had destroyed the evil from their midst, because God would not be with them (v.12).

Joshua must sanctify the people, that is, separate them from the normal pursuits of life, to concentrate on this one matter of importance, that there was an accursed thing in their midst and it must be taken away. We might wonder why this could not be taken care of without involving the whole congregation, but all must learn publicly that God is a God of true holiness. This public dealing was thus intended to impress the seriousness of such sin upon every individual, to guard against any further infractions. The probe and its results would take no little time. The prosecution of the war must be held up, to emphasize that God governs among His own.

Certainly the Lord could have exposed Achan as the offender immediately, but in His great wisdom He made all the tribes come as though all were under suspicion (v.14). This would call for serious heart searching among all, so that there would be no mere resentment aroused against Achan, but that all would be humbled by the evil. The process would gradually narrow down to the individual whom the Lord had already judged must be burned with fire (v.15).

Early in the morning the examination began. Of the twelve tribes, the tribe of Judah was singled out by the Lord (v.16), and from this the family of the Zarhites was taken. Then the family came, man by man, and Zabdi was taken. Zabdi's household was then brought man by man, and the finger of accusation was pointed at Achan (vs.17-18). Achan had been given plenty of time to confess his guilt, but evidently he was hoping right to the end that he might not be exposed. How foolish is the unbelief of greed! If people will not confess their guilt before God while He waits patiently, how humiliating will be the exposure of their guilt at the Great White Throne! (Revelation 20:11-12).

Joshua shows no hostility toward Achan, but pleads with him to at least now give glory to the Lord God of Israel by confessing candidly what he has done (v.19). What else could Achan do now but confess his guilt? He admitted he had sinned against the Lord God of Israel and had Stolen three things from the spoil of Jericho, a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing 50 shekels, and had buried them under his tent floor (v.21). The silver would be about eight pounds in weight, the gold two pounds, the value of which would be great. The Babylonian garment represents idolatrous luxury which should have been destroyed, while the silver and gold ought to have been put in the treasury of the Lord.

What did Achan think he could do with these things? But greed is often foolish and unthinking. He has to admit he coveted them and took them. He is like many today who grasp after all they can get when they can put it to no practical use.

The stolen goods being recovered from Achan's tent, he and the stolen property, his sons and his daughters, his oxen, donkeys, sheep and his tent were all taken to the Valley of Achor (meaning "trouble"). Then Joshua solemnly pronounced sentence against Achan (v.25), he reaping trouble because of the trouble he sowed. All Israel was called upon to stone them to death and burn them. The fact that his sons and daughters were included in this judgment indicates that they knew of his crime and did not report it, for in Israel no children were to be put to death for their father's sins (Deuteronomy 24:16). Achan's animals also were destroyed, however. As to the silver and gold, we are not told whether this was brought into the treasury of the Lord. But of course it would not be destroyed by burning A great heap of stones was raised over the remains, a testimony to God's holiness in judgment. Only when this stern judgment of the evil took place was God's anger abated. The place was called "the Valley of Achor" (V.26).

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Joshua 7". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/joshua-7.html. 1897-1910.