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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Joshua 7

Verse 8

DISCOURSE: 249
ISRAEL DISCOMFITED BY THE MEN OF AI
[Note: Fast-day Sermon for disappointments and defeats in war.]

Joshua 7:8. O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies!

UNINTERRUPTED prosperity is not to be expected in this changeable and sinful world. Even the most favoured of mankind must have some trials; nor is there any season when they can presume to say, “My mountain standeth strong; I shall not be moved.” If at any time Joshua and Israel might adopt this language, it was immediately after they had entered on the possession of the promised land, and had received an earnest of the complete enjoyment of it by the miraculous destruction of the walls of Jericho. Yet behold, scarcely had they tasted the first-fruits of God’s mercy, before a cup of bitterness was put into their hands; which made them regret that they had ever attempted the conquest of the land.
In an attack upon Ai, a detachment of Israelites had been defeated with the loss of thirty-six men: and this filled them all with such terror and dismay, that the whole nation, not excepting Joshua himself, gave way to despondency. Of this we have an account in the passage before us: to elucidate which, we shall notice,

I.

The discomfiture of Israel—

Their mode of proceeding to the attack of Ai was far from right—
[Having so easily vanquished a much larger and stronger city, they held Ai in contempt, and concluded of course that God must interpose for them just as he had done in the former case. Hence they say, “Let us send only about two or three thousand thither, and not make all the people to labour thither.” Now in this they were guilty of very great presumption. To confide in God was right; but to expect his aid, whilst they neglected to use their own endeavours, was highly presumptuous. And what excuse had they; what plea? None, except that they did not choose to fatigue themselves with the march. They did not even consult God respecting it; but acted purely from their own conceit. What was this, but to tempt God? And how could they hope to succeed, when acting in such a way?

However favoured any man may have been with divine succour and protection, if he presume upon it, and enter into temptation without necessity, and conceive that because his spiritual enemies appear weak, he shall of necessity overcome them; if he neglect to use the proper means of grace, such as searching the Scriptures and prayer to God, he shall fall: God will leave him to himself, that he may learn by bitter experience his own weakness, and “no more be high-minded, but fear [Note: This is taught us in Php 2:12-13 which says, “Work, &c. and God will render your efforts effectual: but work, not with self-confidence, but with fear and trembling, because all your strength is in God; and if by pride or negligence you provoke him to withhold his aid, you can never succeed.”]”— — —]

But their discomfiture was owing to another cause—
[God had forbidden that any one should take to himself any of the spoils of Jericho: but one man, (how astonishing was it that only one amongst all the hosts of Israel was found to transgress the command!) tempted by the sight of a costly Babylonish garment and some silver, and a wedge of gold, secreted them for his own use [Note: ver. 21.]. This sin was imputed to the whole nation, and visited upon them all. God had declared, that, if any such iniquity were committed, the whole camp of Israel, as well as the guilty individual, should be accursed [Note: Joshua 6:18.]; and now the curse was inflicted upon all; so that if the whole host of Israel had gone against Ai, they would have been discomfited, even as the small detachment was. To this the failure of the expedition is ascribed by God himself [Note: ver. 11, 12.].

And to what are we to ascribe the calamities inflicted on our nation, the reverses experienced, and the losses sustained, in this long-protracted war? Is it not to our sins, which have incensed God against us? We all acknowledge the greatness of our national sins, but forget to notice our own personal iniquities; whereas, if we saw every thing as God sees it, we should probably see, that our own personal guilt has contributed in no small degree to bring down the divine judgments upon us. Because we are mere individuals, we think that our transgressions can have had but little influence in matters of this kind: but did not Saul’s violation of the covenant he had made with the Gibeonites, occasion, many years afterwards, a famine of three years’ continuance [Note: 2 Samuel 21:1.]? And did not David’s numbering of the people occasion a pestilence, to the destruction of seventy thousand of his subjects [Note: 2 Samuel 24:10-15.]? But these offenders, it may be said, were kings; whereas we are obscure individuals. And was not Achan an obscure individual? Yet behold, how one single act of sin, an act too which would not have been considered as very heinous amongst ourselves, stopped in a moment the course of Israel’s victories, and turned them into shameful defeat! Let this point be duly considered in reference to ourselves; and let us learn, that abstinence from sin is an act no less of patriotism, than of piety.]

The defeat coming so unexpectedly, we do not wonder at,

II.

Joshua’s distress—

His conduct on this occasion was by no means unexceptionable—
[The manner in which he complained to God reflected even upon the Deity himself; “O Lord God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us?” Alas! alas! Is this Joshua, that thus accuses the Most High God of cruelty and treachery? Lord, what is man! What will not the best of men do, if left by thee to the workings of their own corruption! Such had been the language of the murmuring Israelites on many occasions: but we readily confess that Joshua, though he spake their sentiments, was by no means actuated by their rebellious spirit: yet he was wrong in entertaining for a moment such a thought. His distrust of God also was highly unbecoming; “Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!” What, dost thou so readily relinquish the possession of Canaan, because of this single check? Thou art afraid that “all the inhabitants of the land, hearing of this defeat, will be emboldened to environ you around, and to cut off the name of Israel from the earth:” but hast thou so soon forgotten all the wonders that God has wrought in order to bring thee into Canaan, and all that he has promised in relation to the ultimate possession of it? “Is God’s hand shortened, that he cannot save, or his ear heavy, that he cannot hear?” “Has he at last forgotten to be gracious, and shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure?” Alas! Joshua, “this is thine infirmity.” But it is an infirmity incident to the best of men under great and unexpected misfortunes. We are but top apt to give way to murmuring and desponding thoughts, both in relation to our temporal and spiritual concerns, when we should be rather encouraging ourselves with the recollection of past mercies, and pleading with God his promises of more effectual aid — — —]

Yet on the whole there was much in it to be admired—
[We cannot but highly applaud the concern he expressed for the loss of so many lives. Common generals would have accounted the loss of thirty-six men as nothing: but “the blood of Israel was precious in the sight” of Joshua. We might have expected that he would have blamed the spies for deceiving him in relation to the strength of the city; and have punished the soldiers for cowardice: but he viewed the hand of God, rather than of man, in this disaster: and this led to (what also we much admire) his humiliation before God on account of it. This was very deep: “he rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the even-tide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads [Note: ver. 6.].” He had seen on many occasions now Moses and Aaron had succeeded in averting the divine displeasure from the people; and, in concert with the elders, he now tried the same means: and we may confidently say, that, if all the hosts of Israel had been defeated, this was the sure way to retrieve their affairs. But his tender regard for the honour of God was that which eminently distinguished him on this occasion; “O Lord, what wilt thou do unto thy great name [Note: ver. 9.]?” This was the plea which Moses had often used [Note: Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:15-16.], and to which God had paid especial regard [Note: Ezekiel 20:9.]: and the man that feels it in his soul, and urges it in sincerity and truth, can never be ultimately foiled.

O that such were the disposition and conduct of our whole nation at this time! But alas! we hear of numbers slaughtered, without any emotion. We have fasts appointed; but how few are there who observe them with such humiliation as that before us! It is true, the honour of God’s name, I fear, is but little interested in our success: perhaps it is rather interested in the destruction of such an ungrateful and rebellious people as we are. But in relation to his Church and the advancement of religion amongst us, his honour is concerned; because he has bestowed on us advantages equal, if not superior, to any that are enjoyed elsewhere on the face of the whole earth. Here then we may, and should, plead the honour of his name: he expects us to lay to heart the abounding of iniquity in the midst of us; and takes it ill at our hands that there are so few who “mourn for the afflictions of Joseph [Note: Amos 6:6.],” and “cry for the abominations of Israel [Note: Ezekiel 9:4.].” Let, however, the example of Joshua and the elders be impressed upon our minds, and serve as a pattern for our future imitation.]

Improvement—

[Let us not confine our attention to public calamities, but turn it to those afflictions which are personal and domestic. In this history we may behold the source and remedy of all the evil that can come upon us.

That God, in some particular case, may afflict his people, as he did Job, for the magnifying of his own power, and the furtherance of their welfare, we acknowledge: but yet we never can err in tracing our afflictions to sin, as their procuring cause: and, if only they be the means of discovering and mortifying our corruptions, we shall have reason to number them amongst the richest mercies we ever received— — —
Let us then inquire of the Lord, “Wherefore he contendeth with us?” Let us set ourselves diligently to search out our iniquities; and let us beg of God to discover them to us, that no one sin may remain unrepented of and unmortified.
If in any thing we have been overcome by our spiritual enemies, let us not reflect upon God, as though he had tempted us to sin; nor, on the other hand, let us distrust him, as though he were either unable or unwilling to deliver us: but let us humble ourselves before him, remembering that he is still full of compassion and mercy; and relying on that gracious invitation, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely.”]


Verses 19-20

DISCOURSE: 250
ACHAN’S GUILT AND PUNISHMENT

Joshua 7:19-20. And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done.

THE rise, and progress, and termination of sin, afford as interesting a subject, as any that can be presented to our view. It is exhibited to us by St. James in few words, and with remarkable precision: “Man is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed: then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death [Note: James 1:14-15.].” Here we see the whole process: the inward corruption of the heart is first drawn forth by some enticing object; the desire of gratification is then formed, and the determination to attain it fixed. Then comes the act whereby it is attained; and then death, the bitter consequence of sin, inevitably follows. On this passage the history before us is an instructive comment. Achan saw a goodly Babylonish garment, with two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold, and coveted them: then he took them, contrary to the divine command; and then the penalty of his transgression was inflicted on him.

In discoursing on this event, we would call your attention to,

I.

His guilt—

This act of his had been perpetrated with so much caution, that it was unperceived by any human being. The consequences of it were felt in the divine displeasure; but what evil had been committed, or by whom, no one knew. How then was it detected? How was the offence brought home to Achan? His guilt must be proved, before he can be punished: nay, there must be two witnesses, or testimony equivalent to that of two witnesses, before he can be put to death [Note: Deuteronomy 17:6.]. Behold then by what means his guilt was ascertained: it was proved,

1.

From unquestionable testimony—

[Though the matter was altogether hidden from man, it was known to the omniscient, omnipresent God. “The darkness is no darkness to him; but the night and the day are both alike.” God’s eye was upon him, whilst he thought that no eye could see him: and God himself gave the information against him. He declared to Joshua what the true reason was of his displeasure, and of Israel’s defeat. But though he revealed the fact, he did not name the person that had committed it, but left that to be discovered in a way more impressive to the nation, and more merciful to the offender, (inasmuch as it gave him time for repentance and voluntary acknowledgment,) summoning the whole nation, as it were, before him, first, by their tribes, that he might point out to which tribe the offender belonged; then, by their families: then, by their households; and lastly, by their individual persons: and thus by four successive lots he fastened upon Achan as the guilty person. Never was there a more striking comment than this on those words of David, “Evil shall hunt the wicked man to overthrow him [Note: Psalms 140:11.].” The offender was out of sight; but his steps were traced with unerring certainty: the first lot shewed, that his scent, if I may so express myself, was found; and, when found, was followed with undeviating steadiness, and irresistible rapidity: till at last the criminal was seized, a lawful prey, a just victim to the divine displeasure.]

2.

From personal confession—

[The testimony of God would of itself have been sufficient: because he could neither deceive nor be deceived. But, as it was intended that the offender should be made a public monument of divine justice, and be held up as a warning to the whole nation, it was desirable that other proofs of Achan’s guilt should be adduced, sufficient to convince the most scrupulous, and satisfy the most partial. Behold then, Achan himself supplies a testimony which none could controvert or doubt: he bears witness against himself.
Joshua, assured that God had fixed upon the guilty person, entreats the offender to declare openly wherein he had transgressed. And here, we cannot but admire the tenderness of Joshua’s address. He insults not over Achan, nor loads him with reproaches; but, as a compassionate father, beseeches him to acknowledge the truth of God’s testimony, and to “give glory to him by confessing” his crime. This indeed was known to Joshua, and might have been specified by him; but it could not be proved; and therefore he wishes to hear it from Achan’s own mouth; more particularly as a confession of it would honour God in the sight of all; it would glorify his omniscience in discovering, his holiness in hating, and his justice in punishing the iniquity which had been committed.

Achan, convinced that any further attempt to conceal his guilt would be in vain, confessed it, and that too with an ingenuousness and fulness, which would have given us hopes concerning him, if the confession had not been extorted from him by a previous discovery.]

On this testimony, sentence might well have been passed and judgment executed. Nevertheless, that no doubt might remain on any mind, it was further desirable that his guilt should be ascertained also, as it eventually was,

3.

From corroborating facts—

[It has sometimes been found that persons have unjustly accused themselves: but it was not so in this case: for Achan, in confirmation of his word, told them where they might find the stolen property. A messenger is sent; the property is found; the proofs of his guilt are exhibited before the Lord and in the sight of all Israel. To this testimony nothing was wanting, nothing could be added. The truth of God was manifest, and the equity of his judgments was demonstrated: and nothing now remained but to execute on the offender the punishment he had deserved.]
Proceed we now to notice,

II.

His punishment—

God had before declared that any person who should take to himself any part of the spoils of Jericho should be accursed [Note: Joshua 6:18-19.]: and, after the transgression had been committed, he declared that he would no more be with his people till they should have destroyed the accursed person, and every thing belonging to him, from among them [Note: ver. 12, 13, 15.]. No option therefore remained to Joshua, but to execute the sentence according to God’s command.

The sentence, though dreadful, was not too severe—
[Achan, with all his children, and his cattle, were stoned to death, and afterwards, with his tent and stolen property and every thing belonging to him, consumed by fire. Now it is true, that God had expressly forbidden that parents or children should be put to death for each other’s iniquities [Note: Deuteronomy 24:16.]: but God is not restrained by the laws which he gives to man; he may alter or reverse them as he sees good: and in the present instance he was fully justified in the sentence he pronounced. The sin that had been committed, was peculiarly heinous. View it in itself; it was a sacrilegious robbing of God, who had ordered the gold and the silver to be appropriated to his use in the sanctuary. View it in its circumstances; it was committed immediately after a most solemn surrender of himself to God by circumcision and at the paschal feast, and at the very instant that God had magnified his power and lore in causing the walls of Jericho to fall at the sound of rams’ horns and the people’s shout. Had Achan scaled the walls of Jericho and gained the spoils by his own sword at the peril of his life, it would have been some little extenuation of his crime: but God had disarmed his enemies, and made them like sheep for the slaughter: and therefore to rob him of the spoils was the basest ingratitude. In a word, it was direct atheism; for the very idea that he could hide the matter from God was a practical denial of his omnipresence. View it, lastly, in its effects; what evil it had brought upon the whole nation; what a calamitous defeat, accompanied with the loss of six and thirty Israelites; and what inconceivable misery it would have entailed upon the whole nation, if it had not been duly punished, even the entire loss of God’s favour, and the utter destruction of all the people. View the transaction, I say, in this light, and the punishment, awful as it was, will be acknowledged just: he who sought in this manner the destruction of every family in Israel, might well be destroyed together with his own family.

If our proud heart still rise against the sentence, let us silence every objection with this unanswerable question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”]
The execution of it was calculated to produce the best effects—
[It was necessary that, in the commencement of this new scene of things, the people should know what a God they had to do with; and that, whilst they learned from his mercies how greatly he was to be loved, they might learn also from his judgments how greatly he was to be feared. This lesson they were now effectually taught: they could not but see that “God is greatly to be feared, and to be had in reverence by all them that are round about him.” To impress this lesson more deeply on their minds, an heap of stones was raised over the ashes of this unhappy family; that, as a lasting memorial of God’s indignation against sin, it might declare to all future generations, that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Now if we consider what incalculable benefit was likely to arise, not only to the people then existing, but to all future generations, from that act of severity, and that the good issuing from it would in many instances be, not merely temporal in relation to their bodies, but spiritual also and eternal in relation to their souls, we shall see that severity to them was kindness to millions; and that therefore the punishment inflicted on them comported no less with the goodness of God than with the sterner rights of justice.]

That We may gather yet further instruction from the history, let us behold in it,
1.

The deceitfulness of sin—

[Achan at first contemplated only the satisfaction he should feel in possessing the Babylonish garment, and the comforts which the gold and silver would procure for him. The ideas of shame and remorse and misery were hid from him; or, if they glanced through his mind, they appeared as visionary, and unworthy of any serious attention. But O! with what different thoughts did he contemplate his gains, when inquisition was made to discover the offender! or, if at first he thought that the chances were so much in his favour, as to preclude all fear of discovery, how would he begin to tremble when he saw that his own tribe was selected as containing the guilty person! How would his terror be increased when he saw his own family pointed out! and what dread would seize hold upon him when the lot fell upon his household! Methinks, when the different members of that household came before the Lord, it might have been seen clearly enough who the guilty person was, by the paleness of his cheeks and the trembling of his limbs. What now becomes of all his expected enjoyments, when once he is detected? With what different eyes does he view the garment and the money when brought forth before the people, from what he did when first he coveted them in the house of their owner! how glad would he now be if he could recall the act, which had thus brought him to shame and ruin! Thus then will it be with all who violate the laws of God. The seducer, the whoremonger, the adulterer, the thief, thinks of nothing at first but the pleasure he shall receive in the gratification of his lusts; and congratulates himself on the attainment of his wishes: but he has no sooner attained his object, than he begins to be filled with apprehensions of a discovery: he is carried on perhaps by the impetuosity of his passions; but he is a stranger to peace. Perhaps he silences his convictions, and follows his sinful ways without much compunction: but it will not be always so: there is a time coming when he will view his gratifications with other eyes; or if he be so blinded by the devil as to make light of sin unto the last, his illusions will vanish the very instant that his soul is departed from the body. For the most part, that is found true which is spoken of hypocrites in the book of Job; “Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not, but keep it still within his mouth; yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him [Note: Job 20:12-14.].” How awfully was this experienced by our first parents! When tempted to eat of the forbidden tree, they thought of nothing but the delicious flavour of the fruit, and the prospect of being made “wise as gods.” But they were soon convinced, by bitter experience, that “to regard lying vanities was to forsake their own mercies.” Some indeed, by continuance in sin, are become “past feeling, having their consciences seared as with an hot iron:” but death and judgment will speedily undeceive them, and the wrath of an almighty God shall teach them, that “sin was indeed exceeding sinful.”]

2.

The certainty of its exposure—

[It is profitable to observe how often God interposes to discover the hidden iniquities of mankind. Some sins in particular appear to engage him in more decided hostility against the perpetrators of them. I refer more especially to murder and adultery. The interest which the guilty persons feel in concealing their iniquity makes them as cautious as possible to prevent discovery: yet is their very caution oftentimes the cause of their detection. To such sinners we may almost universally address that solemn warning, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” It not unfrequently happens that men are so harassed in their minds, as no longer to be able to conceal their guilt: like Judas, they cast back the wages of their iniquity, and court even death itself, by their own hand, or by the hand of a public executioner, as a relief from the torment of a guilty conscience. But be it so: they hide their wickedness from man: but can they hide it from God? Is there “any darkness or shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves?” No: if they go up to heaven, or down to hell, or flee to the remotest parts of the earth, there does God behold them, and from thence will he bring them to judgment. In that day shall the book of his remembrance be opened, and men shall see the records of their own actions. Then shall the proofs of our guilt be exhibited before the assembled universe, and we shall be unable to utter one syllable in arrest of Judgment. O that we could realize the thoughts of that day! What a day will it be, when the secrets of all hearts shall be exposed to view, and every hidden abomination be brought to fight! Happy, happy they, who in that day shall be found to have an interest in Christ, and in whom his love and mercy shall be for ever magnified! Now since it is certain that our sins will sooner or later find us out, let us consider how we shall view them in that day: and, as we would not now commit a scandalous iniquity in the sight of a fellow-creature, lest he should proclaim our wickedness, so let us bear in mind that there is One, “unto whom all things are naked and opened,” and who has declared that he “will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart.” Surely, however skillfully we conceal our abominations now, he will be a swift witness against us in that day to our everlasting confusion.]

3.

The awfulness of its award—

[Who does not shudder at the thought of that vengeance which was executed on Achan and his family? Who does not see how hot the indignation of God against sin was, when the sin of one single person prevailed more to incense him against the whole nation, than the innocence of the whole nation did to pacify his wrath against the individual, and when nothing but the most signal punishment of the individual could reconcile him to the nation to which he belonged? Yet was all this but a faint shadow of the indignation which he will manifest in a future world. Surely we should profit from such a history as this: we should learn to dread the displeasure of the Almighty, and to glorify him now by an ingenuous confession, that he may not be glorified hereafter in our eternal condemnation.
Hear ye then, Brethren, what the weeping prophet speaks to us in the name of the Lord: “Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud, for the Lord hath spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But, if ye will not hear, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eyes shall weep sore, and run down with tears” for the destruction and misery that shall come upon you [Note: Jeremiah 13:15-17.]. Blessed be God, though Achan’s confession did not avert punishment from him, ours shall from us, provided it be truly ingenuous, and deeply penitential. The Lord Jesus Christ never yet spurned from his feet a weeping penitent. He shed his blood even for the chief of sinners, and “will save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him.” But confession on our part is indispensable: his word to us is, “Return, thou backsliding sinner, saith the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever: Only acknowledge thine iniquity [Note: Jeremiah 3:12-13.].” Let us but do this aright, and we shall soon be enabled to say with the Psalmist, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and so thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Joshua 7". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/joshua-7.html. 1832.