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THE DEFEAT BEFORE AI.—
Committed a trespass in the accursed thing. The word מָעַל, here used, signifies originally to cover, whence מְעִיל a garment. Hence it comes to mean to act deceitfully, or perhaps to steal (cf. the LXX. ἐνοσφίσαντο, a translation rendered remarkable by the fact that it is the very word used by St. Luke in regard to the transgression of Ananias and Sapphira. But the LXX. is hare rather a paraphrase than a translation). It is clearly used here of some secret act. But in Le Joshua 5:15 it is used of an unwitting trespass, committed בִּשְׁגָגָה, in error of fact, but not of intention. Achan. Called Achar in 1 Chronicles 2:7, no doubt from a reference to the results of his conduct. He had "troubled Israel" (עָכַר), 1 Chronicles 2:25, and the valley which witnessed his punishment obtained the name of Achor. The copies of the LXX. vary between the two forms, the Vatican Codex having Achar; the Alexandrian, Achan. Zabdi. Zimri in 1 Chronicles 2:6. Such variations of reading are extremely common, and are increased in our version by the varieties of English spelling adopted among our translators (see Shemuel for Samuel in 1 Chronicles 6:33). The LXX. has Zambri here. Took of the accursed thing. Commentators have largely discussed the question how the sin of Achan could be held to extend to the whole people. But it seems sufficient to reply by pointing out the organic unity of the Israelitish nation. They were then, as Christians are now, the Church of the living God. And if one single member of the community violated the laws which God imposed on them, the whole body was liable for his sin, until it had purged itself by a public act of restitution (see Deuteronomy 21:1-8). So St. Paul regards the Corinthian Church as polluted by the presence of one single offender, until he was publicly expelled from its communion (see 1 Corinthians 5:2, 1 Corinthians 5:6, 1 Corinthians 5:7). The very words "body politic" applied to a state imply the same idea—that of a connection so intimate between the members of a community that the act of one affects the whole. And if this be admitted to be the case in ordinary societies, how much more so in the people of God, who were under His special protection, and had been specially set apart to His service? In the history of Achan, moreover, we read the history of secret sin, which, though unseen by any earthly eye, does nevertheless pollute the offender, and through him the Church of God, by lowering his general standard of thought and action, enfeebling his moral sense, checking the growth of his inner and devotional life, until, by a resolute act of repentance and restitution towards God, the sin is finally acknowledged and put away. "A lewd man is a pernicious creature. That he damnes his own soule is the least part of his misehiefe; he commonly drawes vengeance upon a thousand, either by the desert of his sinne, or by the infection" (Bp. Hall).
Ai. עַי or הָעַי "the ruins" (cf. Iim and Ije-abarim, the ruins or heaps of Abarim, Numbers 33:44, Numbers 33:45; and Iim, Joshua 15:29. Probably it is the same as הָעַוּים which we find mentioned in conjunction with Bethel in Joshua 18:22, Joshua 18:23. It becomes עַיָּא in Nehemiah 11:31, and the feminine form is found in Isaiah 10:28. The latter, from the mention of Michmash in the route of Sennacherib immediately afterwards, is probably the same as Ai. Robinson and Hell—the former very doubtfully—place it at Turmus Aya, an eminence crowned with ruins above Deir Duwan. But Vandevelde contests this, and places it at Tell-el-Hajar, i.e; the Tell or heap of ruins; and G. Williams and Capt. Wilson have independently fixed on the same spot, though they call it et-Tel, or "the heap," and suppose the "el-Hajar" to have been added in answer to the question, "what heap?" This situation seems best to suit the requirements of the narrative. For it is "on the southern brow of the Wady-el-Mutyah" (Vandevelde), near that "wild entanglement of hill and valley at the head of the Wady Harith," which "climbs into the heart of the mountains of Benjamin till it meets the central ridge of the country at Bethel". Its situation, unlike that of Turmus Aya, is calculated to give cover to an ambush of 5,000 men, and it also answers to the conditions in its nearness to Michmash, from which Turmus Aya is more than three hours' journey distant. The Tell is "covered with heaps of ruins". Conder, however, identifies Ai with Haiyan, two miles from Bethel, in the same Wady, but why, he gives no hint. A fortress so situated was one which Joshua could not leave in his rear, and so its capture was a matter of necessity. By its position, if not from the number of its inhabitants, it was necessarily a very strong one. Ai is mentioned as early as Genesis 12:8, and we find that it was inhabited down to the Captivity, for the "men of Bethel and Ai" are mentioned in Ezra 2:28. See also Nehemiah 11:31, above cited. The name Ai, or ruins, found so early, implies that the aboriginal inhabitants had built a city in that almost inaccessible situation. Lieut. Conder gives a very vivid description of the site et-Tel in 'Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement,' April, 1874. There are, he says, "huge mounds of broken stone and shingle ten feet high. The town," he adds, "must have been pounded small, and the fury of its destruction is still evidenced by its completeness.'' He continues: "The party for the ambush, following the ancient causeway from Bethel to Jordan (which we have recovered throughout its entire length) as far as Michmash, would then easily ascend the great wady west of Ai, and arrive within a quarter of a mile of the city without having ever come in sight of it. Here, hidden by the knoll of Burjums and the high ground near it, a force of almost any magnitude might wait unsuspected. The main body in the meanwhile, without diverging from the road, would ascend the gently sloping valley and appear before the town on the open battlefield which stretches away to its east and south. From the knoll the figure of Joshua would be plainly visible to either party, with his spear stretched against the sky" [see Joshua 8:18). But the site still eludes investigation. Lieut. Kitchener, Mr. Birch, Mr. Guest, would place it at Kh-Haiy, or the rock Rimmon. When those who have visited the country are so divided in opinion, nothing but silence remains for those who have not. Beth-avern (cf. 1 Samuel 14:23). This place has not yet been identified. It was close by Ai, and not far from Bethel, as the transference of its name to Bethel by Hosea (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5) shows. It could not have been a place of any importance, or the historian would not have found it necessary to explain where it was. Hosea has perhaps derived his knowledge of it from this passage. Some writers have identified it with Bethel. But this is obviously incorrect, since the literal rendering of the Hebrew here places Ai "in the immediate proximity of Beth-aven, eastward of Bethel." The LXX. omits all reference to Beth-aven. But there are many various readings. Bethel Formerly Luz (Genesis 28:19; Genesis 35:7; Judges 1:23). The last-cited passage seems to prove that Bethel was not among, the cities taken during Joshua's campaign; though this is extraordinary in the face of the fact that the inhabitants of Luz gave their assistance to the men of Ai in the battle (see Joshua 8:17, where, however, it is remarkable that the LXX. omits all reference to Bethel). We may observe that there is no mention of the capture of Bethel, or the destruction of the inhabitants, and that this exactly agrees with Judges 1:22-26. This is an undesigned coincidence well worthy of note. We may also remark on the exact conformity between the situation of Bethel as described here and in Genesis 12:8. The city to which the name Bethel was attached was not the place of Abraham's altar, as we learn from the passage just cited, but was in its immediate neighbourhood. The ruins which now mark its site are of a later date than the events recorded in Scripture. Its modern name is Beitin. Go up and view the country. Rather, spy (or reconnoitre); literally, foot the country. Joshua does not refuse to avail himself of human expedients because he is under Divine guidance (see also Joshua 2:1-24). The reasons for this reconnoitring expedition are made clear enough by the passage quoted from Lieut. Condor's survey above.
Make not all the people to labour thither; or, weary not the people with the journey thither. "Good successe lifts up the heart with too much confidence" (Bp. Hall).
Unto Shebarim. LXX; καὶ ἕως συνέτριψαν αὐτούς, as though we had שְׁבָרוּם (or, as Masius suggests, הַשְׁבִירִים) from שָׁבַר to break in pieces. So the Syriac and Chaldee versions. But this is quite out of the question. The Israelites were not annihilated, for they only lost about 36 men. Nor is Shebarim a proper name, as the Vulgate renders it. It has the article, and must be rendered either with Keil, the stone quarries (literally, the crushings or breakings), or with Gesenius, the ruins, which, however, is less probable, since Ai (see above)has a similar signification. Munsterus mentions a view that it was so called in consequence of the slaughter of the Israelites. But this is very improbable. In the going down. Ai stood in a strong position on the mountains. The margin "in Morad "is therefore not to be preferred. It means, as the Israelites and their antagonists descended from the gates. The hearts of the people melted and became as water. This was not cowardice, but awe. The people had relied upon the strong hand of the Lord, which had been so wonderfully stretched out for them. From Joshua downwards, every one felt that, for some unknown reason, that support had been withdrawn.
One of the most valuable uses of the historical portions of the Old Testament is the valuable moral lessons they convey. "The Old Testament is not contrary to the New." Both come from God, and the offences God denounces and punishes under the old dispensation will be equally denounced and punished by Him under the new. Let no sinner flatter himself that he will escape because his doctrine is sound, or because he belongs to an orthodox body of Christians, or because he feels assured of salvation. If he sins he will be punished. And he sins when he does what God has forbidden under the law as well as under the gospel. To be a moral man will not save the soul; but not to be a moral man will assuredly ruin it. We should therefore take good heed to the lessons of morality taught in the Old Testament.
I. THE EVIL OF OVER-CONFIDENCE. Even the good Joshua errs sometimes. We hear of no counsel being taken of God here, any more than when the Gibeonite embassy arrived. The report of the spies is acted upon at once. The siege of Ai seems to have been undertaken relying upon human means alone. But the Israelites were to learn how entirely dependent they were upon Divine aid. We need the lesson as much as they. In cases of difficulty we betake ourselves to God. In ordinary affairs we trust to ourselves. Yet we need His aid as much in the one as in the other. How many of our failures in the conflict with ourselves, or with the evil around us, are due to forgetting this truth? Or we take scant pains about what we think easy work. We need not" weary" ourselves, we think, with that. And our scanty preparation is inadequate to the task, since we are compassed with infirmity.
II. THE EXCEEDING SINFULNESS OF SIN. It was ruin to the Israelites' campaign. It brought disgrace, not only to the sinner, but to the cause. So now,
(1) the sin of the individual falls on the community. Religion suffers severely for the shortcomings of its professors. Every religious community is cruelly injured by the faults of its members. Even the great conflict against evil itself has failed of complete success as yet, solely from the sins of those who have been carrying it on. The defeats of the army of the Lord in the great struggle against Satan are to be explained on the same principle as the defeat before Ai. There needs a humiliation, an awakening, a casting out of the offending member, before any new success can be achieved. And
(2) the conflict against sin within is subject to the same laws. We cannot subdue our evil passions, or tempers, or habits. It is because there is some hidden sin indulged secretly, which mars all our efforts. We have some Achan within, some master passion which hugs a secret unlawfu1 indulgence to itself, perhaps unperceived even by ourselves. Our defeats ought to teach us to institute the inquiry, bring the offender to light, and cast him out without mercy.
III. THE DANGER OF DISOBEDIENCE AND COVETOUSNESS. God had given no reasons for His command about Jericho and its spoils. It is true that they were obvious enough to an inquiring mind. But some minds will not inquire, except to find reasons for disobedience. Of such a disposition was Achan. Why should such a command be given? "To what purpose is this waste?" What is the good of it all? And the promptings of self interest are sufficient to outweigh the obvious reason that this solemn ban upon Jericho and all that was therein was to impress upon the minds of the Israelites the awfu1 and irrevocable nature of the sentence God had pronounced against the inhabitants of the land. Such abstract considerations had little weight besides the concrete fact of a wedge of gold and a Babylonish garment. The welfare of society, the necessity to its well being of God's moral laws, are cobwebs easily brushed aside when interest or passion impel us to break those laws. We look at the temptation and look again. We let the idea gain possession of our minds. "Where is the harm?" we cry, and then we commit the sin, and involve ourselves in its terrible, and even upon repentance, to a certain extent, irremediable consequences. Though our Joshua has redeemed us from the extremest penalty of His outraged law, yet must He bring us to detection and shame, and consequent punishment. "The valley of Achor" may be given us "for a door of hope," but the anguish must come before the peace, to which, by His mercy, it is destined to lead. One lesson from Achan's sin is that no one can disobey God's laws and come off seathless. Not for nought does He say, "Thou shalt not do this thing." He who in wilful folly transgresses His commands must bear his burden, whosoever he be.
IV. THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN. It seemed a light thing to Achan when he did it. "I did but taste a little honey"—a little of the sweetness of forbidden pleasure—"and lo, I must die." So almost all sin seems light when committed. A little deceit or lying, a little indulgence in impure imaginations or actions, a little compliance with the customs of an evil world, a little yielding to the promptings of anger or avarice, seem slight matters when they occur. But they often bring serious consequences in their train. Repeated acts become habits, and habits are not easily broken off. We are their captives before we are aware, and then we wish, and wish in vain, that we had never made ourselves their slave.
"'Twas but one little sin
We saw at morning enter in,
And lo! at eventide the world is drowned."
Keble, 'Christian Year,' Septuagesima Sunday.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
By the narrative before us we are reminded of several characteristics of sin.
I. IT DISOBEYS A COMMANDMENT. Only two precepts had been issued at the sacking of Jericho, one to spare Rahab and her family, another to "keep from the accursed thing," and the latter precept was broken. The command was distinct, unmistakable; no difficulty in comprehending its import. Scripture defines sin as the "transgression of the law." "By the law is the knowledge of sin." A prohibition tests man's obedience perhaps even more than an injunction to perform some positive act. The tempter easily lays hold of it, keeps it before the eye, irritates man's self will, and insinuates doubts respecting the reason of the prohibition. Christ endorsed the moral law of the old dispensation—nay, made it even more stringent; but He altered the principle of obedience, or, better still, increased the power of the motives to compliance. When we sin we still transgress a law, and sins of wilful commission are, in number, out of all proportion to sins of ignorance.
II. SIN IS OFTEN THE EFFECT OF COVETOUS DESIRES.—Achan saw, coveted, and took (Joshua 7:21). The seeing was innocent; the dwelling on the object of sight with desire was sinful. "Coveted" is the same word as used in Genesis 3:6. "Saw … a tree to be desired." "When lust (desire) hath conceived it bringeth forth sin." The outward object has no power to make us fall except as it corresponds to an inward affection. If the object be gazed upon long, the affection may be inordinately excited, and desire produce sinful action. Hence the counsel of the wise man regarding "the path of the wicked: … Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away." It is not mixing in the world to perform our duties that is reprobated, nor even that amount of care which shall secure us an honourable position therein; but such an intent fixing of the eye upon riches, honour, pleasure, as denotes a love of the world and the things that are in it. Our affection must be set on things above as the best preservation against the influence of unholy passions; for where the heart is occupied, there evil finds it hard to effect a lodgment.
III. SIN ROBS GOD.—All the metals were to be brought to the treasury, to be dedicated to the use of Jehovah (Joshua 6:19). But Achan wished to appropriate a portion to his own ends, thus taking what belonged to God. He set up self in opposition to his God. Sin deprives God not only of gold, but of honour, love, obedience, and the use of those talents committed to men, that they may be faithful servants and stewards, not sordid proprietors. From the sinner's heart ascends no sweet incense of faith and love; in the household of the worlding there is no family altar with its grateful offering of prayer and praise; the body of the unbeliever, instead of being a temple of God, is part of the kingdom of darkness.
IV. SIN IMPLIES A DELIGHT IN WHAT GOD ABOMINATES. The possessions of the Canaanites were placed under the ban; they were denominated "the accursed thing." The Babylonish garment was to have been burnt, and the silver and gold could only be redeemed from the curse by being set apart for sacred uses. The very fact that the Almighty had condemned the property should have been sufficient to deter any one from seeking to seize it. And so with us; regard for our Father in heaven ought at once to make us shun what He has declared hateful, and look upon it with aversion; and belief in His unerring discernment should cause us readily to acquiesce in His judgment, even if at first sight the places and practices condemned do not appear hideous or sinful. The grievous nature of sin is evinced in its betrayal of a hankering after what the laws of God denounce, and consequently its revelation of a character differing from that of God, loving what is unlovely in His sight.
V. SIN IN GOD S PEOPLE IS A VIOLATION OF A COVENANT. Achan had transgressed the "covenant" (Genesis 3:11 and Genesis 3:15), or, as it is expressed in Genesis 3:1, had "committed a trespass "—i.e; a breach of trust—had acted faithlessly. Jericho, as the first city taken, was to be made an example of, and therefore none of the spoil was to accrue to the Israelites, but the plunder of other cities was to be allowed to enrich them. Yet Achan disregarded the understood agreement. Nor must it be forgotten that Israel stood in a peculiar relationship to the Almighty, who promised to bless them if they adhered to the terms of the covenant, which required them to be very obedient unto every commandment which the Lord should give by the mouth of His accredited messengers. A similar covenant is reaffirmed under the gospel dispensation, only it is pre-eminently a covenant of grace, not of works. Jesus died that they who lived should henceforth live unto Him who died for them. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all other things shall be added unto you," was the stipulation of the great Teacher. To "sin wilfully" is to count the blood of the covenant wherewith we axe sanctified an unholy thing (Hebrews 10:29). Jesus is the Mediator of a "new covenant." The same epistle concludes with a prayer that the God who, in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant, raised Christ from the dead, may perfect His people in every good work, that thus on both sides the "conditions" may be observed.
VI. SECRECY IS THE USUAL ACCOMPANIMENT OF SIN. Achan did not wear the "garment" or exhibit the "gold," but hid his plunder "in the earth in the midst of his tent" (Genesis 3:21). The attempt to cloak sin may arise either from a feeling of shame, or from the fear of detection and punishment. This last is a baser motive than the first. Shame is an evidence that the man is not wholly bad, that the voice of conscience has not been totally silenced. That after the Fall our first parents did not set their faces;like a flint was a testimony that evil had not acquired complete mastery over them. Oh that men visited with these compunctions of conscience would attend to the self attesting nature of sin! We may rejoice in the endeavour to conceal crimes, so far as it indicates that society is not yet so corrupt as unblushingly to acknowledge sin as such. Since God mentions the "dissembling" of Achan as aggravating his offence, it is probable that he was afraid of the vengeance which discovery would bring upon his head. Already sin was inflicting its punishment. There could not be open, unrestrained fruition of ill-gotten gains. Rejoicing naturally demands the presence of others to share our joy, and by participation to increase the common stock; but there can be no such gathering to greet the result of sins, for they—
"The cloak of night being plucked from off their backs,
Stand bare and naked, trembling at themselves."
Conclusion. Thankfulness for a Saviour, born to "save his people from their sins," the Light of the world revealing our natural dark, degraded condition, but bringing to us, if we will bask in His rays, knowledge, purity, and happiness. "God be merciful to me a sinner," the prelude to "They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy."—A.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
The way of the transgressor.
In order to understand Achan's sin, we must bear in mind the absolute nature of the decree that everything belonging to Jericho should be devoted to the Lord—all living beings slain, and destructible materials consumed as a sacrifice to His offended Majesty; all indestructible materials—silver and gold, vessels of iron and brass—consecrated to the service of the sanctuary. The sin was, therefore, something more than an act of disobedience. It was a violation of the Divine covenant. It was sacrilege, a robbery of God, an impious seizure, for base, selfish purposes, of that which belonged to Him. And the secrecy with which the sin was committed was a defiance of the Divine Omniscience. Trifling as the offence may seem on a mere superficial view of it, it thus contained the essential elements of all transgression. The penalty was terrible; but the moral exigencies of the time demanded it. The sovereignty God was asserting so solemnly over the Canaanites could suffer no dishonour among His own people. "Judgment must begin at the house of God." The point of interest in this passage is the view it gives of the connection between Achan and all Israel in this transgression; it speaks of his deed as the deed of the whole nation, and one that brought down on it the anger of the Lord. Consider
(1) the relation of Achan and his in to the people;
(2) the relation of the people to Achan's sin.
I. NOTE THE INFLUENCE THE SIN OF ONE MAN MAY NAVE ON THE LIFE AND DESTINY OF MANY OTHERS. Nothing is said about the effect of Achan's trespass on his family, except that it involved them with himself in the same miserable end. We are not told whether he had any associates in crime. Probably he had. Men are seldom able to keep dark secrets like tiffs locked up long in their own bosoms. But however this may be, we cannot well confine our thoughts to the mere participation in punishment. We are reminded of those bearings of human conduct which are at work long before the final issues stand revealed—the near, as well as remote, effects of wrong doing. Men cannot sin alone any more than "perish" alone (Joshua 22:20). Consider that great law of moral action and reaction that underlies all the superficial forms of social life, and which is to it very much what the laws of chemical affinity or of attraction and gravitation are to nature. By this men are held together, linked one with another, cemented into one living anti organic whole. By virtue of this we are continually giving and receiving impulses. And it is as impossible that we should act without producing effects on others, as that the smooth surface of a lake should be broken and there be no undulations spreading to the banks. This influence will be for good or ill according to a man's personal character. Our words and deeds, charged with the moral quality of our own inner life, tend thus inevitably to awaken something like them in others. Every good man diffuses a moral influence that assimilates all around him to his own goodness. Every bad man stands in the midst of human society the moral image of the deadly upas tree, blighting and withering crew fair thing that comes within its shadow. "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone!" Go not near him. For your own sake "let him alone!" So with every single act of transgression. We may not be able to trace its moral issues; only know that it adds to the ever-accumulating sum of the world's evil. So far as its power reaches it is another contribution to the building up of Satan's kingdom among men, another blow struck at the kingdom of truth and righteousness. Moreover, sin cannot always be hid, though men seek the darkness for the doing of their dark deeds—though the memorials of their guilt be carefully concealed, like the "costly garment," etc; of Achan beneath the ground—yet God's eye "seeth in secret," and He will sooner or later "reward it openly." "For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest,'' etc. (Luke 8:17). "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). And as its influence spreads far beyond the place of its birth, so its penalty will fall on the innocent as well as the guilty. All this may seem out of harmony with the present dispensation of grace. But not so. Christianity does not alter the fundamental laws of moral government. These considerations clothe the sinner with guilt independently of the intrinsic quality of his deed. They deepen the shadow that rents on the path of the transgressor.
II. THE RELATION OF THE PEOPLE TO ACHAN'S SIN. The crime of this one man is imputed to all Israel on the principle of the organic unity of the nation. As the body is said to be diseased or wounded, though the malady may lie only in one of its members, so his trespass destroyed the moral integrity of the whole nation. We are reminded of certain ways in which a community may be implicated in a wrong actually done by only one of its members.
(1) When the sin does but give definite expression to a spirit prevailing more or less through all. Distinct forms of practical evil often bring to light principles that are secretly leavening a whole society. It is vow possible that Achan's solitary trespass was indicative of a spirit of insubordination, or of selfish greed among the people, that would have utterly subverted the Divine purpose if it had not been thus sternly rebuked at the beginning. Upon this principle of fellowship of spirit Christ said that "all the righteous blood shed on the earth" should come on that generation (Matthew 23:35); and Peter charged the multitude on the day of Pentecost with having slain "the Holy One and the Just," though many of them can have had no actual part in the transgression (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:14, Acts 3:15).
(2) When the many connive at that sin, or share the profit of it. Men sin by proxy, and thus think to secure the end without involving themselves in the wrongful means that lead to it. But to consent to reap any part of the profit of an iniquitous transaction—to place yourself willingly in any sort of connection with it—is to share its guilt. Indeed, the moral sense of mankind declares that there is a special criminality, an added element of baseness and meanness, belonging to him who has such indirect interest in the wrong doing of others. The question of so-called "national sins" arises here. A national sin is one committed in the name of a nation by its representatives, or on which the State sets the stamp of its authority and license. If Achan's sin had been connived at by Joshua and the elders it would have been a national sin.
(3) When those who are aggrieved by the sin fail to bear faithful witness against it. The guilt of this "trespass" rested on all Israel until, by public condemnation, it was wiped out (2 Corinthians 7:11).—W.
HOMILIES BY E. DE PRESSENSE
The accursed thing.
Immediately after the taking of Jericho, Israel found itself suddenly arrested in its career of conquest. Its advanced guard received a humiliating repulse from the inhabitants of the small town of Ai. Joshua was driven almost to despair by this defeat, because it seemed to doom the army of Israel to feebleness and failure, by the withdrawal of the presence and power of God. It seemed as if the heavens were closed against him, and he could no more reckon upon that invincible Divine aid which had been hitherto the strength of his arms. He rent his garments and called upon God, and the answer came, "Israel hath sinned … for they have taken of the accursed thing." This trangression of the covenant was the cause of their defeat, and this alone. And in our own day it is "the accursed thing" which is still the sole obstacle to the victories of the people of God, and to His blessing resting upon them. Let us look at flits sin in its cause, in its effects, and in its reparation.
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS SIN is covetousness born of the selfishness which leads to rebellion. The unhappy Achan could not resist the desire to secure for himself a share of the booty, he sought his own selfish ends in the cause of God. That cause requires to be served with complete self devotion, and with an eye to God alone. Achan thought first of satisfying his own avarice. A holy war must be waged holily. From the moment when the base passion of selfishness creeps in, it ceases to be a holy war. It is then even worse than any other war, for God will not suffer His name to be profaned. Whenever the so-called defenders of the Church have sought their own glory, when they have aimed at securing power or fortune for themselves, they have paved the way for defeat. This is equally true of individuals. To make use of the cause of God for one's own ends is not only to dishonour, but fatally to compromise it; for it is then no longer the cause of God, but the cause of the devil.
II. THE EFFECT of intermeddling with the accursed thing IS TO LOSE THE HELP OF GOD, and to bring down His anger. The heavenly Father is no blind and unjust parent, who has favourites whose transgressions He winks at. He chastises those whom He loves, and because He loves them; He does not allow them to harden their hearts in rebellion against Him. Hence He makes them feel the Father's chastening rod (Hebrews 12:16). It is not tolerable, moreover, that the cause of God should be confounded with that of ambition and self seeking, or that His name should be used as a cloak for covetousness. Therefore, as soon as Israel violates the covenant of God, it is visited with condign punishment. The victory of the rebel who makes use of the name of God would be, for that very reason, worse than his defeat. Defeat will show that the honor of God cannot be sullied by the sins of His people, for He repudiates them. We must not be suprised at finding that in every age God has made His people pass through the sharpest ordeal of chastisement. The heaviest of all chastisements is the interruption of communication with God. The heavens are pitiless iron and brass so long as the accursed thing is tampered with. The sin forms a wall between God and the soul, which there is no passing through.
III. THE REPARATION OF THIS EVIL IMPLIES TWO SUCCESSIVE ACTS.
1. Its confession. Achan must acknowledge his sin before all the people.
2. The utter putting away of the accursed thing. Under the stern discipline of the old covenant, the guilty man perished with his unlawful prey. Under the new covenant, the justice of God is satisfied with that inward death which is called mortification, and which ought to be a true sacrifice of self. It is equally true now, however, that mere confession is not enough; that the idol must be consumed in the sacrificial fire. Any one who keeps in his possession the accursed thing, places himself under condemnation from which there is no escape. It does not signify whether the forbidden thing be materially of much or little value. It might have been thought that the theft of a single garment and of two hundred shekels of silver was of small account amidst all the rich booty of Jericho. It is the act itself which God condemns. The smallest forbidden thing retained is enough to shut up the heavens, and to draw down upon our Church, our home, and ourselves the severe judgment of God till it has been confessed and put away.—E.DE.P.
JOSHUA'S PRAYER AND GOD'S ANSWER.—
And Joshua rent his clothes. A token of grief usual among the Jews (see Genesis 37:29, 84; Genesis 44:13, etc. Knobel cites Le Genesis 21:10); and though Joshua was not the high priest, yet from his peculiar position he might be expected to adopt somewhat of the high priest's demeanour, and at least not to display this outward sign of grief without the strongest reason. The words "before the ark" are omitted in the LXX. And put dust on their heads. A sign of still more abject humiliation. The head, the noblest part of man, was thus placed beneath the dust of the ground from whence he was taken (see 1 Samuel 4:12; 2Sa 1:2; 2 Samuel 13:19; 2 Samuel 15:32; 1 Kings 20:38; Job 2:12; Lamentations 2:10). It was a common custom among the Greeks. (See Lucian, De Luetu, 12). Homer mentions the custom (Iliad, 18). Pope's translation runs thus:—
"Cast on the ground, with furious hands he spread
The scorching ashes o'er his graceful head.
His purple garments and his golden hairs,
Those he deforms with dust, and these he tears."
Wherefore hast thou at all brought. The LXX. seems in some way to have read עבד for עבר; they translate "why did thy servant cross?" But their rendering is a clear grammatical blunder, for the Masorites remark that the הis to be preserved. Would to God we had been content. Calvin makes some severe remarks on Joshua's folly and want of faith under this reverse. But it may be paralleled by the conduct of most Christians in adversity. How few are there who can bear even temporal calamity calmly and patiently, even though they have abundant reason to know that temporal affliction is not only no sign of the displeasure of God, but the reverse! And when, through allowing secret sin to lurk within the soul, the Christian is overcome and brought to shame by his spiritual enemies, how much more seldom it is that he has the courage to gird up the loins of his soul and renew the conflict, in full confidence that victory will be his in the end! How much more frequently does he despair of victory, wish he had never undertaken the Christian profession, give up his belief in the protecting care and guidance of God, and desist, at least for a time, from the good fight of faith, to his own serious injury and to the detriment of God's Church! "It is not," adds Calvin, "a new thing 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 rendered valueless, 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 all their care upon God, this blunt simplicity, though it needs pardon, is yet far more acceptable than the feigned modesty and self restraint of the hypocrites."
What shall I say? To encourage the people who will be downcast by this defeat, while their enemies will gather courage.
For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it. The invariable argument of Moses (Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:28; Deuteronomy 32:26, Deuteronomy 32:27). The disgrace which the sin of man brings upon the cause of the Lord is a real and very terrible thing (cf. 2 Samuel 12:14; Ezekiel 36:23).
Get thee up. Not puerile lamentation, but action, is ever the duty of the soldier of the Lord. If defeat assails either the individual or the cause, there is a reason for it, and this must be promptly searched out, and with God's aid be discovered. The sin or error once found out and put away, the combat may be renewed and brought to a successful issue.
Israel hath sinned. A simple but satisfactory explanation. It is not God who changes. It is we who frustrate His counsels of love and protection against our enemies. We have here another assertion of the principle that if one member suffer all the members suffer with it. Achan's sin was the sin of all Israel. So the sin of one man is still the sin of the whole Church. And have also stolen. The accusation is cumulative. Israel, which was all involved in the sin of one among their number, had
(1) broken a solemn vow;
(2) had stolen what was not theirs;
(3) had acted deceitfully (כָּחַשַׁ); and
(4) had appropriated to themselves what belonged to God, which, as Keil remarks, was the last and gravest feature of their crime.
This is strongly brought out by the fivefold repetition of גַּם in the original.
Therefore. This plain statement disposes of the idea that the repulse before Ai was simply the result of Joshua's rashness in sending so small a body of troops. The vivid narrative of the detection of Achan, obviously taken from contemporary records, precedes the account of the final capture of the city, although Joshua, who, as we have seen, does not neglect to employ human means, resolves to take greater precautions before making a second attack. Not a hint is dropped that the former number of men was insufficient, or that Joshua had been misled by the information brought by the reconnoitring party. In the mind of the historian the defect is entirely owing to the existence of secret sin in the Israelitish camp. Except ye destroy the accursed from among. Dr. Maclear, in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools,' calls attention to the fact that 1 Corinthians 5:13 is a quotation from the LXX. here, substituting, however, τὸν πονηρὸν for το ἀνάθεμα.
Sanctify the people. See note on Joshua 3:5. Thou canst not stand before thine enemies. Observe the singular number here, intensifying the testimony of the whole history to the fact that Israel was one body before the Lord. And observe, moreover, how the existence of secret sin, even though unknown to and undetected by him in whom it lurks, has power to enfeeble the soul in its conflict with its enemies. Hence we learn the duties Of watchfulness and careful examination of the soul by the light of God's Word.
Taketh, i.e; by lot, as in 1 Samuel 14:42 (הַפִילוּ make it fall; cf. 1 Samuel 10:20) (cf. Jonah 1:7; also Proverbs 18:18). According to the families. The gradual centering of the suspicion upon the offender is one of the most striking features of the history. The genealogies of the children of Israel were very strictly kept, as the Books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah show. Achan's name is carefully given in the genealogy of Judah in 1 Chronicles if. 7. The subdivision of the tribes into families (or clans, Keil) and households (or, as we should perhaps say, families) was for convenience of enumeration, military organisation, and perhaps of assessment. Oehler, 'Theologie des Allen Testaments,' Sec. 101, takes the same view as Keil. The tribes, he says, were divided into מִשְׁפָהוֹת or אֲלָפִים i.e; Geschlechter (LXX. δημοι, for which the best English equivalent is clans, as above); these into families or houses (בָּתִּים), or fathers' hours (בֵּת אָבוֹת); and these again into single heads of a house (גְבָרִים). The principle, he adds of a Mosaic family, is as follows: Every "family" forms a distinct whole, which as far as possible must be maintained in its integrity. Each tribe, says Jahn ('Hebrew Commonwealth,' Book II), acknowledged a prince (כָשִׂיא) as its ruler. As its numbers increased, there arose a subdivision of the tribe into collections of families. Such a collection was called a house of fathers, a מִשְׁפְחָה or clan, or a thousand, rut this explanation is not so satisfactory as that given above. Kurz remarks on the important part family life played among the Hebrews, with whom, in consequence of their descent from Abraham, and the importance they attached to it, the nation was developed out of the family. See Introduction.
He that is taken with the accursed thing; or, according to Keil, "he on whom the ban falls." He and all that he hath (cf. Joshua 7:24). The opinion that Achan's family had in some way become participators in his sin would seem preferable to the idea that his sin had involved them in the ban. The destruction of their possessions is due to the fact that all the family had come under the ban. Folly נְבָלָה used of the heart as well as the head (cf. Genesis 34:7 : Deuteronomy 22:21; Judges 19:23, Judges 19:24, Jdg 20:6; 2 Samuel 13:12; Psalms 14:1). The LXX. render by ἀνόμημα, and the Vulgate by herae, but Theodotion renders by ἀφροσύνη.
I.—THE BITTERNESS OF REPENTANCE.
1. The sting of sin is sharper than its pleasure. The uneasiness which followed on Achan's transgression far outweighed any pleasure he could have derived from it. For, first, the possession of his treasure was itself a trouble. He had to hide it in his tent, and to watch carefully lest any one should discover it. Next, he brought death upon thirty-six of his innocent fellow-countrymen. Lastly, he brought the keenest distress and humiliation upon Joshua and the whole congregation. So it always is. The sting which follows on our first deliberate disobedience of God's commands is always far keener than the pleasure that disobedience gave us. The fear of detection, the oppression of a guilty secret, far outweighs any happiness sinful indulgence can give. And the distress which our misdeeds are apt to bring on those who are bound to us by the nearest and dearest of ties is frequently altogether out of proportion to the momentary satisfaction we have derived from our wrong doing.
2. The reaction that follows on sin is often fatal to faith. Thus Joshua's courage gave way. He reproached God, he made sure of defeat and destruction, he wished he had never crossed Jordan. So are we often weakened in our warfare against God's enemies by the discouragements and disasters the sins of Christians (perhaps unknown to ourselves) have brought on us. So in our own hearts, after some great failure, the consequence of hidden evil within us which we have not been careful to detect, we are overwhelmed with sorrow and confusion, we think it useless to strive, we are tempted to abandon our Christian profession, we wish we had never undertaken its responsibilities, we cry, "Would God we had been content and dwelt on the other side Jordan!"
II.—THE REPROACH OF SIN. Achan's sin brought not only sorrow, but disgrace, after it. "The Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it." Consequences flow from sin which we had never thought of when we committed it. Our relatives and friends have to suffer for our misdeeds. Our order in society must bear the burden of our misconduct. The cause of Christ must be beaten back because we have abandoned it. There is a never-failing connection between sin and shame. If we do not feel it for our ourselves, others must feel it for us.
III.—THE PROMPT MEASURES NECESSARY TO AVERT ITS CONSEQUENCES. This may be regarded as affecting religious bodies or individuals.
(1) Excommunication has fallen into disfavour, and indeed it has been shamefully abused. And yet the expulsion of the offender, at least until he gave unequivocal proofs of repentance, was one of the first principles of the Christian Church (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). And so now, no society owning the name of Christ ought to tolerate within its borders any person whose life is a scandal to the religion he professes. "With such an one no not to eat" is a Scripture maxim. And observe the holy eagerness Joshua displayed in the matter. There was no delay. He rose up early in the morning. God left him no doubt about the course he ought to pursue. And the evil was at once and for ever put away. It were "much to be wished" that the "godly discipline" of the early ages of the Church were restored. Calvin and many other of the Reformers laboured hard to restore it; but they too often lacked judgment and mercy. Yet it were well could the congregation of the Christian faithful resolve to "put away from" them adultery, fornication, drunkenness, dishonesty, open and notorious covetousness or profaneness, and to refuse to live in friendship or intimacy with those who thus bring disgrace on the Christian name.
(2) Our dealings with ourselves should be on the same principle. There should be no delay in our repentance, no dallying with sin. As soon as we are conscious of its evil presence, we should do our best to cast it out. If it be not cast out at once it will be our ruin. We must "rise up early in the morning," examine our actions one by one, bring our dispositions and habits to be tested by the unerring judgment of God, and that one which He pronounces to be guilty must be condemned and sacrificed to His just vengeance. And we may remark, moreover, how often sin lurks within us, unsuspected even by ourselves. We go out to battle like the children of Israel, against God's enemies, unconscious that there is a traitor within the camp. When we meet with disgrace and disaster in a conflict in which God is pledged to aid us, we may be sure that the fault is within ourselves. We ought at once to betake ourselves to self-examination, to detect the hidden evil, and when found we ought at once to put it away.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
This leads us to remark that—
I. EVERY SIN IS KNOWN TO GOD. Joshua was ignorant that Achan had secreted spoil, but the searching glances of God reached further than the most watchful oversight of the leader. As afterwards, when the disciples did not suspect the character and intents of Judas, the Lord discerned the sinister proposes of his heart. The omniscience and omnipresence of the Almighty have been strangely disregarded even by His own servants. Witness the curious flight of Jonah, as if he could really "flee from the presence of the Lord." "I know thy works" is the heading to the practical address in nearly each of the seven letters to the Churches of Asia. "Thou God seest me."
II. SIN REVEALED BY FAILURE IN AN UNDERTAKING. The overthrow of Jericho inspired the Israelites with such confidence that they disdained to employ all their forces in assaulting Ai. To their surprise, their attack was repulsed with loss. The greater the previous security, the more intense the subsequent alarm. They were unconscious of the presence of a traitor in the camp. The theft of Achan was a stronger opponent than the men of the city. Sin destroys our power. As one has quaintly observed, "In running a race, an inward pain hinders more than if a dozen men jostled you." When men have taken cold, they immediately reflect where they could have been exposed to draught, and non success in any enterprise causes us to inquire. What have we done amiss? Trouble leads us to scrutinise our past life, conscience accuses of sins which have deserved, if they have not actually drawn upon us, this proof of Divine displeasure. Self examination is healthful if not carried to excessive lengths; it may produce "carefulness, clearing of ourselves," etc. (2 Corinthians 7:11). The effect of sin is not confined to the particular guilty member. Sin taints the community, or often involves it in its suffering. As a drop of ink discolours a whole glass of water, so thousands of innocent persons may be affected by the neighbourhood of one sinner. This concerns us individually, for if one limb offends, the body is defiled; and collectively, as members of Churches, and as belonging to a nation.
III. THE OFFENCE MADE KNOWN IN ANSWER TO PRAYER. Deep was Joshua's solicitude. With the elders of Israel he rent his clothes and fell prostrate before the ark all day. To a lover of God, the belief that His favour is withdrawn is the most overwhelming sorrow. Nor is the grief merely selfish in its origin. Joshua lamented the dishonour which would be affixed to the glorious name of Jehovah when the news of Israel's defeat was bruited abroad. Prayer is the believer's unfailing resource. Receiving any woful tidings, he "spreads the letter," like Hezekiah, before the Lord. He ventures to plead, to expostulate, to argue. And the answer surely arrives though it appear long to tarry. In this narrative we find Joshua reproved for imagining that God would arbitrarily desert His people. He might have known that something was wrong in the conduct of the nation, and his inquiry should have been, Wherein have we offended? We must not at once rush to the conclusion that the events which befal us are "judgments," for when we think God's smile is absent, it may be flint the clouds of our marshy land interrupt the heavenly rays. Nevertheless the advice of the preceding paragraph holds good, and the rebuke administered to Joshua may be often seasonably applied to ourselves.
IV. THE OFFENDER MANIFESTED. The drawing of a lot was the means resorted to on all important occasions for appointment to positions of honour or shame. Picture the gradual contraction of the circle of fire till it enwrapped only "the troubler of Israel," and he stood before all the people as the cause of a national disgrace. The slow and stately discovery, as well as the proceedings of the day before, afforded time to the criminal to reveal himself, if he would. What must have been his feelings as he saw detection drawing nearer and nearer till it pointed its finger to his breast, saying, "Thou art the man!" The method of manifestation also afforded time for the spectators to be thoroughly aroused, so that they might appreciate more deeply the awfulness of the sin committed, and be ready with one shout to inflict the penalty due thereto. God may advance slowly, but His step is sure. Delay is no presumption of final impunity.
V. We see lastly, THE FOLLY OF SIN. Achan "wrought folly in Israel" (verse 15). The word means stupidity—as Abigail uncomplimentarily remarked of her husband, "Nabal is his name and folly is with him." Sin is certain of detection. Known to the Almighty, He often brings it into the light of day here, and will surely manifest it hereafter. Sin imperils real, enduring bliss for the sake of transitory gratifications. A little pleasure, and severest pain; for brief fame, lasting infamy; for temporary wealth, eternal loss.—A
THE DISCOVERY OF ACHAN'S SIN.—
The family of Judah. The expression מִשְׁפַתַת is remarkable. Many commentators would read מִשְׁפְחֹת, not without some MSS. authority. Keil objects that the Chaldee and Syriac have the singular. But the LXX. has κατὰ δήμους, and the Vulgate juxta familias. On the whole it seems more probable that as מִשְׁפַחַת occurs twice in this passage, it has been so pointed where the same letters occur for the third time, than that, with Peele, it means tribe (so also Gesenius and Winer); or that, as others suggest, it is used for omnes or singulas genres. See, however, Judges 13:2, where it is unquestionably used in the sense of tribe.
My son. This is no mere hypocritical affectation of tenderness. Joshua feels for the criminal, even though he is forced to put him to death. So in cur own day the spectacle is not uncommon of a judge melted to tears as he passes sentence of death on the murderer. The expression seems almost to imply a belief that, though Achan must undergo the extremest penalty of the law in this world, Joshua entertained a hope that he might be forgiven in the next. It certainly proves that, stern as the law of Moses was, it was felt, at least in those early days, to be rather against the sin than the sinner that its severity was directed. In commenting upon the severity of the Mosaic covenant, whether towards offenders against its provisions or against the Canaanites, we must remember Bishop Butler's caution, that in this world we see but a very small portion of the whole counsel of God. Give glory to the Lord Cod of Israel, and make confession unto Him. Literally, offer (or impute) glory to the Lord God of Israel, and give confession (or praise) unto Him (cf. John 9:24). The meaning is to give honour to God as the all-seeing God, the revealer of secrets, by an open confession before men of what is already known to Him. It may have been a common formula of adjuration, though Masius thinks otherwise.
A goodly Babylonish garment. Literally, "a mantle of Shinar, one goodly one." Babylon was in the "land of Shinar" (see Genesis 11:2; Genesis 14:1; Isaiah 11:11; Zechariah 5:11). The אַדרֶת derived from אדר great, glorious, was an ample cloak, sometimes of hair or fur (Genesis 25:25; cf. 1 Kings 19:13, 1Ki 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13, 2 Kings 2:14; Jonah 3:6, etc). The Babylonish mantle was famed for its beauty (ποικίλη, LXX), and was, no doubt, worked artistically with figures of men and animals. "Of all Asiatic nations, the Babylonians were the most noted for the weaving of cloth of divers colours. Into these stuffs gold threads were introduced into the woof of many hues. Amongst those who traded in 'blue clothes and embroidered work' with Tyro were the merchants of Asshur, or Assyria; and that the garments of Babylon were brought into Syria and greatly esteemed at a very early period, we learn from their being classed amongst the most precious articles of spoil, even with gold, in the time of Joshua". From this, among other passages, we may infer the early date of the Book of Joshua. It marks an early stage of civilisation when an embroidered garment can be considered as in any degree equivalent to gold. The Israelites, it must be remembered, were not unaccustomed in Egypt to the highest degree of civilisation then known. "Nam Persarum, finitimarumque gentium luxum eo se ostentare solere vel ex eo constat quod captis ab Alexandro Magno Susis illicinventa fuerit 10 millia pondo, sive talents purpurae Hermionicae, teste Plutarcho in Alexandro" (Corn. a Lapide). A wedge of gold. Literally, "a tongue of gold." Some derive our word ingot from the French lingot, or little tongue. But others derive it with greater probability from the Dutch ingieten the same as the German einqiesen, to pour in. "Si ergo invenias spud philosophos perversa dogmata luculenti sermonis assertionibus decorata, ista eat lingua aurea. Sed vide, nete decipiat fulgor operis, ne te rapiat sermonis aurei pulchritudo: memento, quia Jesus anathema jussit esse omni aurum quod in Jericho fuerit inventum. Si poetam legeris modulatis versibus et praefulgido carmine Deos Deasque texentem, ne delecteris eloquentiae suavitate. Lingua aurea est: si eam sustuleritis, et posueris in tabernaculo tuo: polluis omnem ecclesiam Domini" (Orig; Hom. 7 on Joshua).
Laid them out before the Lord. This shows the directly religious nature of the proceeding. God had directed the lot, the offender was discovered, and now the devoted things are solemnly laid out one by one (for so the Hebrew seems to imply, though in 2 Samuel 15:24 it has the sense of planting firmly, as molten matter hardens and becomes fixed) before Him whose they are, as a confession of sin, and also as an act of restitution.
Took Achan, the son of Zerah. Great-grandson in reality (see Joshua 7:1; cf. 1 Kings 15:2, 1 Kings 15:10). And his sons and his daughters (see note, Joshua 7:15). Brought them. Hebrew, "brought them up." The valley of Achor was above Jericho, whether higher up the valley or on higher ground is not known. The valley of Achor (see Joshua 15:7; Isaiah 65:10; Hosea 2:15). Achor means trouble (see note on Joshua 6:18).
Stoned him with stones. The word here is not the same as in the last part of the verse. It has been suggested that the former word signifies to stone a living person, the second to heap up stones upon a dead one; and this derives confirmation from the fact that the former word has the signification of piling up, while the latter rather gives the idea of the weight of the pile. Some have gathered from the use of the singular here, that Achan only was stoned; but the use of the plural immediately afterwards implies the contrary, unless, with Knobel, we have recourse to the suggestion that "them" is a "mistake of the Deuteronomist" for "him." It is of course possible that his family were only taken there to witness the solemn judgment upon their father. But the use of the singular and plural in Hebrew is frequently very indefinite (see Judges 11:17, Judges 11:19; Psalms 66:6. See note above, on Joshua 6:25).
And the Lord turned from the heat of His anger. There is no contradiction between this and such passages as 1 Samuel 15:29; James 1:17. It is not God, but we who turn. Our confession and restitution, by uniting our will with His, of necessity turn His wrath away. Yet of course it is through Jesus Christ alone that such confession and restitution is possible, and they are accepted simply because by faith they are united with His.
Objections have been raised to the morality of the whole narrative. We will deal first with this subject, and then turn to the religious and moral questions involved.
I. WHY DID GOD NOT REVEAL THE OFFENDER WHEN HE REVEALED THE OFFENCE? The answer is, that He might still further display the hardness of Achan's heart. He did not at once come forward and confess his crime. He not only had offended against God's laws, but he persisted in his offence. His was not a tender conscience, sensitive to the least reproach, he saw what disaster he had brought upon Israel, yet he clung to his ill-gotten gains as long as he could. He was not driven, either by remorse for the injury he had done his brethren, or by the clear evidence that God had found him out, to confession and restitution. He concealed his guilt till concealment was no longer possible, and thus added as much as he could to his guilt. So do men in these days hug their sins to their bosom as long as they are not found out. They cry, "Turn, God hath forgotten. He hideth His face and He will never see it;" thus adding all possible aggravation to their guilt.
II. THE JUSTICE OF JOSHUA is worthy of remark. Even Achan's confession was not regarded as final. The wedge of gold, the garment, and the silver were brought and solemnly laid out before God and the congregation as proof of his guilt. Not till then was judgment pronounced. We have here a warning against hasty and uncharitable judgments. No man can justly be visited with censure or punishment until his guilt be filly proved.
III. We should next observe THE NATURE OF ACHAN'S SIN.
1. It was sacrilege, the most presumptuous of all sins. The tendency of modern thought is to ignore such sins. To steal what is devoted to God's service is not worse than to steal anything else. To break an oath is not worse than to break one's word. Do not such reasonings ignore the personality of God? And do not religious people very often unthinkingly surrender a fundamental article of their faith when they yield to such reasoning? If there be indeed a God—if He be nothing but the embodiment of the principle of humanity, as we are now taught, does it not add the most awful of all insolence to the sin in itself when we rob Him, or he to Him? All sins are, it is tree, a denial of His being; but that denial assumes a more naked and a bolder form when the offence is directed against Him. For then all disguises of self interest are swept away, and the offender says deliberately in his heart, "There is no God." Let us take heed, therefore, how we "rob God," whether "in tithes and offerings," or in any other way.
2. The sacrilege was committed just when sacrilege was most inexcusable. The hand of God had been clearly visible in the capture of Jericho. The dedication of the spoil to Him was an acknowledgment of His awful power. Not long before God had dried up the waters of Jordan before His people. They had but just renewed their covenant with Him by a general circumcision of the people, and had sanctified that renewal by partaking of the passover. And God foreknew that Achan would persist in his sin, in disbelieving in the Almighty power of God until his offence was brought home beyond the possibility of mistake to his own door.
The lessons we learn from this event are four.
I. THE AWFULNESS OF THE SENTENCE AGAINST SIN. "The soul that sinneth it shall die." "The wages of sin is death." All unrepented sin is leading us up to this end. Achan is the type of impenitent sinners. He persists in his sin till the great moment of unveiling comes, as sinners persist in their sin until they are brought to the bar of God's judgment. Then is it too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of judgment. We must learn to confess and forsake our sin in time.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF DETECTION. The heavens did not shake, nor the earth tremble, when Achan committed his sin. No lightning descended from above upon his head. No sign appeared in the earth or sky to betray him. The sun rose and set as usual. Nothing disturbed the ordinary routine of the camp until the reverse at Ai. Yet God saw all and meant to bring it to light in His own good time. Achan fancied himself undiscovered, but he was mistaken. And so are they mistaken who fancy that God does not see their secret sins. They may go on for years undiscovered, but God knows all, and can, and often does, in the most unexpected way bring all to light. If not before, yet on that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, shall the sin which the sinner has hugged so closely to his bosom be displayed in its native hideousness before God, angels, and men.
III. THE NECESSITY OF CONFESSION AND RESTITUTION. Repentance which does not involve these is no repentance at all. To repent of sin is to forsake it; but forsaking sin is impossible without confession and restitution. Confession, that is, to the person whom we have offended. If we have sinned against God, we must confess our sin to Him. If we have done wrong to man, we must acknowledge the wrong we have done to him who has suffered by it. Restitution, again, is a sore trial to the offender; he would fain persuade himself that it is unnecessary. But unless we restore our ill-gotten gains we are persisting in the very sin we profess to have renounced. We cannot really hate and desire to break off any sinful habits, while we retain as our own that which those sinful habits have gained for us. Achan was compelled
(1) to acknowledge the sin he had committed, and
(2) to acquiesce in the restoration of what he had stolen.
And those who, in our days, hope that they may be held blameless because they confess to God, which means to themselves, sins the shame of which they ought to endure, and the profit of which they are bound to restore, will certainly undergo the punishment which Achan, even when confessing and restoring, did not escape. The duty of confession to the person offended is incumbent on those who have slandered, or insulted, or wounded the feelings of another. That of restitution is due from those who have wronged God or man, either by withholding from the former what was due to Him, or by taking undue advantage of the ignorance or necessity of the latter. Those who defraud the widow and the fatherless, or "oppress the hireling in his wages," or drive a corrupt or unjust bargain, who use "the bag of deceitful weights," must either disgorge their ill-gotten gains, or suffer the vengeance of a just God. So the Scriptures tell us throughout.
IV. THE GRAVITY OF SIN DEPENDS ON ITS CIRCUMSTANCES. The taking of a piece of gold or silver and a garment is not in itself an offence that deserves death, nor was it ever so regarded under the law. What constituted the gravity of Achan's offence we have already seen. We may gather hence that in estimating sin, the position of the offender, his opportunities of enlightenment, the nature and strength of the temptation, his means of resisting it, must be taken into account. A sin is infinitely worse when committed by a man who has made a high profession of religion, and must have known the gravity of the offence when committing it. A sin is infinitely worse when an utter indifference to the existence of God or His justice is ostentatiously shown. It may possibly be that one weak in faith and holy resolution, and exposed to overwhelming temptation, may plead the intensity of the temptation, as well as his own ignorance and inexperience, as some palliation of his error. "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you," said our Lord to the scribes and Pharisees. And so the sin-stained multitudes in our large cities may be nearer to God than many decent professors of religion who combine with their comfort and decency the coldest and most cynical selfishness.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
A notable scene. The people of Israel assembled in solemn conclave. In silent excitement the national offender has been detected, and waits to hear his doom from the lips of the great commander. Whilst every eye is bent upon Achan, Joshua addresses him in the language of the text. Note how guilty Joshua speaks, grieving over the offence rather than severely censuring it, calling the criminal "my son," and inviting a full disclosure from his own lips. Out of his own mouth was Achan to be condemned. Yet not with delight did Joshua await the confession. His fatherly heart was sorely pained at such a revelation of iniquity in his erring child.
I. CONFESSION IS DUE TO THE HONOUR OF GOD. All sin is committed against God, inflicts a wrong upon His Divine Majesty. To acknowledge this is the least reparation the sinner can make, is a sign of a right disposition, indicates that the basis of God's government remains firm within the sinner's bosom, though transgression had clouded it for a time. Confession magnifies the broken law and makes it honourable. Its omission from the Pharisee's prayer was a fatal defect; whilst the publican went down "justified" because of his proper attitude with reference to a holy God. The penitence of the thief upon the cross was evinced by his utterance, "We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds." To confess is, in truth, to "give glory unto God," and hence is required, though not for His information, yet as essential to His character and law.
II. CONFESSION RELIEVES THE BURDENED BREAST. One of the clearest proofs that man was designed for companionship is to be seen in the tendency of any strong emotion to create an eager desire to communicate the same feeling unto others In our joys we long for the congratulations of our friends, and we seek their sympathy in our sorrows. And though the consciousness of sin is naturally accompanied at first by an endeavour to screen it from the gaze of our fellows, yet very soon the desire for secrecy is overcome by the more potent wish to speak of the deed which lies so heavily upon the conscience. Otherwise, as with the Spartan boy who, in hiding a fox under his tunic, allowed it to devour his very entrails, we shall discover that our concealment of sin can only end in the destruction of our being. And if it be thus helpful to discharge our woes and our follies into the ear of a fellow creature, how much greater must he our satisfaction when we have poured our tale into the audience of our heavenly Father. Men may view us with loathing, and shrink from future contact with us; they may fail even to make allowance for the strength of the temptation and the difficulties under which we laboured; but our Father is acquainted with all the circumstances, loves us as His children, and, whilst pained at our backsliding, is glad to witness our contrition. In Achan's confession here are several features worthy of imitation.
1. It was a full confession. There was no more dissembling, but an open declaration of all he had done. No attempt to extenuate his guilt; he laid it bare in all its enormity. The antithesis to confession is covering our sins, which may take place in various ways. We may try to justify them as necessary or excusable, as Saul did when he spared Agag. We may show that the matter was comparatively trifling and unimportant, as when we give names that soften vices and lessen our apprehension of them. Or we may charge other persons or things with the responsibility, shifting the blame from ourselves, pleading the requirements of business, the rules of society, the expectations of our friends, and the solicitations received, as when Adam replied, "The woman thou gavest, she gave me of the tree."
2. It acknowledged that the chief injury had been committed against God. "I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel." He had displayed a spirit of ingratitude and disobedience, and though he had brought evil upon the nation, and deserved their reprobation, he knew that it was the Almighty whom his conduct had especially wronged. So David cried, "Against thee, thee only have I sinned." Jesus Christ joined together the two branches of the moral law; but there are many who seem to think that if they fulfil their duty to their neighbour, their duty to God matters not. They say, "I have never done harm to any, have always paid my debts, been truthful and honest, charitable and upright; what sin, then, have I been guilty of?" We might in answer deny the accuracy of their statements, since due regard to others can hardly be observed apart from regard to God; but it is better, perhaps, to insist upon the obligation resting upon every man to "love the Lord with all his might," and to point out the numerous instances in which the worship and ordinances of God have been uncared for at the same time that selfish pleasures have been indulged in to the full. When the prodigal comes to himself, he does not merely resolve to reform, and that in future he will not join in the rioting of the world, but will live soberly before men; his one thought is to return to his Father and to confess, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee."
3. It was a confession to the people, since they had suffered through his misconduct. Achan's avowal was made in the face of Israel, and was followed by punishment according to the law. "Confess your faults one to another."
Conclusion.—The day approaches when "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil."—A.
HOMILIES BY R. GLOVER
A sin of greed.
Here we have much profitable study. Some sins are peculiar to certain ages or countries. But greed is found in all lands and times. It specially thrives in periods of wealth and of prosperity. It creeps in where faults of uglier aspect are denied admission. It flourishes wherever the power of religion has decayed while its profession continues. Here is an instance of its action in all its meanness, disclosure, mischief, and retribution. Consider it.
I. Mark ACHAN'S FAULT. There was this feature peculiar in the capture of Jericho—that man had no hand in it. It was God's work throughout. No risk, no loss was entailed on Israel. The earthquake of God—if such was the mode of its destruction—threw the walls down fiat. The capture, God's work; the spoil was, in a special sense, God's spoil. The first fruits of their booty; He required the entire consecration of all the gold and silver to His service. In all their subsequent operations of wax the spoil they take will be their own. In this God claims all. In such a prescription there was nothing that was unreasonable, but much that was divinely wise. Israel as a whole obeyed the Divine command, doubtless helped thereto by the solemnity which the presence and miracles of God imparted to their task. The destruction—righteously ordained—was carried out as God ordered. The whole of the wealth that was indestructible was reserved for God. But Achan is tempted. He suddenly lights on one hundred ounces of silver and twenty-five ounces of gold—a large sum in those days—probably more in purchasing power than a thousand pounds today. To see is to covet intensely, and to find a score of reasons rising within him for disobedience. "To take it hurts no one." "Nobody need know anything about it." "The sanctuary is quite rich enough." "There will be plenty left untouched by his more scrupulous neighbours." "It will stock a farm and build a house." So the vivid imagination of greed discovers a multitude of reasons for taking the spoil. And, somehow, the suddenness of the opportunity and the impulse stuns all his better nature and makes it speechless. There is no voice to remind him that he will despise himself, or that he imperils his nation. It is nothing to him that within an hour, and just at hand, God's omnipotence had been working a miracle. Under the very shadow of the Almighty he dares to sin. And every thought but that of his material advantage banished from his mind, he takes the forbidden treasure, and, concealing it in his clothes, hurries with it to his tent, and, with or without the connivance of his family—more probably the former—buries it in the earth. It is these sudden temptations that test a man. A good habit is the only protection from a bad impulse. Had he been habitually honourable, he would not so have sinned. But he was one of those who like to be deemed smart and clever, and who often imagine that self preservation is "the fulfilling of all law." Did he enjoy his loot that night? Probably with some faintest misgiving he enjoyed it greatly, and his wife and family and himself made out a most plausible case of self justification, and built pleasant castles in the air out of their treasures. But—
II. Mark how ACHAN'S SIN FINDS HIM OUT. No sin is ever entirely concealed. Every virtue puts its seal upon the brow, and every fault its mark. When concealment is perfect, the man is still embarrassed—preoccupied. His taste, and with his taste his look, degenerates. Something of restlessness makes at least his spirit a "fugitive and a vagabond in the earth." His eye is on fence, and he alternates between a glance which, in its curiosity to know whether you suspect him, glares on you, and the averted look which shuns your eye altogether. So every fault, however secret, gives some tokens of something being wrong—so much so, that the special form of wrong can often be detected in the mere look. And in addition, how strikingly is it the case that often just one precaution has been left untaken that brings the truth to light. God is light, and is always illuminating by His providence our hidden deeds of darkness; sometimes by methods more, and sometimes by methods less miraculous, God does this. In this instance how swift, terrible, and certain is the discovery! The unexpected, needless failure of the attack on Ai, where success was easy, suggests something wrong. In answer to Joshua's prayer, God's oracle reveals it. The culprit is not named, but, using the lot probably, the tribe to which he belongs, then his division of the tribe, then his family, then himself, are successively indicated; and he who but a day or two before felt so secure in the absolute secrecy of his crime, stands revealed to all the people in all the meanness of his greed! Your sin and my sin will find us out. It is better for us to find it out, to own and end it. Plume not yourself on craft or subtlety. For God's light will disclose whatever God's eye discerns. If you do not wish a wrong thing to be known, keep it undone. All sin finds out the doer of it.
III. Mark THE RESULTS OF HIS WRONG. How different from what they dreamed! There was no comfort; no farm, no castle ever came of it—only shame, disappointment, death. Mark specifically its mischiefs.
1. Israel was damaged. In the two attacks on Ai rendered necessary by this sin, many lives were lost needlessly. The heart of the people was discouraged, and the success of their enterprise imperilled.
2. Then there is the probable corruption of the man's family, the digging and hiding being hardly possible without their knowledge. It is an awful penalty of a parent's sin that it tends so directly and strongly to corrupt the children. Let us see that those whom God has given us be not harmed by what they see in us.
3. It involves all his family in the penalty of death. The law of Moses was explicit that the child should not be put to death for the father's sin. But here—whether because the family had been partakers of his crime, or because that crime was one of terrible presumptuousness—the family share his fate. Whatever the reason, it reminds us of the fact that God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those that hate him, and shows mercy unto thousands [of generations] of them that love him and keep his commandments." Here the parent's fault involves the family in ruin. Such is too often the case. Let us guard against the possibility of it.
4. It costs him his own life: he is stoned to death. Late repentance perhaps letting him make a fairer start in the other world, but not availing to prolong his existence here. How dearly he paid for his silver and his gold! How commonly men do this; how much they part with to get what sometimes only hurts them when they gain it! Let not greed be our ruin. Be generous in self protection, if from no higher motive. Only goodness is wisdom, and they consult worst for their own advantage that seek to further it with craft or with impiety.—G.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
I. A TERRIBLE PUNISHMENT. Achan is stoned to death, and his goods are then burnt with fire. He lost not only that which he had stolen, but even his own property, and above all his life. Such is the sinner's rots-reckoning!
1. The laws of God have their sanctions annexed. Sin is followed by its peculiar immediate effects, which are a punishment in themselves, and there are besides the retribution awards of the Legislator. Achan must have felt a gnawing and a fire within him as soon as the evil deed was done; but this was only preliminary to the pain of detection and subsequent penalty of stoning. It is not well with the wicked even in this world, and we cannot forget the hints of the Bible respecting stripes to be inflicted in the world to come.
2. This narrative is intended to impress us with a deep sense of the evil of sin. God speaks to us solemnly respecting the deserts of sin. So swift a retribution could not but act as a warning to the Israelites, and the record of it may serve the same purpose with respect to ourselves. If Jehovah seemed stern for a season, he dealt in real kindness with the people, for surely it was expedient for one family to die, rather than that the whole nation should be disobedient and suffer extinction.
3. Seldom does the sinner suffer alone. Achan's family lost their lives also. Perhaps they had connived at his theft. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men." If we are reckless of our own interests, let us not cruelly blight the prospects of others.
II. THE SIDE OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER HERE REVEALED. He is shown to be a jealous God, hating sin, and taking vengeance upon those who disregard His precepts. "The fierceness of God's anger" may not be such a pleasant object of contemplation as the exceeding riches of the love of God, but it is good for us to think of it in connection with evil, and is part of our notion of a perfect character. The meek and lowly Jesus could kindle into holy indignation at the sight of the hypocrisy and oppression of the scribes and Pharisees, and a cloud of brightness that has no element of fire is not the representation given in Scripture of the appearance of God. Daniel saw "a fiery stream, which issued and came forth from before" the Ancient of days.
III. THE COMFORTING ASPECTS OF OUR THEME.
1. We are not informed of Achan's final destiny, and this thought may alleviate the difficulty which some minds feel. Tempted as we are to disbelieve the genuineness of forced confessions and late repentance, it may be that Achan was sincere, and God chastised the flesh that the spirit might be saved. His death was necessary for example's sake, and the burning of the bodies and the heaping them with stones all indicated the horrid nature of sin which, like a leprosy, frets inward till all be consumed. But the offender himself may have been saved "so as by fire;" and eternal life was purchased at the expense of temporal death. God grant, however, that we may live the life, and so die the death, of the righteous.
2. The gospel offers of mercy stand out in striking contrast to the severity of the ancient dispensation. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."—A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joshua 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30