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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 7

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. But the children of Israel committed a trespass Many have found great difficulty here. There was but one personal sinner. How can the whole nation, then, be charged with sin? Calvin, dissatisfied with the many different explanations, advises that “we suspend our decisions till when the books are opened, and the judgments, now holden in darkness, are clearly explained.” It is certain that the crime of one had robbed the nation of that innocence which is pleasing to God. Such are the relations of human society that a community is punished for the sins of a part of its constituents. National punishments are inflicted in this life because nations do not exist after death. It follows, therefore, that while a nation may suffer from the sin of an individual, that suffering is temporal, and not eternal, to those who are not personally involved in the guilt. [“The Scriptures teach that a nation is one organic whole, in which the individuals are merely members of the same body, and are not atoms isolated from one another and the whole. The State is there treated as a divine institution, founded upon family relationships, and intended to promote the love of all to one another, and to the invisible Head of all. As all, then, are combined in a fellowship established by God, the good or evil deeds of an individual affect beneficially or injuriously the whole society.” Keil. All this is simply an admonitory form in which Jehovah places the divine administration of justice. Each man who suffers is worthy of death for his own sin, and no wrong is done to any. See note on Matthew 23:35.]

In the accursed thing In appropriating to private use that which had been solemnly consecrated to God, or devoted to destruction. See note, Joshua 6:17-18.

Achan Called in 1 Chronicles 2:7, Achar, the troubler of Israel.

Son of Carmi His genealogy is thus traced out in view of the method of his detection. Compare Joshua 7:16-18. He seems to have been a descendant of Judah in the fifth generation.

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel The entire community has become infected with the guilt of one of its members.

Verses 1-26


[After the fall of Jericho the prestige of Israel was exceedingly great. The name of Jehovah was a terror to the idolatrous nations of the land, and the chosen people, glorying in his matchless power and their own wondrous triumphs, were in danger of forgetting that his wrath burns against every appearance of evil, and would fall as fiercely on an offender in the camp of Israel as on the armies of the aliens. Hence the severe and solemn lesson taught by the sin and punishment of Achan.]

Verse 2

2. [ From Jericho to Ai A distance of about fifteen miles, and an ascent of more than 3,000 feet above the plain of the Jordan valley. See map below. Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel This precise statement, together with that of Joshua 8:11-12, that there was a valley on the north, and another on the west, capable of concealing five thousand men, would seem to have been sufficient to enable travelers easily to identify the precise location of Ai. But after all their search such men as Robinson, Stanley, and Tristram failed to reach any satisfactory conclusion. Robinson and Tristram assigned as the probable site a place with ruins just south of Deir Duwan, and about an hour distant (south-east) from Bethel; but in the spring of 1866 Captain Wilson and Lieutenant Anderson spent several days in examining every hill-top and almost every acre of ground for several miles east, north, and south of Bethel, and the result was the identification, beyond any reasonable doubt, of Ai with Et-Tel, an eminence a little south-east of Bethel, covered with heaps of stones and ruins. In Joshua 8:28, where it is said, “Joshua made it a heap forever,” the Hebrew word for heap is Tel, ( תל ,) which strikingly confirms this identification. See further notes on Joshua 8:11-12; Joshua 8:28. Whether Ai was rebuilt or not, the name occurs again in the history of Israel. “Men of Ai” returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, (Ezra 2:28,) and the name is probably to be recognized in the Aiath of Isaiah 10:38, and Aija of Nehemiah 11:31.]

Bethel house of God was a well-known city and holy place in Central Palestine, and was originally called Luz. It was named by Jacob on awakening from that sleep in which he had a vision of the opened heavens. Genesis 28:19, note. Here also God blessed him when he had returned from Padan-aram. After the conquest Bethel was the gathering place of the people to ask counsel of God. Here was an altar for sacrifices. Jeroboam chose Bethel as one of the seats of the false worship which he instituted. It is about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, and its ruins are still pointed out under the scarcely altered name of Beitin. [ Bethaven was in the mountains of Benjamin, east of Bethel, and westward from Michmash. 1 Samuel 13:5. The name means house of nothingness, or vanity, and was, perhaps, so called from the idolatry practised there. Its site has not been discovered, but Capt. Wilson suggests its identity with the ruins called Khur-bet An, westward from Michmash, and not far from Et-Tel.]

Go up and view the country As in the case of Jericho, spies were probably, sent to reconnoitre Ai, and not an armed company.

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Verse 3

3. Let not all the people go up The spies set a very low estimate upon the military strength of the city. Disasters often happen to armies from this cause.

For they are but few That is, comparatively. But the character of the few, and their excellent position for defence, were left out of the account. Their numbers were probably underrated also, for after the conquest of the city the slain numbered twelve thousand. Joshua 8:25.

Verse 4

4. They fled before the men of Ai Having made their assault in perfect confidence of success, and having met an unexpected repulse, they became panic-stricken, and fled in disorder.

Verse 5

5. About thirty and six men The disaster, though shameful, was much lighter than might have been expected to attend such a rout.

Even unto Shebarim That is, the stone quarries or ruins, the situation of which cannot be determined. Captain Wilson suggests that it may be identical with some extensive ruins northeast of Bethel, called Deir Sheba.

In the going down Or, the declivity. Hebrews, Morad. Perhaps the descent into the wady, (note, Joshua 7:2,) which is hemmed in on both sides with precipitous cliffs, is meant. Both the ruins ( shebarim) and the declivity ( morad) were evidently well known places in the time of the writer of this book but not of sufficient importance to survive in the memory of many generations.

The hearts of the people melted This dismay was not on account of the magnitude of the disaster to the arms of Israel, but because it betokened the withdrawal of their Great Ally, Jehovah. Well may a nation tremble when it sees itself forsaken of God!

Verse 6

6. Joshua rent his clothes This was an expressive oriental symbol of intense sorrow, fear, anger, or despair. The loose, flowing, outer robe was well adapted to this action, and this alone was rent. Joshua felt that the defeat had a deep significance, and must have a moral cause; hence he goes to God to inquire.

Fell to the earth… before the ark Over the cover of the ark was the Divine Presence. Ask Judaism the direct way to God, and she points to the mercy-seat between the cherubim.

Put dust upon their heads The eastern nations are noted for using actions, rather than words, in expression of strong emotion. Dust or ashes sprinkled upon the head indicates deep mourning and true penitence.

Verse 7

7. Alas,… wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan This is not the language of distrust, but of distress. It is the tearful wail of a great soul in deepest humiliation and gloom. Joshua unburdens his troubled mind, and reasons with God only as one having the utmost confidence in him can reason. The urgency of his expostulation and the importunity of his plea evince faith in God. He cannot think that such miracles as the passage of the Jordan and the conquest of Jericho are to lead the chosen nation to destruction.

Amorites See note on Joshua 2:10.

Would to God we had been content “To all human view it would have been better for us to have remained on the other side of Jordan, and we shall be strongly prompted to wish that that had been the case, for it will be inferred from the event that thy sole purpose in bringing us hither was to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites.” Bush.

Verse 8

8. What shall I say Joshua, as the Lord’s agent and captain, is perplexed to show a reason for the unexpected defeat.

When Israel turneth Or, inasmuch as Israel has turned. How is such defeat possible to a people in covenant with Jehovah?

Verse 9

9. And cut off our name Our enemies will be encouraged to make a combined assault, and destroy our communications with eastern Palestine.

And what wilt thou do unto thy great name? That is, with regard to thy great name. Exalted and true views of God are necessary to elevate man and restore in him the image of God. Reverence for him is the basis of all true holiness. The preservation of the glory of God’s name in order that monotheism should finally be the religion of the earth was, according to God’s plan, the very mission of Israel. Joshua therefore appropriately argues, Will God defeat that plan, and upset the whole of Israel’s future history? It does not detract from this prayer to say that the successive arguments used to move God are eminently human such as a man would address to his fellow. Moses, in his entreaty, for his nation, uses the same argument. Numbers 14:13-19; Deuteronomy 9:28.

Verse 10

10. Get thee up The tone of this answer indicates the divine indignation at Israel’s sin, and implies that entreaty for Jehovah’s favour, before putting away that sin, is impertinence, and an offence to him, as sacrifices and supplications of impenitent sinners always are. Proverbs 15:8. Israel is here viewed as an unrepentant sinner; Joshua is the head of Israel, hence the tone of anger in which he is addressed. The spirit of God’s reply is, “This is no time for prayer, but for purifying the camp. Look for the cause of your defeat not in my sovereignty but in your sin.”

Verse 11

11. Israel hath sinned For the sense in which the sin of an individual is that of a nation, see note on Joshua 7:1. Jehovah then rehearses the aggravated character of that sin. It was a treacherous violation of covenant obligations into which they had entered, (Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:7;) it was a sacrilege, inasmuch as a consecrated thing had been put to a private use; it was theft, because the appropriation had been made clandestinely; it was a lie, acted if not spoken. “The first three clauses describe the sin in its relation to God; the following three refer to the actual nature of the sin itself, as theft, concealment, and misappropriation to their own use of the stolen goods.” Keil.

Verse 12

12. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies In the moral government of God there is a causal connexion between moral and natural evil, between sin and suffering. But how few the national leaders who have eyes to see the relation which a nation’s righteous character sustains to its victory in war and its prosperity and greatness in peace! The atheistic apothegm of Napoleon, that Providence always favours the strongest battalions, is still believed by the statesmen of even Christian nations. God, as the disposer of human events, finds too little recognition in camps, courts, and cabinets.

Neither will I be with you any more This declaration proves that the strong promise of Joshua 1:5, was conditioned on the fidelity of Israel.

Verse 13

13. Up… sanctify yourselves This mode of address indicates the critical nature of the exigency, which demanded immediate action to prevent further disaster. There cannot be too great haste in putting ourselves right in the sight of God. In order to prepare for the scrutiny which the Lord was to exercise upon all the camp, the entire people were to perform the ablutions and observances required by the law. Jehovah required these washings whenever he came near to them in order to impress them with his own holiness. Exodus 19:10-11; see Joshua 3:5, note.

Verse 14

14. Ye shall be brought according to your tribes God could have disclosed to Joshua the sinner as well as the sin. by direct revelation, without this review of the whole camp. But he chose the latter method as far more impressive, since it awakened the interest of all the people, exhibited the magnitude of the crime, and clearly set forth the omniscience of Jehovah, and their personal amenability to him. Representatives of each tribe were to come to the tabernacle, or to pass in review before the ark.

The tribe which the Lord taketh The word taketh, as we may see from 1 Samuel 14:42, is the technical term used for decision by lot. “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” Proverbs 16:33. White pebbles and one black one may have been cast into a sack or urn, and some man from each tribe appointed to draw them out the black pebble indicating the tribe, clan, family, or individual whom the Lord designated. Decision by lot is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, and once in the New. Acts 1:24-26. It recommends itself as a sort of appeal to the Almighty, free from all influence of passion or bias.

Families… households The tribes, says Keil, were founded by the twelve sons of Jacob and the two sons of Joseph, who were placed on an equality with them by adoption. Whenever Levi was reckoned, Joseph was counted as one tribe; whenever Levi was omitted, Joseph was counted as two. The tribes were divided into clans, of which the sons, grandsons, or great grandsons of the twelve were the heads. The clans were again divided into groups of families Heb, fathers’ houses taking their name from the sons, grandsons, etc., of the heads of the clans. This last division was subdivided into households, composed of individuals. The distinction between the clans and fathers’ houses was not very definitely preserved.

Verse 15

15. He… shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath As the anathema was to be executed by fire, and as the guilty man has made himself and all his possessions anathema, he is to be destroyed with fire. See note on Joshua 7:24. The body, rendered lifeless by stoning, (Joshua 7:25,) and not the living man, was to be burned. Burning alive is not found in the Mosaic law.

Wrought folly in Israel Folly is a very appropriate name for sin, since every sin proceeds from real intellectual stupidity, short-sightedness, and fatuity, which the Greeks expressed by a word signifying missing the mark. In the eye of true reason the devil himself is a simpleton, and all his followers doltishly reject divine instruction, and stupidly go down to hell, imagining that God does not see their sins, and will not punish the guilty.

Verse 16

16. Early in the morning In all hot countries during the heated months early morning is the time for business. Note, Luke 21:38.

By their tribes Representatively; see Joshua 7:14, note.

And the tribe of Judah was taken It was indicated by lot that the sinner belonged to that tribe.

Verse 17

17. The family of Judah Some codices read families of Judah, but the singular is to be preferred. The meaning is the tribe, or collective family.

He took the family of the Zarhites The lot, under Divine guidance, designated this division of Judah as containing the criminal.

Verse 18

18. Achan… was taken God might have instantaneously revealed the sinner, but he chose to sift the nation thus gradually in order that the moral sense of every man might be awakened, and that the conscience of Achan, when he saw the network of conviction and punishment closing in upon him, might prompt him to confession. But he remained impenitent till he found himself within the grasp of the Divine arrest.

Verse 19

19. My son The expression denotes the pity and tenderness of Joshua’s heart towards the unhappy Achan. He is by the finger of God convicted of an awful crime, but the crime itself is yet unknown to Joshua. The Scriptures abundantly show how both God and his ministers may, in certain relations, be tender towards a criminal, while, in other relations, they must punish with awful severity his crime.

Give… glory to the Lord This is not a formal judicial oath, but rather a solemn appeal to the conscience of the sinner, in the presence of the all-seeing God, to acknowledge his sin. Confession of sin vindicates the Divine administration, and justifies the infliction of the penalty. Compare Ezra 10:11, which, in the original, reads “give glory,” instead of “make confession.” in the day of judgment “every tongue shall confess,” but, as in the case of Achan, no sweet joy of forgiveness will ensue.

Verse 20

20. Indeed I have sinned The Hebrew original, as well as the Greek and Latin versions, make the I emphatic: I, and I only, have sinned.

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Verse 21

21. A goodly Babylonish garment [Literally, a mantle of Shinar, one of excellence. The mention of this garment indicates that Jericho had enriched itself by commerce with Babylon, in the land of Shinar.

Genesis 11:2. This was rendered easy by the caravans of merchantmen, such as that to which Joseph was sold, (Genesis 37:25-28,) which frequently must have passed near Jericho on their journeys between Egypt and the East.] The original intimates that it was a splendid mantle. Some think it was a military cloak, embroidered with brilliant colors; others, that it was a kingly robe, woven with gold. It is probable that its appearance dazzled the eye of Achan, and through the eye awakened covetousness in his heart. [Herodotus (i, 195) says: “The dress of the Babylonians is a linen tunic reaching to the feet, and above it another tunic made in wool, besides which they have a short white cloak thrown around them.” The Babylonian cylinders furnish us with representations of a flounced robe, reaching from the neck to the feet.]

And two hundred shekels of silver The word shekel signifies weight, generally a definite weight of unstamped gold, silver, brass, or iron. Here it may mean definite pieces of silver passing current, with the weight marked. In different periods the shekel varied in value. The shekel of the sanctuary differed from the shekel of the king. Its usual value was about sixty-two and one half cents. The whole value of the silver was about $125, when a dollar had nearly ten times the purchasing power that it now has.

A wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight The shekel of gold was about five and a half dollars, so that this oblong or tongue-shaped bar was worth $275.

And the silver under it That is, under the Babylonish garment. All the stolen goods were probably placed in some box or bag, and buried where no human eye could see them. The frankness and apparent penitence of this confession affects our hearts with sorrow for the sad fate of Achan. It lacked but two elements spontaneity and seasonableness which will be lacking in the confession of every impenitent sinner before the judgment seat of Christ. The whole philosophy of temptation and sin is here strikingly illustrated. In the sacking of Jericho, Achan, unobserved by any witness, finds, possibly in the king’s palace, a beautiful robe and a quantity of gold and silver. The splendour of the garment and the glitter of the precious metals struck his eye and awakened desire. Instead of turning away his eyes, he continued to look and to desire, till desire ripened into volition, and this into action. “When lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”

Verse 22

22. They ran unto the tent The interests of the entire nation, involved in this affair, require prompt and energetic measures. The theft itself, its disastrous consequences at Ai, and the supernatural detection of the criminal, had awakened an intense excitement, which caused the haste of the messengers.

Verse 23

23. Unto all the children of Israel Representatively; that is, unto the elders.

Laid them out before the Lord “As a sign,” says Keil, “that they belonged to Jehovah on account of the ban.” They were before the Lord’s eyes when covered up in the earth. But now they are publicly displayed before the ark of the covenant, the symbol of Jehovah’s presence.

Verse 24

24. Joshua, and all Israel with him The objection of Colenso, that all Israel was a body too numerous to perform many acts recorded of them, is sufficiently met by the remark that the heads of the tribes and clans are constructively “all Israel.”

And his sons, and his daughters These were taken, some say, not to be executed with their father, but to be witnesses of his execution. [But this is inadmissible. Were his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, taken to witness his execution? The narrative clearly conveys the impression that all Achan’s family and possessions perished with him. Compare also Joshua 22:20. Why Achan’s family and property should all be destroyed for his sin is a question to be answered by reference to that archaic jurisprudence which dealt with families rather than with individuals. In the Patriarchal system of government the father was absolute lord and representative of the entire household. His children and possessions were identified with him in praise or in punishment. And this judicial idea of Patriarchism was also carried over into Mosaism. The family was sometimes punished rather than the individual, the latter being utterly absorbed in the former, and such family punishment sometimes continued through many generations. Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18. Hence the punishment of Achan’s children for their father’s sin must not be judged by the standards of an age which has not “occasion any more to use the ancient proverb, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Ezekiel 18:2-3.]

Valley of Achor So called by prolepsis, or anticipation, (see Joshua 7:26, note,) for the punishment of Achan gave it its name. That this valley was among the hills is evident from the Hebrew verb, they caused them to ascend into the valley of Achor. But its location is now a matter of conjecture. Jerome locates it to the north of Jericho.

Verse 25

25. Why hast thou troubled us? The verb here used has, in the Hebrew, ( achar,) a sound much like Achan’s name. See note on Joshua 7:26.

And all Israel stoned him Here note the propriety of requiring the whole nation by their various representatives to participate in the execution of the law. The great principle embodied is this: The execution of civil law rests largely upon public opinion. When this becomes so corrupt that it will not uphold the law, it becomes a dead letter on the statute book. [

Stoned him… burned them… had stoned them This interchange of singular and plural pronouns does not show that only Achan was stoned, and not his children, but may indicate that he was the person most prominent in the punishment. To urge from this change of number that only Achan was stoned would oblige us to urge that the rest were burned alive without having first been stoned. Two different Hebrew words are here rendered stoned, רגם and סקל . The former seems to mean in this place to pelt with stones, the latter to cover with stones. So we may more accurately render, All Israel pelted him with stones, and burned them with fire, and covered them with stones. Per-haps here is an intimation, too, that they stoned Achan with a fiercer violence than they did his family and possessions.]

Verse 26

26. And they raised over him a great heap of stones A monument of everlasting reproach. Michaelis says it is still a prevalent custom in the East to throw stones, as a mark of reproach and disgrace, upon the graves of criminals.

That place was called, The valley of Achor This name signifies trouble, disturbance, and is derived from the verb which Joshua uses twice in Joshua 7:25. Hence the propriety of the name.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 7". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/joshua-7.html. 1874-1909.
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