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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 7




Commentary on The Book of Joshua - chapters 5-8.

In this section the circumcision of the men of Israel is accomplished, followed by the observance of the Passover. Then commences the initial parts of the invasion. First Jericho is taken, and then a contingent moves up the pass to capture Ai, only to be driven back because of their arrogance in taking only a limited number of soldiers for the purpose. As a result the sin of Achan is discovered in that he had kept for himself what had been dedicated to YHWH. Joshua having repented of his failure, and Achan having been dealt with for his blasphemy, Joshua takes the whole army back up the pass and Ai is captured, and the army of Bethel defeated. Joshua then arranges a covenant ceremony at Shechem.

Chapter 7 The Sin of Achan and Failure at Ai.

Because of the sin of Achan, when they advanced on Ai, the children of Israel were smitten and put to flight by ‘the men of Ai’. This gave Joshua and the elders of the people great concern, both for Israel and for the name of YHWH. This was expressed by Joshua in prayer to God, and when YHWH informed him of the reason for it, He also gave him directions for discovering the guilty person, and for the man’s punishment. Joshua followed these directions, and the person was discovered, and confessed, upon which he and all he had, with the things he had taken, were burnt with fire.

Verse 1

Chapter 7 The Sin of Achan and Failure at Ai.

Because of the sin of Achan, when they advanced on Ai, the children of Israel were smitten and put to flight by ‘the men of Ai’. This gave Joshua and the elders of the people great concern, both for Israel and for the name of YHWH. This was expressed by Joshua in prayer to God, and when YHWH informed him of the reason for it, He also gave him directions for discovering the guilty person, and for the man’s punishment. Joshua followed these directions, and the person was discovered, and confessed, upon which he and all he had, with the things he had taken, were burnt with fire.

Joshua 7:1

‘But the children of Israel committed a trespass with regard to what was devoted, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of what was devoted, and the anger of Yahweh was kindled against the children of Israel.’

Before the story of Israel’s first defeat in the land we are given the reason for it. God had been disobeyed in the most dreadful way. Achan had secretly stolen from YHWH something from Jericho, something in other words that had been ‘devoted’ to Him by the whole of Israel, and the result was that there was ‘a devoted thing’ in the camp of Israel for which the whole of Israel had to take blame. This was the principle of community responsibility whereby the many must share the guilt of the one (from our standpoint it would be on the grounds that his failure was due to their wider failure in failing to provide the right moral background). It was their responsibility to ensure that it did not happen and that YHWH received His due. Thus the trespass was committed by the whole of Israel.

Verse 2

And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them saying, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai.’

Meanwhile scouts were sent through the gap in the mountains to discover the next obstacle before them and they came across Ai. It was not seen to be very large. Only three military units were seen as necessary to take it (Joshua 7:3), thus, say, one hundred and fifty men (taking a normal unit as possibly around fifty). Military units were split into ‘tens’, ‘hundreds’ and thousands’ (Judges 20:10). We might translate ‘families, wider families, sub-clans’ for in ancient days these number words rather indicated tribal and sub-tribal units. It was only later that they would finally indicate the numerical value given to them today (and even then military units do not tend to reach the number indicated. For example a Roman ‘legion’ and ‘century’ never attained these numbers in practise. The names were simply technical). Thus there would be units of a few (the family - a ‘ten’), larger units over this (the wider family group - a ‘hundred’), and even larger units (the sub-clan - a ‘thousand’). See the divisions in Joshua 7:17-18.

Ai had quite possibly been deliberately set up and inhabited as a semi-permanent township, and as an established forward post for Bethel. This establishment as a reinforced defence post, making use of its ancient walls, may well have been directly in anticipation of Israel’s invasion, which was expected fairly shortly from the Jordan valley, for this invasion must have been anticipated for some time as news filtered through of the approach of this fierce marauding people who were advancing in such numbers. It possibly contained specially trained fighting men/farmers, with their families, under a martial leader called its ‘king’. But its importance for Israel lay in the fact that it stood between the Israelite army and the final ascent to Bethel and the hill country.

Bethaven was used as a synonym for Bethel in Hosea 4:15; Amos 5:5. It meant ‘house of iniquity’ (seen by the prophets as a more suitable term for a Bethel taken up with idolatry), but from the description here it was probably an outer sub-town of Bethel. (See Joshua 18:12. 1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 14:23 may have been another Bethaven).

Ai always carries the definite article ‘ha ay’ - ‘the ruin’. The present ‘city’ was thus seemingly a small township, established within the ruins of what was once a great city, making use of the ancient walls. Its total population was small. They were ‘but few’ (Joshua 7:3), at the most a few hundred, including women and children. It had its own ‘king’ and cattle (compare Genesis 19:20 with Genesis 14:2 for a parallel king over another very small town). How permanent the settlement was we do not know. They may well have moved here from Bethel some time before, occupying it in readiness to face the Israelite menace. Its identification is not certain.

Et-Tel is the more popular preference (being nearest to Jericho and having a name meaning ‘the mound’), but Tel Nisya (sometimes spelt Nusieh) is also suggested and has a number of things in its favour. The former has revealed no evidence of long term occupation at this period, but if its occupation was for defensive purposes in view of the approaching Israelites, such evidence would not be expected, especially as it was then unoccupied until a hundred or so years later. Ravages of weather and predators would soon remove any evidence of limited occupation. The latter has evidence of such occupation and the contours of the land around would allow a large number of men to be hidden. In the former case Bethel would be Tel Beitin, in the latter case Birah.

That it was described as containing ‘few’ demonstrates that its population was much less than that of Jericho, which itself was (because of the size of the mound alone) less than two thousand.

Bethel. If Tel Beitin was Bethel the city dated back to the Middle Bronze age. Both Abraham and Jacob were at times in the vicinity of Bethel (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:7). Both saw it as religiously important. Jacob even appropriated its name for the place where he had his vision and looked on it as a sanctuary. The Middle Bronze age city was prosperous but destroyed about 1550 BC. It was rebuilt with well built late Bronze age houses, until this in turn was disastrously destroyed in late 13th century BC, to be followed by an Iron age city which marked a definite cultural change. It is tempting to see this as being as a result of occupation by Israel (either here or in Judges 1:22-24) but archaeology is difficult to apply with certainty. They were tumultuous times, and we are not sure whether this site was Bethel or not. As the Amarna letters reveal it would be a mistake to think of Canaan as a land at peace until the Israelites arrived.

It may be significant that Bethel is not said to have been taken by Joshua although its army was defeated by him along with that of Ai (Joshua 8:17). So we are faced with two possibilities. One is that it was captured along with Ai. The great conflagration that destroyed it then being the reason why it was lumped with Ai in grim humour as ‘the ruin’. The other is that Joshua may have been satisfied with rendering Bethel powerless by defeating and decimating its army without at this stage taking the city itself. At this time occupation was not a priority. Immobilising the enemy was. It is not likely that he slew its king at this time (Joshua 12:16) or he would have been dealt with as the king of Ai was dealt with.

Verse 3

And they returned to Joshua, and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three eleph men go up and smite Ai, and do not make all the people toil up to it, for they are but few.” ’

The scouts did not see Ai as a large obstacle. They recommended only sending three units up to deal with it in view of its very small population. It was a long hard climb of over a thousand metres in height (three thousand feet) and over twenty four kilometres (fifteen miles) in distance.

Verse 4

So there went up there of the people about three eleph men, and they fled before the men of Ai.’

The three units soon discovered that Ai was tougher than they had expected. The men there were experienced fighting men, ever being the first to meet invasion that came over the Jordan and through the hills. Thus the self-confidence of the Israelite contingents was badly dented for they were soundly beaten and had to flee.

Verse 5

And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty six men, for they chased them from in front of the gate even to the quarries (or Shebarim), and smote them on the descent, for which reason the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.’

The men of Israel reached the gates of the city no doubt full of confidence, and probably, after Jericho, expecting some remarkable event in their favour. But they were to receive a dreadful shock. For the armed men of Ai, realising that they would be somewhat exhausted after the hot climb, sallied out in force and smote them, driving them from in front of the entrance to their ‘city’ and down the descending way, during which they killed thirty six of them, for they chased them some considerable way. Shebarim means ‘that which is broken’, thus possibly quarries. There is probably also a hint here that the men of Israel were ‘broken’.

On hearing of the defeat the hearts of the people of Israel were filled with fear and they lost all courage. So quickly can men’s confidence be dented when something goes wrong. They had anticipated an easy victory and had instead lost thirty six men. After the victory of Jericho they could not understand it. Nor could Joshua.

At this point we may stop and ask what the people of Ai would now do. They now knew that it was the intention of Israel to enter the hill country. They also knew that the force that they had defeated was only a small part of Israel’s striking force. News would certainly have reached them of the much larger force encamped at Gilgal. They must thus have known that Israel would soon be back in much larger numbers. Contact would certainly be made with Bethel and it would seem from subsequent descriptions that Bethel supplied a large contingent of armed men to assist them. It would be in both their interests. This is the only real explanation of why the king of Ai was willing to leave the city to attack the large force that later arrived in the valley. He would hardly have done it with a ‘few’ men unless he was confident of a backup force that he could instantly call on. Without it he would have remained within the walls of Ai.

Verse 6

And Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of YHWH until the evening, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust on their heads.’

Meanwhile Joshua was desperately concerned to discover what had gone wrong. The tearing of clothes in a formal way was an ancient method of expressing grief and distress (compare Genesis 37:29; Genesis 44:13; 2 Samuel 1:11). As was dust on their heads (Job 2:12). Joshua knew that something was amiss. He could not understand why YHWH had not acted for them. So he and the leading men of Israel spent the remainder of the day prostrated before ‘the Ark of YHWH’. Why had the God of battle failed them? While the Ark had not been taken up the ascent it was probably outside and uncovered in view of the battle to take place.

Verses 7-9

And Joshua said, “Alas! O Lord YHWH, why have you at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to cause us to perish? Would that we had been content and dwelt beyond Jordan. Oh YHWH, what shall I say after that Israel have turned their backs on their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and will surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” ’

Joshua’s prayer covered a number of points:

· Firstly as to why YHWH had brought them over the Jordan in order to destroy them. So quickly does faith dissipate when something goes wrong.

· Secondly as to what he was to say to the people in view of what had happened. How was he to explain defeat?

· And thirdly as to the effect this would all have on YHWH’s own reputation when the surrounding peoples heard that Israel had been defeated and had turned their backs on Amorites. It would encourage them and bolster them up to attack the Israelites in order to destroy them. And then where would YHWH’s name be?

Note the reference to the Amorites and then the Canaanites. Both names could be used to describe all the inhabitants of the land, but as here could distinguish the mountain dwellers from those who dwelt in the plains. The reference to the Amorites is particularly poignant. It was Amorites whom they had destroyed on the other side of the Jordan, a place which now looked increasingly attractive, but was second best. But at this point Joshua was ready to settle for second best. However we must recognise that his prayer was intended to challenge YHWH about His covenant promises. It was not all negative. And we must recognise that he was in a state of total confusion. He just did not know what to make of it.

Note also his concern for the name of YHWH. With His people blotted out where would He be? There would be none to honour His name (see Isaiah 49:3).

Verse 10-11

Joshua 7:10-11 a

‘And YHWH said to Joshua, “Get yourself up. Why do you lie on your face? Israel has sinned.” ’

After they had been at prayer for some while and evening came YHWH spoke to Joshua. Perhaps it was by a voice that could be heard, or possibly it was by words impressed on the brain, but either way the message was clear. It was no good praying. Israel had sinned. Until that was dealt with prayer would be in vain. What was required was not prayer but action.

Joshua 7:11 b

“Yes, they have even transgressed my covenant which I commanded them, yes, they have even taken of what was devoted, yes, they have also stolen, and also dissembled, and also they have even put it among their own stuff.”

Why had YHWH not responded in accordance with the covenant? Because Israel had broken it. They had disobeyed YHWH their Overlord. He had ‘commanded the covenant’, they had received it. Now they had broken it. Notice the growth in the level of crime. Taken what was devoted (a breach of the covenant), stolen it (a further breach of the covenant), lied about it (another breach), and appropriated it for selfish use (the final breach of covetousness). When the covenant had been so torn apart how could they expect Him to act on their behalf? This was a reminder that God required obedience. Without that men can expect nothing. Serving God is not a soft option.

“Taken of what was devoted.” This must in itself have made Joshua’s heart grow icy cold. Such a crime was almost beyond imagination. That which had been made holy to YHWH had been taken by profane hands. That which all knew to be YHWH’s own possession had been misappropriated by a man. And it had been hidden in the camp. That meant that the camp itself was profaned. The only place for such a thing was in the Tabernacle under the care of the priests.

We must remember that Achan knew what he was doing. He knew the seriousness of the sin. He knew that what he was doing put him beyond the pale. But it was just that in a moment o madness he believed that God would do nothing about it, and this was partly a fault in the community which in one way or another had given this impression. But God is not mocked. What a man sows, he reaps.

The crime affected the whole of Israel for in the end sin is a community affair. If the community was thinking and behaving rightly, and had right attitudes, the individuals would have too. Laxness in the community leads to laxness in individuals. Thus each shares in the others sin. In this case also it is difficult to believe that no one was aware of Achan’s sin. And yet they did nothing about it. The Israelites would not have thought this through but their doctrine of corporate responsibility was based on it.

“Dissembled.” This suggests that he had been challenged about it, and had lied. It is probable that such a challenge would be officially made to all participators in the ‘devoting’ because the offence would be so serious.

Verse 12

That is why the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies because they are become devoted. I will not be with you any more until you remove the devoted thing from among you.”

Because the devoted thing was among them they too were devoted to destruction. Thus they received no assistance against their enemies. Indeed that was why they had turned their backs on them. The only way to change the situation was to remove the devoted thing from the camp, and this would include all who were directly affected by it. Achan had brought his family into his sin. Some of them no doubt knew about it but did nothing. But all would suffer for his sin. We need to remember that in the end our sins and attitudes directly affect others.

“I will not be with you any more until you remove the devoted thing from among you.” ‘You’ is in the plural. Here YHWH changes his approach to speak as though directly to the people, both to make the words more vivid and to remove any suggestion that Joshua is himself in view. Such sudden changes in person occur fairly regularly elsewhere.

Verse 13

Get up, sanctify the people and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, for thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, there is a devoted thing in your midst, Oh Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies, until you take away the devoted thing from among you.’ ”

So Joshua was commanded to rise and do something about it. YHWH would assist in the search for the devoted thing which was such a curse to them, but they must first sanctify themselves to prepare for His drawing near. This probably meant washing their clothes, bathing with water, waiting in their tents until the evening and abstention from sexual relations and from anything unclean. They were also to be made aware of the seriousness of the situation. It may well also have included special sacrifices and offerings on their behalf at the Tabernacle.

“YHWH, the God of Israel.” This phrase occurs previously only in Exodus 5:1; Exodus 32:27. It was used at particularly solemn moments. In Exodus 5:1 it was at the time of Moses’ very first demand to Pharaoh in YHWH’s name. In Exodus 32:27 it was used in the giving of the command to the Levites to slay Israelites caught in idolatry when Moses came down from Sinai. It became prominent in the book of Joshua, in the historical books and especially in Jeremiah.

Verse 14

In the morning therefore you will be brought near by your tribes, and it shall be that the tribe which YHWH selects shall come near by families, and the family which YHWH shall select shall come near by households, and the household which the Lord shall take shall come near man by man.”

We do not know quite how the method of selection would proceed but in one way or another they would be brought near before YHWH in the Tabernacle (compare Exodus 22:8-9; 1 Samuel 10:19-21). This may have been by the use of Urim and Thummim, or some other method of sacred lot (Proverbs 16:33, compare 1 Samuel 14:41-42), possibly by names written on lots (see also Numbers 17:1-8). Or Joshua may have received personal illumination. It was clearly a method that required gradual application. Presumably the ‘coming near’ was in the person of the leaders, first of the tribes, then of the sub-tribes in that tribe, then of the wider families, then of the family household (the ‘thousands, hundreds and tens?’). Once the family household was reached each member would be required to come near before YHWH until the culprit was discovered.

The whole of Israel would stand round the Tabernacle watching in awe and waiting as the decisions were reached and the priest, or Joshua, moved in and out.

Verse 15

And it shall be that he who is taken with the devoted thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of YHWH, and because he has wrought folly in Israel.”

Anything devoted had to be burnt with fire. By taking the devoted thing the culprit had made himself and all that he had part of ‘that which was devoted’. Thus all must be burnt with fire to remove contamination from Israel, and to remove the devoted thing from the camp of Israel. Sadly that may have included not only all his possessions but also his close blood relations (Joshua 7:24). They would share his tent and it is doubtful whether he could have dug a hole and hidden what he did in the tent without them knowing. They would therefore be seen as guilty through complicity.

Note the two charges. He had broken the covenant of YHWH and he had wrought folly in Israel. It was wrong both towards God and towards man, both religiously and morally. ‘Wrought folly in Israel’ was a standard phrase for a heinous and grievous wrong (Genesis 34:7; Deuteronomy 22:21; Judges 20:10).

While we do not have to defend the actions of God, especially in such a pivotal and vital situation as this, it should be noted that ‘all that he has’ was open to interpretation. Joshua and Israel interpreted it to include all blood relations because that would be the interpretation put on it by the custom of the times, and because they would be seen as guilty of complicity in the crime, but that is not strictly what YHWH said. In these cases God’s purpose is often expanded on by man’s own ideas. However we must recognise that by his action Achan had allied himself with Jericho, and thus condemned his blood relations just as Rahab had aligned herself with YHWH, thus saving not only herself but also her blood relations. It is interesting that his wife or wives were not said to be included, although it may be she was already dead.

Verse 16

‘So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel near by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was selected.’

Joshua always rose early on special occasions. Perhaps it was in order to pray before acting. Or perhaps he was concerned to obey YHWH as quickly as possible. (How good it would be if we also were so eager to do God’s will). And he brought Israel near, by their tribes. Perhaps he had twelve sticks with their tribal names on and these were tossed in some way by the priest. Perhaps he went through them one by one saying ‘Is this the one?’ with the priest tossing the Urim and Thummim to see if it gave a ‘yes’ reply. The method of selection bit by bit demonstrates that it was not a direct word from God to Joshua. But whichever way it was the lot fell correctly and Judah was selected.

Verse 17-18

And he brought the family of Judah near, and he selected the family of the Zerahites. And he brought the family of the Zerahites near, man by man, and Zabdi was selected. And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah of the tribe of Judah was selected.’

We notice here that the same word is used for the ‘family’ of the full tribe of Judah (some manuscripts, also LXX and Vulgate, have ‘the families’, probably to remove the difficulty of the original text) and the ‘family’ of the Zerahites, a sub-tribe. This demonstrates that such terminology was not at this time rigidly fixed. Note also that Achan is related back through his grandfather to Zerah and Judah. Attention is drawn to the fact that the selection process had worked perfectly.

Some manuscripts and versions have ‘by households’ after ‘the family of the Zerahites’ instead of ‘man by man’, but the latter is the more difficult reading and the former a more obvious correction to tie in with Joshua 7:14.

Verse 19

And Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give, I pray you, glory to YHWH, the God of Israel, and make confession to him, and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” ’

This was a stern legal adjuration. To ‘give glory to YHWH’ in such circumstances was to be open with the truth (compare Jeremiah 13:16; John 9:24). He was to confess to YHWH by telling the judge. By doing so he would bring glory to YHWH whose representative the judge was. The whole truth was to be told. Nothing must be hidden.

Normally a man could not be adjured to condemn himself. But here Achan was already condemned because of his selection by YHWH. Whether he confessed or denied he would be executed. By admitting his fault he would be bringing glory to the One Who knew about his sin even before he admitted it.

Verse 20-21

And Achan answered Joshua, and said, “Truly I have sinned against YHWH, the God of Israel, and these are the things that I have done (literally ‘thus and thus have I done’). When I saw among the spoils a beautiful robe of Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge (‘a tongue’) of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them, and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.” ’

Achan admitted his guilt. He knew the awfulness of what he had done and that there could be no mercy. To take a devoted thing was the most extreme of crimes and was to treat God high-handedly (Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12). He admitted that while sacking the city he had come across a ‘beautiful robe from Babylon’ (Shinar). This would have been a fine quality imported robe of great value, the kind that would be rare indeed among the continually travelling Israelites, the kind found only in rich men’s houses and much to be desired. Also two hundred shekels (about twenty kilograms) weight of silver and ‘a tongue of gold’ weighing 50 shekels (half a kilogram). These are the two commodities that men have lusted after almost from the beginning, measures of wealth and prestige. A ‘tongue’ probably referred to a specific shape. A neo-Babylonian inscription also refers to ‘one tongue of gold, its weight one mina’.

Notice the advancing levels of sin, ‘I saw -- I coveted -- I took -- I hid.’ This is the progress taken by all sins of the flesh and reflects the sin in Eden (where the same verbs are used - see Genesis 3:6-7; compare also 2 Samuel 11:2-8). We must learn to close our eyes to sin immediately we are tempted, or even run away (‘flee youthful desires’ - 2 Timothy 2:22). Then covetousness will not blossom. But Achan’s look lingered, then covetousness grew, and finally he could resist no longer and he took. And he had hidden them in the earth in the middle of his tent, the gold wrapped in the robe, the silver hidden beneath it, implicating his family in what he had done (he would not have returned from battle unnoticed by his family). And they had been stolen from God.

Shinar was the old name for Babylonia (see Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:2; Genesis 14:1; Genesis 14:9; Isaiah 11:11; Daniel 1:2; Zechariah 5:11). Such a robe bears witness to the regular trade between Mesopotamia and Canaan, as caravans wended their way towards Egypt and back again (compare Genesis 37:25). Canaanite sophistication would ever be a temptation to the more basic Israelites.

Verse 22

So Joshua sent messengers and they ran to the tent, and behold, it was hidden in his tent, and the silver under it.’

Joshua immediately insisted on the stolen items being produced. They were part of what was devoted and must therefore be carefully dealt with. The men he sent went with haste. All were aware of the awfulness of the situation and desirous of removing the curse from Israel as soon as possible. They found the gold, wrapped in the robe, and the silver, too bulky, buried under it.

Verse 23

And they took them from the midst of the tent, and brought them to Joshua and to the children of Israel, and they poured them out before YHWH.’

The recovery of these devoted things not only concerned Joshua but the whole of Israel. All were involved and concerned for their recovery. All would benefit. ‘Poured them out’ may give an indication that their restitution to YHWH was seen as a kind of offering (Leviticus 8:15; Leviticus 9:9 compare especially 2 Samuel 15:24 where the Ark was ‘poured out’ before David when he fled, a kind of offering to him by his loyal subjects). They were restored to their rightful place.

Verse 24

And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep and his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the valley of Achor.’

No one, least of all Achan, was in any doubt as to what would happen next. Their contact with the devoted thing rendered them all ‘devoted’. Note the order of descending value. The initial devoted things first, then the blood relatives, then the livestock, then his home, then everything else.

Note that ‘All Israel’ were involved. This deeply affected them all. In the Hebrew ‘All Israel with him’ comes at the end of the sentence. It is placed there for special emphasis to stress their involvement, a device witnessed elsewhere (e.g. Genesis 2:9). We would show this by putting it in capital letters or italics.

The sons and daughters were possibly those who knew what he had done and had connived in it. They were guilty of complicity. They may well have helped to hide the devoted items. And by hiding in his tent what was devoted he had necessarily involved them all. But even the livestock were affected. They too had become ‘devoted’ by his actions. All were now YHWH’s. (Interestingly no wife is mentioned. Perhaps she was dead. Or perhaps she had known nothing about the affair).

“The valley of Achor.” Possibly we should translate ‘low lying plain of Achor’. El Buqei‘a is suggested as a possibility. It would be seen as an abandoned place, a place to be avoided. Making it ‘a door of hope’ later would be a sign of YHWH’s love and compassion (Hosea 2:15; Isaiah 65:10).

Verse 25

And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? YHWH will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. And they burned them with fire and stoned them with stones.’

Joshua’s declaration was not vindictive. It was a public declaration of the reason for what was being done, a judicial statement of his sentence. Achan was receiving what he had done to others, an eye for an eye. He had brought down great trouble. He must receive great trouble. All Israel participated in the carrying out of the sentence, although not literally. But those who hurled the stones acted on behalf of all.

Achan’s execution is mentioned first as being that of the main culprit, then the method of dealing with the remainder. The last part of the sentence is very summarised and we are not told what applied to what. The robe, the gold and the silver would be burned, after which the gold and silver may have been placed in the treasury. The livestock were slain first, and then burned. The other guilty parties would be stoned and then burned. The burning was necessary because all was ‘devoted’ and had to be purified in fire (compare Numbers 31:22-23; Deuteronomy 13:16).

The sentence may seem harsh to us. It would not have done to Achan. There are eventful times in history when response to something like this has to be severe for the sake of the future. Those who have the privilege to live at times when God comes very close and acts very openly and vividly, thereby live in times of greater responsibility. We can compare Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-6).

Verse 26

And they raised over him a great heap of stones, to this day, and YHWH turned from the fierceness of his anger, for which reason the name of the place was called the valley of Achor to this day.’

The heap of stones, partly gathered from the stones hurled in execution, was a witness (Joshua 4:21-22; Genesis 32:48). It testified to the holiness and severity of God, and yet of His mercy to the children of Israel. Compare the heap of stones piled over the body of the king of Ai (Joshua 8:29), an everlasting reminder of YHWH’s triumph over disaster. And it warned of what would happen to those who treated YHWH and His covenant lightly. They remained there ‘to this day’. These constant references to ‘to this day’ confirm that the Book was written not too long after the events.

“And YHWH turned from the fierceness of his anger.” Compare Deuteronomy 13:17. This language is anthropomorphic. It meant that the barrier that man had erected against God was now again broken down. Thus God no longer had to deal with them in judgment. He was able once more to show mercy and act for them without endangering man’s recognition of the awfulness of sin.

“For this reason the name of the place was called the valley of Achor to this day.” ‘Achor’ comes from the same root as the word for ‘trouble’ in Joshua 7:25. Thus ‘the valley or plain of troubling’ was a reminder of the troubling of Israel. Whether it was renamed at this time, or simply had its name given a new meaning, is unimportant. What mattered was what it meant for the future. And the name lasted ‘to this day’. Then they all returned to their camp at Gilgal.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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