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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Joshua 7

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. VII.

The Israelites are put to flight near Ai: the Lord raises up the prostrate Joshua, and tells him, that some of the accursed thing had been taken; commands him to inquire for the guilty person, and to condemn him when found; Achan is found guilty, is stoned, and all belonging to him burnt in the fire.

Before Christ 1451.


Verse 1

Ver. 1. But the children of Israel Though there was but one guilty, the historian attributes to the whole society, whereof Achan was a member, the criminal action which he had committed. This is the style of Scripture, and it is the language of reason. See Calmet. A people, properly speaking, is only one moral person. The common interest, which connects all the members of it together, warrants the imputing to the whole nation what is done by the individuals who compose it, unless it be expressly disavowed.

Committed a trespass in the accused thing They committed a trespass, by keeping back somewhat desecrated; or, as the LXX has it, by setting apart something of the curse; of the booty which was made in the sacking of Jericho; though this was forbidden under pain of incurring the most rigorous effects of the divine malediction.

For Achan, the son of Carmi, &c.— He is called Achar, 1 Chronicles 2:7. This latter name, which signifies trouble, was evidently given him in allusion to the reproof that Joshua gave him previous to his being stoned, of having troubled Israel, ver. 25. Zabdi is the same who, in 1 Chronicles 2:6 is called Zimri. Zerah, the son of Judah, came into Egypt with his father very young. It is not said that he had any children there; and we cannot suppose him to be less than seventy years old when he became father of Zabdi. If, as Bonfrere thinks, Zabdi was as old when Carmi was born, and Carmi as old when he begat Achan, the latter must have been above fifty at the taking of Jericho; an age at which many men begin to be over-attached to the things of the world, and set too high a value upon them.

And the anger of the Lord was kindled, &c.— The crime of one member of this body drew down marks of the divine indignation on all the Israelites, (who in other respects, doubtless, deserved it,) in order to stir them up to search out the guilty, and inflict upon him the just punishment of the danger to which he had exposed them. We may further observe, 1. That there were, perhaps, many Israelites guilty, in their desires, of the crime of Achan, and who would actually have committed it, had they dared; and others who knew it, but had given themselves no concern on that account, and had not even deigned to inform Joshua of it. 2. That by chastising the whole body for the faults of one, or of several individuals, God proposed to render all the Israelites more circumspect, more attentive to each other's conduct, and more careful to remove from sinners every occasion of doing evil. 3. That by this severity he designed to render sin more odious to the whole nation.


Verse 2

Ver. 2. Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai. To forward the conquest of the land of Canaan, Joshua made the fertile plain of Jericho the centre of his camp, whence he sent detachments to seize upon the neighbouring towns, till the Israelites should see themselves masters of an extent of country sufficient to be divided among the tribes: the event, however, did not take place till about six years after. See Usher's Annals. As soon as he had established the best order he could in his camp, he immediately detached two or three thousand men against the king of Ai, whose capital was about ten or twelve miles distant from Jericho. Ai or Hai has been already spoken of in the history of Abraham. On comparing what Joshua here says of it, with what is mentioned Genesis 12:8 it appears to have been on the north of Jericho, and east of Beth-el, which lay at but a very small distance. Masius places Ai three leagues from Jericho, and one league from Bethel. It was situated upon a hill, ver. 5 and belonged to the Amorites, ver. 7.

Beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Beth-el This town, not far from Beth-el, gave its name to a neighbouring desart. It was certainly, as well as Beth-el, upon the confines of the tribe of Benjamin, toward the north. See chap. Joshua 18:12. The prophet Hosea gives Beth-el itself the name of Beth-aven, in an allegorical sense, because Beth-aven signifies a house of iniquity; and Beth-el well deserved this odious appellation when the impious Jeroboam placed there his golden calves. This puts it beyond doubt, that these two towns have been confounded together, and that Beth-el was the same as Beth-aven.


Verse 3

Ver. 3. Let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai There was a little presumption in this counsel; Ai was well situated, strong, and guarded by twelve thousand men; so that there was no probability (humanly speaking) of carrying it with two or three thousand men. God, nevertheless, permitted Joshua to listen to this bold piece of advice, and he followed it. Had not this been the case, either the inhabitants of Ai would not have ventured to sally from their city; or if, in going out against the Israelites, they had beaten a more considerable detachment of them, the crime of Achan would have cost the nation too many citizens, and his punishment would have thrown it into too great a consternation.


Verse 4-5

Ver. 4, 5. And they fled, &c.— The garrison of Ai, observing the Israelites to be so few in number, made a sally. The latter, left by God, immediately lost courage, took flight, and left thirty-six of their comrades on the spot. The enemy pursued and beat them as far as to Shebarim. Some think this was a place betwixt Ai and Jericho; for schebarim in the Hebrew signifies, people defeated, broken, routed; while others, following the LXX, and taking the word in an appellative sense, translate, they pursued them from before the gate, till they were entirely routed, &c. It is certain, that the runaways carried the alarm into the camp of Israel, and the consternation there was general. The historian describes it in very strong and lively terms.

REFLECTIONS.—The last chapter left Israel triumphant, and Joshua's name great and glorious: this begins with a dire But, which stops the current of their victories, and casts them into the deepest distress; the cause of which always is sin. I. We have an account of the sin committed; Achan the son of Carmi, of the house of Judah, had transgressed the divine command, and secretly taken of the devoted things, and thereby had brought the host under the displeasure of God. One sinner thus destroys much good; the community he belonged to are defiled by him, and suffer for him. Note; (1.) Covetousness is among the most rooted evil tempers of the fallen mind. (2.) We must separate ourselves from sinners, if we would not share their judgments. 2. The effects of God's displeasure quickly appeared: though the sin was committed so secretly that no eye saw him, it was not hid from God; and he takes such ways to bring the crime to light, as shall shew his just indignation against it. Let not the guilty think of being concealed or excused; God will find them out, and visit them to their confusion. Confident now of success, those who were sent to view the city of Ai report the conquest easy, and that the people need not to be fatigued by a general march: a detached party of two or three thousand men being thought sufficient, these are accordingly sent; but, seized with a panic at the gate of the city, they fly before their pursuers, and, with the loss of six and thirty men, escape to the camp, and fill it with terror and confusion. God had evidently forsaken them; and, though the loss was small, justly were they alarmed at a defeat which portended more dreadful consequences. Note; (1.) Though the greatest difficulties vanish when God is our helper, the least attempt will prevail the moment he leaves us to ourselves. (2.) Whenever we provoke God, we may expect to suffer for it. (3.) Fear and terror of conscience are the natural consequences of guilt, and the present wages of sin.


Verse 6

Ver. 6. And Joshua rent his clothes All the outward marks of sorrow exhibited by Joshua and the elders on this occasion are well known; they were customary, and have been so in much later times. The history of the Patriarchs supplies frequent instances of the custom of rending the clothes on the receipt of bad news. At this day, it is usual among the Jews, in the feast of expiations, to cast themselves on the ground before the chest which contains the book of the law; and, in memory of what Joshua did on the present occasion, the reader of the synagogue still prostrates himself every year on the same day before this same chest. See Buxtorf. Syntag. Jude 1:25; Jude 1:25. With respect to the custom of putting dust upon the head, we know that it was one of the greatest signs of affliction amongst the Jews, in which the Gentiles imitated them, as might be easily shewn in the history of the Ninevites, and divers passages taken from prophane antiquity; among others, from Virgil, where king Latinus, using the same marks of mourning with Joshua, appears tearing his clothes, and covering his head with dust. See AEneid. 12: ver. 609, &c.


Verse 7

Ver. 7. And Joshua said, Alas! O Lord God, wherefore, &c.— The heart-felt emotion and humiliation in which Joshua appears, thus prostrate on the ground, with his face directed towards the sanctuary, and addressing God in the following prayer, are no way unbecoming of his high character. The greatest men are the most susceptible of the feelings of humanity and compassion. Without attempting to deny absolutely that Joshua testified some weakness, and too much dejection, in the prayer which he addresses to God, his sentiments seem capable of a very noble turn: his expressions are not the bursts of complaint; the Scriptures nowhere reproach him with any thing like it; they are an acknowledgment of his ignorance respecting the causes of that fatal blow which struck the whole camp of Israel with terror; as much as if he had said, that he knew not what to think of the event which astonished the people, and therefore instantly ventured to beg of God to discover to him the reason of it. Let us hear himself speak, and we shall better explain our idea on the subject. "O Lord, I am astonished, confounded, and dismayed at what I see; unable to comprehend why, after miraculously opening the passage of the Jordan to thy people, and giving them an entrance into this Promised Land, thou permittest them to be overpowered by the devoted Canaanites: better, as it seems, had we, contented with our former conquests, remained on the other side of the flood. What shall I say to the insults of the enemy? How henceforth shall I persuade the defeated Israelites to depend upon victory? Inflated by their success, the Canaanites will fall upon us from every quarter, will encompass us round, and hew us in pieces: still more deeply afflicting, the glory of thy great name will be obscured in the sight of these faithless nations, who will triumph to see our expectations deceived, and the miraculous displays of thy mighty power rendered useless." In all this discourse, as we see, it is a concern for God's glory that most nearly affects Joshua. He speaks as Moses had spoken on similar occasions; or, to express it more properly, he forms his own language on that of God himself. Deuteronomy 32:26-27. Note; A gracious soul is ever more solicitous about God's glory than his own interests; let them stand or fall, if God be exalted, he asks no more.


Verse 10

Ver. 10. And the Lord said unto Joshua This answer, full of gentleness, justifies what we have just been observing, that there was no asperity or murmuring in Joshua's remonstrance; "Arise," saith the Lord, "cease to afflict thyself: I am about to discover to thee this mystery of the flight of the Israelites; and thy fears shall subside." Le Clerc, and the authors of the Universal History, are of opinion, that God answered Joshua by Eleazar, invested with the Urim and Thummim.


Verse 14

Ver. 14. In the morning, therefore, ye shall be brought, &c.— "Persons deputed from each tribe to represent it, shall successively come, to appear before me, and to receive my orders."

And—the tribe which the Lord taketh, shall come, &c.— We see clearly from these things what was to happen; first, that God would make known the tribe, then the family of that tribe, then the house or branch of that family, and, lastly, the particular person of that branch, in whose hands was the accursed thing. But it is not so easy to determine how this designation was to be made; that is to say, how the taking was to be. There are only conjectures respecting it, and those of the rabbis are commonly the least probable. We shall not stop to quote them. Josephus, Rabbi Levi Ben Gersom, and almost all the Christian interpreters, presume that, upon this occasion, the tribe, family, house, and particular offender, were determined by lot. It matters little how it was cast. What Masius observes of it is very clear, who thinks that twelve tickets were first put into an urn, on each of which was the name of a tribe; that then they cast as many tickets as there were families in the tribe whose name was drawn, then as many as there were houses in that family; and, lastly, as many as there were heads in that house. However this matter may be, it cannot be denied, either that the method of discovering hidden things by lot was in use among the Jews (1 Samuel 20:21.) and Pagans, (Jonah 1:7.) or that it was very lawful; having been ordained by God in more cases than one, (1 Chronicles 5:7; 1 Chronicles 5:26. Leviticus 16:8.) and practised by the apostles; Acts 24:26.


Verse 16

Ver. 16. So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought, &c.— Interpreters here ask, How was it possible that Achan should dare to extend his audacity so far as not to confess his crime as soon as he knew the orders which God had given to Joshua?—And they answer, that sin had blinded him, and that a proud shame withheld him. But, waving the discussion of these replies, we apprehend that the following will be considered as very sufficient; namely, that Achan knew nothing of the orders which God had given to Joshua, inasmuch as that general communicated them to no one, and limited himself to hasten the execution of them.


Verse 19

Ver. 19. And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, &c.— Compassion and clemency are the portion of great souls. As soon as the criminal was known, and brought before Joshua, that merciful and generous leader exhorted him, before all things, and with all the moderation beseeming a judge, whose decrees passion and malice should never dictate, to give glory to God; i.e. to use the expression of the Samaritan Chronicle, to raise his eyes to the King of heaven and earth; and to confess, that nothing is hidden from him, and that he knoweth the most profound secrets. To give glory to God, and to confess one's fault, was the same thing; for Achan could not confess it without paying homage to the omniscience, the power, and the justice of the Lord.


Verse 21

Ver. 21. When I saw among the spoils The Samaritan Chronicle makes Achan here say, that it was in a temple of Jericho that he saw the things which tempted him; among which was a goodly Babylonish garment. Bochart with his usual erudition observes, that clothes of divers colours were made at Babylon, adorned with figures, in the taste of the Turkey carpets, very shining, rich, and much sought after in all the eastern world. The Babylonians had invented these sorts of works, made in the loom with the needle and of several colours. Phaleg, lib. i. c. 6. p. 25. Tempted, therefore, by the sight of one of these garments, (which the LXX here call fine mantles of divers colours,) Achan took one of them, either to use it afterwards, or to sell it; for they were of great price.

Two hundred shekels of silver About thirty pounds sterling. See Calmet. And a wedge of gold, &c. The Hebrew signifies a tongue of gold, which is the same thing: thereby is meant a piece of gold in a bar, and nearly in the shape of a tongue. This wedge, at the rate of fifty shekels of gold, might be worth upwards of ninety pounds sterling. It should be remembered, that in the time of Joshua they had no silver money.

Fifty shekels Twelve ounces and a half.

Then I coveted them, and took them This fully justifies that saying of St. James: When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin, ch. Joshua 1:15. Achan ardently desired the garment, the silver, and the gold, which displayed themselves to his view, in a place where he was evidently without witness; and he perverted them to his own use.


Verse 24

Ver. 24. And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan, &c.— With the consent of the whole assembly, and followed by all the people, Joshua caused the criminal to be brought to the neighbouring valley, called from that time the valley of Achor, or of trouble, because of the trouble which this affair had occasioned to the Israelites; and with him they conducted, or carried, all that belonged to him. In the Hebrew it is, they made these things go up in the valley of Achor. In Scripture, to go up, sometimes signifies, only to go from one place to another.


Verse 25

Ver. 25. And all Israel stoned him with stones, &c.— There are three things to be considered from these words: I. It is asked, what was the punishment inflicted upon Achan? All the interpreters agree that he was stoned; but they are not equally agreed that he was burned. It is certain, that the law against sacrilege condemned offenders to the fire; (Deuteronomy 13:15-16.) it is also certain, that God had condemned to the fire whosoever should take of the accursed thing at the taking of Jericho, ver. 15 so that the rabbis insist that he was burned; and, with respect to the stoning which he previously underwent, some will have it that this happened accidentally, the furious people being unable to desist from overwhelming the guilty man with stones. Others say, that Jericho having been destroyed on the sabbath-day, and Achan having profaned this festival by retaining that which was devoted to God, he was stoned as profane, and burned as sacrilegious. But, upon the whole, the sentence which God had pronounced did not strictly import that the offender should be burned alive. By stoning him, he was punished capitally according to the laws; Leviticus 9:11; Leviticus 9:24; Leviticus 24:14. Numbers 15:35 and by burning his body afterwards, they obeyed the commands which God had just before given. II. Perhaps it may be more difficult to determine upon a second question which is here started, viz. Whether the sons and daughters of Achan perished with him, as well as his oxen, and asses, and sheep, and tent, and all that he had? Most interpreters are of this opinion, and find no difficulty in justifying the righteousness of the sentence. For, not to mention that God is always Lord over our life, and has a right to remove us when and how it seemeth him good; not to mention that the family of Achan, guilty of sin in other respects, could never be unjustly punished; not to mention this, we may presume, that they partook of the offence of their head; it not being probable that Achan could have buried his theft in the middle of his tent, without his children's knowing it. It is a maxim of the Jews themselves, that the accomplice in a crime, is as criminal as he who commits it. We readily subscribe to these reflections; and add, that, in these early times it was of importance to keep the people in respect, fear, and submission by instances of severity. But to the fact: The divine sentence expressed in ver. 15 condemned the guilty only, and his goods, to be burned. Here it is expressly said, that the Israelites stoned Achan, without mentioning his family; and if the historian adds, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones, this may be understood of the oxen, the asses, and the sheep which belonged to the unhappy malefactor; and that God chose that his tent and effects should be burned with his body, to inspire a greater horror of his crime. In this view, the family of Achan might undergo no other punishment, than that of being condemned to be present at the execution of their head, before all the people of Israel. However, we leave the subject to the reader's judgment. But, III. The case will not be the same with respect to the third question which hath been started concerning Achan's punishment. It is absurd to ask, by what right Joshua dared to condemn Achan to a punishment so heavy and dishonourable, upon the bare confession of the offender, without even the usual testimony of two witnesses against him, as the law required: For, what did Joshua on this occasion, but execute the orders immediately issued from God? Was not the voice of the oracle equivalent to that of two witnesses, especially against a man who avowed his crime, and who himself demonstrated its veracity, by producing the subject-matter of the offence, the very effects which he had stolen?


Verse 26

Ver. 26. Wherefore the name of that place, &c.— From the day of the punishment of Achan, or Achor, the disturber of the public repose, the Israelites called the place where he was stoned Achar. What confirms this etymology is, that Achan is always called Achar in the Syriac version, and by Josephus, Athanasius, Basil, and other authors, at the head of whom we may place Esdras, 1 Chronicles 2:7. See Bochart on the subject, Hieroz. part i. lib. ii. c. 32. Mr. Saurin observes, that the design of raising this heap of stones was, to place before the eyes of all Israel a perpetual memorial of the crime of Achan, and of their indispensable obligation to pay an entire deference to the command of God. Happy if they had always followed this lesson; if they had not, by surpassing Achan in his crimes, drawn down upon their nation the greatest punishments! Dr. Shaw tells us, that many heaps of stone are seen in Barbary, the Holy Land, and Arabia, which have been gradually erected as so many signs over murdered travellers; the Arabs, according to a superstitious custom among them, contributing each of them a stone whenever they pass by them: something like this, he thinks, are the present event, and those recorded, ch. Joshua 8:9 and 2 Samuel 18:17. See the preface to his Travels, p. 17.

REFLECTIONS.—God having directed Joshua in the method of procedure, he rises very early in the morning, in haste purge the camp from the abominable thing which was hidden in it.

1. The tribes are convoked. Judah is taken, the first in dignity, yet now exposed to shame by one bad branch of this noble family. By repeated trials, from families to houses, and from houses to individuals, the criminal is discovered, and Achan, confounded with conscious guilt, stands forth the troubler of Israel. Note; When God is contending with us, we need well to examine our ways, and see if there be any way of wickedness in us: whilst Achan's wedge, any allowed sin remains, the curse must be upon us. 2. The divine lot having discovered the offender, Joshua, as judge, exhorts him to give glory to God by an open and unreserved confession. He does not fly out into anger or reviling against him; but, pitying his misery, beseeches him to repent of his great sin, and take to himself the deserved shame of such a guilty conduct. Note; (1.) Even the vilest of criminals deserve our pity, not reproach. (2.) The only retribution we can make to God for our sins, is an open acknowledgment. They cannot be true penitents, who shrink from the shame they have deserved, and seek to excuse and exculpate themselves, instead of glorifying God by an unreserved confession. 3. Hopes of concealment had hardened his heart before; but now that God has found him out, he bows under the conviction, acknowledges his great sin, and discloses the particular fact in all the circumstances of it. Note; (1.) A burdened conscience can only find ease by self-accusation, and owning its aggravated sin against God. (2.) The more deeply we are affected, the more particular will be our confessions, and the more sharp our self-upbraidings in the review of the process of our sin. (3.) The advances to sin are here laid down; concupiscence is at the root; Satan presents the bait to the eye, the heart is caught by it, the hand is stretched out, and the crime completed. How strict a guard should we keep upon our eyes! How severely repress the first motions of evil desire! (4.) It is the devil's grand deceit, "No eye shall see thee; thy sin may be easily concealed;" but God can make the sinner turn self-accuser, and vomit up the riches he hath swallowed, Job 15:4. He receives his just condemnation. The goods are instantly fetched, his confession is affirmed by the accursed spoils, and sentence passes upon him. God will have the trouble fall upon his own head, which he had brought on the innocent people. Note; (1.) Sin will bring trouble: the conscience must be humbled under it in time, or be tormented for it to eternity. (2.) What we get by injustice, will in the end prove our plague. 5. He is instantly executed, dragged from the judgment-seat without the camp, and all Israel in just indignation rise up to stone him. Note; (1.) We cannot be in too great haste to get rid of our sins. (2.) We see that nothing is got by stealing or sacrilege: not only the ill-gotten gain perishes, but the fire of the curse spreads to all our substance. (3.) Wicked parents are the heaviest plague to their families, and by their bad examples usually involve them in ruin. (4.) When sin is repented of, and washed away with the blood of Jesus, shed as a curse for us, then we may expect God's love and mercy will be restored to us. 6. A monument is raised on these ashes, as a warning to others, and a name given to the place, corresponding with the occasion, The valley of Achor, or Trouble. Note; (1.) We need to raise a memorial over our sins, and the places where they were committed, that we may continually remember and lament them. (2.) The valley of Achor is a door of hope to true penitents, Hosea 2:15 and they who go down thither in sorrow, shall be brought up from thence with joy.

 


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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 7:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/joshua-7.html. 1801-1803.

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