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Passage: Joshua 7

Joshua 7 – The Sin of Achan

Summary

Israel is defeated by the inhabitants of the city of Ai, and it is revealed that the reason for the defeat is because one of the Israelites has sinned and kept some of the "devoted things" from Jericho. Achan, from the tribe of Judah, is found to be the guilty party, and he and his household are destroyed.

Analysis

Immediately after the triumph at Jericho, the Israelites fight against the city of Ai, but are unable to take it. God tells Joshua that Israel lost because of God's anger. One of the Israelites has kept some of the "devoted things" from Jericho for himself instead of destroying them. Therefore, Israel herself has become a "devoted thing," which will be destroyed unless the sinner is punished and the stolen objects destroyed (Joshua 7:12).

Following instructions from the Lord, Joshua assembles the Israelites tribe by tribe, then clan by clan, then household by household. God reveals Achan, of the tribe of Judah, as the culprit. He and his household, along with the devoted things he kept, are taken and destroyed.

This story is an illustration of the importance of the "devoted things"--both people and possessions of Canaan--that the Israelites are to destroy. Deuteronomy commands such action in Deuteronomy 7:2 and 20:17. The ban seems to be in part a precautionary and a punitive measure, calling for the destruction of the Canaanites, "so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 20:18). The call to destroy devoted things also has overtones of sacrificial language. Like a burnt offering, the devoted things are to be destroyed by fire (Joshua 6:24; 7:15). Like a sacrifice, they are to be "devoted to the LORD for destruction" (6:17). The ban also means, of course, that Israel cannot profit from war.

While it is troubling to modern readers that Achan's family and household are killed with him, one must keep in mind the communal aspect of ancient Israelite life. One's actions affected one's family, for good or ill. Rahab's actions saved her whole household. Achan's actions destroyed his.