Chapter 7


Defeat at Ai

    • But the Israelites weren’t faithful with the things that were set apart for destruction. Achan, Cami’s son, Zabdi’s grandson, and Zerah’s great-grandson, from the tribe of Judah took some of the things devoted for destruction and the Lord’s anger burned against the Israelites.

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The author provides an introductory explanation to the upcoming defeat.”

      • Guzik adds, “Israel could not be defeated by the Canaanites, but they could defeat themselves by alienating themselves from God’s plan and power.”

    • Joshua sent some of his men from Jericho to go scout out the land at Ai, which is east of Bethel and near Beth-aven. When the scouts returned they told Joshua, “There aren’t many people at Ai so don’t send all the men to attack it and tire them out up there, just send 2,000-3,000.”

      • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “There were three main routes that led from Jericho westward into the hill country. The best known was the southerly to Jerusalem. The northernmost road led to Ophrah. In between there was a road that led to Beitin, with Ai functioning as a fort (like Jericho) to guard the approach.”

      • Many skeptics highlight the lack of archaeological evidence for the conquest of Ai. However, the ESV Archaeological Study Bible explains why that is, “…as the biblical text implies that it was not a major fortified site (the scouts report to Joshua that he does not have to send many soldiers); since it still retained a reference as ‘the ruin’ [ Ai means ‘ruin’], it probably served as a forward base for the Canaanites in the hill country who hastily prepared to meet the Israelites at a strategic down-slope point before they captured higher ground on the Benjamin plateau. This ‘city’ and its ‘king’ (as referenced in the biblical text) probably represent either a pastoral town of the major city of Bethel, along with other towns in the area (e.g., Beth-aven), or a quick establishment of Ai as news of the Israelite victories marching through the Transjordan was reported to the Canaanites across the river (Joshua 2:8-11). The remains of this hastily prepared forward base (i.e., the city that was set on fire; Joshua 8:19-20) would not have been an extensive city, leaving few material remnants for the archaeological record.”

    • So about 3,000 men went up there, but they ran from the men at Ai who chased them from the city gate all the way to Shebarim. These men killed about 36 fleeing Israelites on the slope. Because of this, the hearts of the Israelites melted and became like water.

      • On Shebarim the ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “ (from Hebrew shabar, ‘to break’)…perhaps a location with deep fissures caused by erosion, forming the deep cliffs of the wadis Makkuk and Auja. The distance from the gate (of Ai) to the likeliest location of Shebarim is about half a mile. The descent is a natural geographic feature.”

    • Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their clothes and put dust on their heads. They fell face down on the ground in front of the ark of the Lord until evening. Joshua said, “Oh, Lord God, why did You bring these people across the Jordan only to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Oh Lord, what can I say now that Israel has turned and run away from its enemies? The Canaanites and all the people who live in the land will hear about this, surround us, and wipe our name off of the earth. What will You do for Your great name?

      • Recalling the information from Heiser we discussed in the last chapter, this note in the ESV Archaeology Study Bible takes on additional significance, “Here Joshua identifies the people of Ai. Amorites are one of the seven nations (Deuteronomy 7:1), and one of the three placed in the hill country or associated with mountains (Hittites, Amorites, Jebusites).”

    • The Lord told Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have broken My covenant I commanded to them; they have taken some of the things that are devoted for destruction; they have stolen, lied, and put the things with their own belongings. This is the reason that Israel stand against their enemies. They will turn and run away from their enemies because they have become a thing devoted to destruction. I will no longer be with you unless you destroy the things among you that were devoted to destruction.”

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “In response to Joshua’s plea, the Lord informs Joshua that it is not he who is not honoring his covenant, but it is Israel who has transgressed my covenant…”

      • Why is the sin of one man, Achan, considered a transgression of God’s covenant by all of Israel?

      • First and foremost, we should remember that just a few paragraphs back the Lord specifically warned them that this would be the case. Joshua 6:18 (ESV): But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.

        • Second, this is not a new concept to the Israelites. Pulpit Commentary cites Deuteronomy 21:1-8 as one example illustrating this well established principle of national solidarity, “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…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.”

      • Finally, this solidarity is not foreign to the New Testament writers. Pulpit Commentary notes the instance of Paul’s application of this very concept in his dealing with the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:2, 6-7), “

      • But, what about the 36 presumably innocent troops that were killed as a result of Achan’s sin? Is that fair?

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible makes some very apt comments on this matter in a section titled “Community Responsibility”:

        • …we are all subject to the consequences of sin in the world. We may die as a result of another’s sin, carelessness, or ignorance, or as a result of our own. Because one person drives under the influence of alcohol, someone else might die on the highway. Because one person wants to maximize profits, others can suffer in wretched conditions. And because Achan sinned, others in Israel died at Ai. None of this is ‘fair.’ However, God promises to bring perfect justice in his own time. God’s justice will be mediated through his grace and mercy, brought to us through Jesus’ death in our place.”

    • The Lord continued, “Get up! Consecrate the people. Tell them this: ‘Consecrate yourselves tomorrow because the Lord, the God of Israel, says that there are things that are devoted for destruction among you and you won’t be able to stand against your enemies until you remove those things. In the morning, you must come forward, tribe by tribe. The tribe that the Lord chooses by lot must come forward clan by clan, and the clan that the Lord chooses must forward family by family. The family that the Lord chooses must come forward man by man. The one caught with the things devoted to destruction must be burned along with everything that he has because he has broken the Lord’s covenant and committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.’”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes that these selections by God may have been made, “by use of the Urim and Thummim, a God-given system of sacred lots. These items remained in the care of the high priest, probably in a bag or pouch (Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21)…”

Achan’s Judgment

    • Early the next morning, Joshua had Israel come forward tribe by tribe and the tribe of Judah was chosen. The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahite clan was chosen. The heads of the families in the Zerahite clan came forward, and the family of Zabdi was chosen. Zabdi’s family came forward, man by man, and Achan- Carmi’s son, Zabdi’s grandson, and Zerah’s great-grandson, of Judah- was chosen. Then, Joshua said to Achan, “My son, please, give glory and praise to the Lord God of Israel. Tell me what you have done and don’t hide anything from me.” Achan replied, “Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. Among the plunder I saw a beautiful cloak from Shinar, 200 silver shekels, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels. I wanted them, then I took them. Come see, they are hidden in the ground beneath my tent. The money is underneath the cloak.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Such an extravagant amount would have taken a common worker a lifetime to earn.”

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible identifies Shinar as, “…southern Mesopotamia, later known as Babylon (Genesis 11:2). Texts from Late Bronze Age cities (e.g., Amarna, Ugarit, Emar, Alalakh) typically list such items, including a description that mentions the place of origin and/or manufacturer.”

      • Guzik writes, “Measured against the lives of thirty-six men and the welfare of the entire nation, what Achan gained was pretty insignificant. Truly, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).”

    • Joshua sent messengers to the tent where they found the cloak hidden with the money underneath. They removed the items from the tent and brought to Joshua and all the Israelite, and laid them all out before the Lord. Then Joshua and all the Israelites took Achan (Zerah’s son), the cloak, the silver and gold, his sons and daughters, his livestock, his tent, and everything he had, and brought them to the Valley of Achor.

      • You might not have noticed, but this passage contains some information that skeptics commonly draw attention to as an alleged Bible contradiction. In this passage (verse 24) Achan is said to be Zerah’s son. But, in verses 1 and 18, he is said to be Carmi’s son. Clearly, this conundrum is solved by merely reading the verses in their entirety. We are given a short geneaology for Achan informing us that Carmi is Achan’s father and Zerah is his great-grandfather. It is quite common for an individual to be referenced as a “son” of a forefather.

    • Joshua said to Achan, “Why did you bring trouble on us? Today, the Lord will bring trouble on you.” Then, all of Israel stoned him to death, burned their bodies, and piled a heap of stones on top of them, which is still there to this day. Then the Lord was no longer angry with them. Because of this, that place is called the Valley of Achor to this day.

      • The ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Achor means ‘trouble.’”

      • A very serious question is raised here: why did Achan’s family die for his sin? However, according to my research, I don’t know that we can answer this due to the fact that manuscript variations call into question whether or not Achan’s family was in fact killed. This is another instance where comparing multiple Bible translations comes in handy for alerting us to an uncertainty regarding the original text.

        • Comparing the rendering of multiple translations with regard to verse 25, we see that there is a discrepancy. The majority of translations say that Israel stoned “him” to death (singular), then burned “them” and either stoned “them” or piled stones on “them” in a heap (all plural). A minority of translations render the first singular “him” as a plural “them” thus making the text agree with itself.

        • With regard to the differences between the renderings for what appears to be a “second” stoning in some translations, Whedon’s Commentary adequately explains why this duplication exists (in my opinion). In light of his explanation I have opted to side with the translations that render one stoning, following by burning, then heaping with a pile of stones. Whedon’s Commentary writes:

        • Two different Hebrew words are here rendered stoned…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.”

      • Adam Clarke’s Commentary gives the most complete information regarding how varying manuscript traditions reflect the issue of the singular/plural cases. He writes:

        • The reading of the present Hebrew text is, They stoned Him with stones, and burnt Them with fire, after they had stoned Them with stones…The Vulgate is very clear:…”All Israel stoned him; and all that he had was consumed with fire.” The Septuagint add this and the first clause of the next verse together…And all Israel stoned Him with stones, and raised over Him a great heap of stones. The Syriac says simply, They stoned Him with stones, and burned what pertained to Him with fire. The Targum is the same as the Hebrew. The Anglo-Saxon seems to refer the whole to Achan and his Goods: And Him they stoned there, and burnt his goods. The Arabic version alone says, They stoned Him and his Children, and his goods. Instead of burnt Them, otham, two of De Rossi’s MSS read, otho, Him; which reading, if genuine, would make the different members of the verse agree better.”

      • As you an see, the variation in how to render this verse can have massive implications. The very subject many struggle with the most- why was Achan’s family killed- comes into question.

        • Clarke writes, “With great deference to the judgment of others, I ask, Can it be fairly proved from the text that the sons and daughters of Achan were stoned to death and burnt as well as their father? The text certainly leaves it doubtful, but seems rather to intimate that Achan alone was stoned, and that his substance was burnt with fire…It is possible that Achan, his oxen, asses, sheep, tent, and all his household goods, were destroyed, but his sons and daughters left uninjured. But it may be asked, Why are they brought out into the valley with the rest? Why, that they might see and fear, and be for ever deterred by their father’s punishment from imitating his example…”

          • Clarke describes his ultimate view on the events as follows:

          • One circumstance that strengthens the supposition that the children were not included, is the command of the Lord, Joshua 7:15; : “He that is taken with the accursed thing, shall be burnt with fire; he, and all that he hath.” Now, all that he hath may certainly refer to his goods, and not to his children; and his punishment, and the destruction of his property would answer every purpose of public justice, both as a punishment and preventive of the crime; and both mercy and justice require that the innocent shall not suffer with the guilty, unless in very extraordinary cases, where God may permit the righteous or the innocent to be involved in those public calamities by which the ungodly are swept away from the face of the earth: but in the case before us, no necessity of this kind urged it, and therefore I conclude that Achan alone suffered, and that his repentance and confession were genuine and sincere; and that, while Justice required his life, Mercy was extended to the salvation of his soul.”

        • Other commentators, aware of the same textual issues, come to different conclusions:

          • Achan had fallen by his own act under the ban Joshua 6:18, and consequently he and his were treated as were communities thus devoted Deuteronomy 13:15-17. It would appear too that Achan’s family must have been accomplices in his sin; for the stolen spoil could hardly have been concealed in his tent without their being privy thereto.”

        • John Wesley draws attention to the tendency to assume Achan’s “sons and daughters” were infants or young children, which very likely was not the case. He writes in his Explanatory Notes:

          • Their death was a debt they owed to their own sins, which debt God may require when he pleaseth; and he could not take it in more honourable circumstances than these, that the death of a very few in the beginning of a new empire, and of their settlement in the land, might be useful to prevent the deaths of many thousands who took warning by this dreadful example, whom, if the fear of God did not, yet the love of their own, and of their dear children’s lives would restrain from such pernicious practices. And it is very probable they were conscious of the fact, as the Jewish doctors affirm. If it be pretended that some of them were infants; the text doth not say so, but only calls them sons and daughters. And considering that Achan was an old man, as is most probable, because he was the fifth person from Judah, it seems most likely, that the children were grown up, and so capable of knowing, and concealing, or discovering this fact.”

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