Joshua: Chapter 7 - Sin in the Camp

Bible Study @ Hurst Gospel Hall

Author: John Whitmarsh
Added: 2008-10-01

The subject of the accursed, the devoted thing, has been introduced as a warning in chapter 6. The first word of chapter 7 is 'but'. There may have been a victory in chapter 6 but.... The very first word of the chapter connects us with the previous chapter because the sad fact is that the warning was not heeded by one individual and that meant that the whole had to suffer. No man is an island. What an individual does, whether positive or negative, has an effect on others.

7:1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.

It is clearly stated that it was the children of Israel who committed a trespass. It may have been that there were hundreds of thousands of people who did not do that which they were specifically commanded not to do. It was just one person who took of the accursed thing but it was all the children of Israel who committed a trespass in the accursed thing. The first lesson that we have to learn from chapter 7 is that my sin affects others. People died as a result of Achan's sin.

It is also interesting to note that the word used for trespass, as often elsewhere, means to cover up, to act covertly, to act treacherously. Though the word clearly means sin is some form, it is that sin that hides and that covers up.

Achan, as we learnt in chapter 6, means trouble (we commented that it was strange to call one's son by the name trouble). He certainly lived up to his name for he truly brought shame and trouble to the children of Israel. There does not seem to have been an element of greed, for that is the real nature of the sin, within the family when the meaning of their names is considered. Carmi means gardener. Zabdi means giving, which is hardly the same as greed. Zerah means a rising of light. Judah means praise (see Genesis 29.35).

The word for 'anger' has to do with the nose and breathing as in the rapid breathing associated with passion. The word for 'kindle' can be translated to blaze up. God's emotions were severely stirred against His people. Now we are told God's reaction to what had taken place and what caused the children of Israel to lose the next battle and affect the conquest of the land. But as yet the children of Israel did not know what had happened and they continued in blissful ignorance.

7:2 And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai.

Having secured and destroyed Jericho in such a way that, by rights, it should never have been raised again, Joshua sends men to the east to Ai. Ai means heap or ruin or a heap of ruins. They were moving on from what had become a heap of ruins to a place that was called a heap of ruins. Genesis 13.3 says, 'And he (Abram) went on his journeys from the south even unto Beth-el, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Beth-el and Hai.' Abram pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai (same as Hai) according to the twelfth chapter of Genesis. Bethel we know to mean the house of God. Bethaven means the house of vanity or iniquity (or even some have it as the house of trouble!) and this is the first time that the place is mentioned in the scripture.

This trip was reconnaissance, reconnoitre. They were to spy out the town to see what was needed for the battle. The instruction was given to view the country but the word used for view is more akin to spying than the word used in 2.1. The word for 'country' is the same as that used for land in 2.1. The men obeyed and went to Ai for that is where they were sent to see the lie of the land.

7:3 And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few.

Their assessment was that it was not necessary for a large army to smite Ai for they were but few. Two or three thousand were deemed to be the needed number of men to slay the men of Ai. Joshua was advised that it would not be necessary for all the people to weary themselves there. Was there an element of complacency and superiority in the message that was given to Joshua? We must remember that the children of Israel had not had to lift a sword in anger to win the 'battle of Jericho' as the Negro spiritual calls it. God was on their side and He had won the battle. All that they had to do was to blow trumpets and give a shout. Perhaps, and why not because they did not know what the Lord knew, they assumed that the Lord was going to be with them in the battle.

7:4 So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai.

Still it was about three thousand men who were sent and not two thousand. These three thousand fled before the men of Ai. The word for men is different in the first half of the verse and the second (ish for the three thousand and enosh, meaning frail, mortal man, for the men of Ai).

If there was an element of complacency or a lack of preparation (as some would say) then this was not the reason for their defeat. The reason for their defeat, though unknown to Joshua and to the children of Israel in general, is given to us in verse 1 - the anger of the Lord was burning against the children of Israel. He was raging with them.

7:5 And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.

It was not only Achan who had to die because of his sin. His family died as well. So did 36 men who went out to the first battle against Ai. Sin brings consequences. Shebarim means ruins. Now it was the turn of the children of Israel to be in ruins. The people's hearts melted. This is exactly the same word as used in 2.11 and 5.1 of the people in Jericho prior to the city's destruction. Now it was the turn of the children of Israel. They were in tatters and their hearts were melting. Something was wrong for this was the people of the great God who had broken the walls of Jericho when the inhabitants thought that they were shut up safe and sound. They had relied on their walls to defend them but God had brought them down with a shout.

7:6 And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.

Rending the clothes usually signifies sadness and mourning but was sometimes done when the emotions were running high for other reasons. The king of Israel rent his clothes in anger at the appearance of Naaman and the letter that he brought with him from the king of Syria. The first person to rend his clothes in scripture was Reuben, who, returning to the area of the pit and finding that Joseph had gone, was so upset that he rent his clothes. Job famously rent his mantle when he had heard of the fourfold catastrophe that had taken place in his life. There are many occasions when people, for one reason or another, rend their clothes in scripture. It constitutes a study in itself. Dust upon the head indicates that the reason for the rent clothes in Joshua 7 was not because the emotion was anger but mourning (this is believed to be the first instance of dust and rent clothes in scripture). Ashes upon the head and the wearing of sackcloth was also an indication of mourning though the first time we read of ashes on the head is in II Samuel 13 and the incident involving Tamar and Amnon. It is interesting to note that the brightly coloured garment, signifying her virginity, was rent at the same time.

The mourning here was for the men who had died and for the cause of the defeat. The mourning took place for a long time.

7:7 And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!

Who would be a leader? He must have been euphoric at the transition of such a large number over the dried up Jordan. He must have been ecstatic at the walls tumbling down at Jericho. But now there were 36 men who had died. Not one soul died at Jericho despite the size of the city compared to the size of the little town called Ai. But now there has been defeat. An army of 3000 men have been put to flight and even some of them did not come back to say what had happened. It was 36 men who had died but to Joshua it was as though the whole of the people had perished or were to perish. How easy it is to say as a Joshua that it would have been better to dwell on the other side of Jordan. And yet Joshua was one of the two spies who had said otherwise so many years beforehand. It is so easy to get down in the things of God. It is so easy to get down as a leader among the people of God. It is so easy to see the 36 as the whole 2,000,000.

7:8 O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies !

Joshua uses the term 'O Lord' for the second time. He was pleading with his God. There was shame. He felt it. What would he say? If Israel were going to present their backs to their enemies then how would they possess the land? This was embarrassing. They had fled from the men of Ai. We are not told the circumstances of the battle. We are just told that they fled. Their backs were before their enemies.

7:9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?

Soon it would not just be the Amorites but the Canaanites and the all the inhabitants of the land who would know what had happened at Ai. News like this spreads like wild fire. They would have the courage that the Jerichoites lacked. They would surround them. The name of Israel would be cut off from the earth. What would happen to the Lord's name? All these thoughts were rushing through Joshua's mind and he expresses them in his prayer to his God. He may have started off with 'what shall I say?' for he was upset and he was panicking. But he ended by recognising that God's name was at stake and not merely his own or indeed the nation of Israel's.

7:10 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?

Joshua was commanded to get up from his prostrate position. The God who had not let Himself down at Jericho was not going to let Himself down time and again until the nations had defeated His people. It was not that the men of Ai had won the battle. It was the children of Israel who had lost it because of sin and not because of any inferiority militarily.

7:11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.

Sin was the problem. It was not lack of military prowess. It was not cowardice. It was not inferiority. It was plain, old-fashioned sin. Sin has brought many a person down. It has brought many a nation down for righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people. Achan had sinned (his personal confession is given in verses 20 and 21 though by then it was too late) but Achan is inextricably linked with the people for the scripture tells us that God said that Israel had sinned. So in verse 11 God knew that Achan had sinned (and so does Achan - though he probably saw no harm in taking the spoils of war despite the explicit instruction not to do so) and Joshua knew that Israel has sinned. Joshua did not know in verse 11 that there was only one man who was culpable. All he knew was that Israel had sinned. God said, '...they...they...they'. They had transgressed God's covenant. The word in verse 1 was trespass but now God speaks directly with Joshua and refers to the deed as transgression of the covenant that stood between them. In the NT there are three words used for transgression - to go aside, to go over (to overstep) and to come by. The word used here means to cross over. They had overstepped the mark as far as the covenant was concerned. They had made their own agreement with Joshua (and therefore with God) in 1.16-18. They had overstepped that covenant. God had made a covenant with them, a covenant that was by command. God had commanded them concerning the accursed thing and they had taken of it (although it was just the one man).

They had taken of the accursed thing, the devoted thing, the thing that was to be destroyed, and the thing that was under the ban.

They had also stolen. We must ever remember that they had robbed. They had robbed God for it was His portion that had been taken. The firstfruits belonged to Him and not to the people.

They had also dissembled or lied.

They had put the stolen articles among their own stuff.

7:12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.

See notes on verse 4. The reason that had not won at Ai was because God was against them and not for them. They were accursed because they had touched the accursed thing. God promised that He would not be with them any more unless they were to destroy the accursed from among you. By that God referred to Achan. It would appear that there was no way back for Achan as far as loss of life was concerned. God's governmental dealings with His people were such that the sinner must die, must be destroyed.

7:13 Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the LORD God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.

Joshua was ordered to get up from the ground. He was ordered to set the people apart. The people were to be told that there was a problem and that they would continue to lose against their enemies until such time as the accursed thing was taken from among them. It was only when they were told these words by Joshua that they knew that there was a problem. In verse 13 they still were not, and neither was Joshua, aware that it was but one man who had taken the gold and silver that was forbidden but that was soon to change.

7:14 In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which the LORD taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the LORD shall take shall come by households; and the household which the LORD shall take shall come man by man.

Verse 14 is a continuation of verse 13 and is the set of words that were addressed to the people. It was to be the day after this was revealed to the people that the tribes were to be brought - ye (i.e. the people) were to be brought according to their tribes. We are not told to whom or to where the tribes were brought but there was some process of elimination that took place that meant that one tribe was singled out. Then it was one family within that tribe. Then the households were taken from that one family and then man by man (strong man by man - the word is gebar). We are not told how this worked out in practice. There was talk of lots and the principle that is seen in I Samuel 14.38-46 when Saul wanted to destroy his own son but was overruled by the people. The word used for 'taken' has the thought of to choose by lot in one of its meanings. We cannot be sure how the individual was searched out but discovered and accused he was.

7:15 And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel.

Verse 15 indicates that this process of elimination was to narrow the offence down to the one offender. The operative word here is 'he'. It is used five times in this verse alone. We have already noted that it was the nation that stood accused and condemned for having transgressed the covenant (verse 11). Now it was an individual person who stood accused and was going to be brought to sentence because he had transgressed the covenant.

The idea in burning with fire was surely to rid the land of the cursed thing. It was a form of purification. Stoning with stones was one form of capital punishment and that suffered by Achan and his family. Further shame was brought upon people who had transgressed by burning them with fire. This is evident in Leviticus 20.14 and 21.9. Presumably it was for the similar reason that Judah said of Tamar that she was to be burnt (Genesis 38.24).

It was not only the man that was at fault who was to be (slain and) burnt but that which he had taken and all his possessions and family as well. He had wrought folly in Israel (see Genesis 34.7, Deuteronomy 22.21, Judges 19.23, 20.6 and 10, II Samuel 13.12 for other things that are described in similar manner).

7:16 So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken:

We have noticed that Joshua was an early riser before (see note on 3.1). This process was, no doubt, as we are not told, going to take a long time. Achan belonged to the tribe of Judah so it was this tribe that was singled out. The rest could relax.

We are not told what was running through Achan's mind at this time and it is foolhardy to speculate but we wondered whether he must have associated this elimination process with himself at this stage. Perhaps he thought that others had yielded to the temptation to take that that was not rightly theirs. But now God had let it be known to the people that it was just one person who was at fault and who had caused the defeat at Ai. Perhaps he thought that when God said 'he' that there were still others who came under that category. Whatever he thought we found it strange that he did not own up at the earliest possible stage (though we felt that it would not have made a difference to the death penalty) because by allowing the elimination process he was focussing all the shame upon himself and, ultimately, his immediate family.

7:17 And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken:

The same word is used for family on each of the three occasions that it is used in this verse. In the last verse it was the tribe of Judah. Here it is the family of Judah. The indication is that Joshua fetched the family of Judah and from that family took the family of the Zarhites and then brought each strong man from this particular family until Zabdi was taken (by lot?).

7:18 And he brought 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 taken.

Zabdi's house was brought out and one from his house was taken (again by lot?). It was Achan. God knew who it was as soon as the treasures were stolen but now it is known to the people. We are left in no doubt that this was exactly the same man as mentioned in the first verse of the chapter. It should be pointed out that Achan only appears in this chapter and in chapter 22 where this incident is mentioned. His name is given as Achar in I Chronicles 2.7. For some names there are a number of people who have that name. For instance the name Mary in the NT is the name of at least six different people. There is no one else called Achan who appears in scripture. There should be no doubt that this was the culprit as there was only one person ever given the name Achan but God leaves nothing to doubt in the narrative.

7:19 And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.

It was pointed out that when we think of pattern prayers the acronym ACTS comes to mind. A stands for adoration; C for confession; T for thanksgiving and S for supplication. The first two elements or even the first three are found in this verse. God's greatness was to be recognised by Achan and confession was to be made for sin.

The question was raised as to what confession was in the scriptures. Not all were sure that confession was the right translation of the word. The only two words that are translated as confession in the OT are towdah (used here) and yadah. The words are linked with the former coming from the latter. There is an element of worship and holding out the hand and thanks in the word. Indeed it is either of these two words that is translated thanks every time thanks appears in the OT - normally yadah with towdah only being used on the three occasions that it is used in the book of Nehemiah. Of further interest is that when thanksgiving appears in the AV it is the word towdah that is translated in this way on all occasions except Nehemiah where the word is yadah. To substitute worship instead of confession is incorrect as verses like 'I will confess (yadah) my transgressions...' (Psalm 32.5) make no sense with the word translated as worship for who would worship their transgressions.

Confession means agreeing with God in His assessment of what sin is.

The first two of the four instructions directed towards Achan were Godward. The last two were commands from Joshua for Achan to tell Joshua what had happened and not to hide it from him.

7:20 And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done:

Achan confessed to the sin

7:21 When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge 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.

It was greed that undid Achan and the nation. He saw and he took. It was pleasant to the eyes. It was a thing or things to be desired. There are echoes of Genesis 3.6 in the expression 'when I saw'. So much goes wrong when we see things that we either desire and covet or that we should not see in the first place. 'Saw' led to 'coveted' and this led to 'took'. Achan was tempted by what he saw. There is no sin in being tempted but there is in yielding to the temptation. An old brother used to put it this way - you cannot help a bird flying over your housetop but you can stop it making a nest in the chimney.

We used to sing a little chorus when we were young

Oh be careful little eyes what you see; oh be careful little eyes what you see

There's a Father up above and He's looking down in love

Oh be careful little eyes what you see.

We still sing a hymn now that we are adults

Yield not to temptation for yielding is sin

Each victory will help you some other to win

Strive manfully onward, dark passions subdue,

Look ever to Jesus, He'll carry you through

Ask the Saviour to help you,

Comfort, strengthen, and keep you,

He is willing to aid you,

He will carry you through

Maybe it started with the Babylonish garment of which thing God had said nothing (surely God did not want him to take the garment either). But soon it was the things that God had said that he was not to take. The garment had value for it was well made, well tailored. It was a goodly Babylonish garment. Mention was made of designer labels at this point. Babylon speaks of the world and we could substitute 'worldly' for 'Babylonish' (though this would not be considered a translation) and the verse not lose its sense. There is a danger in seeking the things that the world possesses. God says this in Zephaniah 1, 'And it shall come to pass in the day of the Lord's sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed in strange apparel.' The children of Israel in Zephaniah's time were guilty of wearing the apparel of strangers and God was displeased.

Why was the Babylonish garment there in Jericho? There must have been some form of trade between the inhabitants or one inhabitant of Jericho and someone from Babylon though we are not explicitly told this.

But it was the silver and the gold that God had expressly forbidden. We are told weights and the information given needs some working out. A shekel at that time was 11- 11.5g making 200 shekels the equivalent of 2200 - 2300g of silver. We did not know the values of either silver or gold in BC 1400 - BC 1450. The selling price of silver bullion fluctuated greatly in and around the time that the Bible readings were held (it was on the decline) but a figure of 7 per troy ounce for silver was not an unreasonable figure. A troy ounce is 31g so that in the summer of 2008 prices 200 shekels amounted to 500 worth of silver. The price of gold was 410 per troy ounce or 13.2/g at the same time. 50 shekels is the equivalent of 575g, which means that the amount of gold that was taken was worth 7600 by August 2008 prices.

By today's standards and at today's prices these two sums of money were not worth losing one's life over. No doubt (and again we are in the realms of speculation as the narrative does not tell us) Achan made sure that no one saw him take the garment, silver and gold (else surely he would have been slain there and then) either from Jericho or to his tent or when it was put under his tent. To do such a thing meant that he had to have his eyes upon those around about him but he forgot to look above. There's a Father up above and He's looking down in love; oh be careful little eyes what you see. We often quote Numbers 32.23 (out of context we may add as the context suggests that the sin in question is the lack of going over Jordan and into the land to claim the possession) which says, 'But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord your God: and be sure your sin will find you out.' Here was man who claimed possessions that did not belong to him for they were, if we might use the term again though it is only the principle that is found in Joshua 6-7, firstfruits unto the Lord. Such was Achan's sin and he was found out. He was not found out by his fellow men but what he did was known to God. Though the first statement of this last sentence may not always be true for sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking that no one knows when all along others do know, the second statement is always true. God always knows. How solemn and sombre. Indeed these two words were used on a number of occasions in both the reading and the prayer session after the reading - solemn and sombre.

Achan had hidden the things in the tent. Again there was a bit of speculation in that it was said that because the family would have all lived in the one tent then the whole family would have known what Achan had done and that is why they were all slain. This is not stated anywhere in scripture and may be true but, equally, it may not. Achan, who had managed to hide what he did from his fellow men may have been able to do so from his family as well. To live in a tent does not mean that there is someone present in the tent at all times. If the family knew why did they not confess when Achan was reluctant to do so? Such points are unimportant for the important truth is that the goods were hidden when they couldn't be hidden for God sees it all.

7:22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.

The accursed things were found. The language in both verses 21 and 22 is hard to understand for it says that it was hid in his tent and the silver under it. What does the 'it' refer to? In verse 21 the language is, 'they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.'

Remember that it was items that were hidden and that this hiding formed part of the sin. The principles apply to sin that is hidden. Hidden sin affects the whole company of the people of God.

7:23 And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD.

The messengers removed the articles from the hiding place in the tent and brought them to Joshua and unto all the children of Israel. What an exposure of sin that everyone had to know. How good for us to remember the words of scripture, 'He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.' Proverbs 28.13. God may have dealt severely with Achan. God has always dealt severely with sin at the beginning of a dispensation. Nadab and Abihu were destroyed because of their sin but Eli's sons were allowed to continue for some while before they eventually died in battle. We considered that an analogous NT passage to that recorded in Joshua 6-7 is the story of Ananias and Sapphira for, in effect, they robbed God of His portion in like manner to Achan's sin. And yet how many of us have denied the Lord His portion in some way or other and we have not been struck dead?

7:24 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 unto the valley of Achor.

Achan was the great grandson of Zerah. Achor was a valley - the valley of trouble for the word is similar to Achan.

7:25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.

Joshua's question is pertinent. Achan means trouble. Joshua asked why it was that Achan had troubled the people of God. Achan and all his were burnt with fire (according to verse 15). This verse says that he was stoned with stones and they (all) were burned with fire after they (all) had been stoned with stones.

7:26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.

We have already seen heaps of stones but these were a cause of celebration and praise. This time it is a great heap of stones. A great heap of stones to cover a small pile of ashes. This heap of stones was to show what happened when people disobey. It was to serve as a reminder of the seriousness of sin.


Though sin may not be severely punished as it was in Joshua 7 on every occasion that does not mean to say that sin is not serious. The principles of Joshua 7 still stand. My individual sin can and does affect the company of God's people.