Saturday, March 3, 2012

Achan's Sin (Joshua 7)

The following quote is taken from

"God Commands Burning Humans - [The Lord speaking]  "The one who has stolen what was set apart for destruction will himself be burned with fire, along with everything he has, for he has broken the covenant of the LORD and has done a horrible thing in Israel."  (Joshua 7:15 NLT)

            Let's examine the story of Achan in Joshua chapter 7.  Since it always helps to examine a verse in context, you can read the full chapter here:

                Earlier, in the Law, God specifically had commanded that none of the plunder that had been set apart for destruction (see the earlier article on charam, things/people devoted to destruction) be kept by the Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:25-26, 13:17).  The items were a holy offering to God, and were not to be tampered with or stolen. 
            Just before this chapter, in Joshua chapter 6, the Israelites had destroyed the city of Jericho after God had caused the city walls to fall, and the city and everything in it was supposed to be destroyed as an offering to God.  Just before they conquered the city, Joshua reminded the Israelites not to take any of the items devoted to destruction; if they did, they themselves would be completely destroyed (Joshua 6:17-19).
            Achan, a man from the tribe of Judah, deliberately disobeyed this command, and stole some of the items devoted to destruction, then hid them among his possessions (verses 20-21).  Because of his crime, the Lord withdrew his protection from the Israelites, as he had warned them he would do if they violated the Law.  36 Israelite men were killed in battle because of what Achan had done (verse 5).
            The punishment that God sentenced on the one who took the items devoted for destruction was a very specific punishment for a specific crime.  It is important to note here that Achan did not voluntarily confess when all of the Israelites assembled before God.  If he had confessed immediately instead of waiting until all of the tribes and families had been narrowed down to him, there is a chance that he and his family might have been spared.  When David confessed his sin of adultery and murder (which was punishable by death), God had mercy on him, and let him live (2 Samuel chapters 11-12).  Likewise, when the city of Nineveh repented of their sins after a warning from God that he was about to destroy them, he had mercy and spared them (Jonah chapter 3).  If Achan had voluntarily confessed and repented instead of waiting until Joshua forced him to confess, he might have been spared as well.
            Unfortunately, that is not what happened.  Achan was forced to confess after he was singled out, and they found the evidence that he had stolen what was God's and lied about it.  The promised punishment was then carried out: he and his children, along with all of his livestock and possessions, were destroyed.  The Israelites stoned them to death and then burned the bodies (verse 25); they were not burned alive, as seems to suggest.
            One question that is commonly asked is, why were Achan's children killed as well?  After all, there is a verse in the Law that states that children should not be executed for their parents' sins (Deuteronomy 24:16).  The explanation here is that Achan's children knew exactly what was going on, and yet they said nothing.  If they had convinced their father to confess or told Joshua what had happened themselves, they would have been spared.  It is entirely possible that they were accomplices in their father's crime, assisting him in stealing and hiding the items.  This is why they were executed as well.