Joshua 7: The Sin of Achan
We must take advantage of these lessons to study our maps, and to get acquainted with the country which the children of Israel were conquering. We have come first to the plain of Jordan, and Gilgal, and Jericho in the edge of the plain. From this low land they must climb up into the hills, and their first thought was of Ai on the high hills near Bethel. We remember the place in the story of Abram and Lot, spelled there with an H. (Gen. 12:8; 13:3) Notice in our story that it was a steep, rough way up to Ai (Joshua 7:3, 5) Shebarim is said to mean the "quarries" or the "break." Taking Ai would give an entrance into the heart of the land.
The people of Israel had taken Jericho down in the plain, and they must think next of climbing up into the hills. A steep valley would lead them up to Ai, on the high hills near Bethel. Joshua sent men to see the place and how it was defended. They said there were few defenders and that a small army would be able to take it, but they were disappointed. The men of Ai came out and drove them away, and chased them down the rough, steep valley. The people were greatly discouraged, and Joshua especially felt that the Lord and His power were not with them, as they had been at the Jordan and at Jericho.
What was the reason? It was because someone in Israel had taken things from Jericho, to keep for himself. Remember that the people were very strictly commanded that the things from Jericho should be devoted to the Lord, the gold and silver, brass and iron to be for the Lord's treasury and the rest to be destroyed. Someone had taken precious things for himself. Read how the Lord helped them to search out who had done the wrong. We can think how the guilty man felt as the tribes came one at a time, and his tribe was taken; then the families one by one, and his family was taken; then his household, and at last himself. He knew now that nothing was hidden from the Lord, and he told what he had done. They ran to Achan's tent and found the stolen things, a goodly Babylonish garment, and silver and gold under it, hidden in the earth in the midst of his tent. They brought them to Joshua and to all the people, and laid them out before the Lord. This disobedience and wickedness must be wholly put away from among the people, and it was done in the only way that people in that day knew how to do it, by destroying Achan and his family and all that he had.
Some member of the class should be the map keeper and show us the new places that come into each new story. We shall feel acquainted with the land when it is conquered, and shall be interested in its division among the tribes. We begin with the Jordan and Gilgal and Jericho. The new place that comes with today's lesson is Ai.
As you turn from the old Jericho at Elisha's Fountain, to the cliff behind, you find that you can climb around this mountain at either the northern or the southern end and so into a rough valley that leads you up among the hills which make the body of the land of Canaan. A journey of some fifteen miles climbing all the way would bring you to Bethel. But before this you would pass two miles east of Bethel, ruins and cisterns called Haiyan, where probably Ai stood.
Remember Abram's camp with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. (Gen. 12:8) Remember how Abram and Lot looked from these hills over the land. (Gen. 13:3, 10, 14) And remember how Jacob as he journeyed slept one night at Bethel. (Gen. 28:10-22)
After Jericho was taken, Joshua sent men up into the hills to spy out Ai, and when they said there were but few to defend the place, he sent three thousand men to take it and made not the whole people "to labor thither." But the men of Ai drove them back, and chased them even into Shebarim (the "quarries" or the "break"), and smote them in the going down. This was a place where the way was especially rough and steep.
Now Joshua and the people were discouraged. The Lord seemed not to be with them. It was because someone had taken for himself something from the city of Jericho, which they were commanded to destroy or consecrate to the Lord. Read how the Lord helped them to search out who had done the wrong. We can think how the guilty man felt as the tribes came one by one and his tribe was taken, then the families came one by one and his family was taken, then his household, and at last himself. He knew now that nothing was hidden from the Lord, and he told what he had done. They ran to Achan's tent and found the goodly Babylonish garment, and the silver and gold under it, hidden in the earth in the midst of his tent. They brought them to Joshua and to all the people, and laid them out before the Lord.
This disobedience and wickedness must be wholly put away from among the people, and it was done in the only way that people in that day knew how to do it, by destroying Achan and all his family and all that he had. They brought them to the valley of Achor, to the Kelt where it runs out from the rocky hills. There they stoned them with stones and burned them with fire and raised over them a great heap of stones. It meant that they had put away all disobedience from among the people. Now the Lord could give them victory again.
Does the punishment of Achan seem severe? It was severe, and belongs to a time when people had not learned to separate in their thought a wrong doing from the person who did the wrong. See Psalm 139:19-24. The Lord in the Sermon on the Mount and in all His teaching showed the Christian way, which is to hate and fight against the wrong, but to love the wrong doer and try to help him or her. Laying out the stolen things before the Lord is a picture of a complete repentance, which confesses all to the Lord and holds nothing back. Compare 2 Kings 19:14. Joshua told Achan to give glory to the Lord, and we all ought to be glad to have an evil in ourselves overcome by the Lord's help. You will guess that Achan means "troubling" (verse 25).
1. What was the first city taken by the children of Israel in the land of Canaan? What did they try next to take? Where was Ai?
2. Why did they fail when they tried to take Ai? How was it found who had done the wrong? What had he taken?
3. What was done to Achan?
4. When we have done wrong can we hide it from the Lord, or should we try to hide it from Him or from our parents? What should we do?
We have read several times of sending spies. Spies went before the people to Jericho, and now they are sent to Ai. In what way must we spy out the heavenly land before we take possession of it?
When we are in trouble is it not right to pray to the Lord? Why did the Lord say to Joshua, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou upon thy face? . . . Up, sanctify the people." Compare the words to Moses in Exod. 14:15. We must ask the Lord's help and then we must as of ourselves search out what is wrong and make it right. The story of Achan tells us how the Lord knows us through and through. He sees just what is wrong and He helps us to find just where the fault is. We cannot hide anything from the Lord. We should not wish to hide anything from Him but should want Him to help us to see clearly and confess what is wrong. We should give glory to the Lord, and make confession unto Him, and lay the wrong out before Him.
We see in general what wrong is meant by Achan's taking the forbidden things from Jericho. It means the secret indulgence of the external evils of life represented by Jericho. A garment represents outward things of life – the thoughts and actions which clothe our inner affections. Babylon is always a type of self-love. (Gen. 11:4-9; Dan. 4:29, 30; A. 1307, 1326; R. 717) The goodly Babylonish garment therefore suggests habits of outward life that are pleasant but selfish and evil. The silver and gold under it are the principles of truth and love which are perverted by being made subservient to such a life. (E. 700) While we cherish outward evil habits which we know are wrong, the Lord cannot give us strength to go on to higher states of heavenly life. While something stolen from Jericho is hidden in our tent, we try to take Ai and fail. (A. 5135)
The destruction of all that Achan had, with even his sons and his daughters and his oxen and his asses and his sheep, seems to us very cruel, and so it was. It was according to the cruel customs of those days, and the Lord permitted them to do it so because it represented the total putting away of the wrong and all that belonged to it. Compare the destruction of the Amalekites required of Saul. (1 Sam. 15; A. 8593)
Can you see the meaning of stoning with stones and burning with fire? Punishments with the Israelites were representative. They were pictures of the inevitable consequences of wrong doing. Stones represent fixed, sure truths, or in an opposite sense falsities which are regarded as truths. Spiritual fire is the burning of love good or bad. Evil passion is the fire which destroys life. The stoning and the burning represent the destruction of both understanding and will by the indulgence of falsity and evil. We may also think of the stoning and burning as representing the complete putting out from the mind of what is false and evil by the power of truth and goodness. (A. 5071, 7456)
We know that "the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works." How shall we understand it when it is said that the Lord is angry? (Mark 3:5; A. 6997)
Where else do we read of rending the garments or of putting dust upon the head? (Gen. 37:29, 34; Num. 14:6; 1 Sam. 4:12; Matt. 26:65) They were signs of grief. In the old time, signs were never arbitrary but were outward expressions of inward states. Garments represent outward things, especially truth and thoughts which clothe affection. The head represents the affection itself, and the inmost affection. Rending the garments expresses grief because of falsity; putting dust upon the head, grief because of evil. (A. 4763)
We see significance in the fact that Israel entered Canaan at its lowest point, and afterward climbed up into the hills. We remember the association of Ai with Bethel in the story of Abram and Lot. (Gen. 12:8, 13:3) In the explanation of that story in the Arcana, the camp of Abram on the mountain near Bethel is shown to represent celestial things of love in our Lord's development as a child. A distinction in meaning between Bethel and Ai is pointed out. Bethel represents knowledge of things celestial, which at first were more obscure, and Ai knowledge of more worldly things, which at first were more plain; later Ai is not prominent in the story, for advance had been made to the more celestial state of life. (A. 1453, 1557) The hills of Bethel and the plain of Jordan are contrasted in the story of the separation of Lot from Abram, Lot choosing the plain of Jordan, and Abram keeping to the hills. (A. 1583-1598)
The story of Achan presents very strongly the truth that the Lord cannot be with us to give us power when we are disobedient, and secretly keep and cherish for our own pleasure things that the Lord has told us to destroy; also that the Lord reads the heart, and that nothing is concealed from Him. Joshua's distress on realizing that the Lord's power was not with them, reminds us of Moses' crying to the Lord at the Red Sea; and in both stories we are shown that we have our part to do, the Lord helping us. (Exod. 14:13-16) In our present story we are shown the duty - the Lord helping us - of self-examination, of complete confession, and of fearless and vigorous putting away of the evil. What in our condemnation of evil is represented by the stoning with stones? what by the burning with fire?