The Israelites smitten at Ai. (1-5) Joshua's humiliation and prayer. (6-9) God instructs Joshua what to do. (10-5) Achan is detected, He is destroyed. (16-26)
Verses 1-5 Achan took some of the spoil of Jericho. The love of the world is that root of bitterness, which of all others is most hardly rooted up. We should take heed of sin ourselves, lest by it many be defiled or disquieted, ( Hebrews 12:15 ) ; and take heed of having fellowship with sinners, lest we share their guilt. It concerns us to watch over one another to prevent sin, because others' sins may be to our damage. The easy conquest of Jericho excited contempt of the enemy, and a disposition to expect the Lord to do all for them without their using proper means. Thus men abuse the doctrines of Divine grace, and the promises of God, into excuses for their own sloth and self-indulgence. We are to work out our own salvation, though it is God that works in us. It was a dear victory to the Canaanites, whereby Israel was awakened and reformed, and reconciled to their God, and the people of Canaan hardened to their own ruin.
Verses 6-9 Joshua's concern for the honour of God, more than even for the fate of Israel, was the language of the Spirit of adoption. He pleaded with God. He laments their defeat, as he feared it would reflect on God's wisdom and power, his goodness and faithfulness. We cannot at any time urge a better plea than this, Lord, what wilt thou do for thy great name? Let God be glorified in all, and then welcome his whole will.
Verses 10-15 God awakens Joshua to inquiry, by telling him that when this accursed thing was put away, all would be well. Times of danger and trouble should be times of reformation. We should look at home, into our own hearts, into our own houses, and make diligent search to find out if there be not some accursed thing there, which God sees and abhors; some secret lust, some unlawful gain, some undue withholding from God or from others. We cannot prosper, until the accursed thing be destroyed out of our hearts, and put out of our habitations and our families, and forsaken in our lives. When the sin of sinners finds them out, God is to be acknowledged. With a certain and unerring judgment, the righteous God does and will distinguish between the innocent and the guilty; so that though the righteous are of the same tribe, and family, and household with the wicked, yet they never shall be treated as the wicked.
Verses 16-26 See the folly of those that promise themselves secrecy in sin. The righteous God has many ways of bringing to light the hidden works of darkness. See also, how much it is our concern, when God is contending with us, to find out the cause that troubles us. We must pray with holy Job, Lord, show me wherefore thou contendest with me. Achan's sin began in the eye. He saw these fine things, as Eve saw the forbidden fruit. See what comes of suffering the heart to walk after the eyes, and what need we have to make this covenant with our eyes, that if they wander they shall be sure to weep for it. It proceeded out of the heart. They that would be kept from sinful actions, must mortify and check in themselves sinful desires, particularly the desire of worldly wealth. Had Achan looked upon these things with an eye of faith, he would have seen they were accursed things, and would have dreaded them; but looking on them with an eye of sense only, he saw them as goodly things, and coveted them. When he had committed the sin, he tried to hide it. As soon as he had got this plunder, it became his burden, and he dared not to use his ill-gotten treasure. So differently do objects of temptation appear at a distance, to what they do when they have been gotten. See the deceitfulness of sin; that which is pleasing in the commission, is bitter in the reflection. See how they will be deceived that rob God. Sin is a very troublesome thing, not only to a sinner himself, but to all about him. The righteous God will certainly recompense tribulation to them that trouble his people. Achan perished not alone in his sin. They lose their own, who grasp at more than their own. His sons and daughters were put to death with him. It is probable that they helped to hide the things; they must have known of them. What fatal consequences follow, even in this world, to the sinner himself, and to all belonging him! One sinner destroys much good. What, then, will be the wrath to come? Let us flee from it to Christ Jesus as the sinner's Friend. There are circumstances in the confession of Achan, marking the progress of sin, from its first entrance into the heart to its being done, which may serve as the history of almost every offence against the law of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Joshua 7:1 . ACHAN'S TRESPASS.
1. the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing--There was one transgressor against the cherem, or ban, on Jericho, and his transgression brought the guilt and disgrace of sin upon the whole nation.
Achan--called afterwards "Achar" ("trouble") ( 1 Chronicles 2:7 ).
Zabdi--or Zimri ( 1 Chronicles 2:6 ).
Zerah--or Zarah, son of Judah and Tamar ( Genesis 38:30 ). His genealogy is given probably to show that from a parentage so infamous the descendants would not be carefully trained in the fear of God.
Joshua 7:2-26 . THE ISRAELITES SMITTEN AT AI.
2. Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai--After the sacking of Jericho, the next step was to penetrate into the hills above. Accordingly, spies went up the mountain pass to view the country. The precise site of Ai, or Hai, is indicated with sufficient clearness ( Genesis 12:8 , 13:3 ) and has been recently discovered in an isolated tell, called by the natives Tell-el-Hajar, "the mount of stones," at two miles', or thirty-five minutes' distance, east southeast from Beth-el [VAN DE VELDE].
Beth-aven--("house of vanity")--a name afterwards given derisively ( Hosea 4:15 , 5:8 , 10:5 ), on account of its idolatries, to Beth-el, "house of God," but here referred to another place, about six miles east of Beth-el and three north of Ai.
3. Let not all the people go up, . . . for they are but few--As the population of Ai amounted to twelve thousand ( Joshua 8:25 ), it was a considerable town; though in the hasty and distant reconnoitre made by the spies, it probably appeared small in comparison to Jericho; and this may have been the reason for their proposing so small a detachment to capture it.
4, 5. they fled before the men of Ai--An unexpected resistance, and the loss of thirty-six of their number diffused a panic, which ended in an ignominious rout.
5. chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim--that is, unto the "breakings" or "fissures" at the opening of the passes.
and smote them in the going down--that is, the declivity or slope of the deep, rugged, adjoining wady.
wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water--It is evident that the troops engaged were a tumultuary, undisciplined band, no better skilled in military affairs than the Bedouin Arabs, who become disheartened and flee on the loss of ten or fifteen men. But the consternation of the Israelites arose from another cause--the evident displeasure of God, who withheld that aid on which they had confidently reckoned.
6-9. Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth . . . before the ark . . . he and the elders--It is evident, from those tokens of humiliation and sorrow, that a solemn fast was observed on this occasion. The language of Joshua's prayer is thought by many to savor of human infirmity and to be wanting in that reverence and submission he owed to God. But, although apparently breathing a spirit of bold remonstrance and complaint, it was in reality the effusion of a deeply humbled and afflicted mind, expressing his belief that God could not, after having so miraculously brought His people over Jordan into the promised land, intend to destroy them, to expose them to the insults of their triumphant enemies, and bring reproach upon His own name for inconstancy or unkindness to His people, or inability to resist their enemies. Unable to understand the cause of the present calamity, he owned the hand of God.
10-15. the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up--The answer of the divine oracle was to this effect: the crisis is owing not to unfaithfulness in Me, but sin in the people. The conditions of the covenant have been violated by the reservation of spoil from the doomed city; wickedness, emphatically called folly, has been committed in Israel ( Psalms 14:1 ), and dissimulation, with other aggravations of the crime, continues to be practised. The people are liable to destruction equally with the accursed nations of Canaan ( Deuteronomy 7:26 ). Means must, without delay, be taken to discover and punish the perpetrator of this trespass that Israel may be released from the ban, and things be restored to their former state of prosperity.
16-18. So Joshua rose up early, and brought Israel by their tribes--that is, before the tabernacle. The lot being appealed to ( Proverbs 16:33 ), he proceeded in the inquiry from heads of tribes to heads of families, and from heads of households in succession to one family, and to particular persons in that family, until the criminal was found to be Achan, who, on Joshua's admonition, confessed the fact of having secreted for his own use, in the floor of his tent, spoil both in garments and money [ Joshua 7:19-21 ]. How dreadful must have been his feelings when he saw the slow but certain process of discovery! ( Numbers 32:23 ).
19. Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give . . . glory to God--a form of adjuration to tell the truth.
21. a goodly Babylonish garment--literally, "a mantle of Shinar." The plain of Shinar was in early times celebrated for its gorgeous robes, which were of brilliant and various colors, generally arranged in figured patterns, probably resembling those of modern Turkish carpets, and the colors were either interwoven in the loom or embroidered with the needle.
two hundred shekels of silver--about $200 according to the old Mosaic shekel, or the half of that sum, reckoning by the common shekel.
a wedge of gold--literally, an ingot or bar in the shape of a tongue, worth about $500.
22, 23. Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent--from impatient eagerness not only to test the truth of the story, but to clear Israel from the imputation of guilt. Having discovered the stolen articles, they laid them out before the Lord, "as a token of their belonging to Him" on account of the ban.
24-26. Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan--He with his children and all his property, cattle as well as movables, were brought into one of the long broad ravines that open into the Ghor, and after being stoned to death ( Numbers 15:30-35 ), his corpse, with all belonging to him, was consumed to ashes by fire. "All Israel" was present, not only as spectators, but active agents, as many as possible, in inflicting the punishment--thus testifying their abhorrence of the sacrilege, and their intense solicitude to regain the divine favor. As the divine law expressly forbade the children to be put to death for their father's sins ( Deuteronomy 24:16 ), the conveyance of Achan's "sons and daughters" to the place of execution might be only as spectators, that they might take warning by the parental fate; or, if they shared his punishment ( Joshua 22:20 ), they had probably been accomplices in his crime, and, indeed, he could scarcely have dug a hole within his tent without his family being aware of it.
26. they raised over him a great heap of stones--It is customary to raise cairns over the graves of criminals or infamous persons in the East still.
the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor--("trouble"),
unto this day--So painful an episode would give notoriety to the spot, and it is more than once noted by the sacred writers of a later age ( Isaiah 65:10 , Hosea 2:15 ).