Joshua 7:1: Achan’s Sin, and God’s Anger Against Israel

Verse 1:[1] But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for (Josh. 22:20) Achan (Achar, 1 Chron. 2:7), the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi (or, Zimri, 1 Chron. 2:6), 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.

[The children of Israel] By a Synecdoche; that is, one of them. Thus in Matthew 26:8, the disciples seeing is used of one, Judas, John 12:4 (Drusius out of Masius). The sin of one is attributed to the whole society: 1. So that is might be shown how detestable sin is to God (Lapide, Masius). 2. For the sake of restoring discipline, and of deterring the people from wickedness. 3. So that they might be careful, not of themselves alone, but of others, as of members of the same body, whose society is reckoned to be common, as in the condition of life, so also in virtues and vices (Masius): especially, so that he might teach overseers to be vigilant over their charges individually (Lapide). 4. Lest the sense of Divine providence be lost from the souls of men, He shows Himself to be the judge of our actions. And who supposes that in so great a crowd of such a people there were not many guilty of grievous outrages (Masius)? Some prudently regard these reasons for the Divine judgments to be hidden, which are rather to be admired by us than to be condemned or imitated (Malvenda). Thus in Virgil the Achæan fleet is destroyed on account of the crime and fury of one, Ajax of Oileus[2] (Grotius). The sons of Israel: It is an Enallage of number, as in Genesis 8:4; 19:29 (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:17:212); and in Matthew 2:20, they are dead, is used of Herod. Or the sense is, Of the sons of Israel, Achan with his, who appear to have been sharers in the crime (Estius).

The children of Israel, that is, one of them, by a very usual synecdoche or enallage, as Genesis 8:4; 19:29; Matthew 26:8, where that is ascribed to the disciples, which belonged to Judas only, John 12:4.

[They transgressed the command, וַיִּמְעֲל֧וּ—מַ֖עַל בַּחֵ֑רֶם] And they transgressed a transgression in the accursed thing (Malvenda, Jonathan, Arabic, Junius and Tremellius, Munster, Tigurinus, Pagnine), that is, in the very sin of sacrilege, taking of the accursed thing (Malvenda). Others: against the accursed thing, that is, against the law concerning the accursed thing. Symmachus translates מָעַל, to transgress, καταγινώσκειν, that is, to disregard with contempt: the Septuagint has ἐνοσφίσαντο, that is, they stealthily draw off, and they took for themselves (Masius).

In the accursed thing, that is, in taking some of the forbidden and accursed goods.

[Achan[3]] It is formed from עָכַר, to trouble,[4] by substitution of one letter. He is called עָכָר/Achar in 1 Chronicles 2:7 (Masius). It appears that he was previously called Achan; afterwards, from the event, Achar (Bonfrerius).

[The son of Carmi, son of Zabdi[5]] Who is called Zimri in 1 Chronicles 2:6[6] (and also by the Septuagint in this place[7] [Bonfrerius]): either, as a result of the similitude of the letters ב/b and ר/r (as the Masorah notes was done elsewhere); or, he had two names (Serarius). Question 1: Why is the genealogy of Achan given so meticulously? Responses: 1. So that he might be distinguished from others of the same name (Menochius out of Serarius). 2. This has regard unto the manner of investigation[8] (Masius, Serarius, Menochius). 3. So that he might aggravate the infamy of the sin, which also pertains to the fathers, who perhaps raised the son more indulgently than was fitting. 4. So that the common concern of all might be stirred to avoid the common stain of infamy, and anyone that would carelessly ignore, much less foster, the scandals of his neighbor is not properly self-aware. Compare Numbers 25:14 (Masius). 5. So that it might be a source of consolation to the most honorable families, when they see that in a distinguished house formerly there was one degenerate and infamous (Serarius). 6. So that the shame of the sinner might be increased, who was of so illustrious a tribe (Menochius). Question 2: How is it that from Judah unto this time, that is, through two hundred and sixty years, only four generations are enumerated (Serarius)? Response: If between each generation we interject seventy years (which at that time was not incredible), the number shall be made up (Bonfrerius). But also a fifth generation is here signified, when mention is made of the sons of Achan in verse 24 (Serarius).

Zabdi; called also Zimri, 1 Chronicles 2:6. Zerah, or, Zarah, who was Judah’s immediate son, Genesis 38:30, who went with Judah into Egypt; and so for the filling up the two hundred and fifty-six years that are supposed to come between that and this time, we must allow Achan to be now an old man, and his three ancestors to have begotten each his son at about sixty years of age, which at that time was not incredible nor unusual. Against the children of Israel. Why did God punish the whole society for this one man’s sin? Answer. All of them were punished for their own sins, whereof each had a sufficient proportion; but God took this occasion to inflict the punishment upon the society, partly, because divers of them might be guilty of this sin, either by coveting what he actually did, or by concealing of his fault, which it is probable could not be unknown to others, or by not sorrowing for it, and endeavouring to purge themselves from it; partly, to make sin the more hateful, as being the cause of such dreadful and public judgments; and partly, to oblige all the members of every society to be both more circumspect in the ordering of their own actions, and more diligent to watch over one another, and to prevent the miscarriages of their brethren, which is a great benefit and blessing to them, and to the whole society, and worthy to be purchased by a sharp affliction upon the society.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּמְעֲל֧וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מַ֖עַל בַּחֵ֑רֶם וַיִּקַּ֡ח עָכָ֣ן בֶּן־כַּרְמִי֩ בֶן־זַבְדִּ֙י בֶן־זֶ֜רַח לְמַטֵּ֤ה יְהוּדָה֙ מִן־הַחֵ֔רֶם וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֥ף יְהוָ֖ה בִּבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[2] Æneid 1; 2.  Ajax the Lesser, the son of King Oileus of Locris, was one of the semi-mythical heroes of the Trojan War.  After the war, he is said to have dragged Cassandra from the altar and raped her.  This provocation of the gods leads to the destruction of his entire fleet.

[3] Hebrew: עָכָן.

[4] Joshua 7:25a:  “And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee (מֶ֣ה עֲכַרְתָּ֔נוּ יַעְכֳּרְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה) this day.”

[5] Hebrew: זַבְדִּי.

[6] Hebrew: זִמְרִי.

[7] Greek: Ζαμβρὶ/Zambri.

[8] See verses 14-18.

1 thought on “Joshua 7:1: Achan’s Sin, and God’s Anger Against Israel

  1. Matthew Henry: “The story of this chapter begins with a but. The Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was noised through all that country, so the foregoing chapter ends, and it left no room to doubt but that he would go on as he had begun conquering and to conquer. He did right, and observed his orders in every thing. But the children of Israel committed a trespass, and so set God against them; and then even Joshua’s name and fame, his wisdom and courage, could do them no service. If we lose our God, we lose our friends, who cannot help us unless God be for us. Now here is:

    Achan sinning, Joshua 7:1. Here is only a general mention made of the sin; we shall afterwards have a more particular account of it from his own mouth. The sin is here said to be taking of the accursed thing, in disobedience to the command and in defiance of the threatening, Joshua 6:18. In the sacking of Jericho orders were given that they should neither spare any lives nor take any treasure to themselves; we read not of the breach of the former prohibition (there were none to whom they showed any mercy), but of the latter: compassion was put off and yielded to the law, but covetousness was indulged. The love of the world is that root of bitterness which of all others is most hardly rooted up. Yet the history of Achan is a plain intimation that he of all the thousands of Israel was the only delinquent in this matter. Had there been more in like manner guilty, no doubt we should have heard of it: and it is strange there were no more. The temptation was strong. It was easy to suggest what a pity it was that so many things of value should be burnt; to what purpose is this waste? In plundering cities, every man reckons himself entitled to what he can lay his hands on. It was easy to promise themselves secrecy and impunity. Yet by the grace of God such impressions were made upon the minds of the Israelites by the ordinances of God, circumcision and the passover, which they had lately been partakers of, and by the providences of God which had been concerning them, that they stood in awe of the divine precept and judgment, and generously denied themselves in obedience to their God. And yet, though it was a single person that sinned, the children of Israel are said to commit the trespass, because one of their body did it, and he was not as yet separated from them, nor disowned by them. They did it, that is, by what Achan did guilt was brought upon the whole society of which he was a member. This should be a warning to us to take heed of sin ourselves, lest by it many be defiled or disquieted (Hebrews 12:15), and to take heed of having fellowship with sinners, and of being in league with them, lest we share in their guilt. Many a careful tradesman has been broken by a careless partner. And it concerns us to watch over one another for the preventing of sin, because others’ sins may redound to our damage.

    The camp of Israel suffering for the same: The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel; he saw the offence, though they did not, and takes a course to make them see it; for one way or other, sooner or later, secret sins will be brought to light; and, if men enquire not after them, God will, and with his enquiries will awaken theirs. Many a community is under guilt and wrath and is not aware of it till the fire breaks out: here it broke out quickly.”

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