Joshua 7:24: The Punishment of Achan and his House, Part 1

Verse 24:[1] 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.

[And his sons and daughters also] But this appears harsh, that the children pay the penalty for the sin of the father, and contrary to Deuteronomy 24:16. Responses: 1. That law was established concerning human judgment, but Joshua is now executing the commands of God (Masius). 2. Others maintain that these were not taken away with their father for punishment, but to witness, for the sake of fear (thus the Rabbis in Masius). Thus it is able to be explained, says Grotius, for it follows in verse 25, they stoned him, not them. But it is next subjoined, and they stoned them. But the latter pertains to the animals and furniture (Rabbi Levi in Masius). 3. The judgments of God are not to be measured by our sense and laws (Masius). 4. Perhaps they were aware of the disgraceful act of the parent, and participating in it (Bonfrerius). Thus the Talmudists determine, but they assert no reason for their affirmation (Masius). But, since they were living in the same tent in which Achan hid, or buried, the devoted thing, they were easily able to know this (Malvenda). But perhaps they were infants in this. Response: They are said to have been sons, etc., not infants (Malvenda out of Junius). [Furthermore, as Achan was the fifth from Judah, concerning which see what things we gathered on verse 1, it appears likely that, as he was of a more advanced age, so his children were adults.] He condemned in persons the contagion of conscience; but in things and goods the instruments of the contagion: so hateful is sin, and the instrument of sin (Junius). 5. The children did not pay for the sin of the parent, but they paid the debt of nature, which God (the Lord of life and death [Lapide]) calls in how and when He pleases (Junius). Moreover, the death of these was useful to restrain the audacity of the people (which was clearly needful in the new empire’s most dangerous, and fortune’s more prosperous, beginnings); so that they might understand just how great is the contagion of sin (Masius); and so that they might look out for one another, as members of one body (Junius). But it does not escape me how harsh it might be for the crimes of the parents to be paid for by the punishments of the children: but this is clearly established by laws (concerning confiscation of goods), so that the love of their children might render parents more affectionate to the republic. And so Lepidus is cruel to his children, not he that judges Lepidus to be an enemy: Cicero’s Epistles to Brutus[2] 13 (Gataker). Without fault, but not without reason, that is, on account of the crime of their father, they were slain (Menochius). That God is wont to impose even on the innocent temporal punishments on account of the sins of parents and others, it was observed on Exodus 20:5 (Bonfrerius).

His sons and his daughters; but this seems hard and unjust, and therefore forbidden by God himself, Deuteronomy 24:16. Answer 1. That law was given to men, not to God, who certainly hath a more absolute right and sovereignty over men than one man hath over another. 2. Their death was a debt they owed to nature and to their own sins, which debt God may require when he pleaseth; and he could not take it in more honourable and excellent circumstances than these, that the death of a very few in the beginning of a new empire, and of their settlement in the land might be useful to prevent the death of many thousands, who took warning by this dreadful example, whom, if the fear of God did not, yet the love of their own and of their dear children’s lives would, restrain from such dangerous and pernicious practices. 3. It is very probable they were conscious of the fact, as the Jewish doctors affirm. If it be pretended that some of them were infants, the text doth not say so, but only calls them sons and daughters. And considering that Achan was an old man, as is most probable, because he was the fifth person from Judah, (of which see on verse 1,) it seems most likely that the children were grown up, and so capable of knowing, and concealing or discovering this fact. Nor doth it follow that they were not guilty because it is not said so; for it is apparent that many circumstances are omitted in divers historical relations in Scripture, which sometimes are supplied in other places. His oxen, and his asses, and his sheep; which, though not capable of sin, nor of punishment properly so called, yet, as they were made for man’s use, so they are rightly destroyed for man’s good; and being daily killed for our bodily food, it cannot seem strange to kill them for the instruction of our minds, that hereby we might learn the detestable and contagious nature of sin, which involves innocent creatures in its plagues; and how much sorer punishments are reserved for man, who having a law given to him, and that excellent gift of reason and will to restrain him from the transgressions of it, his guilt must needs be unspeakably greater, and therefore his sufferings more severe and terrible. Further, by this enumeration it appears that he had no colour of necessity to induce him to this fact, but was wholly inexcusable.

[And all Israel with him [the Vulgate incloses this in parentheses], וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עִמּ֑וֹ[3]] And all Israel with him (Montanus, Septuagint, Jonathan). [They construe and connect it in a variety of ways.] With all Israel (Munster, Tigurinus). Now, all Israel accompanied him (Masius, thus the Arabic, Castalio). He led his sons…and all Israel with himself (Syriac). [Some connect it with what follows:] And so all Israel, which was with him, brought, etc. (Pagnine). [Others cast it back to the beginning of the verse:] Then Joshua and all Israel with him, with Achan taken, etc. (Junius and Tremellius, Dutch). He commends the zeal of the people to expiate the crime, etc. And perhaps the Tribe of Judah is obliquely vindicated from suspicion of contumacy, which follows with alacrity equal to the others the procession of punishment of their fellow-tribesmen (Masius).

[They brought them unto the valley, וַיַּעֲל֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם עֵ֥מֶק] They caused themselves (or, those [Vatablus, Munster, Junius and Tremellius], that is, both men and things [Bonfrerius]) to ascend[4] into the valley (Drusius, Montanus, Jonathan, Arabic). But one does not ascend, but descend, into a valley (Drusius). Surely there was a hill in the midst of the camps of Israel and this valley (Kimchi in Masius). But there is no reason for these straits, for עָלָה often signifies to enter, and thence הֶעֱלָה, to bring in and to lead in (Masius). [Therefore, they translate in this place:] It led up (Septuagint); it took along (Syriac); they led away (Junius and Tremellius, Munster, Tigurinus, Pagnine). Now, from the camps they led the one to be punished with death, for it was a sin to kill anyone in the midst of the camps (Masius, Bonfrerius); whether on account of the presence of the Ark, or lest the camps in any manner be polluted with carrion (Bonfrerius).

[The valley of Achor, עָכוֹר] Thus it is called proleptically, for it received its name from the following punishment: For Achan is the same as Achor[5] (Bonfrerius, Masius, Piscator).

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּקַּ֣ח יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ אֶת־עָכָ֣ן בֶּן־זֶ֡רַח וְאֶת־הַכֶּ֣סֶף וְאֶת־הָאַדֶּ֣רֶת וְֽאֶת־לְשׁ֣וֹן הַזָּהָ֡ב וְֽאֶת־בָּנָ֡יו וְֽאֶת־בְּנֹתָ֡יו וְאֶת־שׁוֹרוֹ֩ וְאֶת־חֲמֹר֙וֹ וְאֶת־צֹאנ֤וֹ וְאֶֽת־אָהֳלוֹ֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עִמּ֑וֹ וַיַּעֲל֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם עֵ֥מֶק עָכֽוֹר׃

[2] Marcus Æmilius Lepidus (c. 89-c. 13), having been a supporter of Cæsar, was a member of the Second Triumvirate with Octavian and Mark Antony.  Cicero was a political opponent of Antony and Lepidus, and here commends and defends the punishment of Lepidus’ children, should Lepidus prove treacherous.

[3] Joshua 7:24 (according to the Hebrew and Latin word order):  “And Joshua 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 all Israel with him [וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עִמּ֑וֹ; et omnis Israel cum eo, in the Vulgate]):  and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.”

[4] עָלָה signifies to go up.  The Hiphil conjugation frequently conveys a causative sense.

[5] See 1 Chronicles 2:7; and Joshua 7:25a:  “And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee (מֶ֣ה עֲכַרְתָּ֔נוּ יַעְכֳּרְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה) this day….”

3 thoughts on “Joshua 7:24: The Punishment of Achan and his House, Part 1

  1. Thomas Boston, “Creation’s Groans”: “[T]he creatures are liable to this groaning, because of their relation to sinful man, who has a subordinate, limited, providential interest in them; and that by the same justice that the whole which a malefactor has, smarts with him: as it was in the case of Achan, and all that he had, Joshua 7:24. The sun is a light to him, therefore it is overclouded; it nourishes his ground, therefore its influences are restrained. The ground feeds his flocks and herds, therefore it is inhabited. They furnish him with necessaries, conveniencies, and profits, therefore they suffer. They stand in a nearer relation to him than other creatures; they were made the same day, and of the same earth, and live in the same element with him, and therefore they smart sorest, because they are nearest to him. They are nearer, and therefore it is harder with them than with fishes and fowls, which were of the water, and live, the one in the water, the other in the air….

    It is dangerous to be concerned with those with whom God hath a controversy: thus, all that belonged to Achan perished with him, Joshua 7:24, 25, ‘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. 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.’ Had these oxen and asses been another’s than Achan’s, they had not perished in the manner they did. Thus the poor creatures lament their relation to sinful men; and many smart sore upon the occasion of the controversy God has, with them with whom they are nearly connected. A companion of fools shall be destroyed. Even those God has a kindness for, may smart full sorely for the sake of others; see 1 Kings 14:10-13.”

  2. John Brown, “Systematic Theology”: “God never punisheth children for the sins of their parents, but when they are involved in their guilt, or have by other sins deserved the punishment inflicted, though on account of their parents’ wickedness, they met with it in a particular form, Exodus 20:5. —The innocent children of Korah did not suffer in his punishment. The children of Dathan, Abiram, and Achan, who perished with their parents, were most probably partakers with them in their crimes, Numbers 26:10, 11; 16:27-33; Joshua 7:24, 25. Perhaps the descendants of Saul, that were hanged by the Gibeonites, had wickedly justified his perfidious murder of these strangers, who were dedicated to the service of God. It is certain, the case was extraordinary, warning all the Israelites to beware of violating any of their engagements materially lawful, 2 Samuel 21:1-9. —Uncircumcised Hebrew children were not liable to death till, by their own fault when come to the years of discretion, they had contemptuously neglected the seal of God’s covenant, the badge of his peculiar people; and perhaps cutting off from God’s people means no more than exclusion from his church, Genesis 17:10-14. —But after all, it is certain, that children often suffer in the punishment of their parents’ sin—from the hands of men in the forfeiture of the estates of traitors;—and from the hand of God, when multitudes of infants perish in inundations, earthquakes, fires, massacres, overthrows of nations or cities, etc. And, in ordinary cases, how often do children suffer in their bodies, minds, and estates, through the sloth, prodigality, and other wickedness of parents, as well as the bad education which they receive from them.”

  3. Matthew Henry: “[Achan’s] execution. No reprieve could be obtained; a gangrened member must be cut off immediately. When he is proved to be an anathema, and the troubler of the camp, we may suppose all the people cry out against him, Away with him, away with him! Stone him, stone him! Here is,

    1. The place of execution. They brought him out of the camp, in token of their putting far from them that wicked person, 1 Corinthians 5:13. When our Lord Jesus was made a curse for us, that by his trouble we might have peace, he suffered as an accursed thing without the gate, bearing our reproach, Hebrews 13:12-13. The execution was at a distance, that the camp which was disturbed by Achan’s sin might not be defiled by his death.

    2. The persons employed in his execution. It was the act of all Israel, Joshua 7:24, 25. They were all spectators of it, that they might see and fear. Public executions are public examples. Nay, they were all consenting to his death, and as many as could were active in it, in token of the universal detestation in which they held his sacrilegious attempt, and their dread of God’s displeasure against them.

    3. The partakers with him in the punishment; for he perished not alone in his iniquity, Joshua 22:20. (1.) The stolen goods were destroyed with him, the garment burnt, as it should have been with the rest of the combustible things in Jericho, and the silver and gold defaced, melted, lost, and buried, in the ashes of the rest of his goods under the heap of stones, so as never to be put to any other use. (2.) All his other goods were destroyed likewise, not only his tent, and the furniture of that, but his oxen, asses, and sheep, to show that goods gotten unjustly, especially if they be gotten by sacrilege, will not only turn to no account, but will blast and waste the rest of the possessions to which they are added. The eagle in the fable, that stole flesh from the altar, brought a coal of fire with it, which burnt her nest, Habakkuk 2:9, 10; Zechariah 5:3, 4. Those lose their own that grasp at more than their own. (3.) His sons and daughters were put to death with him. Some indeed think that they were brought out (Joshua 7:24) only to be the spectators of their father’s punishment, but most conclude that they died with him, and that they must be meant Joshua 7:25, where it is said they burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. God had expressly provided that magistrates should not put the children to death for the fathers’; but he did not intend to bind himself by that law, and in this case he had expressly ordered (Joshua 7:15) that the criminal, and all that he had, should be burnt. Perhaps his sons and daughters were aiders and abettors in the villany, had helped to carry off the accursed thing. It is very probable that they assisted in the concealment, and that he could not hide them in the midst of his tent but they must know and keep his counsel, and so they became accessaries ex post facto—after the fact; and, if they were ever so little partakers in the crime, it was so heinous that they were justly sharers in the punishment. However God was hereby glorified, and the judgment executed was thus made the more tremendous.”

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