10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought nearby your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come nearby clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come nearby households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’” 16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.
I can still remember the first time I read this story as an adult (for rest assured, we don’t teach this story to children), I was completely appalled. It was in my Old Testament class in college. Even with the professor trying valiantly the explain what had happened here, I struggled. Why would God destroy His own people – and on such a personal level? Surely Achan’s sin wasn't that terrible. It solicited several days of thinking about Achan and what he has done. In my little human mind, I didn’t think it was so bad; certainly not worthy of death sentence for his whole family. But God has ways I don’t understand.
Joshua does the right thing in this circumstance. He has no knowledge of Achan’s sin and so he drops before the Lord in humble intercession for the people. His confusion is understandable. Why did God allow this defeat after such a rousing victory over Jericho? What should have been a simple campaign instead ends in disaster. But God is faithful and He gives Joshua a clear answer and clear path to restoration – find the person who stole the “devoted things” and destroy him.
This morning as I read this story again, I wondered what would have happened if Achan had simply come to Joshua when the problem was announced to the people the night before the casting of lots and confessed his sin. Would God have heard his confession and granted mercy rather than punishment? What if he had run to his tent and gathered up the stolen booty and brought it to Joshua in contrition? We’ll never know, but I can’t help but wonder. Thousands of years earlier, Adam and Eve had proven that you cannot hide your sin from God. But apparently, Achan is going to try. Even though he is absolutely guilty, Joshua’s demeanor continues to reach out with grace despite the fact that Achan did not come forward when given the chance. Even after Achan is fingered by God as the guilty party, Joshua pleads with him to confess before the Lord, which Achan finally does. While a just God must have reparation, Joshua remains a good leader and we find him acting with grace in a very difficult situation.
The confession of Achan may come later than it should have, but it is complete. It may even serve as a model. He makes no attempt to shift the blame or minimize his guilt. He bares all before Joshua and the Lord. His sin, he admits, was not just a matter of momentary weakness. It was calculated: “I saw. … I coveted. … I took.” The hiding made it a continuing act of evil. The completeness of his confession is seen in the details he offers. The robe is a fine one from Mesopotamia. The silver weighs two hundred shekels or about five pounds. The gold weighs fifty shekels or about one and a quarter pounds. He even specifies the arrangement of the contraband in his tent: “the silver is under it [the robe].”
Harstad, A. L. (2004). Joshua (p. 326). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
When Achan confesses, Joshua sends people to find the source of the problem buried in the very land that the Lord had given to the people. One cannot help but think of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 who kept some of the proceeds from the sale of their property for themselves rather than turning it over to God. It wasn’t that they kept some of what was theirs to keep, but that they lied to God about it. Their punishment is immediate and swift; they both drop dead in front of Peter. Now that Achan is caught, he doesn’t bother to lie. His punishment is also immediate and swift. We don’t really know from the text if his family members suffered death along with him. I think we can assume that if they knew about the stolen/buried items, they died along with Achan. If they were ignorant, the text is silent as to whether or not they too died. Either way, they died with him or were forced to be witnesses to his demise.
We all know what it means to hide our sin or perhaps justify our sinful actions. And while the wages of sin is death, we have the blood of Jesus Christ as payment for our sin, and thus our eternal death is off the table. Our forgiveness is assured as believer in the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice. We don’t know if Achan’s confession was enough to take away the sting of eternal death. Perhaps his debt was paid by his execution. The text is silent on that account, and so too am I. We leave him to God’s mercy and justice.