Joshua Chapter 7 Bible Study: Ai and the sin of Achan

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Joshua Chapter 7: Ai and the sin of Achan

by F Gordon


Last time we saw that Jericho was the first stumbling block to Israel's' walk going into the Promised Land and this pictured the world and the enemy. It hindered them entering into all that God had for them in His inheritance and His promises. We looked at how Joshua had to come under new instructions, how he met the man with the sword in his hand who said 'you are not going to do it your way but it has got to be my way that this is done' Everything was about a walk of faith. They had to circle the city thirteen times, they had to keep their mouths shut the whole time and the walls came down and in they went. So they had a great victory over Jericho. Chapter 7 is obviously after this great victory. The city has fallen, God has got all the glory and honour and all they had to do was be obedient to what He commanded and keep walking in faith and dependence upon Him.

But when you get to chapter 7 you have a very different scene and this is really their first defeat when they come into the Promised Land. It is their first falling. Before you actually get into chapter 7, in verse 18 of chapter 6, Joshua actually warned the nation about certain things. He said:

 Joshua 6:18-19 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. (19) All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury." 

So Joshua had already given the people a warning saying 'this is God's battle. It has got to be done in God's way and you are to keep your hands off the booty. None of this is for you for it has all got to go into the treasury of the Lord'. So it is God's victory, God's booty, His treasures. With this as a background, let's now look at chapter 7

From a spiritual high to a great low...

Joshua 7:1-3 But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel. (2) Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, "Go up and spy out the region." So the men went up and spied out Ai. (3) When they returned to Joshua, they said, "Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there."

Jericho was a massive victory for the nation. They are on a great high. And in verse 2 Joshua sends men from Jericho to Ai. Now where was their base camp supposed to be? Gilgal. And when we looked at what Gilgal stood for we saw it was a picture of self judgement. It was in that place that they circumcised themselves and it was there that they took stock of what they were. It was in that place that they looked at the monuments that they had come through in the Jordan... monuments of death and resurrection. It was in that place that they received new instruction and the good food of the land. Gilgal was supposed to be their base camp. When you carry on through this book you will see they go out from Gilgal to their battles. So the picture that you have got here is that they go from this battle at Jericho into the one at Ai but instead of coming back to Gilgal, where there would have been self judgement, they just go straight up. In some ways, after a great victory can be our weakest most vulnerable point. When God has actually done something for you or you have been victorious in some aspect or manner, going straight into the next battle can be a real tipping point. One man I thought of was Elijah. Elijah obtained a tremendous victory over 450 false prophets and then the Spirit comes upon him and he outruns a horse and chariot back to the city, yet at the threat of one woman - Jezebel, he falls horrendously. How can you go from victory to victory and then all of a sudden there is a great failing?

So what comes out of it is that when you are really victorious in some aspect, pride comes in, self confidence comes in, and this is what is happening with the nation of Israel. They say in verse 3: 'Look all the people don't need to go. There are only a few people there.' In other words 'this battle is easy-peazy compared to what we have just faced. Jericho was momentous but this is just a small one.' So you have this whole picture here that they have just come from a massive victory and they are self confident. They don't need all the people; this is going to be easy for us to do.

Beware of the two foes - fear and self-confidence

Self-confidence is a real aspect of the flesh that we need to be careful about. You have these two aspects, first you fear which governs them through the wilderness. What fear does is make situations, problems and enemies bigger than what they actually are. It builds the situation up to be bigger than what it actually is. But self-confidence does the opposite. It makes the situation seem smaller or more insignificant than what it really is and this is the picture you have here with the nation of Israel. 'We don't need all the people to go and fight this battle. We have just defeated Jericho and the people of Ai are only a few, so only a few of us need to go.'

It is interesting when you look at the whole self confidence because in God's economy, He actually chooses the weak and those that aren't full of themselves, who don't think that they have got what it takes. It is very different to the way the world's system works. In the world's system, if you take sport for example, you come from a great victory and it is all about you believing in yourself and that you have what it takes. You go into the next battle with that same mind set - you have to believe in yourself. That is what we are taught, whether it is playing golf, or a rugby game or whatever it may be. You go in there believing that you have got the ability to win. And there is a true aspect in that for sports, but in the Christian life it is actually the opposite. Remember this is a walk of faith so your belief and your confidence has to be in somebody and not yourself. It is actually in the God who goes with you into whatever you are facing just as they did with Jericho. So God is after men and women that really take Him into account and when everything is spiritually really high and really good and we are victorious, that is our vulnerable point because right there comes a feeling of self confidence and pride. I do have what it takes and yes I am right up there. So the first thing that comes out of this passage is that they were confident in themselves and didn't take stock of the enemy they faced.

The second thing is that there doesn't seem to be any prayer from Joshua through this passage. When he met the man with the sword in his hand, he received instruction about what to do. But here there is no account of him asking God what do. He just goes straight into it. He sends out the men, they come back and say 'look, we don't need to take everyone' so there is no record of Joshua asking God 'how do we fight this next battle.' He just did what was natural to him. He just sent out the spies and he had no idea what God had seen - that there was actually sin in the camp. So we need to be careful of prayerlessness because the victory that we get today is actually not enough for tomorrow. We always think that if we are on the heights that will be enough to carry us on to the next battle but it is actually not. Just like the manna in the wilderness, they were given enough for that day. Every day they had to receive it anew. It is exactly the same for us. It is a walk of faith where our dependence upon God does not carry on just because you depended on Him one day. It is a day by day walk of faith where we look to God to meet the obstacle... whether it is a big one that we are facing in our lives, or whether it is only a little one, that dependence needs to be there. So we need to be careful of self confidence and we need to be careful of thinking we have got what it takes. It is a little bit like the whale that said to the baby whale 'when you get to the top and you start to blow be careful because that is when you get harpooned.' It is exactly the same for us, when you get to the top be careful of self confidence and self pride. When you think you have got what it takes, look out. It can be a small little thing like Ai that will defeat you.

A time to act 

Joshua 7:4-10 So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, (5) who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water. (6) Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. (7) And Joshua said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! (8) O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? (9) The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name? (10) The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?"

Here you have Joshua and straight away he knows that something has radically changed. Something isn't right. Israel has been defeated and so he falls on his face and he entreats God in the same way that Moses used to. 'What are the nations going to say, why have we just suffered this defeat?' So what is God's response? It is interesting when you look at that because you think Joshua's response is a good one. However, when you read it, it almost sounds as if God is rebuking him. He is saying 'What are you doing moaning?' 'Quit all this whining, get up off the ground.' Now there is no record of Joshua praying prior to this about the instructions in going. It is only after the fall that he actually prays and he wouldn't be on his knees here if he had prayed in the beginning because God would have revealed to him that something was wrong within the camp. But he is praying afterwards and God said to him 'There is sin in the camp, I want you to get up and I want you to act. Don't just moan and whine about it, you have actually got to do something'.

When I was thinking about that, I thought, sometimes there are things in our lives, or sin in our lives that is just like that. You know we can whine and moan at God about something that keeps tripping us up or something that we keep doing that causes us to fall, when sometimes all that is actually required is to stop moaning and whining and entreating God about the same thing but to actually act and get rid of that which is causing you to stumble. Some things can be got rid of, just don't go there.

Beware the little leaven...

Joshua 7:11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.

Notice here that God doesn't single out Achan. He actually says 'Israel has sinned' rather than Achan has sinned. You would think that He would just hone right to the point and say who it was that had caused the trouble for the nation, but He doesn't. He says 'Israel has sinned.' So whatever one member did, the whole body became responsible. Israel was really only as strong as its weakest member. Most of us, when we think about sin, think about it individually. When you think about sin, you think 'how is my life, how is my record?' But God here is dealing with the nation... He sees them as a corporate body. And we don't often think about sin in terms of how it affects us as a corporate body of believers. Do you think of sin in that way? That we are a body of believers and that if one member is sick, like Paul tells us in the New Testament, the whole body suffers because we are part of one body. It is a different thought here. In the New Testament you have an issue that highlights this. Yes, this was under law, but under grace Paul still carries it over. In 1st Corinthians 5 Paul says 'there is sin that is causing the Corinthians witness to be bought down'. And he is saying too 'I have heard, and it has been reported, that you have got a man in your congregation who has taken his father's wife.' Do you remember that story? And he says 'Even though I am not present with you I judge this man and this action.' And he condemns them for tolerating it. And he says 'I want you to get rid of him and I want you to cast him out, and I want you to give him over to Satan so that he may be saved in the day of Christ Jesus.' He goes on to talk about the scripture where it says 'A little bit of leaven, leavens the whole lump.' A little bit of sin filters through and actually destroys the whole lot, it brings about a bad witness. This is what God is saying here. There is a time to act, there is a time to get rid of that which is causing you trouble. Yes, a little leaven spreads right through.

Pinpointing the problem

Joshua 7:12-19 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (13) Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it. (14) 'In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe that the LORD takes shall come forward clan by clan; the clan that the LORD takes shall come forward family by family; and the family that the LORD takes shall come forward man by man. (15) He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!' " (16) Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. (17) The clans of Judah came forward, and he took the Zerahites. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was taken. (18) Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. (19) Then Joshua said to Achan, "My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me."

What a horrendous thing to actually go through! What you have got here is God bringing this sin which is hidden into the open, where it can be fully seen. He does this in a very public way, among the whole nation. Something had happened here, there was an accursed thing in their midst and God was opening it up so that the whole nation would be involved in this process and would see what sin had caused them to fail. I bet Achan thought he was safe... at the start! You have got a couple of million people and I suppose that at the beginning he thought the chances of getting found out are slim. But as it whittled down, I bet he began to get the old knocking knees! Firstly his tribe is selected and then all the families are taken out and his family name is taken. Then it goes down even further when his father's name is taken. That would have been quite a scary process if you had been the one that had actually committed the act. It is amazing that he didn't come out right at the beginning but he doesn't. He holds out right to the end hoping that he was going to get away with it. Like every good thief, in their mind they are not guilty until they are caught!

I was called up to do jury service a couple of months ago and I was just thinking about this process of what it was like. Now nobody wants to do it. There was probably 120-150 of us. Out of that they take 30 and my name was called in that 30. Then out of that 30 they take 10 and again my name was called. You feel like you have received the sentence yourself! So when I was thinking about Achan, I thought it would have been a scary process to go through for him when sin is actually exposed. Before I was a Christian I used to get away with pretty much most things. I got caught a bit but I also got away with a lot. But there was a day when my sin actually caught and found me out and I came to see what the extent of my sin really was. I am glad that what happened to Achan didn't happen to me because his sin is bought right out into the open and his sin sure does catch him out.

The stages of sin

Joshua 7:20-21 Achan replied, "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: (21) When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath."

I am amazed that he could even speak in the first place! I bet his heart was about to pop out of his shirt after undergoing all of that interrogation. His confession is straight forward. It is concise - 'indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel.' There doesn't seem to be any guilt about the men that had died or the trouble that he had bought upon the nation. But he does confess that he has sinned against the Lord God of Israel. So he is honest about his sin. Then he mentions the process that led to his sin. You have got these three steps really in his sin. He saw, he coveted and he took. And in James chapter 1, he talks about sin really in this sort of order, three steps.

 James 1:14-15 '...each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (15) Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.' 

So he is talking about the progression in sin. Every one is tempted, but you are drawn away by your own desires. When that takes hold then the sin grows and it brings forth death. Achan said 'When I saw the spoils I coveted them.' He wanted to take some of the booty from God's victory; he coveted the wealth there, and he took it. You have got that three stage progression. You see the same three stage progression with Eve right back in the beginning. She saw the fruit, she wanted something from it, she coveted it and she took it. You have got the same three steps with David and Bathsheba: He saw, he coveted and he took.

Beware attempting to take God's glory

Joshua 7:22-23 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. (23) They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD.

Achan took something out of God's victory. Jericho was God's victory and all of the spoils were His. And that was a God given victory to them. They just had to walk by faith and be obedient and God did it all for them. And here you have a man taking some of the treasures out of something that God had done and which was all to go to God. We also need to be careful with the things that God does in our lives that we don't take any of the glory, any of the credit, from something that is God's work in and through us.

An example of this would be Hezekiah when he is given an extra 15 years to his life. He brings in the Babylonian messengers into the treasure house of the palace and it says that he didn't withhold anything from them. He showed them all that God had done for him; all the treasures, all the stuff that he had acquired. Straight away after that the prophet comes to him and says (as a paraphrase) 'Why did you show them everything and why did you almost claim that you had done all this.' As a result he said 'Your sons are going to be taken away captive.' Hezekiah was a good king, but in this regard he was completely wrong and he said 'Well, that's okay, as long as there is peace in my day.' Well, hello! He didn't give a hoot about his kids and what was going to come upon them, as long as he was okay! He's taking credit or glory for something that God had actually done for him.

A contrasting example is that of Abraham. Do you remember when Lot was taken captive by all those kings, and he gathers up his 300 men and he goes after them. He defeats them and rescues Lot and all the booty. That was a God given victory. He was up against 5 kings and God gave him the victory. When he is coming back from that victory he is met by Melchizedek, both priest and king, who is a type of Christ. He honoured Melchizedek by giving him a tithe and then all of the kings say to him 'look, you take some of the booty for yourself' and Abraham's response is really interesting. He said 'No, I am not going to take any of it, I don't want you guys to say that you made Abraham rich, I will only take what God actually gives me.' He would not take any of the spoil because he realised that he couldn't have done this without God's help.

So we need to be careful in our lives that we don't think we are more spiritual than we are. Or if God does something through us that we don't think that we are the one who did it, because it certainly isn't. I think it was George Whitfield who, having preached a really good sermon, had someone say to him 'Pastor, that is the greatest sermon I have ever heard, you are such a good speaker.' George Whitfield replied 'Yes, the devil has already told me that!' But it is like that, it doesn't matter wherever it is that God uses you, we just need to be careful that we don't take something for which God deserves all the credit and glory.


Joshua 7:24-26 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. (25) Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. (26) Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

Swift and severe judgement. His whole family, everything that he owns are brought into this. In the New Testament your type for this would probably be Ananias and Sapphira. Here you have got really swift and severe judgement when sin is involved. When Israel entered into the land everything is new and He is dealing with them as a body as they are about to inherit their inheritance. In the New Testament, when the church is born, the Holy Spirit is upon them and everything is new, fresh and powerful and again you have got a really swift and severe judgement. What did Ananias and Sapphira do? They deceived. They made out they were giving more than they did. You may consider that not to be a bad sin,that they were giving a false impression, but they were deceiving. It is the same here - they have both stolen and deceived. But God judged it severely and so Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead. Achan and his family, they are all brought into this valley. When I read that it struck me that his whole family were involved... his wives, his daughters, his sons, his sheep, his donkeys, everything that he owned was brought out there.

When you read the commentaries there are two different thoughts about this. Some say that everything was stoned, because the whole family knew about it. One man's sin had involved the whole family and they were all judged. Other people say that where it says 'So all Israel stoned him, Achan, with stones, and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones' some commentaries say that 'them' is all his goods because they say that under the law a man cannot be judged for his children's sin, or children cannot be judged for their father's sin. So in other words you are responsible for your own sin. So whether the whole family were stoned and everything burned or whether they were present to watch Achan himself, and all his goods be stoned and burned I am not sure. It is not clear. Going by the other laws, if the whole family were stoned then they must have been complicit in Achan's sin.

Mercy and a door of hope

So Achan's sin brought trouble upon the whole nation and he is judged accordingly. And the place of judgement became known as the valley of Achor. Before closing, there is one other verse I want to look at because the valley of Achor is referenced elsewhere. It is interesting that Achor means 'trouble'. Achan brought trouble upon the nation. But in Hosea chapter 2 this valley is spoken of in a different way as Hosea speaks to Israel.

Hosea 2:14-16 Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. (15) There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. (16) In that day, declares the LORD, "you will call me 'my husband'; you will no longer call me 'my master. '

In Joshua's day this valley of Achor meant trouble. It meant sin judged, but when you get to Hosea God says 'this valley of Achor that means trouble for you, I am going to give to you as a door of hope.' So what does that mean? In its context, Israel had been cast away because of her sin and trouble had ensued. But here was this great promise that this valley of trouble would also be made into a door of hope. In other words he was going to restore them to a relationship with Him once again through the trouble that would come upon them. And it says 'You will sing in that day just like the day when you come up out of the land of Egypt.' In other words it is a deliverance from sin but it is a door of hope. God is going to make something that is troublesome to you as a door of hope for you. There was one man from Judah that brought sin and trouble to the whole nation, but that one man was judged, so also we know that there is another man, Christ Jesus, also from the tribe of Judah, who actually had no sin and did no sin and yet all of the sins of the world was poured out upon Him and He was judged in our place. The Just for the unjust, the Righteous for the unrighteous. And He was judged instead of us in this valley of trouble so that through His judgement there would actually be hope for all people, that we could receive the forgiveness of sins. And when you find yourself in trouble, when sin has actually found you out, as it does to everyone that is here today, it becomes a door of hope because the man Christ Jesus has been judged in our place. He has taken the judgement that was upon Him and it is now a door of hope for you and I.


So, when we look at chapter 7 here are the things that spoke to me. The first thing was that they had a self confidence about themselves. They had gone from a victory straight into another battle without taking God into account. There was no prayer, and as it looked like an easy battle they just thought they could handle it without God. The second point is that sin is always out in the open for God sees everything. That is very interesting because I have found that since becoming a Christian I don't get away with anything. This is actually a good thing. Quite often parents pray for their children 'Lord, don't let them get away with anything' and it is a good prayer. Finally you have got this whole picture of there being hope even in the valley of trouble. We might find ourselves in troubling situations or with sin weighing us down but there is a door of hope through the man Christ Jesus.