All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Ai and Achan
Based on Joshua 7

Soon after the conquest of Jericho, Joshua takes matters into his own hands and sends men up the steep ravines to spy on the small city of Ai. The name means “ruin” or “heap,” apparently indicating that formerly, the city had been much more prominent, but had suffered destruction.

While Jericho is located about 800 feet below sea level, Ai (if it has been correctly identified) is about 2,500 feet above sea level. The spies who are sent to scout out that small city report that only a few men are needed to conquer it, so Joshua attacks with a small army of about 3,000 men. Apparently, Joshua did not go with them. Immediately, they encounter strong resistance, and are pursued relentlessly down the steep ravines, resulting in 36 deaths! It’s clear that victory only comes when God fights the battle!

Joshua immediately perceives that both he and his people have sinned, and begins mourning their transgression. He, along with the elders of Israel, tear their clothes, fall on their faces to the earth before the Ark of the Lord, and put dust on their heads.


However, there’s another significant factor in their defeat, and when Joshua speaks with God, he finds that someone has grievously sinned by taking spoil from Jericho. They cannot win another battle until that sin has been eliminated.

In the conquest of Jericho, a man named Achan sees a beautiful Babylonian robe, 200 shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing 50 shekels. He takes them and buries them in his tent. The Babylonian robe of this period is embroidered, fringed, and extremely luxurious. It is worn for show by draping it over one shoulder with the edge carried over the arm. The 200 shekels of silver weigh about five pounds, while the 50 shekels of gold weigh about 1.25 pounds. The value of the silver and gold is more than an average laborer can earn in a lifetime; however, the spoils from the Canaanite cities belong to the Lord, and the precious metals are to be used in the sanctuary.

Probably by casting lots, they narrow down the tribe, clan, and family involved, until finally, Achan is chosen. Joshua treats him gently, by addressing him as “my son.” This seems to indicate his love for the offender, and that his heart goes out to him as though he were indeed his son. Joshua reflects many of the qualities of Jesus; and certainly, His attitude towards sinners.

Just before the Exodus, God calls the people of Israel His son, and instructs Moses this way: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me.”’”

Achan confesses—but only after being exposed. Both the spoil and the guilty one are cursed; the man who took them—and his whole family—share the guilt. Some may wonder at this, since the Lord expressly states, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16.

Obviously, God judges the situation, so their death is justified. And although the Bible does not give details, we can surmise that they are not small children, and therefore, are aware of the objects hidden in the earth in the midst of their tent.

Not only is Achan personally guilty of his sin, but Israel, as a nation, is also guilty, because of the biblical principle of solidarity. In this manner of thinking, Israel as a body is held accountable for the guilt of the individual sinner, and collectively must eliminate all trace of the sin.

Achan’s sin is covetousness, one that is especially offensive to God and prohibited in the tenth commandment. It is the first sin to appear in the universe (Isaiah 14:13–14), as well as the first sin committed by members of the New Testament Church (Acts 5:1–11).

Valley of Achor

Achan and all his spoil are brought before Israel and laid out before the Lord. Then Joshua and all Israel take Achan and his family, the garment, the silver and gold, and all his possessions to the Valley of Achor, and stone them. The whole congregation participates in the stoning, so no one knows who actually kills the person.

Afterward, they are burned with fire to completely purify the camp, and a great heap of stones is raised over the place as a permanent maker of the eradication of this evil. This punishment serves as a complete obliteration of Achan’s future descendants. Notice that this is a repetition of the exact way the Lord instructed Israel to purify Jericho, preserving only the metals for use in the sanctuary, and destroying all living things—and all trace of sin—with fire.

Interestingly, the word “Achor” means “trouble.” In 1Chronicles 2:7, Achan is called the “troubler of Israel.” But in Hosea 2:15, the “Valley of Achor” is called “a door of hope,” as sin is eliminated, and a hopeful new start begins.

Both the previous victory at Jericho, and the present defeat at Ai, are designed to inspire the Israelites to allow the Lord to lead them, since they both make clear the results of each approach to conquest. The sin of Achan demonstrates that the Lord cannot lead when there is deliberate sin in the camp.

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