7 September 2013

Joshua 7:1-15

“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I imposed on them. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have acted deceitfully, and they have put them among their own belongings. Therefore the Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; they turn their backs to their enemies, because they have become a thing devoted for destruction themselves. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.’” (vv. 10-12)


The "ban" as it is called, by which every person and object in Jericho was to be 'devoted to destruction' as an offering to God provides the background to this story. The only exceptions to the ban were that silver, gold and other metal vessels were to be kept for religious occasions (Joshua 6:19), and Rahab and her family were spared slaughter because she had aided the spies Joshua sent to Jericho ahead of the assault. However a man called Achan, out of personal greed, took some of the plunder for himself. In the later part of the chapter (verses 16-26), Achan's rebellion against God's orders resulted in his execution along with his family, even though they may have had no knowledge of his actions.

Verse 1 strongly states that the sin of one man has implications for all the people. They are said to break faith, and the Lord is angry with them all. This comes to light in the way in which what should have been an easy military action against the town of Ai turned out as disaster for Israel with considerable loss of life (verse 5). Probably we should read the account in a way that shows Achan as representative of a general tendency of the people to autonomy rather than obedience to God. There is no reference to Joshua consulting God about the size of the force needed to attack Ai, and indeed no suggestion that God commands that campaign in the way he did the capture of Jericho.

Joshua's pleading with God after the defeat, with his apparent concern for God's honour, is reminiscent of Moses's intercession in the case of the golden calf (Exodus 32:11-14). God's response first requires that Joshua change his stance from humble pleading with God to standing ready to listen (verse 10). God then explains that by breaking the ban the people have become themselves subject to it and 'devoted to destruction', but goes on to outline a procedure whereby the appropriate representative individual, along with his family, will pay the price for them all.

To Ponder

  • If Rahab's family were saved through her right actions (Joshua 6:25), is it perfectly proper that Achan's family should all pay the price of his wrong ones (verse 15)? Why might some people want to take issue with this understanding of justice?
  • To what extent would you agree with the assertion that we are too individualistic in our understanding of sin, refusing to accept that our connectedness with others implicates them in our actions, and in the guilt and further consequences that follow?
  • In what ways are you and other people today tempted to greed and to the taking of that to which there is no personal right, and expecting to get away with it? How may we avoid the temptations of materialism overpowering us?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.