The story of this chapter begins with a but. The Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was noised through all that country, so the foregoing chapter ends, and it left no room to doubt but that he would go on as he had begun conquering and to conquer. He did right, and observed his orders in every thing. But the children of Israel committed a trespass, and so set God against them; and then even Joshua’s name and fame, his wisdom and courage, could do them no service. If we lose our God, we lose our friends, who cannot help us unless God be for us. Now here is,
I. Achan sinning, Josh. 7:1. Here is only a general mention made of the sin; we shall afterwards have a more particular account of it from his own mouth. The sin is here said to be taking of the accursed thing, in disobedience to the command and in defiance of the threatening, Josh. 6:18. In the sacking of Jericho orders were given that they should neither spare any lives nor take any treasure to themselves; we read not of the breach of the former prohibition (there were none to whom they showed any mercy), but of the latter: compassion was put off and yielded to the law, but covetousness was indulged. The love of the world is that root of bitterness which of all others is most hardly rooted up. Yet the history of Achan is a plain intimation that he of all the thousands of Israel was the only delinquent in this matter. Had there been more in like manner guilty, no doubt we should have heard of it: and it is strange there were no more. The temptation was strong. It was easy to suggest what a pity it was that so many things of value should be burnt; to what purpose is this waste? In plundering cities, every man reckons himself entitled to what he can lay his hands on. It was easy to promise themselves secrecy and impunity. Yet by the grace of God such impressions were made upon the minds of the Israelites by the ordinances of God, circumcision and the passover, which they had lately been partakers of, and by the providences of God which had been concerning them, that they stood in awe of the divine precept and judgment, and generously denied themselves in obedience to their God. And yet, though it was a single person that sinned, the children of Israel are said to commit the trespass, because one of their body did it, and he was not as yet separated from them, nor disowned by them. They did it, that is, by what Achan did guilt was brought upon the whole society of which he was a member. This should be a warning to us to take heed of sin ourselves, lest by it many be defiled or disquieted (Heb. 12:15), and to take heed of having fellowship with sinners, and of being in league with them, lest we share in their guilt. Many a careful tradesman has been broken by a careless partner. And it concerns us to watch over one another for the preventing of sin, because others’ sins may redound to our damage.
II. The camp of Israel suffering for the same: The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel; he saw the offence, though they did not, and takes a course to make them see it; for one way or other, sooner or later, secret sins will be brought to light; and, if men enquire not after them, God will, and with his enquiries will awaken theirs. Many a community is under guilt and wrath and is not aware of it till the fire breaks out: here it broke out quickly. 1. Joshua sends a detachment to seize upon the next city that was in their way, and that was Ai. Only 3000 men were sent, advice being brought him by his spies that the place was inconsiderable, and needed no greater force for the reduction of it, Josh. 7:2, 3. Now perhaps it was a culpable assurance, or security rather that led them to send so small a party on this expedition; it might also be an indulgence of the people in the love of ease, for they will not have all the people to labour thither. Perhaps the people were the less forward to go upon this expedition because they were denied the plunder of Jericho; and these spies were willing they should be gratified. Whereas when the town was to be taken, though God by his own power would throw down the walls, yet they must all labour thither and labour there too, in walking round it. It did not bode well at all that God’s Israel began to think much of their labour, and contrived how to spare their pains. It is required that we work out our salvation, though it is God that works in us. It has likewise often proved of bad consequence to make too light of an enemy. They are but few (say the spies), but, as few as they were, they were too many for them. It will awaken our care and diligence in our Christian warfare to consider that we wrestle with principalities and powers. 2. The party he sent, in their first attack upon the town, were repulsed with some loss (Josh. 7:4, 5): They fled before the men of Ai, finding themselves unaccountably dispirited, and their enemies to sally out upon them with more vigour and resolution than they expected. In their retreat they had about thirty-six men cut off: no great loss indeed out of such a number, but a dreadful surprise to those who had no reason to expect any other in any attack than clear, cheap, and certain victory. And now, as it proves, it is well there were but 3000 that fell under this disgrace. Had the body of the army been there, they would have been no more able to keep their ground, now they were under guilt and wrath, than this small party, and to them the defeat would have been much more grievous and dishonourable. However, it was bad enough as it was, and served, (1.) To humble God’s Israel, and to teach them always to rejoice with trembling. Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast as he that putteth if off. (2.) To harden the Canaanites, and to make them the more secure notwithstanding the terrors they had been struck with, that their ruin, when it came, might be the more dreadful. (3.) To be an evidence of God’s displeasure against Israel, and a call to them to purge out the old leaven. And this was principally intended in their defeat. 3. The retreat of this party in disorder put the whole camp of Israel into a fright: The hearts of the people melted, not so much for the loss as for the disappointment. Joshua had assured them that the living God would without fail drive out the Canaanites from before them, Josh. 3:10. How can this event be reconciled to that promise? To every thinking man among them it appeared an indication of God’s displeasure, and an omen of something worse, and therefore no marvel it put them into such a consternation; if God turn to be their enemy and fight against them, what will become of them? True Israelites tremble when God is angry.