We have here God’s answer to Joshua’s address, which, we may suppose, came from the oracle over the ark, before which Joshua had prostrated himself, Josh. 7:6. Those that desire to know the will of God must attend with their desires upon the lively oracles, and wait at wisdom’s gates for wisdom’s dictates, Prov. 8:34. And let those that find themselves under the tokens of God’s displeasure never complain of him, but complain to him, and they shall receive an answer of peace. The answer came immediately, while he was yet speaking (Isa. 65:24), as that to Daniel, Dan. 9:20
I. God encourages Joshua against his present despondencies, and the black and melancholy apprehensions he had of the present posture of Israel’s affairs (Josh. 7:10): “Get thee up, suffer not thy spirits to droop and sink thus; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” No doubt Joshua did well to humble himself before God, and mourn as he did, under the tokens of his displeasure; but now God told him it was enough, he would not have him continue any longer in that melancholy posture, for God delights not in the grief of penitents when they afflict their souls further than as it qualifies them for pardon and peace; the days even of that mourning must be ended. Arise, shake thyself from the dust, Isa. 53:2. Joshua continued his mourning till eventide (Josh. 7:6), so late that they could do nothing that night towards the discovery of the criminal, but were forced to put it off till next morning. Daniel (Dan. 9:21), and Ezra (Ezra 9:5, 6), continued their mourning only till the time of the evening sacrifice; that revived them both: but Joshua went past that time, and therefore is thus roused: “Get thee up, do not lie all night there.” Yet we find that Moses fell down before the Lord forty days and forty nights, to make intercession for Israel, Deut. 9:18. Joshua must get up because he has other work to do than to lie there; the accursed thing must be discovered and cast out, and the sooner the better; Joshua is the man that must do it, and therefore it is time for him to lay aside his mourning weeds, and put on his judge’s robes, and clothe himself with zeal as a cloak. Weeping must not hinder sowing, nor one duty of religion jostle out another. Every thing is beautiful in its season. Shechaniah perhaps had an eye to this in what he said to Ezra upon a like occasion. See Ezra 10:2-4.
II. He informs him of the true and only cause of this disaster, and shows him wherefore he contended with them (Josh. 7:11): Israel hath sinned. “Think not that God’s mind is changed, his arm shortened, or his promise about to fail; no, it is sin, it is sin, that great mischief-maker, that has stopped the current of divine favours and has made this breach upon you.” The sinner is not named, though the sin is described, but it is spoken of as the act of Israel in general, till they have fastened it upon the particular person, and their godly sorrow have so wrought a clearing of themselves, as theirs did, 2 Cor. 7:11. Observe how the sin is here made to appear exceedingly sinful. 1. They have transgressed my covenant, an express precept with a penalty annexed to it. It was agreed that God should have all the spoil of Jericho, and they should have the spoil of the rest of the cities of Canaan; but, in robbing God of his part, they transgressed this covenant. 2. They have even taken of the devoted thing, in contempt of the curse which was so solemnly denounced against him that should dare to break in upon God’s property, as if that curse had nothing in it formidable. 3. They have also stolen; they did it clandestinely, as if they could conceal it from the divine omniscience, and they were ready to say, The Lord shall not see, or will not miss so small a matter out of so great a spoil. Thus thou thoughtest I was altogether such a one as thyself. 4. They have dissembled also. Probably, when the action was over, Joshua called all the tribes, and asked them whether they had faithfully disposed of the spoil according to the divine command, and charged them, if they knew of any transgression, that they should discover it, but Achan joined with the rest in a general protestation of innocency, and kept his countenance, like the adulterous woman that eats and wipes her mouth, and says, I have done no wickedness. Nay, 5. They have put the accursed thing among their own goods, as if they had as good a title to that as to any thing they have, never expecting to be called to an account, nor designing to make restitution. All this Joshua, though a wise and vigilant ruler, knew nothing of, till God told him, who knows all the secret wickedness that is in the world, which men know nothing of God could at this time have told him who the person was that had done this thing, but he does not, (1.) To exercise the zeal of Joshua and Israel, in searching out the criminal. (2.) To give the sinner himself space to repent and make confession. Joshua no doubt proclaimed it immediately throughout the camp that there was such a transgression committed, upon which, if Achan had surrendered himself, and penitently owned his guilt, and prevented the scrutiny, who knows but he might have had the benefit of that law which accepted of a trespass-offering, with restitution, from those that had sinned through ignorance in the holy things of the law? Lev. 5:15, 16. But Achan never discovering himself till the lot discovered him evidenced the hardness of his heart, and therefore he found no mercy.
III. He awakens him to enquire further into it, by telling him, 1. That this was the only ground for the controversy God had with them, this, and nothing else; so that when this accursed thing was put away he needed not fear, all would be well, the stream of their successes, when this one obstruction was removed, would run as strong as ever. 2. That if this accursed thing were not destroyed they could not expect the return of God’s gracious presence; in plain terms, neither will I be with you any more as I have been, except you destroy the accursed, that is, the accursed person, who is made so by the accursed thing. That which is accursed will be destroyed; and those whom God has entrusted to bear the sword bear it in vain if they make it not a terror to that wickedness which brings these judgments of God on a land. By personal repentance and reformation, we destroy the accursed thing in our own hearts, and, unless we do this, we must never expect the favour of the blessed God. Let all men know that it is nothing but sin that separates between them and God, and, if it be not sincerely repented of and forsaken, it will separate eternally.
IV. He directs him in what method to make this enquiry and prosecution. 1. He must sanctify the people, now over-night, that is, as it is explained, he must command them to sanctify themselves, Josh. 7:13. And what can either magistrates or ministers do more towards sanctification? They must put themselves into a suitable frame to appear before God and submit to the divine scrutiny, must examine themselves, now that God was coming to examine them, must prepare to meet their God. They were called to sanctify themselves when they were to receive the divine law (Exod. 19:1-25), and now also when they were to come under the divine judgment; for in both God is to be attended with the utmost reverence. “There is an accursed thing in the midst of you, and therefore sanctify yourselves,” that is, Let all that are innocent be able to clear themselves, and be the more careful to cleanse themselves. The sin of others may be improved by us as furtherances of our sanctification, as the scandal of the incestuous Corinthian occasioned a blessed reformation in that church, 2 Cor. 7:11. 2. He must bring them all under the scrutiny of the lot (Josh. 7:14); the tribe which the guilty person was of should first be discovered by lot, then the family, then the household, and last of all the person. The conviction came upon him thus gradually that he might have some space given him to come in a 747f nd surrender himself; for God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Observe, The Lord is said to take the tribe, and family, and household, on which the lot fell, because the disposal of the lot is of the Lord, and, however casual it seems, is under the direction of infinite wisdom and justice; and to show that when the sin of sinners finds them out God is to be acknowledged in it; it is he that seizes them, and the arrests are in his name. God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants, Gen. 44:16. It is also intimated with what a certain and unerring judgment the righteous God does and will distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, so that though for a time they seem involved in the same condemnation, as the whole tribe did when it was first taken by the lot, yet he who has his fan in his hand will effectually provide for the taking out of the precious from the vile; so that though the righteous be of the same tribe, and family, and household, with the wicked, yet they shall never be treated as the wicked, Gen. 18:25. 3. When the criminal was found out he must be put to death without mercy (Heb. 10:28), and with all the expressions of a holy detestation, Josh. 7:15. He and all that he has must be burnt with fire, that there might be no remainders of the accursed thing among them; and the reason given for this severe sentence is because the criminal has, (1.) Given a great affront to God: He has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, who is jealous particularly for the honour of the holy covenant. (2.) He has done a great injury to the church of God: He has wrought folly in Israel, has shamed that nation which is looked upon by all its neighbours to be a wise and understanding people, has infected that nation which is sanctified to God, and troubled that nation of which he is the protector. These being crimes so heinous in their nature, and of such pernicious consequence and example, the execution, which otherwise would have come under the imputation of cruelty, is to be applauded as a piece of necessary justice. It was sacrilege; it was invading God’s rights, alienating his property, and converting to a private use that which was devoted to his glory and appropriated to the service of his sanctuary—this was the crime to be thus severely punished, for warning to all people in all ages to take heed how they rob God.