We have in these verses,
I. The discovery of Achan by the lot, which proved a perfect lot, though it proceeded gradually. Though we may suppose that Joshua slept the better, and with more ease and satisfaction, when he knew the worst of the disease of that body of which, under God, he was the head, and was put into a certain method of cure, yet he rose up early in the morning (Josh. 7:16), so much was his heart upon it, to put away the accursed thing. We have found Joshua upon other occasions an early riser; here it shows his zeal and vehement desire to see Israel restored to the divine favour. In the scrutiny observe, 1. That the guilty tribe was that of Judah, which was, and was to be, of all the tribes, the most honourable and illustrious; this was an alloy to their dignity, and might serve as a check to their pride: many there were who were its glories, but here was one that was its reproach. Let not the best families think it strange if there be those found in them, and descending from them, that prove their grief and shame. Judah was to have the first and largest lot in Canaan; the more inexcusable is one of that tribe it, not content to wait for his own share, he break in upon God’s property. The Jews’ tradition is that when the tribe of Judah was taken the valiant men of that tribe drew their swords, and professed they would not sheathe them again till they saw the criminal punished and themselves cleared who knew their own innocency. 2. That the guilty person was at length fastened upon, and the language of the lot was, Thou art the man, Josh. 7:18. It was strange that Achan, being conscious to himself of guilt, when he saw the lot come nearer and nearer to him, had not either the wit to make an escape or the grace to make a confession; but his heart was hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and it proved to be to his own destruction. We may well imagine how his countenance changed, and what horror and confusion seized him when he was singled out as the delinquent, when the eyes of all Israel were fastened upon him, and every one was ready to say, Have we found thee, O our enemy? See here, (1.) The folly of those that promise themselves secrecy in sin: the righteous God has many ways of bringing to light the hidden works of darkness, and so bringing to shame and ruin those that continue their fellowship with those unfruitful works. A bird of the air, when God pleases, shall carry the voice, Eccl. 10:20. See Ps. 94:7 (2.) How much it is our concern, when God is contending with us, to find out what the cause of action is, what the particular sin is, that, like Achan, troubles our camp. We must thus examine ourselves and carefully review the records of conscience, that we may find out the accursed thing, and pray earnestly with holy Job, Lord, show me wherefore thou contendest with me. Discover the traitor and he shall be no longer harboured.
II. His arraignment and examination, Josh. 7:19. Joshua sits judge, and, though abundantly satisfied of his guilt by the determination of the lot, yet urges him to make a penitent confession, that his soul might be saved by it in the other world, though he could not give him any encouragement to hope that he should save his life by it. Observe, 1. How He accosts him with the greatest mildness and tenderness that could be, like a true disciple of Moses. He might justly have called him “thief,” and “rebel,” “Raca,” and “thou fool,” but he call him “son;” he might have adjured him to confess, as the high priest did our blessed Saviour, or threatened him with the torture to extort a confession, but for love’s sake he rather beseeches him: I pray thee make confession. This is an example to all not to insult over those that are in misery, though they have brought themselves into it by their own wickedness, but to treat even offenders with the spirit of meekness, not knowing, what we ourselves should have been and done if God had put us into the hands of our own counsels. It is likewise an example to magistrates, in executing justice, to govern their own passions with a strict and prudent hand, and never suffer themselves to be transported by them into any indecencies of behaviour or language, no, not towards those that have given the greatest provocations. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Let them remember the judgment is God’s, who is Lord of his anger. This is the likeliest method of bringing offenders to repentance. 2. What he wishes him to do, to confess the fact, to confess it to God, the party offended by the crime; Joshua was to him in god’s stead, so that in confessing to him he confessed to God. Hereby he would satisfy Joshua and the congregation concerning that which was laid to his charge; his confession would also be an evidence of his repentance, and a warning to others to take heed of sinning after the similitude of his transgression: but that which Joshua aims at herein is that God might be honoured by it, as the Lord, the God of infinite knowledge and power, from whom no secrets are hid; and as the God of Israel, who, as he does particularly resent affronts given to his Israel, so he does the affronts given him by Israel. Note, In confessing sin, as we take shame to ourselves, so we give glory to God as righteous God, owning him justly displeased with us, and as a good God, who will not improve our confessions as evidences against us, but is faithful and just to forgive when we are brought to own that he would be faithful and just if he should punish. By sin we have injured God in his honour. Christ by his death has made satisfaction for the injury; but it is required that we by repentance show our good will to his honour, and, as far as in us lies, give glory to him. Bishop Patrick quotes the Samaritan chronicle, making Joshua to say here to Achan, Lift up thy eyes to the king of heaven and earth, and acknowledge that nothing can be hidden from him who knoweth the greatest secrets.
III. His confession, which now at last, when he saw it was to no purpose to conceal his crime, was free and ingenuous enough, Josh. 7:20, 21. Here is, 1. A penitent acknowledgment of fault. “Indeed I have sinned; what I am charged with is too true to be denied and too bad to be excused. I own it, I lament it; the Lord is righteous in bringing it to light, for indeed I have sinned.” This is the language of a penitent that is sick of his, and whose conscience is loaded with it. “I have nothing to accuse any one else of, but a great deal to say against myself; it is with me that the accursed thing is found; I am the man who has perverted that which was right and it profited me not.” And that wherewith he aggravates the sin is that it was committed against the Lord God of Israel. He was himself an Israelite, a sharer with the rest of that exalted nation in their privileges, so that, in offending the God of Israel, he offended his own God, which laid him under the guilt of the basest treachery and ingratitude imaginable. 2. A particular narrative of the fact: Thus and thus have I done. God had told Joshua in general that a part of the devoted things was alienated, but is to him to draw from Achan an account of the particulars; for, one way or other, God will make sinners’ own tongues to fall upon them (Ps. 64:8); if ever he bring them to repentance, they will be their own accusers, and their awakened consciences will be instead of a thousand witnesses. Note, It becomes penitents, in the confession of their sins to God, to be very particular; not only, “I have sinned,” but, “In this and that instance I have sinned,” reflecting with regret upon all the steps that led to the sin and all the circumstances that aggravated it and made it exceedingly sinful: thus and thus have I done. He confesses, (1.) To the things taken. In plundering a house in Jericho he found a goodly Babylonish garment; the word signifies a robe, such as princes wore when they appeared in state, probably it belonged to the King of Jericho; it was far fetched, as we translate it, from Babylon. A garment of divers colours, so some render it. Whatever it was, in his eyes it made a very glorious show. “A thousand pities” (thinks Achan) “that it should be burnt; then it will do nobody any good; if I take it for myself, it will serve me many a year for my best garment.” Under these pretences, he makes bold with this first, and things it no harm to save it from the fire; but, his hand being thus in, he proceeds to take a bag of money, two hundred shekels, that is one hundred ounces of silver, and a wwedge of gold which weighed fifty shekels, that is twenty-five ounces. He could not plead that, in taking these, he saved them from the fire (for the silver and gold were to be laid up in the treasury); but those that make a slight excuse to serve in daring to commit one sin will have their hearts so hardened by it that they will venture upon the next without such an excuse; for the way of sin is downhill. See what a peer prize it was for which Achan ran this desperate hazard, and what an unspeakable loser he was by the bargain. See Matt. 16:26. (2.) He confesses the manner of taking them. [1.] the sin began in the eye. He saw these fine things, as Eve saw the forbidden fruit, and was strangely charmed with the sight. See what comes of suffering the heart to walk after the eyes, and what need we have to make this covenant with our eyes, that if they wander they shall be sure to weep for it. Look not thou upon the wine that is red, upon the woman that is fair; close the right eye that thus offense thee, to prevent the necessity of plucking it out, and casting it from thee, Matt. 5:28, 29. [2.] It proceeded out of the heart. He owns, I coveted them. thus lust conceived and brought forth this sin. Those that would be kept from sinful actions must mortify and check in themselves sinful desires, particularly the desire of worldly wealth, which we more particularly call covetousness. O what a world of evil is the love money the root of! Had Achan looked upon these things with an eye of faith, he would have seen them accursed things, and would have dreaded them, but, looking upon them with an eye of sense only, he saw them goodly things, and coveted them. It was not the looking, but the lusting that ruined him. [3.] When he had committed it he was very industrious to conceal it. Having taken of the forbidden treasures, fearing lest any search should be made for prohibited goods, he hid them in the earth, as one that resolved to keep what he had gotten, and never to make restitution. Thus does Achan confess the whole matter, that God might be justified in the sentence passed upon him. See the deceitfulness of sin; that which is pleasing in the commission is bitter in the reflection; at the last it bites like a serpent. Particularly, see what comes of ill-gotten goods, and how those will be cheated that rob God. Job 20:15; He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again.
IV. His conviction. God had convicted him by the lot; he had convicted himself by his own confession; but, that no room might be left for the most discontented Israelite to object against the process, Joshua has him further convicted by the searching of his tent, in which the goods were found which he confessed to. Particular notice is taken of the haste which the messengers made that were sent to search: They ran to the tent (Josh. 7:22), not only to show their readiness to obey Joshua’s orders, but to show how uneasy they were till the camp was cleared of the accursed thing, that they might regain the divine favour. Those that feel themselves under wrath find themselves concerned not to defer the putting away of sin. Delays are dangerous, and it is not time to trifle. When the stolen goods were brought they were laid out before the Lord (Josh. 7:23), that all Israel might see how plain the evidence was against Achan, and might adore the strictness of God’s judgments in punishing so severely the stealing of such small things, and yet the justice of his judgments in maintaining his right to devoted things, and might be afraid of ever offending in the like kind. In laying them out before the Lord they acknowledged his title to them, and waited to receive his directions concerning them. Note, Those that think to put a cheat upon God do but deceive themselves; what is taken from him he will recover (Hos. 2:9) and he will be a loser by no man at last.
V. His condemnation. Joshua passes sentence upon him (Josh. 7:25): Why hast thou troubled us? There is the ground of the sentence. O, how much hast thou troubled us! so some read it. He refers to what was said when the warning was given not to meddle with the accursed thing (Josh. 6:18), lest you make the camp of Israel a curse and trouble it. Note, Sin is a very troublesome thing, not only to the sinner himself, but to all about him. He that is greedy of gain, as Achan was, troubles his own house (Prov. 15:27) and all the communities he belongs to. Now (says Joshua) God shall trouble thee. See why Achan was so severely dealt with, not only because he had robbed God, but because he had troubled Israel; over his head he had (as it were) this accusation written, “Achan, the troubler of Israel,” as Ahab, 1 Kgs. 18:18. This therefore is his doom: God shall trouble thee. Note, the righteous God will certainly recompense tribulation to those that trouble his people, 2 Thess. 1:6. Those that are troublesome shall be troubled. Some of the Jewish doctors, from that word which determines the troubling of him to this day, infer that therefore he should not be troubled in the world to come; the flesh was destroyed that spirit might be saved, and, if so, the dispensation was really less severe than it seemed. In the description both of his sin and of his punishment, by the trouble that was in both, there is a plain allusion to his name Achan, or, as he is called, 1 Chron. 2:7; Achar, which signifies trouble. He did too much answer his name.
VI. His execution. No reprieve could be obtained; a gangrened member must be cut off immediately. When he is proved to be an anathema, and the troubler of the camp, we may suppose all the people cry out against him, Away with him, away with him! Stone him, stone him! Here is,
1. The place of execution. They brought him out of the camp, in token of their putting far from them that wicked person, 1 Cor. 5:13. When our Lord Jesus was made a curse for us, that by his trouble we might have peace, he suffered as an accursed thing without the gate, bearing our reproach, Heb. 13:12, 13. The execution was at a distance, that the camp which was disturbed by Achan’s sin might not be defiled by his death.
2. The persons employed in his execution. It was the act of all Israel, Josh. 7:24, 25. They were all spectators of it, that they might see and fear. Public executions are public examples. Nay, they were all consenting to his death, and as many as could were active in it, in token of the universal detestation in which they held his sacrilegious attempt, and their dread of God’s displeasure against them.
3. The partakers with him in the punishment; for he perished not alone in his iniquity, Josh. 22:20. (1.) The stolen goods were destroyed with him, the garment burnt, as it should have been with the rest of the combustible things in Jericho, and the silver and gold defaced, melted, lost, and buried, in the ashes of the rest of his goods under the heap of stones, so as never to be put to any other use. (2.) All his other goods were destroyed likewise, not only his tent, and the furniture of that, but his oxen, asses, and sheep, to show that goods gotten unjustly, especially if they be gotten by sacrilege, will not only turn to no account, but will blast and waste the rest of the possessions to which they are added. The eagle in the fable, that stole flesh from the altar, brought a coal of fire with it, which burnt her nest, Hab. 2:9, 10; Zech. 5:3. Those lose their own that grasp at more than their own. (3.) His sons and daughters were put to death with him. Some indeed think that they were brought out (Josh. 7:24) only to be the spectators of their father’s punishment, but most conclude that they died with him, and that they must be meant Josh. 7:25; where it is said they burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. God had expressly provided that magistrates should not put the children to death for the fathers’; but he did not intend to bind himself by that law, and in this case he had expressly ordered (Josh. 7:15) that the criminal, and all that he had, should be burnt. Perhaps his sons and daughters were aiders and abettors in the villany, had helped to carry off the accursed thing. It is very probable that they assisted in the concealment, and that he could not hide them in the midst of his tent but they must know and keep his counsel, and so they became accessaries ex post facto—after the fact; and, if they were ever so little partakers in the crime, it was son heinous that they were justly sharers in the punishment. However God was hereby glorified, and the judgment executed was thus made the more tremendous.
4. The punishment itself that was inflicted on him. He was stoned (some think as a sabbath breaker, supposing that the sacrilege was committed on the sabbath day), and then his dead body was burnt, as an accursed thing, of which there should be no remainder left. The concurrence of all the people in this execution teaches us how much it is the interest of a nation that all in it should contribute what they can, in their places, to the suppression of vice and profaneness, and the reformation of manners; sin is a reproach to any people, and therefore every Israelite indeed will have a stone to throw at it.
5. The pacifying of God’s wrath hereby (Josh. 7:26): The Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger. The putting away of sin by true repentance and reformation, as it is the only way, so it is a sure and most effectual way, to recover the divine favour. Take away the cause, and the effect will cease.
VII. The record of his conviction and execution. Care was taken to preserve the remembrance of it, for warning and instruction to posterity. 1. A heap of stones was raised on the place where Achan was executed, every one perhaps of the congregation throwing a stone to the heap, in token of his detestation of the crime. 2. A new name was given to the place; it was called theValley of Achor, or trouble. This was a perpetual brand of infamy upon Achan’s name, and a perpetual warning to all people not to invade God’s property. By this severity against Achan, the honour of Joshua’s government, now in the infancy of it, was maintained, and Israel, at their entrance upon the promised Canaan, were reminded to observe, at their peril, the provisos and limitations of the grant by which they held it. The Valley of Achor is said to be given for a door of hope, because when we put away the accursed thing then there begins to be hope in Israel, Hos. 2:15; Ezra 10:2.