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Achan’s Sin and Punishment (1)

And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel (Josh. 7:15).

One of our readers asks, "Would you please explain to me what was the accursed thing mentioned in Joshua 8:15, and why the punishment was so severe?" This passage is highly relevant in the twenty-first century so I intend to write several articles on it.

Joshua 7 records Achan’s sin of taking some accursed things from Jericho. In Joshua 6, God gave Joshua and Israel instructions on how to carry on the battle against Jericho. He said in no uncertain terms that Jericho and its possessions were accursed. "And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord" (6:17-19).

The Lord’s command to Joshua and Israel was in keeping with what He had said to them in the plains of Moab on the east of Jordan prior to Israel’s entrance into Canaan. God told the nation in no uncertain terms that if they should find some of their fellow citizens engaging in the abominable idolatries of the Canaanites (Deut. 13:12-14), they should "smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the Lord thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again. And there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing to thine hand ..." (Deut. 13:15-17).

The Lord expressed His fierce anger against those who participated in the abominations of the Canaanites. The command to Joshua just outside Jericho (Josh. 6:17-19) was no surprise to Israel. They knew how the Lord hated those who lived in Canaan, for they had filled the cup of iniquity and were ripe for judgment.

Jericho and everything in it is said to be accursed—with the exception of Rahab and her household. Now that word "accursed" is an interesting one. It means not only "accursed," but also "devoted." These two meanings are not separate and distinct so that sometimes the word means the first and sometimes the second. Both meanings belong together. That which is accursed is devoted. This is why Joshua 6:17 says that "the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord." The margins in various translations even offer the word "devoted" as an alternate translation.

Further, because that which was accursed in Jericho was also devoted to the Lord, verse 19 tells us that God commanded that "all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord." The stuff was accursed and devoted to the Lord—both at the same time.

So crucially important was this that God warned Israel that the people were to keep themselves "from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it" (6:18). Achan had heard these words. He knew exactly what was involved.

Nevertheless, when Jericho fell by a miracle and Israel entered the city to carry out the command of God, Achan transgressed. He took of the accursed thing, brought it back secretly, and buried it in the ground under his tent (7:1, 21-23).

Achan’s bringing an accursed thing into the camp of Israel brought the curse into the camp. Thus he made the camp accursed and so he troubled the nation (6:18).

The trouble that Achan brought upon the nation was Israel’s defeat at Ai. Thirty-six men were killed. If we have any questions about the severity of Achan’s punishment, let us ponder this a moment. Achan was responsible for the death of 36 soldiers. Assuming all these men were married, Achan was to blame that 36 widows now had to live without a husband. Also Achan was to blame that the children in 36 families had to grow up without a father. Achan, in fact, though indirectly, killed those 36 men.

As a kind of sidelight, one can only ponder in our own day the perverted justice of western civilization which favours criminals, no matter how brutal their crimes, and has very little sympathy for those who have suffered because of the sins of lawless men.

However that may be, we must consider one more interesting feature about this history. Achan’s sin was not known to the rest of the nation. That this is true is evident from the fact that lots had to be cast in order to learn who the man was who had brought destruction on Israel.

But even though Achan’s sin was secret, he had brought the curse into the camp and all the nation was guilty for his sin. This kind of language sounds strange to us, but it is emphatically the teaching of the text. We must not forget this. We will return to it in a later article.   

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 9
  • Issue: 11
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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    MI
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    616-667-6033

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