Matthew Poole's Commentary
But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.Achan takes of the accursed and devoted thing: God is angry with Israel, Joshua 7:1. Joshua sends three thousand men against Ai; they flee, and thirty-six are slain, Joshua 7:2-5. Joshua complains to God; who discovers the cause, and enjoins a lot, Joshua 7:6-15. Achan is found guilty: Joshua’s advice, and his confession, Joshua 7:16-21. He and his are stoned and burnt: the place named The valley of Achor, Joshua 7:22-26.
The children of Israel, i.e. one of them, by a very usual synecdoche or enallage, as Genesis 8:4 19:29 Matthew 26:8, where that is ascribed to the disciples, which belonged to Judas only, John 12:4. In the accursed thing, i.e. in taking some of the forbidden and accursed goods.
Zabdi; called also Zimri, 1 Chronicles 2:6. Zerah, or, Zarah, who was Judah’s immediate son, Genesis 38:30, who went with Judah into Egypt; and so for the filling up the two hundred and fifty-six years that are supposed to come between that and this time, we must allow Achan to be now an old man, and his three ancestors to have begotten each his son at about sixty years of age, which at that time was not incredible nor unusual. Against the children of Israel. Why did God punish the whole society for this one man’s sin?
Answ. All of them were punished for their own sins, whereof each had a sufficient proportion; but God took this occasion to inflict the punishment upon the society, partly, because divers of them might be guilty of this sin, either by coveting what he actually did, or by concealing of his fault, which it is probable could not be unknown to others, or by not sorrowing for it, and endeavouring to purge themselves from it; partly, to make sin the more hateful, as being the cause of such dreadful and public judgments; and partly, to oblige all the members of every society to be both more circumspect in the ordering of their own actions, and more diligent to watch over one another, and to prevent the miscarriages of their brethren, which is a great benefit and blessing to them, and to the whole society, and worthy to be purchased by a sharp affliction upon the society.
And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai.Ai, called Hai, Genesis 12:8, and Alia, Nehemiah 11:31. They were not to go into the city of Ai, but into the country bordering and belonging to it, and there to understand the state and quality of the place and people.
Beside; so the Hebrew im is used, Genesis 25:11 35:4 Judges 9:6 18:3 19:11.
Beth-aven; a city or town distinct from, but nigh unto
Beth-el, though Beth-el was afterwards by allusion called Beth-aven, Hosea 4:15 10:5. Compare Joshua 18:12. On the east side of Beth-el: compare Genesis 12:8 Joshua 8:9,12.
And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few.This was done by the wise contrivance of Divine Providence, that their sin might be punished, and they awakened and reformed, with as little hazard, and mischief, and reproach as might be; for if the defeat of these caused so great a consternation in Joshua, it is easy to guess what dread, and confusion, and despair it would have caused in the people, if a great host had been defeated.
So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai.Not having their usual courage to strike a stroke, which was a plain evidence that God had forsaken them; and a useful instruction, to show them what weak and inconsiderable creatures they were when God left them; and that it was God, not their own valour, that gave the Canaanites and their land into their hands.
And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.About thirty and six men; a dear victory to them, whereby Israel was awakened, and reformed, and reconciled to their God and Shield, and they hardened to their own ruin.
In the going down; by which it seems it was a downhill way to Jericho, which was nearer Jordan.
As water, soft and weak, and full of fluctuation and trembling.
And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.Joshua rent his clothes, in testimony of great sorrow, as Genesis 37:34 44:13, for the loss felt, the consequent mischief feared, and the sin which he suspected.
Fell to the earth upon his face, in deep humiliation and fervent supplication.
Until the eventide; continuing the whole day in fasting and prayer.
Put dust upon their heads; as was usual in case of grief and astonishment, 1 Samuel 4:12 2 Samuel 1:2 13:19 Jonah 3:6 Micah 1:10.
And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!These clauses, though well intended, and offered to God only by way of expostulation and argument, yet do savour of human infirmity, and fall short of that reverence, and modesty, and submission which he owed to God; and are mentioned as instances that the holy men of God were subject to like passions and infirmities with other men.
O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies!What shall I say, in answer to the reproaches cast by our insulting enemies upon us, and upon thy name?
Israel; God’s own people, which he hath singled out of all nations for his own peculiar.
See Poole "Genesis 1:1", See Poole "Genesis 1:2"
For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?Which will upon this occasion be blasphemed and charged with inconstancy, unkindness, and unfaithfulness to thine own people, and with inability to resist them, or to do thy people that good thou didst intend them. Compare Exodus 32:12 Numbers 14:13 Deu 33:27 Joel 2:17.
And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?This business is not to be done by unactive supplication, but by vigorous endeavours for reformation.
Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.Israel; some or one of them, as before See Poole "Joshua 7:1".
Transgressed my covenant, i.e. broken the conditions of my covenant which I have commanded them, and they have promised to perform, viz. obedience to all my commands, Exodus 19:8 24:7, whereof this was one, not to meddle with the accursed thing.
Of the accursed thing, which I charged them not to meddle with.
And have also stolen, i.e. taken my portion which I had reserved, Joshua 6:19.
Dissembled; covered the fact with deep dissimulation, and a real, if not verbal, profession of their innocency. Possibly Achan might be suspected; and being accused, had denied it, or was resolved to deny it.
Put it even among their own stuff; converted it to their own use, and added obstinacy and resolvedness to the crime; thus he loads this sin with divers aggravations.
Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.Because they were accursed, as I warned and threatened them, Joshua 6:18, they have put themselves out of my protection and blessing, and therefore are liable to the same destruction which belongs to this accursed people.
Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the LORD God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.Sanctify yourselves; purify yourselves from that defilement which you have all in some sort contracted by this accursed fact, and prepare yourselves to appear before the Lord, as it is most probable they were required to do; as imploring and expecting the sentence of God for the discovery and punishment of the sin, and that the guilty person might hereby be awakened and terrified, and brought to a free and seasonable confession of his fault. And it is a marvellous thing that Achan did not on this occasion acknowledge his crime; but this is to be imputed to the heart-hardening power of sin, which makes men grow worse and worse; partly, to his pride, being loth to take to himself the shame of such a mischievous and infamous action; partly, to his self-flattering and vain conceit, whereby he might think many others were guilty as well as he, and some of them might be taken, and he escape; and partly, to the just judgment of God, whereby he blinds and hardens sinners to their own ruin. See a like instance, Matthew 26:21,22,25.
In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which the LORD taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the LORD shall take shall come by households; and the household which the LORD shall take shall come man by man.Which the Lord taketh; which shall be discovered or declared guilty by the lot, which is disposed by the Lord, Proverbs 16:33, and which was to be cast in the Lord’s presence before the ark. Of such use of lots, see 1 Samuel 14:41,42Jo 1:7 Acts 1:26.
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.Burnt with fire, as persons and things accursed were to be. See Numbers 15:30,35 Deu 13:16. All that he hath; his children and goods, as is noted, Joshua 7:24, according to the law, Deu 13:6.
He hath wrought folly; so sin is oft called in Scripture, as Genesis 34:7 Judges 20:6, &c., in opposition to the idle opinion of sinners, who commonly esteem it to be their wisdom and interest.
In Israel, i.e. among the church and people of God, who had such excellent laws to direct them, and such an all-sufficient and gracious God to provide for them, without any such indirect and unworthy practices.
So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken:No text from Poole on this verse.
And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken:The family of Judah; either,
1. The tribe or people, as the word family sometimes signifies, as Judges 13:2 Zechariah 12:13 Amos 3:1 Acts 3:25, compared with Revelation 1:7. Or,
2. The families, as Joshua 7:14, the singular number for the plural, the chief of each of their five families, Numbers 26:20,21.
Man by man; not every individual person, as is evident from Joshua 7:18, but every head of the several houses or lesser families of that greater family of the Zarhites, of which see 1 Chronicles 2:6.
And he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.He; either Joshua, or Zabdi by Joshua’s appointment.
And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.He calls him
my son, to show that this severe inquisition and sentence did not proceed from any hatred to his person, which he loved as a father doth his son, and as a prince ought to do each of his subjects.
Give glory to the Lord God of Israel; as thou hast highly dishonoured him, now take the shame and blame to thyself, and ascribe unto God the glory of his omniscience in knowing thy sin; of his justice in punishing it in thee, and others for thy sake; of his omnipotency, which was obstructed by thee; and of his kindness and faithfulness to his people, which was eclipsed by thy wickedness; all which will now be evident by thy sin confessed and punished.
And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done:He seems to make a sincere and ingenuous confession, and loads his sin with all just aggravations.
Against the Lord; against his express command, and just rights, and glorious attributes.
The Lord God of Israel; the true God, who hath chosen me and all Israel to be the people of his peculiar love and care.
When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.He accurately describes the progress of his sin, which began at his eye, which he permitted to gaze and fix upon them, which inflamed his desire, and made him covet them; and that desire put him upon action, and made him take them; and having taken, resolve to keep them, and to that end hide them in his tent. Babylonish garments were composed with great art with divers colours, and of great price, as appears both from Scripture, Ezekiel 23:15, and from divers heathen authors. See my Latin Synopsis.
Two hundred shekels, to wit, in weight, not in coin; for as yet they received and paid money by weight.
Under it, i.e. under the Babylonish garment; covered with it, or wrapt up in it.
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.Joshua sent messengers, that the truth of his confession might be evident and unquestionable, which some peradventure might think was forced from him.
They ran; partly longing to free themselves and all the people from the curse under which they lay; and partly that none of Achan’s relations or others might get thither before them, and take away those things.
It was hid, i.e. the parcel of things mentioned Joshua 7:21,24.
And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD.Where Joshua and the elders continued yet in their assembly, waiting for the issue of this business.
And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.His sons and his daughters; but this seems hard and unjust, and therefore forbidden by God himself, Deu 24:16.
Answ. 1. That law was given to men, not to God, who certainly hath a more absolute right and sovereignty over men than one man hath over another.
2. Their death was a debt they owed to nature and to their own sins, which debt God may require when he pleaseth; and he could not take it in more honourable and excellent circumstances than these, that the death of a very few in the beginning of a new empire, and of their settlement in the land might be useful to prevent the death of many thousands, who took warning by this dreadful example, whom, if the fear of God did not, yet the love of their own and of their dear children’s lives would, restrain from such dangerous and pernicious practices.
3. It is very probable they were conscious of the fact, as the Jewish doctors affirm. If it be pretended that some of them were infants, the text doth not say so, but only calls them sons and daughters. And considering that Achan was an old man, as is most probable, because he was the fifth person from Judah, (of which See Poole "Joshua 7:1",) it seems most likely that the children were grown up, and so capable of knowing, and concealing or discovering this fact. Nor doth it follow that they were not guilty because it is not said so; for it is apparent that many circumstances are omitted in divers historical relations in Scripture, which sometimes are supplied in other places.
His oxen, and his asses, and his sheep; which, though not capable of sin, nor of punishment properly so called, yet, as they were made for man’s use, so they are rightly destroyed for man’s good; and being daily killed for our bodily food, it cannot seem strange to kill them for the instruction of our minds, that hereby we might learn the detestable and contagious nature of sin, which involves innocent creatures in its plagues; and how much sorer punishments are reserved for man, who having a law given to him, and that excellent gift of reason and will to restrain him from the transgressions of it, his guilt must needs be unspeakably greater, and therefore his sufferings more severe and terrible. Further, by this enumeration it appears that he had no colour of necessity to induce him to this fact, but was wholly inexcusable.
And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.Stoned him with stones, and burned him with fire; which is easily understood, both out of the following words, and from God’s command to do so, Joshua 7:15, which doubtless was here executed.
Quest. How could both these deaths be inflicted upon them?
Answ. It seems they were stoned to death, which was the punishment of such offenders, Numbers 15:35, and not burned to death; and therefore the stoning only of Achan is mentioned here, and not his burning; and God would have their dead carcasses burned to show his utmost detestation of such persons as break forth into sins of such a public scandal and mischief. And for the burning of Achan, commanded Joshua 7:15, it seems not likely to be meant of his burning alive, because that burning is common to him, and all that he hath, as is there expressed; but of the burning of his dead carcass, and other lifeless things, as the manner was with accursed things, Deu 13:16.
And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.A great heap of stones; as a monument of the sin and judgment here mentioned, that others might be instructed and warned by the example; and as a brand of infamy, as Joshua 8:29 2 Samuel 18:17.
The valley of Achor; or, the valley of trouble, from the double trouble expressed Joshua 7:25.