THE DISCOVERY OF ACHAN'S SIN.—
The family of Judah. The expression מִשְׁפַתַת is remarkable. Many commentators would read מִשְׁפְחֹת, not without some MSS. authority. Keil objects that the Chaldee and Syriac have the singular. But the LXX. has κατὰ δήμους, and the Vulgate juxta familias. On the whole it seems more probable that as מִשְׁפַחַת occurs twice in this passage, it has been so pointed where the same letters occur for the third time, than that, with Peele, it means tribe (so also Gesenius and Winer); or that, as others suggest, it is used for omnes or singulas genres. See, however, 13:2, where it is unquestionably used in the sense of tribe.
My son. This is no mere hypocritical affectation of tenderness. Joshua feels for the criminal, even though he is forced to put him to death. So in cur own day the spectacle is not uncommon of a judge melted to tears as he passes sentence of death on the murderer. The expression seems almost to imply a belief that, though Achan must undergo the extremest penalty of the law in this world, Joshua entertained a hope that he might be forgiven in the next. It certainly proves that, stern as the law of Moses was, it was felt, at least in those early days, to be rather against the sin than the sinner that its severity was directed. In commenting upon the severity of the Mosaic covenant, whether towards offenders against its provisions or against the Canaanites, we must remember Bishop Butler's caution, that in this world we see but a very small portion of the whole counsel of God. Give glory to the Lord Cod of Israel, and make confession unto Him. Literally, offer (or impute) glory to the Lord God of Israel, and give confession (or praise) unto Him (cf. John 9:24). The meaning is to give honour to God as the all-seeing God, the revealer of secrets, by an open confession before men of what is already known to Him. It may have been a common formula of adjuration, though Masius thinks otherwise.
A goodly Babylonish garment. Literally, "a mantle of Shinar, one goodly one." Babylon was in the "land of Shinar" (see Genesis 11:2; Genesis 14:1; Isaiah 11:11; Zechariah 5:11). The אַדרֶת derived from אדר great, glorious, was an ample cloak, sometimes of hair or fur (Genesis 25:25; cf. 1 Kings 19:13, 1 Kings 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13, 2 Kings 2:14; Jonah 3:6, etc). The Babylonish mantle was famed for its beauty ( ποικίλη, LXX), and was, no doubt, worked artistically with figures of men and animals. "Of all Asiatic nations, the Babylonians were the most noted for the weaving of cloth of divers colours. Into these stuffs gold threads were introduced into the woof of many hues. Amongst those who traded in 'blue clothes and embroidered work' with Tyro were the merchants of Asshur, or Assyria; and that the garments of Babylon were brought into Syria and greatly esteemed at a very early period, we learn from their being classed amongst the most precious articles of spoil, even with gold, in the time of Joshua". From this, among other passages, we may infer the early date of the Book of Joshua. It marks an early stage of civilisation when an embroidered garment can be considered as in any degree equivalent to gold. The Israelites, it must be remembered, were not unaccustomed in Egypt to the highest degree of civilisation then known. "Nam Persarum, finitimarumque gentium luxum eo se ostentare solere vel ex eo constat quod captis ab Alexandro Magno Susis illicinventa fuerit 10 millia pondo, sive talents purpurae Hermionicae, teste Plutarcho in Alexandro" (Corn. a Lapide). A wedge of gold. Literally, "a tongue of gold." Some derive our word ingot from the French lingot, or little tongue. But others derive it with greater probability from the Dutch ingieten the same as the German einqiesen, to pour in. "Si ergo invenias spud philosophos perversa dogmata luculenti sermonis assertionibus decorata, ista eat lingua aurea. Sed vide, nete decipiat fulgor operis, ne te rapiat sermonis aurei pulchritudo: memento, quia Jesus anathema jussit esse omni aurum quod in Jericho fuerit inventum. Si poetam legeris modulatis versibus et praefulgido carmine Deos Deasque texentem, ne delecteris eloquentiae suavitate. Lingua aurea est: si eam sustuleritis, et posueris in tabernaculo tuo: polluis omnem ecclesiam Domini" (Orig; Hom. 7 on Joshua).
Laid them out before the Lord. This shows the directly religious nature of the proceeding. God had directed the lot, the offender was discovered, and now the devoted things are solemnly laid out one by one (for so the Hebrew seems to imply, though in 2 Samuel 15:24 it has the sense of planting firmly, as molten matter hardens and becomes fixed) before Him whose they are, as a confession of sin, and also as an act of restitution.
Took Achan, the son of Zerah. Great-grandson in reality (see Joshua 7:1; cf. 1 Kings 15:2, 1 Kings 15:10). And his sons and his daughters (see note, Joshua 7:15). Brought them. Hebrew, "brought them up." The valley of Achor was above Jericho, whether higher up the valley or on higher ground is not known. The valley of Achor (see Joshua 15:7; Isaiah 65:10; Hosea 2:15). Achor means trouble (see note on Joshua 6:18).
Stoned him with stones. The word here is not the same as in the last part of the verse. It has been suggested that the former word signifies to stone a living person, the second to heap up stones upon a dead one; and this derives confirmation from the fact that the former word has the signification of piling up, while the latter rather gives the idea of the weight of the pile. Some have gathered from the use of the singular here, that Achan only was stoned; but the use of the plural immediately afterwards implies the contrary, unless, with Knobel, we have recourse to the suggestion that "them" is a "mistake of the Deuteronomist" for "him." It is of course possible that his family were only taken there to witness the solemn judgment upon their father. But the use of the singular and plural in Hebrew is frequently very indefinite (see 11:17, 11:19; Psalms 66:6. See note above, on Joshua 6:25).
And the Lord turned from the heat of His anger. There is no contradiction between this and such passages as 1 Samuel 15:29; James 1:17. It is not God, but we who turn. Our confession and restitution, by uniting our will with His, of necessity turn His wrath away. Yet of course it is through Jesus Christ alone that such confession and restitution is possible, and they are accepted simply because by faith they are united with His.
Objections have been raised to the morality of the whole narrative. We will deal first with this subject, and then turn to the religious and moral questions involved.
I. WHY DID GOD NOT REVEAL THE OFFENDER WHEN HE REVEALED THE OFFENCE? The answer is, that He might still further display the hardness of Achan's heart. He did not at once come forward and confess his crime. He not only had offended against God's laws, but he persisted in his offence. His was not a tender conscience, sensitive to the least reproach, he saw what disaster he had brought upon Israel, yet he clung to his ill-gotten gains as long as he could. He was not driven, either by remorse for the injury he had done his brethren, or by the clear evidence that God had found him out, to confession and restitution. He concealed his guilt till concealment was no longer possible, and thus added as much as he could to his guilt. So do men in these days hug their sins to their bosom as long as they are not found out. They cry, "Turn, God hath forgotten. He hideth His face and He will never see it;" thus adding all possible aggravation to their guilt.
II. THE JUSTICE OF JOSHUA is worthy of remark. Even Achan's confession was not regarded as final. The wedge of gold, the garment, and the silver were brought and solemnly laid out before God and the congregation as proof of his guilt. Not till then was judgment pronounced. We have here a warning against hasty and uncharitable judgments. No man can justly be visited with censure or punishment until his guilt be filly proved.
III. We should next observe THE NATURE OF ACHAN'S SIN.
1. It was sacrilege, the most presumptuous of all sins. The tendency of modern thought is to ignore such sins. To steal what is devoted to God's service is not worse than to steal anything else. To break an oath is not worse than to break one's word. Do not such reasonings ignore the personality of God? And do not religious people very often unthinkingly surrender a fundamental article of their faith when they yield to such reasoning? If there be indeed a God—if He be nothing but the embodiment of the principle of humanity, as we are now taught, does it not add the most awful of all insolence to the sin in itself when we rob Him, or he to Him? All sins are, it is tree, a denial of His being; but that denial assumes a more naked and a bolder form when the offence is directed against Him. For then all disguises of self interest are swept away, and the offender says deliberately in his heart, "There is no God." Let us take heed, therefore, how we "rob God," whether "in tithes and offerings," or in any other way.
2. The sacrilege was committed just when sacrilege was most inexcusable. The hand of God had been clearly visible in the capture of Jericho. The dedication of the spoil to Him was an acknowledgment of His awful power. Not long before God had dried up the waters of Jordan before His people. They had but just renewed their covenant with Him by a general circumcision of the people, and had sanctified that renewal by partaking of the passover. And God foreknew that Achan would persist in his sin, in disbelieving in the Almighty power of God until his offence was brought home beyond the possibility of mistake to his own door.
The lessons we learn from this event are four.
I. THE AWFULNESS OF THE SENTENCE AGAINST SIN. "The soul that sinneth it shall die." "The wages of sin is death." All unrepented sin is leading us up to this end. Achan is the type of impenitent sinners. He persists in his sin till the great moment of unveiling comes, as sinners persist in their sin until they are brought to the bar of God's judgment. Then is it too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of judgment. We must learn to confess and forsake our sin in time.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF DETECTION. The heavens did not shake, nor the earth tremble, when Achan committed his sin. No lightning descended from above upon his head. No sign appeared in the earth or sky to betray him. The sun rose and set as usual. Nothing disturbed the ordinary routine of the camp until the reverse at Ai. Yet God saw all and meant to bring it to light in His own good time. Achan fancied himself undiscovered, but he was mistaken. And so are they mistaken who fancy that God does not see their secret sins. They may go on for years undiscovered, but God knows all, and can, and often does, in the most unexpected way bring all to light. If not before, yet on that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, shall the sin which the sinner has hugged so closely to his bosom be displayed in its native hideousness before God, angels, and men.
III. THE NECESSITY OF CONFESSION AND RESTITUTION. Repentance which does not involve these is no repentance at all. To repent of sin is to forsake it; but forsaking sin is impossible without confession and restitution. Confession, that is, to the person whom we have offended. If we have sinned against God, we must confess our sin to Him. If we have done wrong to man, we must acknowledge the wrong we have done to him who has suffered by it. Restitution, again, is a sore trial to the offender; he would fain persuade himself that it is unnecessary. But unless we restore our ill-gotten gains we are persisting in the very sin we profess to have renounced. We cannot really hate and desire to break off any sinful habits, while we retain as our own that which those sinful habits have gained for us. Achan was compelled
And those who, in our days, hope that they may be held blameless because they confess to God, which means to themselves, sins the shame of which they ought to endure, and the profit of which they are bound to restore, will certainly undergo the punishment which Achan, even when confessing and restoring, did not escape. The duty of confession to the person offended is incumbent on those who have slandered, or insulted, or wounded the feelings of another. That of restitution is due from those who have wronged God or man, either by withholding from the former what was due to Him, or by taking undue advantage of the ignorance or necessity of the latter. Those who defraud the widow and the fatherless, or "oppress the hireling in his wages," or drive a corrupt or unjust bargain, who use "the bag of deceitful weights," must either disgorge their ill-gotten gains, or suffer the vengeance of a just God. So the Scriptures tell us throughout.
IV. THE GRAVITY OF SIN DEPENDS ON ITS CIRCUMSTANCES. The taking of a piece of gold or silver and a garment is not in itself an offence that deserves death, nor was it ever so regarded under the law. What constituted the gravity of Achan's offence we have already seen. We may gather hence that in estimating sin, the position of the offender, his opportunities of enlightenment, the nature and strength of the temptation, his means of resisting it, must be taken into account. A sin is infinitely worse when committed by a man who has made a high profession of religion, and must have known the gravity of the offence when committing it. A sin is infinitely worse when an utter indifference to the existence of God or His justice is ostentatiously shown. It may possibly be that one weak in faith and holy resolution, and exposed to overwhelming temptation, may plead the intensity of the temptation, as well as his own ignorance and inexperience, as some palliation of his error. "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you," said our Lord to the scribes and Pharisees. And so the sin-stained multitudes in our large cities may be nearer to God than many decent professors of religion who combine with their comfort and decency the coldest and most cynical selfishness.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
A notable scene. The people of Israel assembled in solemn conclave. In silent excitement the national offender has been detected, and waits to hear his doom from the lips of the great commander. Whilst every eye is bent upon Achan, Joshua addresses him in the language of the text. Note how guilty Joshua speaks, grieving over the offence rather than severely censuring it, calling the criminal "my son," and inviting a full disclosure from his own lips. Out of his own mouth was Achan to be condemned. Yet not with delight did Joshua await the confession. His fatherly heart was sorely pained at such a revelation of iniquity in his erring child.
I. CONFESSION IS DUE TO THE HONOUR OF GOD. All sin is committed against God, inflicts a wrong upon His Divine Majesty. To acknowledge this is the least reparation the sinner can make, is a sign of a right disposition, indicates that the basis of God's government remains firm within the sinner's bosom, though transgression had clouded it for a time. Confession magnifies the broken law and makes it honourable. Its omission from the Pharisee's prayer was a fatal defect; whilst the publican went down "justified" because of his proper attitude with reference to a holy God. The penitence of the thief upon the cross was evinced by his utterance, "We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds." To confess is, in truth, to "give glory unto God," and hence is required, though not for His information, yet as essential to His character and law.
II. CONFESSION RELIEVES THE BURDENED BREAST. One of the clearest proofs that man was designed for companionship is to be seen in the tendency of any strong emotion to create an eager desire to communicate the same feeling unto others In our joys we long for the congratulations of our friends, and we seek their sympathy in our sorrows. And though the consciousness of sin is naturally accompanied at first by an endeavour to screen it from the gaze of our fellows, yet very soon the desire for secrecy is overcome by the more potent wish to speak of the deed which lies so heavily upon the conscience. Otherwise, as with the Spartan boy who, in hiding a fox under his tunic, allowed it to devour his very entrails, we shall discover that our concealment of sin can only end in the destruction of our being. And if it be thus helpful to discharge our woes and our follies into the ear of a fellow creature, how much greater must he our satisfaction when we have poured our tale into the audience of our heavenly Father. Men may view us with loathing, and shrink from future contact with us; they may fail even to make allowance for the strength of the temptation and the difficulties under which we laboured; but our Father is acquainted with all the circumstances, loves us as His children, and, whilst pained at our backsliding, is glad to witness our contrition. In Achan's confession here are several features worthy of imitation.
1. It was a full confession. There was no more dissembling, but an open declaration of all he had done. No attempt to extenuate his guilt; he laid it bare in all its enormity. The antithesis to confession is covering our sins, which may take place in various ways. We may try to justify them as necessary or excusable, as Saul did when he spared Agag. We may show that the matter was comparatively trifling and unimportant, as when we give names that soften vices and lessen our apprehension of them. Or we may charge other persons or things with the responsibility, shifting the blame from ourselves, pleading the requirements of business, the rules of society, the expectations of our friends, and the solicitations received, as when Adam replied, "The woman thou gavest, she gave me of the tree."
2. It acknowledged that the chief injury had been committed against God. "I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel." He had displayed a spirit of ingratitude and disobedience, and though he had brought evil upon the nation, and deserved their reprobation, he knew that it was the Almighty whom his conduct had especially wronged. So David cried, "Against thee, thee only have I sinned." Jesus Christ joined together the two branches of the moral law; but there are many who seem to think that if they fulfil their duty to their neighbour, their duty to God matters not. They say, "I have never done harm to any, have always paid my debts, been truthful and honest, charitable and upright; what sin, then, have I been guilty of?" We might in answer deny the accuracy of their statements, since due regard to others can hardly be observed apart from regard to God; but it is better, perhaps, to insist upon the obligation resting upon every man to "love the Lord with all his might," and to point out the numerous instances in which the worship and ordinances of God have been uncared for at the same time that selfish pleasures have been indulged in to the full. When the prodigal comes to himself, he does not merely resolve to reform, and that in future he will not join in the rioting of the world, but will live soberly before men; his one thought is to return to his Father and to confess, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee."
3. It was a confession to the people, since they had suffered through his misconduct. Achan's avowal was made in the face of Israel, and was followed by punishment according to the law. "Confess your faults one to another."
Conclusion.—The day approaches when "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil."—A.
HOMILIES BY R. GLOVER
A sin of greed.
Here we have much profitable study. Some sins are peculiar to certain ages or countries. But greed is found in all lands and times. It specially thrives in periods of wealth and of prosperity. It creeps in where faults of uglier aspect are denied admission. It flourishes wherever the power of religion has decayed while its profession continues. Here is an instance of its action in all its meanness, disclosure, mischief, and retribution. Consider it.
I. Mark ACHAN'S FAULT. There was this feature peculiar in the capture of Jericho—that man had no hand in it. It was God's work throughout. No risk, no loss was entailed on Israel. The earthquake of God—if such was the mode of its destruction—threw the walls down fiat. The capture, God's work; the spoil was, in a special sense, God's spoil. The first fruits of their booty; He required the entire consecration of all the gold and silver to His service. In all their subsequent operations of wax the spoil they take will be their own. In this God claims all. In such a prescription there was nothing that was unreasonable, but much that was divinely wise. Israel as a whole obeyed the Divine command, doubtless helped thereto by the solemnity which the presence and miracles of God imparted to their task. The destruction—righteously ordained—was carried out as God ordered. The whole of the wealth that was indestructible was reserved for God. But Achan is tempted. He suddenly lights on one hundred ounces of silver and twenty-five ounces of gold—a large sum in those days—probably more in purchasing power than a thousand pounds today. To see is to covet intensely, and to find a score of reasons rising within him for disobedience. "To take it hurts no one." "Nobody need know anything about it." "The sanctuary is quite rich enough." "There will be plenty left untouched by his more scrupulous neighbours." "It will stock a farm and build a house." So the vivid imagination of greed discovers a multitude of reasons for taking the spoil. And, somehow, the suddenness of the opportunity and the impulse stuns all his better nature and makes it speechless. There is no voice to remind him that he will despise himself, or that he imperils his nation. It is nothing to him that within an hour, and just at hand, God's omnipotence had been working a miracle. Under the very shadow of the Almighty he dares to sin. And every thought but that of his material advantage banished from his mind, he takes the forbidden treasure, and, concealing it in his clothes, hurries with it to his tent, and, with or without the connivance of his family—more probably the former—buries it in the earth. It is these sudden temptations that test a man. A good habit is the only protection from a bad impulse. Had he been habitually honourable, he would not so have sinned. But he was one of those who like to be deemed smart and clever, and who often imagine that self preservation is "the fulfilling of all law." Did he enjoy his loot that night? Probably with some faintest misgiving he enjoyed it greatly, and his wife and family and himself made out a most plausible case of self justification, and built pleasant castles in the air out of their treasures. But—
II. Mark how ACHAN'S SIN FINDS HIM OUT. No sin is ever entirely concealed. Every virtue puts its seal upon the brow, and every fault its mark. When concealment is perfect, the man is still embarrassed—preoccupied. His taste, and with his taste his look, degenerates. Something of restlessness makes at least his spirit a "fugitive and a vagabond in the earth." His eye is on fence, and he alternates between a glance which, in its curiosity to know whether you suspect him, glares on you, and the averted look which shuns your eye altogether. So every fault, however secret, gives some tokens of something being wrong—so much so, that the special form of wrong can often be detected in the mere look. And in addition, how strikingly is it the case that often just one precaution has been left untaken that brings the truth to light. God is light, and is always illuminating by His providence our hidden deeds of darkness; sometimes by methods more, and sometimes by methods less miraculous, God does this. In this instance how swift, terrible, and certain is the discovery! The unexpected, needless failure of the attack on Ai, where success was easy, suggests something wrong. In answer to Joshua's prayer, God's oracle reveals it. The culprit is not named, but, using the lot probably, the tribe to which he belongs, then his division of the tribe, then his family, then himself, are successively indicated; and he who but a day or two before felt so secure in the absolute secrecy of his crime, stands revealed to all the people in all the meanness of his greed! Your sin and my sin will find us out. It is better for us to find it out, to own and end it. Plume not yourself on craft or subtlety. For God's light will disclose whatever God's eye discerns. If you do not wish a wrong thing to be known, keep it undone. All sin finds out the doer of it.
III. Mark THE RESULTS OF HIS WRONG. How different from what they dreamed! There was no comfort; no farm, no castle ever came of it—only shame, disappointment, death. Mark specifically its mischiefs.
1. Israel was damaged. In the two attacks on Ai rendered necessary by this sin, many lives were lost needlessly. The heart of the people was discouraged, and the success of their enterprise imperilled.
2. Then there is the probable corruption of the man's family, the digging and hiding being hardly possible without their knowledge. It is an awful penalty of a parent's sin that it tends so directly and strongly to corrupt the children. Let us see that those whom God has given us be not harmed by what they see in us.
3. It involves all his family in the penalty of death. The law of Moses was explicit that the child should not be put to death for the father's sin. But here—whether because the family had been partakers of his crime, or because that crime was one of terrible presumptuousness—the family share his fate. Whatever the reason, it reminds us of the fact that God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those that hate him, and shows mercy unto thousands [of generations] of them that love him and keep his commandments." Here the parent's fault involves the family in ruin. Such is too often the case. Let us guard against the possibility of it.
4. It costs him his own life: he is stoned to death. Late repentance perhaps letting him make a fairer start in the other world, but not availing to prolong his existence here. How dearly he paid for his silver and his gold! How commonly men do this; how much they part with to get what sometimes only hurts them when they gain it! Let not greed be our ruin. Be generous in self protection, if from no higher motive. Only goodness is wisdom, and they consult worst for their own advantage that seek to further it with craft or with impiety.—G.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
I. A TERRIBLE PUNISHMENT. Achan is stoned to death, and his goods are then burnt with fire. He lost not only that which he had stolen, but even his own property, and above all his life. Such is the sinner's rots-reckoning!
1. The laws of God have their sanctions annexed. Sin is followed by its peculiar immediate effects, which are a punishment in themselves, and there are besides the retribution awards of the Legislator. Achan must have felt a gnawing and a fire within him as soon as the evil deed was done; but this was only preliminary to the pain of detection and subsequent penalty of stoning. It is not well with the wicked even in this world, and we cannot forget the hints of the Bible respecting stripes to be inflicted in the world to come.
2. This narrative is intended to impress us with a deep sense of the evil of sin. God speaks to us solemnly respecting the deserts of sin. So swift a retribution could not but act as a warning to the Israelites, and the record of it may serve the same purpose with respect to ourselves. If Jehovah seemed stern for a season, he dealt in real kindness with the people, for surely it was expedient for one family to die, rather than that the whole nation should be disobedient and suffer extinction.
3. Seldom does the sinner suffer alone. Achan's family lost their lives also. Perhaps they had connived at his theft. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men." If we are reckless of our own interests, let us not cruelly blight the prospects of others.
II. THE SIDE OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER HERE REVEALED. He is shown to be a jealous God, hating sin, and taking vengeance upon those who disregard His precepts. "The fierceness of God's anger" may not be such a pleasant object of contemplation as the exceeding riches of the love of God, but it is good for us to think of it in connection with evil, and is part of our notion of a perfect character. The meek and lowly Jesus could kindle into holy indignation at the sight of the hypocrisy and oppression of the scribes and Pharisees, and a cloud of brightness that has no element of fire is not the representation given in Scripture of the appearance of God. Daniel saw "a fiery stream, which issued and came forth from before" the Ancient of days.
III. THE COMFORTING ASPECTS OF OUR THEME.
1. We are not informed of Achan's final destiny, and this thought may alleviate the difficulty which some minds feel. Tempted as we are to disbelieve the genuineness of forced confessions and late repentance, it may be that Achan was sincere, and God chastised the flesh that the spirit might be saved. His death was necessary for example's sake, and the burning of the bodies and the heaping them with stones all indicated the horrid nature of sin which, like a leprosy, frets inward till all be consumed. But the offender himself may have been saved "so as by fire;" and eternal life was purchased at the expense of temporal death. God grant, however, that we may live the life, and so die the death, of the righteous.
2. The gospel offers of mercy stand out in striking contrast to the severity of the ancient dispensation. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."—A.