1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.
2 Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” 4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, 5 and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” – Joshua 7:1-9 ESV
What do you do after a great victory like Jericho? The people of Israel had to have been on an emotional high after having witnessed the miraculous fall of the city and their defeat of it. It had been a literal walk in the park. And now, the surrounding nations would hear of their victory and their reputation would spread. As a result, the Israelite’s faith in God and their self-confidence as a nation must have been at an all-time high. So, it’s only natural that they immediately began planning their next conquest. Joshua sent spies to check out the conditions of another city called Ai. You can sense the confidence of the people when the spies return and announce that Ai will be an easy target, requiring just a fraction of the Israelite forces to ensure a victory. In fact, there is a noticeable absence of any reference to God by Joshua or the spies in these verses. It appears that their self-confidence was so great that they saw no reason to call on God for advice or assistance. Their great victory over Jericho had produced in them an unhealthy over-confidence. Somehow, they had forgotten that the fall of the walls of Jericho had been God’s doing, not theirs. In their excitement and enthusiasm after the victory, they had allowed themselves to take credit for what God had done. And they began to view their God-empowered success as having been self-produced.
But their efforts to defeat the insignificant city of Ai proved unsuccessful. They failed. And the text tells us that “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:5 ESV). Their self-confidence evaporated. Their feelings of invincibility disappeared. And Joshua and the elders of the people went into mourning, calling out to God in despair and confusion. They were at a loss as to what had happened. And their frustration quickly took the form of resentment and bitter murmuring against God.
“Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!” – Joshua 7:7 ESV
Joshua sounds eerily like his ancestors when they had complained to Moses about the lack of water at Meribah.
“Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?” – Numbers 20:3-5 ESV
It was also reminiscent of the words spoken by the people in the wilderness of Sin.
“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:3 ESV
When things didn’t quite go the way they had expected them to, they turned on God. And notice that Joshua questions the integrity of God, but does not call into question the integrity of his own people. He accusingly asks God why He has brought them into the land. He blames God for their loss, but never seems to consider that there may be something amiss among the people. How quickly he loses faith in the faithfulness of God.
But the opening verses of the chapter provide us with the information that Joshua was lacking. We know the reason for their failure, and it wasn’t simply because they were cocky and overconfident. They had disobeyed God.
…the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. – Joshua 7:1 ESV
The Hebrew word used to describe the sin of the people is ma`al and it refers to the committing of a trespass or act of treachery against God. They had violated the expressed command of God.
18 “But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” – Joshua 6:18-19 ESV
One man, named Achan, had decided to disregard God’s command, committing an act of treachery against God Almighty. He took what should have been devoted to God and made it his own. He stole from God. And his selfish act would have devastating consequences on the entire nation of Israel. His greed caused him to take what did not rightfully belong to him, and his sin ended up infecting the entire community of Israel. They were a covenant community and his selfish act was seen by God as a corporate violation of His command.
Joshua’s quick determination to cast the blame for their defeat on God reveals His belief in God’s sovereignty, but also his lack of understanding in man’s culpability. He should have known by this point that he was leading a stubborn and rebellious people. Their crossing over the Jordan River had not eliminated their propensity for sin. No radical transformation had taken place upon entering the promised land. They were still the same hard-hearted, sin-prone people that Moses had led for 40 years in the wilderness. Joshua should have expected something like this to happen. And rather than blame God, he should have called on God’s help in determining the true cause behind their failure. But God would open Joshua’s eyes and reveal the source behind their defeat. And He would demand that restitution and retribution be delivered. God will not tolerate sin in the camp and He will make sure that Joshua and the people recognize the danger of disobedience.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.