Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
At Jericho the Lord had made known to the Canaanites His great and holy name; but before Ai the Israelites were to learn that He would also sanctify Himself on them if they transgressed His covenant, and that the congregation of the Lord could only conquer the power of the world so long as it was faithful to His covenant. But notwithstanding the command which Joshua had enforced upon the people (Jos 6:18), Achan, a member of the tribe of Judah, laid hands upon the property in Jericho which had been banned, and thus brought the ban upon the children of Israel, the whole nation. His breach of trust is described as unfaithfulness (a trespass) on the part of the children of Israel in the ban, in consequence of which the anger of the Lord was kindled against the whole nation. מעל מעל, to commit a breach of trust (see at Lev 5:15), generally against Jehovah, by purloining or withholding what was sanctified to Him, here in the matter of the ban, by appropriating what had been banned to the Lord. This crime was imputed to the whole people, not as imputatio moralis, i.e., as though the whole nation had shared in Achan's disposition, and cherished in their hearts the same sinful desire which Achan had carried out in action in the theft he had committed; but as imputatio civilis, according to which Achan, a member of the nation, had robbed the whole nation of the purity and holiness which it ought to possess before God, through the sin that he had committed, just as the whole body is affected by the sin of a single member.
(Note: In support of this I cannot do better than quote the most important of the remarks which I made in my former commentary (Keil on Joshua, pp. 177-8, Eng. trans.): "However truly the whole Scriptures speak of each man as individually an object of divine mercy and justice, they teach just as truly that a nation is one organic whole, in which the individuals are merely members of the same body, and are not atoms isolated from one another and the whole, since the state as a divine institution is founded upon family relationship, and intended to promote the love of all to one another and to the invisible Head of all. As all then are combined in a fellowship established by God, the good or evil deeds of an individual affect injuriously or beneficially the welfare of the whole society. And, therefore, when we regard the state as a divine organization and not merely as a civil institution, a compact into which men have entered by treaty, we fail to discover caprice and injustice in consequences which necessarily follow from the moral unity of the whole state; namely, that the good or evil deeds of one member are laid to the charge of the entire body. Caprice and injustice we shall always find if we leave out of sight this fundamental unity, and merely look at the fact that the many share the consequences of the sin of one.")
Instead of Achan (the reading here and in Jos 22:20) we find Achar in Ch1 2:7, the liquids n and r being interchanged to allow of a play upon the verb עכר in Jos 7:25. Hence in Josephus the name is spelt Acharos, and in the Cod. Vat. of the lxx Achar, whereas the Cod. Al. has Achan. Instead of Zabdi, we find Zimri in Ch1 2:6, evidently a copyist's error. Zerah was the twin-brother of Pharez (Gen 38:29-30). Matteh, from נטה, to spread out, is used to denote the tribe according to its genealogical ramifications; whilst shebet (from an Arabic root signifying "uniform, not curled, but drawn out straight and long with any curvature at all") was applied to the sceptre or straight staff of a magistrate or ruler (never to the stick upon which a person rested), and different from matteh not only in its primary and literal meaning, but also in the derivative meaning tribe, in which it was used to designate the division of the nation referred to, not according to its genealogical ramifications and development, but as a corporate body possessing authority and power. This difference in the ideas expressed by the two words will explain the variations in their use: for example, matteh is used here (in Jos 7:1 and Jos 7:18), and in Jos 22:1-14, and in fact is the term usually employed in the geographical sections; whereas shebet is used in Jos 7:14, Jos 7:16, in Jos 3:12; Jos 4:2, and on many other occasions, in those portions of the historical narratives in which the tribes of Israel are introduced as military powers.
The anger of God, which Achan had brought upon Israel, was manifested to the congregation in connection with their attempt to take Ai. This town was situated near Bethaven, on the east of Bethel. Bethel was originally called Luz (see at Gen 28:19), a place on the border of Ephraim and Benjamin (Jos 16:2; Jos 18:13). It is frequently mentioned, was well known at a later time as the city in which Jeroboam established the worship of the calves, and was inhabited again even after the captivity (see v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 178, 179). It has been preserved, in all probability, in the very extensive ruins called Beitin (see Robinson, Pal. ii. pp. 126ff.), about four hours' journey on horseback to the north of Jerusalem, and on the east of the road which leads from Jerusalem to Sichem (Nablus).
(Note: The statement of the Onomasticon of Eusebius s. v. Aggai' agree with this: Κεῖται Βαιθὴλ ἀπίοντων εἰς Αἰλίαν ἀπὸ Νεηεμιαήας πόλεως ἐν λαιοῖς τῆς ὁδοῦ ἀμφὶ τὸ δωδέκατον ἀπ ̓ Αἰλίας σημεῖον. Also s. v. Βαιθήλ: καὶ νῦν ἐστὶ κώμη, Αἰλίας ἄποθεν σημείοις ιβ ́ (twelve Roman miles are four or five hours' journey).)
No traces have ever been discovered of Bethaven. According to Jos 18:12-13, the northern boundary of the tribe of Benjamin, which ran up from Jericho to the mountains on the west, passed on to the desert of Bethaven, and so onwards to Luz (Bethel). If we compare with this the statement in Sa1 13:5, that the Philistines who came against Israel encamped at Michmash before (in front of) Bethaven, according to which Bethaven was on the east or north-east of Michmash (Mukhmas), the desert of Bethaven may very possibly have been nothing more than the table-land which lies between the Wady Mutyah on the north and the Wadys Fuwar and Suweinit (in Robinson's map), or Wady Tuwr (on Van de Velde's map), and stretches in a westerly direction from the rocky mountain Juruntel to Abu Sebah (Subbah). Bethaven would then lie to the south or south-east of Abu Sebah. In that case, however, Ai (Sept. Gai or Aggai, Gen 12:8) would neither be found in the inconsiderable ruins to the south of the village of Deir Diwan, as Robinson supposes (Pal. ii. pp. 312ff.), nor on the site of the present Tell el Hajar, i.e., stone hill, three-quarters of an hour to the S.E. of Beitin, on the southern side of the deep and precipitous Wady Mutyah, as Van de Velde imagines; but in the ruins of Medinet Chai or Gai, which Krafft
(Note: Topograph. v. Jerusalem, p. ix.)
(Note: Sinai u. Golgoth. pp. 326-7.)
discovered on the flat surface of a mountain that slopes off towards the east, about forty minutes on the eastern side of Geba (Jeba), where "there are considerable ruins surrounded by a circular wall, whilst the place is defended on the south by the valley of Farah, and on the north by the valley of Es Suweinit, with steep shelving walls of rock" (Strauss: vid., C. Ritter Erdk. xvi. pp. 526-7). On the advice of the men who were sent out to explore the land, and who described the population on their return as small ("they are but few"), Joshua did not send the whole of the fighting men against Ai, but only about 3000 men. As there were not more than 12,000 inhabitants (Jos 8:25), there could hardly have been 3000 fighting men, who might easily have been beaten by 3000 Israelitish warriors. But when the Israelites attacked the town they fled before its inhabitants, who slew about thirty-six men, and pursued them before the gate, i.e., outside the town, to the stone quarries, and smote them on the sloping ground. The Shebarim, from sheber, a breach or fracture, were probably stone quarries near the slope on the east of the town. Nothing more can be decided, as the country has not been thoroughly explored by travellers. On account of this repulse the people lost all their courage. "The hearts of the people melted" (see Jos 2:15): this expression is strengthened still further by the additional clause, "and became as water."
Joshua and the elders of the people were also deeply affected, not so much at the loss of thirty-six men, as because Israel, which was invincible with the help of the Lord, had been beaten, and therefore the Lord must have withdrawn His help. In the deepest grief, with their clothes rent (see at Lev 10:6) and ashes upon their heads, they fell down before the ark of the Lord (vid., Num 20:6) until the evening, to pour out their grief before the Lord. Joshua's prayer contains a complaint (Jos 7:7) and as question addressed to God (Jos 7:8, Jos 7:9). The complaint, "Alas, O Lord Jehovah, wherefore hast Thou brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?" almost amounts to murmuring, and sounds very much like the complaint which the murmuring people brought against Moses and Aaron in the desert (Num 14:2-3); but it is very different from the murmuring of the people on that occasion against the guidance of God; for it by no means arose from unbelief, but was simply the bold language of faith wrestling with God in prayer - faith which could not comprehend the ways of the Lord - and involved the most urgent appeal to the Lord to carry out His work in the same glorious manner in which it had been begun, with the firm conviction that God could neither relinquish nor alter His purposes of grace. The words which follow, "Would to God that we had been content (see at Deu 1:5) to remain on the other side of the Jordan," assume on the one hand, that previous to the crossing of the river Israel had cherished a longing for the possession of Canaan, and on the other hand, that this longing might possibly have been the cause of the calamity which had fallen upon the people now, and therefore express the wish that Israel had never cherished any such desire, or that the Lord had never gratified it. (On the unusual form העברתּ for העברתּ, see Ges. 63, anm. 4, and Ewald, 41, b.) The inf. abs. העביר (with the unusual i in the final syllable) is placed for the sake of emphasis after the finite verb, as in Gen 46:4, etc. The Amorites are the inhabitants of the mountains, as in Gen 46:4, etc.
The question which Joshua addresses to God he introduces in this way: "Pray (בּי contracted from בּעי), Lord, what shall I say?" to modify the boldness of the question which follows. It was not because he did not know what to say, for he proceeded at once to pour out the thoughts of his heart, but because he felt that the thought which he was about to utter might involve a reproach, as if, when God permitted that disaster, He had not thought of His own honour; and as he could not possibly think this, he introduced his words with a supplicatory inquiry. What he proceeds to say in Jos 7:8, Jos 7:9, does not contain two co-ordinate clauses, but one simple thought: how would God uphold His great name before the world, when the report that Israel had turned their back before them should reach the Canaanites, and they should come and surround the Israelites, and destroy them without a single trace from off the face of the earth.
(Note: Calovius has therefore given the correct interpretation: "When they have destroyed our name, after Thou hast chosen us to be Thy people, and brought us hither with such great wonders, what will become of Thy name? Our name is of little moment, but wilt Thou consult the honour of Thine own name, if Thou destroyest us? For Thou didst promise us this land; and what people is there that will honour Thy name if ours should be destroyed?")
In the words, "the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land," there is involved the thought that there were other people living in Canaan beside the Canaanites, e.g., the Philistines. The question, "What wilt Thou do with regard to Thy great name?" signifies, according to the parallel passages, Exo 32:11-12; Num 14:13., Deu 9:28, "How wilt Thou preserve Thy great name, which Thou hast acquired thus far in the sight of all nations through the miraculous guidance of Israel, from being misunderstood and blasphemed among the heathen?" ("what wilt Thou do?" as in Gen 26:29).
The answer of the Lord, which was addressed to Joshua directly and not through the high priest, breathed anger against the sin of Israel. The question, "Wherefore liest thou upon thy face?" ("fallest," as in Deu 21:1) involved the reproof that Joshua had no reason to doubt the fidelity of the Lord. Instead of seeking for the cause of the calamity in God, he ought to seek it in the sin of the people.
Israel had sinned, and that very grievously. This is affirmed in the clauses which follow, and which are rendered emphatic by the repetition of גּם as an expression of displeasure. The sin of one man was resting as a burden upon the whole nation in the manner explained above (on Jos 7:1). This sin was a breach of the covenant, being a transgression of the obligation into which the people had entered in their covenant with the Lord, to keep His commandments (Exo 19:8; Exo 24:7); yea, it was a grasping at the ban, and a theft, and a concealment, and an appropriation of that which was stolen to their own use. The first three clauses describe the sin in its relation to God, as a grievous offence; the three following according to its true character, as a great, obstinate, and reckless crime. "They have put it among their own stuff" (house furniture), viz., to use and appropriate it as their own property. As all that had been stolen was a property consecrated to the Lord, the appropriation of it to private use was the height of wickedness.
On account of this sin the Israelites could not stand before their foes, because they had fallen under the ban (cf. Jos 6:18). And until this ban had been removed from their midst, the Lord would not help them any further.
Joshua was to take away this ban from the nation. To discover who had laid hands upon the ban, he was to direct the people to sanctify themselves for the following day (see at Jos 3:5), and then to cause them to come before God according to their tribes, families, households, and men, that the guilty men might be discovered by lot; and to burn whoever was found guilty, with all that he possessed. נקרב, "to come near," sc., to Jehovah, i.e., to come before His sanctuary. The tribes, families, households, and men, formed the four classes into which the people were organized. As the tribes were divided into families, so these again were subdivided into houses, commonly called fathers' houses, and the fathers' houses again into men, i.e., fathers of families (see the remarks on Exo 18:25-26, and by Bibl. Archaeology, 140). Each of these was represented by its natural head, so that we must picture the affair as conducted in the following manner: in order to discover the tribe, the twelve tribe princes came before the Lord; and in order to discover the family, the heads of families of the tribe that had been taken, and so on to the end, each one in turn being subjected to the lot. For although it is not distinctly stated that the lot was resorted to in order to discover who was guilty, and that the discovery was actually made in this way, this is very evident from the expression אשׁר־ילכּדנּה (which the Lord taketh), as this was the technical term employed, according to Sa1 14:42, to denote the falling of the lot upon a person (see also Sa1 10:20). Moreover, the lot was frequently resorted to in cases where a crime could not be brought home to a person by the testimony of eye-witnesses (see Sa1 14:41-42; Jon 1:7; Pro 18:18), as it was firmly believed that the lot was directed by the Lord (Pro 16:33). In what manner the lot was cast we do not know. In all probability little tablets or potsherds were used, with the names written upon them, and these were drawn out of an urn. This may be inferred from a comparison of Jos 18:11 and Jos 19:1, with Jos 18:6, Jos 18:10, according to which the casting of the lot took place in such a manner that the lot came up (עלה, Jos 18:11; Jos 19:10; Lev 16:9), or came out (יצא, Jos 19:1; Jos 19:24; Num 33:54). בּחרם הנּלכּד, the person taken in (with) the ban, i.e., taken by the lot as affected with the ban, was to be burned with fire, of course not alive, but after he had been stoned (Jos 7:25). The burning of the body of a criminal was regarded as heightening the punishment of death (vid., Lev 20:14). This punishment was to be inflicted upon him, in the first place, because he had broken the covenant of Jehovah; and in the second place, because he had wrought folly in Israel, that is to say, had offended grievously against the covenant God, and also against the covenant nation. "Wrought folly:" an expression used here, as in Gen 34:7, to denote such a crime as was irreconcilable with the honour of Israel as the people of God.
Execution of the Command. - Jos 7:16-18. Discovery of the guilty man through the lot. In Jos 7:17 we should expect "the tribe" (shebet) or "the families" (mishpachoth) of Judah, instead of "the family." The plural mishpachoth is adopted in the lxx and Vulgate, and also to be met with in seven MSS; but this is a conjecture rather than the original reading Mishpachah is either used generally, or employed in a collective sense to denote all the families of Judah. There is no ground for altering לגּברים (man by man) into לבתּים (house by house) in Jos 7:17, according to some of the MSS; the expression "man by man" is used simply because it was the representative men who came for the lot to be cast, not only in the case of the fathers' houses, but in that of the families also.
When Achan had been discovered to be the criminal, Joshua charged him to give honour and praise to the Lord, and to confess without reserve what he had done. It is not ironically, or with dissimulation, that Joshua addresses him as "my son," but with "sincere paternal regard."
(Note: To these remarks Calvin also adds: "This example serves as a lesson to judges, that when punishing crimes they should moderate their rigour, and not lose all the feelings of humanity; and, on the other hand, that whilst merciful they should not be careless or remiss.")
"Give glory to the Lord:" this is a solemn formula of adjuration, by which a person was summoned to confess the truth before the face of God (cf. Joh 9:24). "And give Him praise:" the meaning is not, "make confession," but give praise, as Ezr 10:11 clearly shows. Through a confession of the truth Achan was to render to God, as the Omniscient, the praise and honour that were due.
Achan then acknowledge his sin, and confessed that he had appropriated to himself from among the booty a beautiful Babylonish cloak, 200 shekels of silver, and a tongue of gold of 50 shekels weight. The form ואראה is not to be abbreviated into וארא, according to the Keri, as the form is by no means rare in verbs ה.ל "A Babylonish cloak" (lit. a cloak of Shinar, or Babylon) is a costly cloak, artistically worked, such as were manufactured in Babylon, and distributed far and wide through the medium of commerce.
(Note: Plinius h. n. viii. 48: Colores diversos picturae vestium intexere Babylon maxime celebravit et nomen imposuit. (See Heeren Ideen. i. 2, pp. 205ff., and Movers Phnizier, ii. 3, pp. 258ff.) The Sept. rendering is ψιλή ποικίλη, i.e., a Babylonian cloak ornamented with pictures. It is called ψιλή because it was cut smooth, and ποικίλη because it was covered with coloured figures, either of men or animals, sometimes woven, at other times worked with the needle (Fischer. graec de vers. libr. V. T. pp. 87-8).)
Two hundred shekels of silver was about 25. "A tongue of gold" (according to Luther, "ornaments made in the shape of tongues") was certainly a golden ornament in the form of a tongue, the use of which is unknown; it was of considerable size, as it weighed 50 shekels, i.e., 13,700 grains. It is not necessary to suppose that it was a golden dagger, as many do, simply because the ancient Romans gave the name lingula to an oblong dagger formed in the shape of a tongue. Achan had hidden these things in the ground in the midst of his tent, and the silver "under it," i.e., under these things (the suffix is neuter, and must be understood as referring to all the things with the exception of the silver). The Babylonish cloak and the tongue of gold were probably placed in a chest; at any rate they would be carefully packed up, and the silver was placed underneath. The article in האהלי, which occurs twice, as it also does in Jos 8:33; Lev 27:33; Mic 2:12, is probably to be explained in the manner suggested by Hengstenberg, viz., that the article and noun became so fused into one, that the former lost its proper force.
Joshua sent two messengers directly to Achan's tent to fetch the things, and when they were brought he had them laid down before Jehovah, i.e., before the tabernacle, where the whole affair had taken place. הצּיק, here and in Sa2 15:24, signifies to lay down (synonymous with הצּיג), whilst the Hiphil form is used for pouring out.
Then Joshua and all Israel, i.e., the whole nation in the person of its heads or representatives, took Achan, together with the things which he had purloined, and his sons and daughters, his cattle, and his tent with all its furniture, and brought them into the valley of Achor, where they stoned them to death and then burned them, after Joshua had once more pronounced this sentence upon him in the place of judgment: "How hast thou troubled us" (עכר, as in Jos 6:18, to bring into trouble)! "The Lord will trouble thee this day." It by no means follows from the expression "stoned him" in Jos 7:25, that Achan only was stoned. The singular pronoun is used to designate Achan alone, as being the principal person concerned. But it is obvious enough that his children and cattle were stoned, from what follows in the very same verse: "They burned them (the persons stoned to death, and their things) with fire, and heaped up stones upon them." It is true that in Deu 24:16 the Mosaic law expressly forbids the putting to death of children for their fathers' sins; and many have imagined, therefore, that Achan's sons and daughters were simply taken into the valley to be spectators of the punishment inflicted upon the father, that it might be a warning to them. But for what reason, then, were Achan's cattle (oxen, sheep, and asses) taken out along with him? Certainly for no other purpose than to be stoned at the same time as he. The law in question only referred to the punishment of ordinary criminals, and therefore was not applicable at all to the present case, in which the punishment was commanded by the Lord himself. Achan had fallen under the ban by laying hands upon what had been banned, and consequently was exposed to the same punishment as a town that had fallen away to idolatry (Deu 13:16-17). The law of the ban was founded upon the assumption, that the conduct to be punished was not a crime of which the individual only was guilty, but one in which the whole family of the leading sinner, in fact everything connected with him, participated. Thus, in the case before us, the things themselves had been abstracted from the booty by Achan alone; but he had hidden them in his tent, buried them in the earth, which could hardly have been done so secretly that his sons and daughters knew nothing of it. By so doing he had made his family participators in his theft; they therefore fell under the ban along with him, together with their tent, their cattle, and the rest of their property, which were all involved in the consequences of his crime. The clause בּאבנים אתם ויּסקלוּ does not refer to the stoning as a capital punishment, but to the casting of stones upon the bodies after they were dead and had been burned, for the purpose of erecting a heap of stones upon them as a memorial of the disgrace (vid., Jos 8:29; Sa2 18:17). - In Jos 7:26, the account of the whole affair closes with these two remarks: (1) That after the punishment of the malefactor the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger; and (2) That the valley in which Achan suffered his punishment received the name of Achor (troubling) with special reference to the fact that Joshua had described his punishment as well as Achan's sin as עכר (troubling: see Jos 7:25), and that it retained this name down to the writer's own time. With regard to the situation of this valley, it is evident from the word ויּעלוּ in Jos 7:24 that it was on higher ground than Gilgal and Jericho, probably in one of the ranges of hills that intersect the plain of Jericho, and from Jos 15:7, where the northern border of the possessions of Judah is said to have passed through this valley, that it is to be looked for to the south of Jericho. The only other places in which there is any allusion to this event are Hos 2:17 and Isa 65:10.