I am confused about Achan's family in Joshua 7:15-26. God does not visit the sins of the fathers upon their sons (Deut. 24:16; Ezek. 18:20; cf. Gen. 18:23), but here he does? They didn't do anything - they were murdered.


Joshua 7:15-26 He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing Israel! Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. The clans of Judah came forward, and he took the Zerahites. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was taken. Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. Then Joshua said to Achan, "My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me." Achan replied, "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath." So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD. Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

Some commentators, seeing a possible contradiction between the law and these events (Deut. 24:16; Ezek. 18:20; cg. Gen. 18:23), state that Achan's family was not stoned and were merely present for Achan's stoning. They make this assumption based upon Achan's confession - "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel" (Joshua 7:20-21). Without further inquiry one might gather that only Acahan sinned. However, a better perspective sees that Achan was taking covenant responsibility for the sins of his entire family.

We see this when we compare Achan's sin here with Adam's in the Garden. In the Garden, we see a similar structure ("I see... I covet... I took") repeated (cf. Gen. 3:1-6; Jas. 1:13-15). Moreover, Adam initially answered for his own nakedness, saying, "I heard... was afraid... realized I was naked... so I hid" (Gen. 3:10). However, both he and Eve were naked, afraid, and hid. So, in essence Adam described not only his own actions, but those of his family as well. In the Garden account, Eve and then Satan were finally confronted, but initially only Adam, the head of the covenant (Rom. 5:12-19), spoke for the actions of his family.

In Acahan's case, since the whole family was punished, it is indicative they were in on the crime in question. This coupled with there being no record of protest - no defense of their innocence - is very compelling. Moreover, are we to really think that a family with access to the tent where the stolen items were hidden never knew of their existence? God, who is just (2 Thess. 1:6) and has the right to take life (Deut. 32:29; Job 1:21; Heb. 9:27), justly took the lives of all who participated.

Note: Billy Ray Cyrus' song entitled, "Achy Breaky Heart,"1993 Mercury Records, is not related to this topic.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).