What was Achan's sin? Why was it so bad?

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Achan's sin was that he took forbidden things. He took things that were placed under the ban. And this is one of the disturbing things for people as they read the book of Joshua. They ask themselves, how could it be so bad for him to take this 200 shekels of silver and a bar of gold and a beautiful cloak from Shinar? Why is that such a grave sin? And I think in answering that question, what the issue is, is simply, is God who he claims to be? If the God of the Bible is the Lord of the universe, and if he is more valuable than life itself, then to transgress his commandments is a heinous crime whose penalty is infinite in magnitude. And I think that this is what we're seeing both in the punishment of Achan and in the putting of the Canaanites under the ban itself. In this, Achan's calculation is something like, "These things matter more to me than the God who has placed them under this prohibition." And for the Canaanites, the sins in which they indulged, they were making a calculation that said, "Our consciences may be bearing us witness – as the law of God is written on our hearts as these Gentiles – but our enjoyment of these things is more significant to us than any pang of conscience that might woo us away from this or any qualms we might have about any of these perversities." And in that calculation they are choosing God's gifts over the giver himself, and that is a crime that is worthy of God's punishment.

Answer by Dr. James M. Hamilton

Dr. James M. Hamilton is Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and author of several works, including God's Indwelling Presence: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments.