Achan's Sin

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

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Achan's sin in Joshua 7 is a big question. Why was it so bad? What was it that happened there? And the facts of the case are simple. In chapter 7, Achan got greedy in the fight for Jericho, and then he grabbed a few things for himself, hid it in his tent, and then Yahweh had specifically commanded, don't take any booty for yourself. So, Achan is a tribal leader of the tribe of Judah, which I think bears significance because, of course, Judah is the lineage of David and Jesus. And so, he's a prominent leader in the community. And of course, what happens because of Achan's sin, the whole idea of creating holiness within the Israelite camp—because without holiness there's no victory; It's about holiness, it's about being devoted to Yahweh—and so, when they go onto the next campaign against Ai, they fail. And so, Joshua very quickly realizes, there is what we call "sin in the camp," and that's what prevented them to secure victory like they did with Jericho. And so, they have a system of finding out who it was, and it goes through the tribes, and then the clans, and then the families, and then it comes down to the "bayith ab" in Hebrew, which is "house of the father," and it's Achan's house that's being singled out. And then finally Achan fesses up, and then they take a very drastic measure of committing Achan and his family to destruction, literal destruction—cherem, that word—"committed" devoted to destruction." So, here is the contrasting picture. You have chapter 6 of Joshua where a Canaanite prostitute and her household is saved from cherem, saved from destruction, and then, the prominent leader of the tribe of Judah and his household are committed to destruction. And the lesson is a powerful one. Very early holiness and cherem are two-way streets. It doesn't matter, you could have all the right pedigree being a member of the tribe of Judah. It didn't protect; that didn't protect him. What he needed to be—"On whose side are you, holiness or unholiness?" So, a person with zero credentials like Rahab, and then a person with full credentials within Israel like Achan, and then who gets saved and who doesn't has everything to do with holiness.

Answer by Dr. Thomas Petter

Dr. Tom Petter is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.