Sin is something that should not dwell in the community of God’s people. If one does commit a sin, not only is the individual responsible, but also the community. If sin remains and left uncorrected, and the gravity is great, it not only affects the one who sinned, the ones who are aware of the sin, but its effect also affects the whole community of God’s people. This is exactly what happened to the Israelites in Joshua 7, the sin of one man becomes corporate. This also happens in some churches today.
The story is set right after the victory of the Israelites, when Jericho had fallen. Joshua had prior instruction to the people to “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. 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” (6.18). But at the outset of chapter 7 and without the knowledge of Joshua and his men, the narrator lets the reader in on what had transpired: Achan disobeyed, taking with him the spoils from the previous conquest, hence violating the covenant. It is interesting to note that at the outset of the story, both the individual and corporate effects of sin is told. That Israel broke faith, Achan was named and his sin exposed, then the clause “the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel” (7.1). Divine anger was already made known, then eventually, how the sin of one man was taken as the sin of the entire community would unfold. This theme was already made clear.
The conquest would be set against Ai next, and Joshua sent his spies to survey the land. Having been sent to Ai, the spies gave a positive report to Joshua, confident that they could easily defeat and conquer Ai (vv. 2-3). The advised Joshua to send two to three thousand men only for the people of Ai could easily be defeated. Ai’s population was said to be around twelve thousand inhabitants and a city of this size could probably have an army fewer than three thousand. However, fresh from their Jericho victory, the Israelites were incredibly emboldened thinking that they would win the battle again. However, in the end, they were humiliated through their defeat. The people of Ai rallied them to the gates and struck them at the descent (v.5). Being struck at the descent here gives a more vivid picture of the humiliation the Israelites faced. Thirty six of the three thousand Israelite were killed. Thirty six may be a small number for casualties for three thousand men army. But just the same, there were defeated. Something seems terribly wrong with the turn of events here. Perhaps their overconfidence led to their humiliating defeat, or there could be something more behind it. Where was God in all this?
Going back to Joshua and the spies, the reader is left to think that Joshua planned the conquest out of his own idea. There is nothing in the narrative that would say that he asked the guidance of the Lord. Even the spies’ confidence seemed to border on arrogance. It seemed like the Lord had no say in the plan. However, the narrator has already prepared the reader on what was going to happen next, and the reader begins to anticipate how the spies’ advice would not be good one. Joshua and the Israelites were oblivious of God’s anger that burned against them. They had no clue about Achan’s sin. Because of God’s displeasure over Israel, even their judgment was clouded. The Lord had taken away his guidance over the people, leaving them to their own devices. Their pride had had taken over them, and they had rested their faith on their own strength. They believed they could defeat the army of Ai. Even Joshua never thought about seeking the counsel of God and went on with the carnal advice of his spies. Also, there was no indication that the Lord was with Joshua in all this. This happens when sin does not go uncorrected, or unpunished, and the Lord’s anger burned against his people. His guidance, his presence are withdrawn. This scene shows that when man plans on his own against the backdrop of God’s anger, everything will fail.  The Israelites were victories, but this became a bane laced with pride and self-confidence. In the face of victory, one should be watchful so as not to give in to temptation and boasting.
The defeat came as a shock to the Israelites, thinking that God was always with them. Joshua’s prayer (vv. 6-9) was one of bewilderment and anguish. Though he still addressed God in a reverent manner, calling him Sovereign Lord, it did not stop him from expressing his disappointment with God. He echoed the similar complaint made by the Israelites when they were taken out from Egypt. Why had the Lord taken them over to Jordan? To be destroyed? Why the defeat? If victory comes from the Lord, surely defeat could be his own doing, too. Joshua’s complaint was not one that questioned the Lord. It was not a prayer of rebellion. It was a prayer of a man of faith that was combined with bitterness and honestly towards God, especially since he still had no idea of what Achan had done. Joshua tore his clothes and fell before the ark, and the elders did the same, putting dust on their heads. As previously mentioned, Joshua never sought God’s counsel with regards to their attack on Ai, but now, ironically so, the ark of the Lord was once again given attention. Had this been done earlier, then victory could have been achieved.
The Lord answered Joshua, not gently, but in an abrupt and blunt manner. It was obviously a rebuke. The narrator perfectly shows the reader that the Lord’s curt answer was an evidence of his burning anger. His reply was not an announcement of good news. It was not an assurance of victory the next time. It was an accusation against the people of Israel. It was like Joshua was called to a court and was given a guilty verdict. Israel was guilty of violating the covenant. The sin that was mentioned by the narrator in v.1 with regards to the things devoted to destruction, was specified by the Lord v.11, thus strengthening the case against Israel.
Once again, the communal responsibility became evident in vv. 11-13. The narrator used the pronoun “they” as against “he” which could mean that only one was guilty. And having been found guilty as a corporate people, the Israelites needed to consecrate themselves. The consecration would once again provide a distinction between what was holy and common. God is holy and he would not tolerate the presence in the community of the things devoted to destruction. The Israelites would never win. The guilty must be punished and purged out of the community. The narrator effectively expresses the importance of purity among God’s people. Fellowship with God would be impossible if sin remained in their midst. Defeat was inevitable.
The naming of the guilty was through the slow process of elimination. This was done by the casting of the lots. The people needed to present themselves to the Lord by tribe, or clan, or family. As the lots were cast, there would be a narrowing down of tribes, until it came down to the person who was responsible. The casting of the lots was not done by chance as some people in the modern times would think. This was done so that there would not be any manipulation from the leaders, and the decision would only be left in the hands of the Lord. When the guilty person is finally found out, then he would have the just punishment he deserved. This was good news to the community since they would finally be absolved from the consequence of the sin of one man. The offender would then be destroyed. Per the Lord’s instruction, the offender and everything that he has shall be burned with fire (v.15).
Early in the morning, Joshua set to carry out what the Lord had commanded. When the process of elimination ensued, Judah was chosen. Then it went down to the Zerahites were chosen, then down to the family of Zimri, until it was narrowed down to Achan. Achan’s name, which incidentally means “trouble,” was first mentioned in v. 1, but was never mentioned again until v.18 when he was finally discovered. His genealogy was presented in v. 1 not without a purpose. Some critics say that Achan’s genealogy was important in the story because it takes the readers back to the Zerah, Judah’s son out of his incestuous relationship with Tamar in Gen. 38. This gives justification to the concept of sins of the father reaching down to the succeeding generation. However, this does not seem to hold water. The obvious purpose of the narrator in presenting the genealogy of Achan was in order that the readers may see and better understand the slow process of elimination done in vv. 16-18. With the verse 1 as basis, it becomes easier for the reader to follow the family line that was chosen before it got to Achan.
Finally, the guilty person was singled out and named. In what seemed to be done in a fatherly manner, Joshua confronted Achan and charged to give glory to God in the form of a confession. This he did as he enumerated everything that he had taken: the beautiful cloak, the silver and the gold. He told Joshua that he kept them hidden in the earth in his tent. He might have been enticed by the beautiful things that he saw among the spoils, as evidenced by how the cloak was described, so he took them. He admitted to covetousness (v.21) which was a violation of the tenth commandment (Exo. 20:17). It was not only the sin of covetousness that Achan was guilty of. All along, he was silent and never said a thing. Even though he knew that the search for the offender was ongoing, and that families were being chosen and narrowed down, he still maintained his silence. It was hard to tell if he had an inkling that he would soon be discovered. There could also be a possibility that his sin already hardened his heart already led to a total disbelief in Yahweh. Whatever the reason may be, he held on to his sin until the time when he could no longer run away from it. This was an obvious sign of a hard heart. Achan never intended to confess. If he did, then he would have done so even before the selection and narrowing down of the tribes. He was caught, and that was the only reason for his confession. However, his confession was not an indication of his repentance. The gravity of his sin, which was initially covetousness, was made heavier by his silence and hard-heartedness.
The story further unfolds as Joshua dispatched his messengers to locate Achan’s loots. They did find them, and they were brought to Joshua and to the people of Israel, and laid all of them down before the Lord (v.23). Here, the people of Israel were once again involved, and the narrator brings the reader back to the concept of communal responsibility. Together with Joshua, they took Achan, his plunder, his sons & daughters, his oxen, sheep and donkeys, even his tent, and everything that he had to the Valley of Achor to be punished. (The valley was named as such to remember the one who brought trouble to Israel, who in turn was also brought to trouble by the Lord.)
The punishment that was mentioned in v. 15 was by burning. However, v. 25 also speaks of stoning. It could be that the stoning was done so that all of Israel could participate in the act. Since the whole of Israel became responsible for the sin of one man, and the wrath of God fell upon the community, it could also be proper that the community be responsible for the punishment of the offender. If the sin became communal, the execution of justice was also communal.
So the stoning of the offender was put into action. Everything and everyone who was with Achan were stoned with him. Criticisms were raised against the punishment of Achan’s sons & daughters. But they were obviously part of the guilt. It was quite apparent that it would have been impossible for the father to hide all his plunder without the knowledge of his children. It only meant that they knew about Achan’s sin, and like their father, they never spoke about it.
The third person singular pronoun used in v. 25 “And all Israel stoned him with stones,” does not mean it was only Achan who was stoned, but it was an indication that the use of such pronoun points to him as the main offender.  They were burned after the stoning, then piles of stones were heaped on them. Only then was the Lord appeased.
The story of Achan’s sin presented a cycle of sin, defeat, and punishment. This was similar to the sin of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. In the present time, even in churches, we can see this cycle. Unconfessed sins that linger in the congregation carry devastating effects in the church. Many have experienced setbacks and other troubles brought about by sins of immorality in the church. All the more devastating are sins that are known, but are tolerated. Sadly, some churches fall to that prey, and consequences are usually grave.
However, the story of Achan helps the community of God’s people to see their responsibility in this. It is important to be discerning of the condition of each individual. It is not only the reality of judgment that the people of God should be concerned about, but rather, the accountability they have for each one. Achan and his family were stoned to death by all of Israel. The church does not have to wait until the “stoning” of the offender is ready to take place. The gravity of God’s judgment might be lessened, if not avoided all together, if the community does its role in correcting one another.
Could there be a possibility that Achan may have been spared if someone who knew of his sin convinced and encouraged him to turning himself in before it was too late? Perhaps no one will never know. But what the community of God can do today is to be more discerning and be genuinely caring for one another so as to avoid the judgment that befell upon the people of Israel, and then later on, to Achan.
 Marten H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman, 1981), 120.
 Frank E. Gaebelien, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992),284.
 Woudstra, op. cit., p.121.
 Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in Joshua (Chicago:Moody, 1964), 178.
 Trent C. Bulter, Word Biblical Commentary: Joshua, vol. 7 (Waco: Word Books, 1938), 80).
 Gaebelein, op. cit., p.287.
 Pink, op. cit., p.179.
 Woudstra, op. cit., p.130.
 Gaebelein, op. cit., p. 288.