Lesson 4: Chapter 6:22-7:26
The Central Campaign Continues: the Failure at Ai

Almighty Lord,
You led the Israelites to victory in their war against the city of Jericho. In the same way, Lord, we ask that You continue to lead Your people in the war against sin, relativism, and the secular world view. Help us to have the courage to tear down the walls that separate Christians of different denominations but without compromising 2,000 years of the Traditions handed down to us by the Apostles and their successors. And, Lord, place on our hearts the mission to continue to reach out to those who do not yet know You that they may have the opportunity to come to salvation like Rahab, the heroine of Jericho.

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Chapter 6:22-27 ~ Rahab and Her People are Saved and the Curse on Jericho

It was through faith that the walls of Jericho fell down when the people had marched round them for seven days. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies and so was not killed with the unbelievers.
Hebrews 11:30-31

The success of the Israelites at Jericho was due both to an act of God and an act of faith: It was through faith that the walls of Jericho fell down when the people had marched round them for seven days. God promised the Israelites victory, but in faith they had to cooperate in the miracle that brought about their victory. Jericho is the first conquered city in the holy war against Canaan. The biblical concept of a "holy war" is rooted in the idea that God has pronounced his divine judgment on the enemy and is leading the armies of His covenant people. The battle is executed as a religious act. Since it is a religious act, God's people cannot profit from the event and everything within the town must be "devoted" to God under the ban of herem (total destruction).

Note the Hebrew expression "until this day" is used ten times in Joshua 4:9; 5:9; 7:26; 8:29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63 and 16:10. This expression indicates that there was evidence that supported the biblical narrative that was still present in the lifetime of the inspired writer as does the testimony in 6:25 that Rahab was "still living" in Israel at the time the Book of Joshua was written.

Joshua 6:22-25 ~ Rahab and her family are saved
22 Joshua said to the two men who had reconnoitered the country [land], Go into the prostitute's house, and bring the woman out with all who belong to her, as you swore to her that you would.' 23 The young men who had been spies went and brought Rahab out, with her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out all her clansmen too, and put them in a place of safety outside the camp of Israel. 24 They burned the city and everything inside it, except the silver, the gold and the things of bronze and iron; these they put into the treasury of Yahweh's house. 25 But Rahab the prostitute, her father's family and all who belonged to her, these Joshua spared. She is still living in Israel even today, for having hidden the messengers whom Joshua sent to reconnoiter Jericho.

Faithful to the oath the Israelite spies swore to Rahab (Josh 2:12-14), Joshua gave the order for the men to go into Jericho and bring Rahab and her kinsmen safely out of the city.

Question: Why did they put Rahab and her kinsmen in a place outside the camp of Israel? See Lev 13:46; Num 5:1-4; 31:21, 24 and Dt 23:15/14. Also see Num 19:11-16 for contamination by death and the instructions for returning warriors in Num 31:19-20 and 24.
Answer: The camp of God is a holy place; it is an extension of Yahweh's Sanctuary. God dwells in the midst of the people in the Sanctuary but He also "walks among His people" in the camp. Nothing tainted by sin can exist within the camp. Rabah and her family have not been purified of their contact with sinful pagan rites and therefore must be cleansed and sanctified before admittance into the camp. Even the Israelite soldiers had to stay outside the camp for seven days to be purified from their contact with death.

Question: What led to Rahab's salvation and the salvation of her family? Was it simply her profession of faith in the God of Israel in Joshua 2:11 or was there more? See what St. James, the first Christian bishop of Jerusalem, wrote about Rahab and quote the passage in Jam 2:24-26.
Answer: Rahab made a profession of faith in Yahweh in 2:11, but her profession of faith was backed up by her actions in saving the Israelite spies. St. James makes the point that it was Rahab's faith as evidenced by her works that saved her: See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (Jam 2:24-26 NAB).

This is the only passage in Sacred Scripture where "faith alone" is found; it supports the Catholic teaching that salvation through faith demonstrated by the works of God working through our lives is what leads to our justification and salvation (see CCC 162 and 1814-15).

The salvation of Rahab and her family in the destruction of Jericho is a repeat of the reoccurring biblical theme of the salvation of the faithful remnant in the midst of Divine judgment i.e., Noah's family during the Flood judgment; Israel during the night of the tenth Egyptian plague; the preservation of Israel and God's judgment against the charioteers of the Pharaoh in the crossing of the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds, etc.; see Lesson 1).

Joshua 6:24 They burned the city and everything inside it, except the silver, the gold and the things of bronze and iron; these they put into the treasury of Yahweh's house. The city of Jericho is condemned to be destroyed by fire. Since this was a "holy war," the Israelites could not profit from the destruction of the city. Everything without exception: lives, foodstuffs and material goods, were consecrated to Yahweh. Fire is not only destructive but purifying. The holy God of Israel is described as a "devouring fire" (Dt 4:24; 9:3 and Heb 12:29 in the New Testament). The city and memory of the practice of ritual prostitution and child sacrifice is to be completely destroyed.

Question: Why was anything made of silver, gold, bronze or iron taken? See Num 31:21-23.
Answer: Those items can be purified by fire and after having been melted down can be re-used in the Sanctuary.

Joshua 6:26-27 ~ Joshua places a curse on the rebuilding of Jericho
26 At that time Joshua made them take this oath before Yahweh: "Accursed before Yahweh be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city Jericho! On his first-born will he lay its foundations, on his youngest son set up its gates!" 27 So Yahweh was with Joshua, whose fame spread throughout the country [land].

Joshua makes a solemn oath, pronouncing a curse upon the city, to which the people probably responded with a solemn "amen" (as in Dt 27:15).

Question: Why did Joshua place a curse on refortifying the city?
Answer: He wanted the city to be an object lesson that those who oppose Israel's God will suffer total destruction. Jericho is never again to occupy a place of military prominence in the region. What happened to Jericho was a symbol of what would happen to the rest of the cities of Canaan who opposed the Israelites.

Blessings and curses are the means by which Yahweh both gives encouragement to those who are obedient to His will and a dire warning to those who oppose His will (in the O. T. see Lev 26:3-13 = blessings and 14-46 = curses; Dt 28 1-14 = blessings and 15-68 = curses; in the New Testament see Jesus blessings in Mt 5:1-12 and His curse-judgments in 23:13-36).

The territory of Jericho and control of the river crossing was ceded to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh 18:21) and apparently there were small settlements built on the ruins (Judg 3:13; 2 Sam 10:5), but Joshua's curse left the city unfortified until 9th century BC when Hiel of Bethel attempted to rebuild Jericho's fortifications during the reign of King Ahab.

Question: What happened to the family of Hiel? See 1 Kng 16:34.
Answer: His attempt to rebuild the fortifications of Jericho cost him the lives of his eldest and youngest sons "just as Yahweh had foretold through Joshua."

In the winter of 134 BC, Simon Maccabeus, the high priest and commander of the army of Judea, together with his elder son Judas and his younger son Mattathias were visiting the fortifications he had ordered to be built at Jericho. He and his sons were murdered by his son-in-law Ptolemy (the son of Abubus) who had been appointed the general in command of the Plain of Jericho and who had ambitions to rule Judea (1 Mac 16:11-17; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.2.3). Simon was the last of the five Maccabean brothers. John Hyrcanus, the surviving son, defeated Ptolemy and proclaimed himself both the high priest and ruler (ethnarch) of Judah. The community at Qumran, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, believed the death of Simon and his sons was the result of the curse in Joshua 6:26 (List of Testimonia from cave 4).

At the time the New Testament was written, there were two Jerichos: the abandoned ruins of the ancient city inhabited by the lepers and others deemed to be ritually unclean who were excluded from the community and nearly the new Jericho. (1)

In the previous lesson, a date of 1315 BC was proposed for the beginning of the conquest. Excavations of the ruins of ancient Jericho have revealed evidence of political ties with Egypt, including the royal scarabs of 18th Dynasty Pharaohs Queen Hatshepsut, Thutmose III and
Amenhotep III. The scarab of Amenhotep III helps to establish that the date of the destruction of Jericho cannot have been earlier than that pharaoh's reign, which is dated to approximately 1390-1352 (or 1386-1349 BC). In Lesson 3 an approximate date of 1355 BC was projected for the Exodus out of Egypt; it is a date very close to the 1352 BC date of Amenhotep's death.

Historically we know that Amenhotep III's heir died suddenly followed the death of Amenhotep. He was succeeded by his younger son who immediately dismissed the pantheon of Egyptian gods in favor of a single Egyptian god, establishing monotheism in Egypt. It would certain fit the historical events of the Exodus if this younger son, Amenhotep IV (who changed his name to Akhenaten) had witnessed the judgments of the ten plagues and became convinced in the existence of one god that he intended to worship as the Egyptian god Aten. Unfortunately, the powerful priestly orders of the other Egyptian deities continued to oppose Akhenaten during his entire reign, and the political situation in Egypt remained in chaos through the reigns of his three successors, even though the pantheon of gods was reinstated after Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten's death. The conditions of political unrest in Egypt certainly would have benefited the Israelites in the conquest with the Egyptians unable to come to the aid of their vassal cities in Canaan. In fact there are letters that have been discovered written by the kings of Canaanite cities begging for Egyptian intervention against an invasion of a foreign army. These letters have been discovered in Egyptian archives at Amarna.

Archaeologist John Garstang excavated Jericho in 1930-36. Garstang discovered that the biblical account of the fall of Jericho's walls was accurate. In a statement, also signed by two other members of his team, Garstang wrote: "As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city. Why so unusual? Because the walls of cities do not fall outwards, they fall inwards. And yet in Joshua 6:20 we read, The wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.' The walls were made to fall outward" (McDowell, Evidence for Christianity, page 137, quoting from John Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History; Joshua, Judges, page 146).

The archaeological evidence supports that Jericho had massive defensives. The city was surrounded by an earthen embankment that was stabilized by a 15-foot stone retaining wall. On top of the stone wall stood a mud brick wall about 6 feet thick and three to four times higher. A second wall stood atop the embankment. Garstang discovered that Jericho's mud brick walls fell into a heap at the base of the retaining wall, forming a ramp by which the Israelites easily surmounted the stone retaining wall, just as it was described in Josh 6:20. A 3 foot ash layer verified that there was an intense fire within the city. Ceramic jars full of what had been olive oil and food stuffs were discovered undisturbed in the ruins of the city and confirm the shortness of the siege that occurred at harvest time (Josh 2:6; 3:15; 5:10; 6:15). That the harvested goods of a conquered city would be left to burn is an extraordinary event and supports the biblical narratives' account of a ban of herem.

Evidence supporting the biblical account that was discovered by Garstang during his excavation:

  1. Jericho was heavily fortified (Josh 2:5, 7, 15; 6:5, 20).
  2. The discovery of multiple large storage jars that had been filled with grain supported the Bible's account that the attack occurred just after the spring harvest (Josh 2:1; 3:15; 5:16).
  3. The evidence of intact food jars supports the biblical account that the inhabitants did not flee with their food supplies and the Israelites did not confiscate them (Josh 6:1).
  4. The evidence of food destroyed in the siege supports the biblical account that the siege was short since a shortage of foodstuffs would have suggested a long siege (Josh 6:15).
  5. The walls fell outward as they would in an earthquake (Josh 6:17, 18).
  6. The city was not plundered of its riches (Josh 6:17, 18).
  7. The city was destroyed by fire (Josh 6:24). (6)

As previously mentioned, the phrase "Yahweh spoke to/said to Joshua" occurs twelve times in the Book of Joshua.

Question: Do you think it might be significant that the inspired writer used the phrase "Yahweh spoke to/said to Joshua" seven times up to the successful conquest of Jericho (1:1; 3:7; 4:1, 8, 15; 5:2; 6:2)?
Answer: We cannot know for certain; we can only speculate, but seven is the number of fulfillment and completion. Up to that point, everything God spoke to Joshua concerning the instructions for the conquest was faithfully fulfilled by the people. This was the way the people were supposed to respond to Joshua's commands. However, in chapter 7, there is a significant covenant failure in the sin of Achan "it is not a failure, however, that is applied to Joshua's leadership because God continues to speak personally to Joshua and the phrase appears five more times.

Unfortunately the archaeological record surrounding the fall of Jericho to the Israelites is a problem. Archaeologists Watzinger and Kenyon argued that the largest occupation of Jericho occurred around 1550's, but Kenyon supported a date in the 1200's for Joshua's conquest when no fortified city existed. Garstand believed he had evidence to support a date sometime in the 1400's for the large, fortified city and Joshua's assault. They all agreed, however, that the largest occupation site had suffered significant erosion since no other major city was rebuilt on the site, only minor settlements.

We can say that the conquest of Jericho had to occur between the death of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in c. 1352 (whose official scarab was found there) and Pharaoh Merneptha' s commissioning of the stela that records his military excursion into to Canaan where he engaged "the Israelites," dated to c. 1214/1207.

Chapter 7: Israel's Failure at Ai

Joshua 7:1-5 ~ The violation of herem and the failure to capture Ai
1 But the Israelites were unfaithful to the curse of destruction. Achan son of Cami, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took something that fell under the curse of destruction, and the anger of Yahweh was aroused against the Israelites [wrath was kindled against Israel]. 2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai [the Ruin] which is near Beth-Aven, to the east of Bethel, having said to them, Go up and reconnoiter the country [land].' They went up and reconnoitered Ai [the Ruin]. 3 Coming back to Joshua, they said, There is no need for the whole people to go up; let some two or three thousand go and attack Ai [the Ruin]. Spare the whole people such an effort; there are only a few of them!' 4 Of the people, some three thousand marched up, but theses broke before the people of Ai [the Ruin], 5 [and the men of Ai] who killed some thirty-six of them and pursued them from the town gate as far as Shebarim, and on the slope [descent] cut them to pieces. The hearts of the people melted away and turned to water.
[..] =
literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 572).

Please note that Achan's pedigree in Joshua 7:1 outshines that of Joshua who is only identified as the "son of Nun." Achan's genealogy is impressive. In the book of Joshua the only other pedigree that is as impressive is that of Manasseh's great-great-grandson Zelophehad in Joshua 17:3. He is mentioned five times in this chapter.

Achan's genealogy identifies him as a prominent member of the tribe of Judah.(4)

Question: The genealogy traces his line of descent back to Zerah, whereas Joshua is only identified as the "son of Nun." Who was Zerah? See Gen 38:1-30.
Answer: Zerah was one of the twin sons of Judah, the founding father of the tribe; his mother was Tamar.

Joshua 7:1 ... the anger of Yahweh was aroused against the Israelites. God's anger is always righteous anger and His temporal judgments are meant to be redemptive. God's anger is only mentioned once in this period of Israel's history, in contrast to the four times God's wrath is "kindled" in the period of the Judges that follows the conquest (Judg 2:14, 20; 3:8; 10:7).

Question: Why is God's fiery wrath at the violation of the ban of herem directed at Israel instead of just at Achan? See Dt 6:16 and 7:1-2.
Answer: Israel's success in the war against the occupants of Canaan depends on their united obedience to the ban of herem as God's holy warriors. Failure to observe the ban is a sacrilege, since everything placed under the ban is consecrated to God. The Israelites had the covenant obligation to enforce the ban of herem among their members. Achan is personally responsible, but as a united covenant people, Israel shares in the sin and the whole community is contaminated by the presence of the booty in their camp which has literally been stolen from God.

Centuries later the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom will write: Do not court death by the errors of your ways, no invite destruction through the work of your hands. For God did not make Death, he takes no pleasure in destroying the living. To exist "for this he created all things. By one of their members not adhering to the ban, the Israelites have "through the work of their hands" brought judgment upon themselves. The story of the tragedy of Achan introduces the tension between personal sin and the corporate responsibility of those in covenant with God. The Church has rightfully taken responsibility for the sins of individual members in the child sexual abuse scandal generated by certain priests by making reparations to the victims and their families and in apologizing for the Church's failure to do more to protect Jews during the holocaust.

Joshua 7:2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai [Ruin] which is near Beth-Aven, to the east of Bethel...

The Israelite military advance on Canaan was to proceed in three stages:

  1. The center campaign (6:1-9:27)
  2. The southern campaign (10:1-43)
  3. The northern campaign (11:1-15)

The plan for the central campaign included taking two major strategic sites: Jericho and Ai, a Hebrew word which means "the Ruin." The significance of what happens at Ai is stressed by the repetition of the place-name twenty-seven times in the Hebrew text in chapters 7-8: five times in rapid succession in 7:2-5 and another twenty-two times in 8:1-29. Ai had once been a large city that had been destroyed and was now mostly in ruins. The cite archaeologists have identified as Ai was a major walled city in the Middle Bronze Age that had been destroyed by fire. In the Late Bronze Age there was no wall and the occupation level indicates a small settlement. (5)

It is curious that Joshua does not consult Yahweh, either by praying to God directly for guidance or by using the priestly oracles of the Urim and Thummim that were specifically mentioned as available to Joshua at his commissioning (Num 27:18-21). (6) Since Joshua does not know about the violation of herem, he may assume that God is with them in the next attack, or he and the people have grown overconfident. If someone decides that he does not need God to achieve his goals, God will respect that free-will choice. Of course, the defeat at Ai is more than the result of a free-will choise.

Joshua 7:3 Coming back to Joshua, they said, There is no need for the whole people to go up; let some two or three thousand [aleph] go and attack Ai [the Ruin].

The word aleph/eleph is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It became the designation for the number one and eventually also came to designate the unit of a "thousand," but it is uncertain if that is the meaning in this passage. Boling and Wright suggest that at this time aleph referred to a "contingency" of men "perhaps the smallest unit of fighting men (Joshua, page 216, 222-23). They make a credible point; loosing 37 men out of three thousand in a frontal assault does not seem like a disaster. However, if the Hebrew letter aleph represents the smallest unit of Israelite troops, say three units of 15 soldiers or 20 or even 50 or even 100 men, losing 37 men is a disaster. For example, the initial loss would have been 80 percent for three units of 15 men or 60 percent for three units of 20 men. The lost of 37 out of 150 or 300 men is also a disaster, with the remaining 113 or 263 slaughtered by the pursuing "small force" of the men of Ai.

Joshua 7:5 ... pursued them from the town gate as far as Shebarim, and on the slope cut them to pieces.

The town gate must have been all that remained of the old walled city. The Israelites were so confident that they attacked the front gate "the towns most fortified position! The men of Ai pursued them as far as Shebarim, which in Hebrew means "quarries." Apparently on the edge of the quarry, with no place to maneuver or retreat, all the Israelites were slaughtered.

The once confident Israelites experience a devastating defeat at Ai.

Question: Where was Ai mentioned previously in the Book of Genesis? Gen 12:6-8.
Answer: Abraham's second camp in Canaan was between Bethel and Ai, where he built an altar and offered worship "in Yahweh's name" for the first time.

Question: What caused the defeat at Ai?
Answer: Because of the violation of the herem ban, God was not with the Israelites. Their courage failed them; they broke and ran and were slaughtered by the enemy.

Joshua 7:6-9 ~ Joshua's prayer
6 Joshua then tore his clothes and prostrated himself before the Ark of Yahweh till nightfall; the elders of Israel did the same, and all poured dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, Alas, Lord Yahweh, why did you bother to bring this nation across the Jordan, if only to put us at the mercy of the Amorites and destroy us? If only we could have settled down on the other side of the Jordan [beyond the Jordan]! 8 Forgive me, Lord, but what can I say, now that Israel has turned tail on the enemy? 9 The Canaanites, all the inhabitants of the land, will hear of it; they will unite against us to wipe our name from the earth. And what will you do about your great Name then?'
[..] = literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 573).

Tearing one's clothing and wearing ashes is a sign of grief and sorrow (see Job 1:20; 2 Sam 12:15-16; Joel 1:8-14; Jer 16:6-7). You may recall that the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas tore his clothing when he condemned Jesus to death (Mt 26:65; Mk 14:63). This was not an act of grief; according to the Law the judges in a capital case tore their clothes and could never sew them up again as a sign that the condemned man had broken the covenant and the breach could never be repaired (Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 7:5E).

Joshua and the elders are at a loss in understanding why this sudden reversal has occurred. They go to the presence of God and offer up their heartbroken prayers, addressing God as their sovereign Lord (Adonai) and using the Divine Name. Since the people were forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies where the Ark rested in the Sanctuary, and only the high priest was permitted to enter once a year on the Feast of Atonement (Lev 16:2, 14), it is assumed that Joshua and the elders prostrated themselves outside the curtain that shielded the Ark within the Holy of Holies.

Notice that the Bible does not present the Israelites as a super people, but frankly sets forth both the victories and failures of the covenant people as a whole and of individuals. Joshua's prayer recalls similar intercessory prayers of Moses in times of great distress (Ex 32:11-14; Num 14:13-19; Dt 9:26), but Joshua's complaint also sounds similar to Moses' complaint in Numbers 11:11-15. God is not offended when we frankly express our feelings and frustrations with Him in our prayers so long as we are earnest in our desire to place our lives in His Divine will.

Question: What argument does Joshua make?
Answer: They could have settled on the east side of the Jordan, but in obedience to God's will, they have embarked on the conquest. What will happen if they are not successful and what will that mean to God's Divine Plan as a whole for the future of mankind?

Joshua pleads his case saying, And what will you do about your great Name then? In the Bible, and in ancient times, one's name expressed the entire essence of that person, or in this case, God. This is the reason Moses insisted on knowing God "name" in the incident of the burning bush (Ex 3:13). This is also why when St. Peter said, speaking of Jesus in his trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin: for there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (NAB). St. Peter was referring to belief in everything Jesus taught, said, and did during His entire earthly ministry "the essence of the whole Jesus that brings mankind to salvation.

Joshua 7:10-12 ~ Yahweh reveals Israel's sin
Yahweh said to Joshua, Stand up! Why are you lying prostrate like this? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated the covenant which I imposed on them. They have gone so far as to take what was under the curse of destruction, they have even stolen it; they have actually hidden it; they have put it in their baggage. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand up to their foes, why they have turned tail on their enemies: because they have come under the curse of destruction themselves. Unless you get rid of the object among you which has been put under the curse of destruction, I shall be with you no longer.'

The response of Joshua and the elders to the catastrophe at Ai recalls the emotional paralysis of Moses, Aaron and the elders during the catastrophe of the orgy on the Plains of Moab in Numbers 25. In that instance it was Phinehas (Aaron's grandson) who did not hesitate but took the necessary measures to restore Israel's fellowship with God. God reveals the problem is that Israel is in breach of its covenant obligations and therefore Israel and not God is responsible for the loss suffered at Ai. Victory has been promised to Israel (Josh 1:8), but only if the people are obedient to the Law of the covenant and the herem laws are part of the covenant (Dt 20:10-18). By taking the accursed things, the people themselves have become tainted and are cursed.

God demands that Joshua take action to restore Israel's sanctity as God's holy people. The covenant failure is the violation of the ban of herem, which we already know was committed by Achan of Judah.

Question: Achan actually committed two crimes. What were his crimes?
Answer: He stole from God and he robbed Israel of her purity and holiness.

The distinction between what is holy and what is common (Lev 10:10) must be restored. The lesson in this episode is that the congregation of God cannot be indifferent to the sin of one of its members who is a part of the unity of the body of believers. God has promised to give the Promised Land to His people and has given them a striking victory over Jericho. But He demands complete loyalty to the covenant He has made with them: Do not put Yahweh your God to the test as you tested him at Massah. Keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, and his instructions and laws which he had laid down for you, and do what Yahweh regards as right and good, so that you may prosper and take possession of the fine country [literally =good land] which Yahweh swore to give your ancestors, driving out your enemies before you, such was Yahweh's promise (Dt 6:16-19). Yahweh's covenant has been violated by one of their number, and God has given Israel a "wake-up" call in the defeat at Ai.

Joshua 7:11 Israel has sinned; they have violated the covenant which I imposed on them.

Question: What commandment did the Israelites break? See Ex 20:15; Dt 5:19; 6:5.
Answer: Things to be consecrated to Yahweh under the ban of herem have been stolen. In addition, Israel is not demonstrating her love for God if she allows violations against God's laws to go unpunished.

Israel's sin in association with Achan may also fall under the command in Leviticus 5:15 for an inadvertent sin infringing on Yahweh's sacred rights where a sacrifice of reparation must be made. All items and lives consecrated to Yahweh under the ban of herem become "holy things." Achan is also guilty of the sin of coveting that which belonged to someone else; in this instance what he coveted belonged to God (Ex 20:17)

Question: What is the problem and what is the remedy to the problem?
Answer: Israel's lack of vigilance over what was to be dedicated to God from Jericho has caused God's severe displeasure and has put Israel under herem. Israel must seek His pardon and restore fellowship with God. Only then will Israel be assured victory again. The goods must be returned to God and a sacrifice must be made to restore peace with God.

God's command to Joshua to "Stand up!" recalls His command that Joshua must be both "strong and stand firm" (Dt 31:7, 23; Josh 1:6, 7, 9). Being "strong" and "standing firm" doesn't just refer to Joshua's role as a military commander but also in his leadership position as God's representative to the people and his responsibilities in enforcing that the Israelites adhere to the covenant they made with Yahweh.

Joshua 7:12 Unless you get rid of the object among you which has been put under the curse of destruction, I shall be with you no longer.'

This statement sums up the seriousness of the crisis.

Joshua 7:13-15 ~ Yahweh's instructions for cleansing Israel
13 Get up, sanctify the people and say, "Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, since Yahweh, the God of Israel, declares: The curse of destruction has now fallen on you, Israel; you will not be able to stand up to your enemies, until you have rid yourselves of that object which has been put under the curse of destruction. 14 Tomorrow morning, therefore, you will come forward tribe by tribe, and then the tribe which Yahweh selects by lot will come forward clan by clan, and the clan which Yahweh selects by lot will come forward family by family, and the family [household] which Yahweh selects by lot will come forward man by man. 15 And the man indicated by lot as regards the object which has been put under the curse of destruction will be delivered to the flames, he and all his possessions, for having violated the covenant with Yahweh and for having committed an infamy in Israel."'
[..] = literal translation (page IBHE, vol. I, page 574).

In Israel there are three concentric circles within which each individual is identified. The community of Israel was divided into twelve tribes, but within each tribe there were clans and households of extended families. The Hebrew word bayit means "household" and is the smallest unit of patriarchal rule.

Question: How will the guilty party be discovered?
Answer: By lot.
Prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill and indwell the Church, discerning God's will through the drawing of lots was the practice. This was the practice in the Sanctuary's morning and afternoon liturgy to determine which priests performed various liturgical duties during the worship services (Mishnah: Tamid), and it was the practice used by the Apostles in discerning which of the disciples would replace Judas and become the twelfth Apostle (Acts 1:23-26; for O.T. passages see footnote 6). The Church no longer uses this practice; instead prayer calling for the intercession of the Holy Spirit is the method of determining God's will.

Question: What must the Israelites do to sanctify the community and restore ritual purity, in addition to finding the person who violated the ban of herem? See Lev 4:13-21; 5:5.

  1. The community must offer a sin sacrifice of an unblemished young bull.
  2. The elders of the community, as the people's representatives, will lay their hands on the bull's head in front of Yahweh's altar and confess the sin.
  3. The bull will be sacrificed and the anointed high priest will take some of the bull's blood into the Tabernacle where he will dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times in front of the curtain that shields the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant.
  4. The fat of the bull will be burned on the big altar in the courtyard and the priest will announce the people have atoned for their communal sin and are forgiven.
  5. The body of the bull is carried outside the camp and will burned completely.

Unlike an individual's sin or sin of reparation sacrifice where the officiating priests ate the sin or reparation sacrifice in a ritual meal (Lev 5:7-26/6:7), there was no meal in this instance since the priests along with the community were contaminated by sin. What was not offered on the altar was therefore burnt in its entirety outside the camp. This is the way in which Jesus was offered as a sin sacrifice for Israel and the entire world "His life was entirely offered up outside the "camp" of God which was Jerusalem, as the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews notes: The bodies of the animals whose blood is taken into the sanctuary by the high priest for the rite of expiation are burnt outside the camp, and so Jesus too suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people with his own blood (Heb 13:11-12). Thus Jesus fulfilled all the Old Covenant rituals of blood sacrifice.

Joshua 7:16-23 ~ Achan's sacrilege is discovered
16 Joshua got up early; he made Israel come forward tribe by tribe, and the lot indicated the tribe of Judah. 17 He summoned the clans of Judah, and the lot indicated the clan of Zerah. He summoned the clan of Zerah, family by family, and the lot indicated Zabdi. 18 Joshua then summoned the family [household] of Zabdi, man by man, and the lot indicated Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah. 19 Joshua then said to Achan, My son, give glory to Yahweh, God of Israel, and confess; tell me what you have done and hide nothing from me.' 20 Achan replied to Joshua, Yes, I am the man who has sinned against Yahweh, God of Israel, and this is what I have done. 21 In the loot, I saw a fine robe from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and an ingot of gold weighing fifty shekels, I set my heart on them and I took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.' 22 Joshua sent messengers; they ran to the tent, and the robe was indeed hidden in the tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things out of the tent and, bringing them to Joshua and all the Israelites, laid them out before Yahweh.

Imagine the tension within the community as the drawing of lots narrowed down the field of suspects. When the lot singles out Achan, he no longer has the will to continue denying his sin.

Joshua 7:21 In the loot, I saw a fine robe from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and an ingot of gold weighing fifty shekels, I set my heart on them and I took them.

Question: What does he admit stealing?
Answer: An expensive robe, two hundred shekels of silver and a gold ingot that weighed 50 shekels.

The shekel was a weight and not a coin. Coined money was not used until after the return from Babylon the 6th century BC. One shekel of gold was equal to 13 and 1/3 shekels of silver. Some scholars suggest that the shekel weighed 0.30 ounces or 8.4 grams (Woudstra, page 129).

The garment is identified as a beautiful robe from Shinar. It was probably a robe belonging to the king of Jericho that was a gift from a Mesopotamian king. Shinar in the Old Testament is in the region that became the state of Babylon and modern day Iraq. Shinar was the site of the infamous "Tower of Babel" where the people rebelled against God (see Gen 10:10; 11:2; also Is 11:11; Dan 1:2; Zech 5:11). Achan's confession reveals that his sin was premeditated.(5)

Question: What motivated Achan to steal these items and what was the root of his sin? See Ex 20:17 and Dt 5:21 where the same Hebrew phrase Achan's uses in his confession ("set my heart") is found in the second person possessive ("set your heart").
Answer: He was motivated by greed but his sin was coveting what he knew belonged to God.

Achan's sin was much worse than stealing because he had deliberately taken items "set apart" as devoted to God and therefore a sacred item (see Lev 5:15-16 for the penalty for unintentional violation).

Joshua 7:24-26 ~ The Judgment on Achan
24 Joshua then took Achan son of Zerah and led him up to the Vale of Achor [Valley of Misfortune/Devastation], with the silver and the robe and the ingot of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his goats, his tent and all his belongings. All Israel went with him. 25 Joshua said, Why have you brought misfortune on us? Today may Yahweh bring misfortune on you!' And all Israel stoned him to death, and they burned them and threw stones at them. 26 Over him, they raised a great mound of stones, which is still there today. Yahweh then relented from his fierce anger. That was why the place was called the Vale of Achor [Valley of Misfortune/Devastation], as it still is today.
[..] =
literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 575).

There is word play between the name given the valley where Achan was buried and Joshua's statement in verse 25. The Vale of Achor is the plain above the cliffs of Qumran near Jericho where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. In the prophecy of Hosea 2:17, when God's people are restored to the land, the site will no longer be a place of misfortune but will become a gateway of hope and an access to a renewed land and a renewed covenant.

The death penalty for certain covenant violations is found in the Pentateuch (i.e., Ex 21:12, 15-17; 22:18-20; Num 24:11, 16, 23). The usually punishment is stoning, but certain crimes were punishable by fire (Gen 38:24; Lev 20:4).

Question: Why are the guilty both stoned and burned?
Answer: The stoning fulfills the capital punishment phase but the burning is the rendering of the herem ban they violated.

The valley where Achan and his immediate family were executed received its name in memory of the tragic event that occurred there. The symbolism of the name is explained by Joshua's words in verse 25. The site will be devoted to the memory of the man who "misfortune/devastation" on Israel. The passage uses two different Hebrew words for "stoning." Ragam in verse 25a and saqal in verse 25b. The word in verse 25a is used for the act of stoning as a form of capital punishment while the word in 25b refers to the casting up of stones upon the grave in which the bodies were placed to build a pile of stones as a memorial (see verse 26). The memory of the valley continued in Israel's history and is mentioned in Hosea 2:17.

Those family members who perished with Achan were those who were partners in hiding his crime. It is unlikely that the innocent children perished, consistent with the similar punishment that fell upon the rebel Korah and his family in Numbers 16:31-35. Korah's children were spared and his grandsons became the trusted gatekeepers of the Sanctuary and the famous and gifted leaders of Levitical choir that served the Sanctuary and later under the direction of their sons in the Jerusalem Temple (see Num 26:10-11; 1 Chr 6:22/38; 9:19; descendants [sons] of Korah mentioned as the choirmasters (authors?) in the titles of Ps 42; 44; 46; 47; 48; 84; 85; 87; 88). God is merciful to the innocent.

Question: What two personal stories bracket the account of the Battle of Jericho?
Answer: The stories of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute and Achan, an Israelite member of the prestigious tribe of Judah.

The successful conquest of Jericho was both an act of God and an act of faith (Heb 11:30-31). Rabah demonstrated her faith in the God of Israel by her actions in helping the Israelite spies "it was her work of faith. Achan, however, placed his personal ambitions above love and obedience to God and in doing so brought disaster upon his family and his people.

Question: How do you demonstrate your faith in your journey to salvation? Do you think all the action in your victory over sin and death is only God's part or do you recognize that you have both a part to play and personal and corporate responsibility in the victory of your eternal salvation and the salvation of your family members? See James 2:24-25.

Much of the time, the Bible focuses on the leading figures at pivotal moments in salvation history. These are the men and women God has chosen to advance His plan for mankind's salvation. Joshua is certainly one of these key figures. However, sometime there are stories of ordinary people whose decisions for good or for bad can be life lessons for all of us who are making our life journeys to salvation. Rahab and Achan fit into this category of biblical figures.

Question: Compare and contrast the lives of these two people and their impact upon Israel's mission in the conquest. Also see Hebrews 11:30-31.
Answer: Comparison of Rahab and Achan

Rahab Achan
Amorite woman of Jericho Israelite man of the tribe of Judah
Pagan prostitute (only above slaves in the social order of Jericho but despised by Israelites) Prominent member of the covenant from the tribe of Judah
Her faith in Yahweh and her work of mercy on behalf of the Israelite spies led to her salvation and secured the salvation of her family His lack of faith and his violation of the ban of herem led to his destruction and the destruction of his family
Rahab cooperates in God's plan and helps to bring Israel success Achan works contrary to God's plan and almost brings disaster to Israel
Rahab is remembered for her work of faith Achan is remembered for his treachery
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2012

Question: Of all the stories of the lives of Canaanites and Israelites caught up in the life and death struggle for the Israelite's conquest of Jericho, what is significant about these two stories and why is a Canaanite prostitute portrayed positively in contrast to a prominent Judahite who is portrayed so negatively? How do we know that we are intended to compare these two stories? See Joshua 2:1 compared to 7:2; Joshua 2:9-13 compared to 7:20-21; and also Joshua 6:25 compared to 7:26.
Answer: The stories of Rahab and Achan carry both a promise and a warning for future generations. Rahab, a Gentile prostitute, plays a prominent role in Israel's successful conquest of Jericho while Achan, a member of God's chosen people, fails in his covenant obligations and is to blame for Israel's failure in the first attempt to conquer the town of Ai. Their stories teach that a Gentile doesn't always act like a Gentile is expected to act and an Israelite can't always be depended upon to act according to his special status as one of God's chosen people. Redemption and salvation is possible even for the most despised in pagan society just as failure, disgrace and even death awaits those members of God's covenant community who fail to keep their covenant vows to God.

In a way, the contrasting stories of these two people provide the framework for understanding the religious meaning of the conquest of the Promised Land and the religious mission of the New Covenant church in fulfilling the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20). The biblical account of these two stories provides clues that the narratives should be read together:

  1. These are the only episodes in the Book of Joshua that features spies (Josh 2:1 and 7:2).
  2. Rahab is the quintessential sinful Canaanite. Her very profession epitomizes the Israelite view of Canaanite immorality. On the other hand, Achan, according to his pedigree, is the quintessential Israelite. In a reversal of fortune determined by their free-will choices, each becomes the other: an Israelite destined for life finds death and a Canaanite destined for death finds life.
  3. Rahab's confession of faith in Joshua 2:9-13, which provides her entrance into the covenant community of Israel, is seen in contrast to Achan's confession of sin in Joshua 7:20-21, resulting in his death sentence.
  4. Rahab is remembered as a heroine because of her faith in God (see Hebrews 11:30-31), and she is named as an ancestress of both King David and Jesus the Messiah in St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:5. The Book of Joshua records that when the account of the conquest was written down that Rabah "is still living even today/to this day" in the community of Israel (Josh 6:25). Achan, on the other hand is remembered for having betrayed both God and his people and the Book of Joshua records that his grave "is still there today" where he is remembered as a traitor (Josh 7:26).

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What do the stories of Rahab and Achan tell us about the nuances of divine election? Is there a message for New Covenant Christians in the stories of these two people?
Answer: Just as Rahab's destiny was not determined by her Canaanite origin, Achan could not claim salvation merely by his Israelite pedigree. Each in fact chose their destiny in becoming "the other." In the Book of Joshua, as in our walk down the "Narrow Path" to salvation in our faith journey, the difference between Canaanite and Israelite and the saved and unsaved is not decreed by ethnicity or by a religious label but is a matter of one's willingness to submit oneself to the sovereignty of God over one's life. The conquest of Canaan is not meant to be seen as a territorial victory but as a sacred victory in which Canaan, like Rahab, became Israel. As members of the covenant in Christ, many graces are promised and received through the Sacraments that are Christ's gift to His Church, but each of us must claim those precious gifts with thanksgiving and obedience. We must spiritually do the walk as well as make the talk.

Members of Achan's family cooperated in his sin and suffered the same judgment rendered upon him. The Catechism teaches: Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them... (CCC 1869).

Question: How do Christians often cooperate in adding to sin in the world though lack of vigilance or through lack of conscience? In what ways might our patronage of certain activities increase immorality in our communities and in the world?


  1. Jericho is named in both the Old and New Testaments. However, the Jericho of the New Testament is located about one mile south of the ruins of the Old Testament city.
  2. Jericho was excavated by Earnest Sellin and Carl Watzinger in 1907-11, by John Garstang in 1929-36, and by Kathleen Kenyon in 1952-58. The city was devastated by earthquakes numerous times during its history. Evidence of the past has also been compromised by wind and rain erosion and massive mudslides.
  3. The ancient towns and cities of Canaan were constructed of mud bricks but the roofs were made with wood beams and branches as well as the wood beams used in the construction of the plastered walls, wood pillars in large rooms, window frames, shutters and doors. The furniture in the houses was also made of wood, and clothing was easily combustible. In addition, storage jars containing olive oil were highly flammable and would intensify the fire.
  4. The name Achan occurs as Achar in 1 Chr 2:7; it is probably meant to be a play on the meaning of the Hebrew root akar ("trouble," "misfortune," or "devastation"), and the valley where he was buried, the Valley of Achor/Akor, "the Valley of Trouble/Misfortune/Devastation."
  5. Bronze Age:    Early Bronze Age      3200 - 2200 BC
                            Middle Bronze Age   2200 - 1550 BC
                            Late Bronze Age       1550 - 1200 BC
  6. Oracle devices known as the Urim and Thummim were carried in the high priest's breastplate. They were used like lots and were cast to discern the will of God in a requested matter (see Ex 28:30; Lev 8:8; Num 27:21; Dt 33:8; 1 Sam 10:20-21; 14:40-42; 26:6; Ezra 2:63; Neh 75).
  7. Achan's confession of his sin shows a consciousness of sin that is different from that of other cultures in the ancient Near East. For example, in Egypt evil was not seen as a rebellion against the divine will of a deity but as an aberration through ignorance that caused disharmony in the cosmic order, and therefore an act of contrition was not considered necessary (Woudstra, page 129).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references:

Faith and works: CCC 162 and 1814-15

Sin: CCC 1854-76 (cooperating in the sins of others CCC 1868-69)