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What can we learn from Achan taking the accursed things (Joshua 7:1)?

Achan accursed things

Joshua 7 brings us to a drastic turning point in Israel’s progress in the Promised Land. So far, the nation has faithfully followed the Lord’s commands and experienced great victory and blessing. “But,” begins chapter 7 ominously, “the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel” (Joshua 7:1, NKJV).

“The accursed things” are that which were set apart and devoted to the God of Israel, whether for special ceremonial use or destruction (see Leviticus 27:28; Deuteronomy 2:34). The spoils of their conquest of Jericho, including silver, gold, and other valuable items, were to go into the Lord’s treasury (Joshua 6:17–21), and the idols and everything else in the city was to be destroyed (Joshua 6:24)—excepting Rahab and her family. The people were forbidden to take anything from Jericho for their own personal use.

Joshua’s instructions were clear: “Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel” (Joshua 6:18, NLT). Achan, whose name means “trouble,” violated the command by taking some of the devoted things (Joshua 7:1). Achan disobeyed what he knew was God’s will and, by his own confession, took some of the forbidden loot for himself: “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath” (Joshua 7:21). God calls Achan’s sin “an outrageous thing” (verse 15), and because of that sin, Israel was defeated at Ai.

The first thing we observe from Achan taking the accursed things is God’s attitude toward sin. The Lord was angry over Achan’s disobedience, but His anger burned not just against the one man but against all the children of Israel. God held the nation responsible as one whole people, including Joshua and the elders of Israel. Why would God do this? Because Israel was one people—one family—under God (Exodus 19:5–6; Ecclesiastes 9:18). The whole family was in a covenant relationship with God. When one member breaks the covenant, the entire family’s relationship with the Lord was broken.

A similar bond exists among believers today. Together we form one body, and Jesus Christ is the Head (1 Corinthians 12:12–31). When one member sins, the consequences extend beyond just that one person. In the case of Achan, thirty-six soldiers who had no part in his rebellion died in the battle of Ai.

The apostle Paul applied the rule to the New Testament church: “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6, NLT). As members of Christ’s body, we are one unit. We belong to one another, we need one another, and what happens to one of us affects all of us: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad” (1 Corinthians 12:26, NLT).

A similar principle is seen in Adam and Eve’s sinful rebellion, which affected the whole human race. The sin of the first humans caused the fall of all humankind, ending the perfect communion all people might have enjoyed with God. We deceive ourselves if we think our sin only affects us. Our disobedience wreaks havoc on those we love—including the innocent.

Achan’s account of his taking of the accursed things reveals a progression of sin: in his own words, he “saw,” he “coveted,” he “took,” and he hid the evidence (Joshua 7:21). Seventeenth-century theologian Matthew Poole’s comment well summarizes Achan’s downfall: the sin “began at his eye, which he permitted to gaze and fix upon them, which inflamed his desire, and made him covet them; and that desire put him upon action, and made him take them; and having taken, resolve to keep them, and to that end hide them in his tent” (Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible, entry for Joshua 7:21).

Achan’s story also teaches us that God does not allow sin to go unpunished among His covenant people (see Numbers 32:23). Achan tries to hide his sin (Joshua 7:21), but what is concealed from human sight is still known to God (Jeremiah 16:17; Job 10:14; Daniel 2:22; Psalm 69:5). We cannot hide our sins from an all-knowing heavenly Father.

The sin of one man put the entire nation at risk of destruction (Joshua 7:12). All the people of Israel had a lesson to learn from Achan taking the accursed things. God told them to “consecrate yourselves” (Joshua 7:13). Tribe by tribe, clan by clan, household by household, each person needed to search his heart, purify his life, and present himself before the Lord. At this moment, God’s grace was extended to each person for the forgiveness of sin. Achan and his family were singled out as the guilty, unrepentant parties and were put to death (Joshua 7:14–24). Then God was no longer angry with Israel. The covenant relationship between the Lord and His people was made right.

Achan’s fate illustrates the truth of James 1:14–15, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” We discover from Achan taking the accursed things that sin corrupts and destroys people’s lives. In His holiness, God won’t tolerate sin among His people. But in His love He calls us to repentance and forgiveness so that our relationship with Him can be restored.

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What can we learn from Achan taking the accursed things (Joshua 7:1)?
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This page last updated: July 25, 2023