Achan’s Hidden Sin (Joshua 7)

Achan’s Hidden Sin

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on August 25, 2019

We go through difficult times in life. I think we would all agree. I’m sure some of you are employers, or have been employers, and you have had to terminate an employee. That is not easy, I have done that. I’m sure some of you have had to confront a family member about substance abuse. I’m sure some of you have been the one confronted about substance abuse. I’m sure some of you have heavily weighed how to punish a child for disobedience. I’m sure some of you have had to separate from a family member because of certain troubles. I’m sure some of you have fled abusive situations. What do we do? How do we handle things? How do we cope?

As a pastor, I have had to confront sin and I have had to counsel people on confronting sin. There have been multiple times in my pastoral ministry in which I have had to confront sin. I have also seen sin go unconfronted in the church and I have seen devastating consequences because of this. By the way, when we talk about confronting sin in the church, we mean unconfessed, ongoing sin and generally speaking we mean public sin.

I know of churches that condoned sin and covered up, even spreading lies to cover up the sin. Later on those churches may wonder why they will not grow. I believe the sin of Achan is in their camp. What is the sin of Achan? We are going to talk about that today, but let me share right now: when there is unconfessed sin, and sin that is not repented of, there are devastating consequences. Sin that is public must be repented of publicly. Psalm 66:18: If I withhold sin in my heart the Lord will not hear my prayer (my paraphrase). This applies to churches and this applies to families.

I want to walk through Joshua 7 and introduce you to Achan.

My theme:

Achan’s hidden sin had devastating consequences to Israel.


Don’t live with hidden sin, repent of it.

I will read parts of the passage as we talk about it.

  1. In verses 1-5 we see The shocking defeat of Israel. Let’s read those verses.

But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. They returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few.” So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. The men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

  • Prior to verse 1 we were in chapter 6. In chapter 6 the Israelites had an amazing victory of Jericho. All they had to do was march around the city 7 times and the walls fell down. By the way, we do not see such a victory like that afterwards. This was the Red Sea moment for that generation of Israelites.
  • However, in that chapter the Israelites were told that the city was under the ban. This means that nothing lives and all the gold and silver and things like that are dedicated to the temple. See Joshua 6:17-19.
  • But now in chapter 7 the people of Israel behave badly. Now, they all don’t behave badly, but one family does.
  • Please understand, sin is contagious. The Israelites and the world of that day knew that sins effected a community and the community identified with the sins of even one person.
  • The NET Bible notes: This incident illustrates well the principle of corporate solidarity and corporate guilt. The sin of one man brought the Lord’s anger down upon the entire nation.[1]
  • Verse 1, summarizes what is about to happen.
  • In verse 2, Joshua sends spies out to check out the land.
  • In verse 3, the spies share that this should be an easy win, 2000-3000 men are enough. Now, this could show over-confidence, but remember how the last city fell?
  • In verses 4-5, they send the higher of the recommended number but they are greatly defeated.
  • Also, 36 people have died. This is the first death in battle since they entered the promised land. Notice they kept an accurate count.
  • Imagine this in their local newspaper: “Extra-extra, hear all about it! 36 men dead from battle with AI.” Imagine the tabloids criticizing Joshua’s military blunder. Imagine the late night pundits debating whether Joshua should have sent more men, less men, or simply waited on the Lord.
  • This defeat caused an emotional let-down, their hearts became as water.
  • In Verses 6-9 we see Joshua’s prayer of repentance. Let’s read these verses.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.

Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

  • Notice that both Joshua and the elders are repentant.
  • There are signs of repentance.
  • He tore his clothes.
  • He fell to his knees until evening.
  • He and the elders put dust on their heads.
  • In verse 7, Joshua begins to pray.
  • Joshua reverently asks questions of the Lord.
  • In verses 7-9 Joshua continues asking questions and then Joshua asks what the Lord will do for His Great Name.
  • In verses 10- 15, we see the Lord’s response

10 So the Lord said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things. 12 Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst. 13 Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the Lord, the God of Israel, has said, “There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.” 14 In the morning then you shall come near by your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the Lord takes by lot shall come near by families, and the family which the Lord takes shall come near by households, and the household which the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.’”

  • I find it interesting how the Lord responds.
  • The Lord tells Joshua to rise up.
  • The Lord asks Him why he has fallen on his face. Of course, the Lord knows what is going on. Joshua did not wake Him.
  • Instead of Joshua responding in verse 11 we see the Lord continue to speak.
  • Israel has sinned.
  • Israel has transgressed (crossed) the Lord’s covenant.
  • This covenant the Lord commanded them.
  • They have stolen, deceived and put among their own things.
  • Israel has sinned, not just Achan.
  • Verse 12 tells the consequences of their sin.
  • They cannot stand before their enemies.
  • They turn their backs on their enemies and have become accursed. We saw this in verse 4.
  • Verse 12 has a strong statement. God will not be with them anymore unless they destroy the things under “the ban.”
  • Remember I already referenced “the ban.” This means that nothing lives and the money and possessions go to the temple.
  • Swindoll helps what Achan did come alive. This is what he writes:

Ushers receiving an offering in a church have a similar code. The ushers don’t say, “Well, if I were being paid to do this very important job for the church, I think thus-and- such amount would be fair compensation. I’ll take out a little less than that so, in the end, the church is coming out ahead. After all, if no one did this job, the church would receive no money at all.”[2]

Unfortunately for Israel, someone after the battle of Jericho had emptied a full offering plate into his own pockets. Joshua was innocent. The vast majority of Israel was blameless. Still, the entire nation suffered. J. Sidlow Baxter describes the effect this way: “The electric wire of fellowship between God and Israel had been cut and the current of power therefore ceased to flow.” That’s precisely the consequence of sin in the camp. That’s also why I think the intelligence report on the strength of Ai was a reasonable one. This should have been an easy victory, even without the Lord’s involvement. No miracle needed there, but the presence of sin interrupted God’s desire to bless the nation with another victory.[3]

  1. In verse 13-15 we have God telling them how to track this down:
    1. Rise up.
    2. Consecrate: this means to set apart for a purpose.
  • The Bible Backgrounds Commentary shares: Consecration consisted of steps taken to make oneself ritually pure. This process primarily entailed washing and avoiding contact with objects that would render one unclean. It typically preceded ritual action. For Israel this included sacrifices, festivals or procedures in which Yahweh was involved, such as war and oracular procedures.[4]
  1. Tell the people that they are to be consecrated the next day.
  2. The people are told what they are looking into. Someone took things under the ban.
  3. Basically, God tells Joshua to tell them, “One of you is a criminal…and we will find out who…”
  • They cannot stand before their enemies until this is taken care of.
  • In verse 14 it says this will be in the morning the next day. Start by tribe.
  1. They will work by lot. We are actually not sure that they worked by lot.
  2. “By lot” is not in the original manuscripts:
  3. The Bible Backgrounds Commentary shares: The text does not mention the mechanism by which groups or individuals are singled out, though some translations supply “by lot.” In Israel, however, lots were typically used when a random quality was desired. Here, in contrast, they are seeking an oracle in which a question is put to God in order to receive divine guidance or information (see comment on Gen 24:12–21). The presentation of a tribe or clan before the Lord would pose the question, “Is the guilty party in this group?” If a process is used similar to the Urim and Thummim (see comment on Ex 28:30), an answer would only be given divine standing if it defied the odds (for instance, if the same results were repeated several times). In the ancient Near East lots were sometimes used to receive oracles, though in most cases oracles were pursued through divination (such as examining the entrails of a sacrificed animal for favorable or unfavorable indications). In light of the consecration that precedes the process, it is possible that there is no mechanism but rather direct communication from Yahweh.[5]

Proverbs 16:33: The dice are thrown into the lap,

but their every decisionis from the Lord.[6]

  • In verse 15 we see the punishment: the one who is taken with the things shall be burned with fire. This must happen to him and all those who “belong to him…” This means his family. This is because he transgressed (crossed) the covenant and has done something disgraceful.
    1. Notice that his family is included. It is possible that his family worked with him in this sin.
    2. This does make what happens harder to swallow but we will come back to this.
  1. In verses 16- 21 we see Achan’s confession, but it is very late.

16 So Joshua arose early in the morning and brought Israel near by tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 He brought the family of Judah near, and he took the family of the Zerahites; and he brought the family of the Zerahites near man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 He brought his household near man by man; and Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” 20 So Achan answered Joshua and said, “Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.”

  1. Now, the process is carried out.
  2. Judah is taken.
  3. Family of the Zerahites and then Zabdi.
  4. In verse 18 we see that Achan was taken.
  5. Versed 19, Joshua says to Achan: “my son,” Joshua talks to him in a loving way. Joshua asks him to praise and glorify the Lord with his answer.
  6. In verses 20-21 Achan confesses.
  7. But why didn’t Achan confess earlier. Achan could have come forward way earlier. He watched the tribes get chosen one by one. He knew what was going on.
  8. I like what Swindoll writes: Imagine the racing heart and pulsing blood pressure of the thief as, tribe by tribe, family by family, household by household, Joshua’s dragnet closed in on him. What could the thief have been thinking? Had he ignored the ban, he at least heard of the defeat, and he doubtless saw the funerals for those thirty-six men. He knew the penalty. “It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him” (7:15). The pressure mounting within the thief must have been overwhelming.[7]
  9. Now, Achan acknowledges his sin.
  10. He coveted this beautiful mantle [from Babylon] and the 200 shekels of silver and bar of gold of 50 shekels in weight.
  11. Achan tells where they are at.
  12. I like what the Bible Backgrounds Commentary shares: The precious metals from the Canaanite cities had been assigned to the sanctuary, so Achan was taking what properly belonged to the Lord. There are five or six pounds of silver and about a pound and a half ingot of gold in Achan’s treasure trove. That represents what it would take the average worker a lifetime to earn. The Babylonian robe of this period was fringed and draped over one shoulder, with the edge carried over the arm.[8]
  13. Swindoll writes: In ancient times, a soldier was compensated by the plunder he took after victory. Normally, after a city had been taken, the soldiers were encouraged to grab all the valuables they could carry and add the spoils to their wealth. That was considered the warrior’s pay. But not in this case. Remember God’s instructions for the destruction of Jericho?[9]
  14. So, Achan is caught and now there is the consequence.
  1. In verses 22-26 we see the purge of sin.

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was concealed in his tent with the silver underneath it. 23 They took them from inside the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the sons of Israel, and they poured them out before the Lord. 24 Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. 26 They raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day, and the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the valley of Achor to this day.

  1. They found the stuff in his tent with silver underneath it.
  2. In verse 23 they showed this to everyone.
  3. Verses 24-25 show that they are stoned at the valley of Achor. They brought out:
    1. Silver
    2. Mantle
  • Bar of gold
  1. Sons
  2. Daughters
  3. Oxen
  • Donkeys
  • Sheep
  1. His tent
  2. And all that belonged to him: other things not mentioned.
  3. Joshua makes a statement: “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” There is a play on words because Achan means “trouble.” Joshua is saying “Why have you lived up to your name?”
  4. They are stoned and then burned.
  5. Remember they lost a battle and 36 people died because of Achan’s sin. He jeopardized the nation.
  6. Verse 26 they made a monument.
  7. The Lord turned from His anger.
  8. There is something that bothers me and that is that Achan’s children are killed with him. Let me acknowledge that and give some comments right now.
  9. It could be they were adult children and they were complicit. His wife could have been complicit as well.
  10. It could be that the children were not supposed to be killed.
  11. The Moody Bible Commentary reads:
  12. Why were Achan’s sons and daughters killed? Scripture says: “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin” (Dt 24:16 ESV). Perhaps these adult children were complicit in Achan’s crimes. With regard to the words “all that belongs to him” (v. 15), perhaps Joshua interpreted them to mean livestock and inanimate possessions as well as family. God had not, however, specified anyone other than the culprit. In the first six chapters Joshua was listening carefully to God. But in chap. 7, he was not seeking the Lord’s counsel until forward momentum had been lost. God rebuked him (7:10-15) and sent him to apprehend the culprit. Joshua did not ask the specifics of the sentencing. The traditional solution is that the children were accessories to the crime and that Joshua complied with the Lord’s directive completely (7:12-15, 24-26). As a result of this punishment, God’s anger was assuaged in the specifics; but He will “feel” more distant throughout most of the remainder of the book.[10]
  13. I think that source brings out some interesting thoughts.
  14. Remember though God is sovereign and He is outside of time. God knows if He allows corruption and sin to go on it will destroy that nation later on and sin does destroy the nation later on.

What can we learn, let’s apply:

  1. Sin and its effects are contagious. They effect the whole community. We must recognize this and flee sin (1 Cor. 6:18).
    1. Do you really think that the pornography you look at when you are alone is only going to affect you? There are cataclysmic spiritual effects. Achan’s sin was hidden, just like yours. Repent.
    2. Do you really think those lies in your business dealings have isolated consequences? Repent.
    3. Whatever you are dealing with repent.
    4. Remember that Achan’s sin was hidden but Israel lost the battle because of it.
  2. We must repent of sin immediately. Achan had opportunity to repent and he did not repent until he was found out.
  3. We must recognize our sin will find us out (Numbers 32:23).
    1. I must continue with this point. I know men who have been caught looking at pornography when their wife walked in the room.
    2. I know of people who have been caught at work.
    3. By the way, it may start with small things and get bigger.
    4. The Holy Spirit is convicting you to repent.
  4. The effects of sin are deadly, sometimes literally, but always deadly (verse 5).
    1. 36 men died and God spared the rest of the nation through this confrontation.
    2. I shared about churches that covered up and lied about sin. I believe that hurt those churches to this day.
    3. Sin is deadly, Jesus died for our sin.
    4. Unconfessed, condoned, ongoing sin ruins marriages, harms families, hurts society, kills businesses, churches and denominations. It is deadly.
    5. Beyond all that—sin hurts God. Sin breaks His heart. Let me remind you that we all sin, but as Christians we must repent and move on and grow up in the faith. What I am talking about is unconfessed, ongoing, patterns of sin.
    6. I mentioned pornography, but this could be any unconfessed, ongoing sin.
    7. That pattern of unconfessed anger grows until in a fit of rage you kill your dog or cat or spouse or child.
    8. That pattern of unconfessed anger grows until your children watch as you destroy the house. Your children watch as you yell at their mother cussing her out and break things like a wild animal. You flee the house in a rage while your wife and children are in a tears.
    9. Repent, get help, deal with it.
    10. It is not my intention to heap up guilt. Guilt is what the Holy Spirit gives you to convict you. It is my intention to encourage you to get help. It is my intention to remind you that Jesus wants to forgive you and help you.
    11. It could be gossip. Gossip is super deadly and it is passed down. Your children see you gossip and they do the same thing. Imagine the hurt caused by gossip. Jesus wants to forgive and He wants to help us.
  5. We must seek the Lord in trouble as Joshua did in verses 6-9. We must worship the Lord as Joshua did in verses 6-9. We must be repentant as Joshua was in verses 6-9. We must understand we do not move forward except by the Lord. We do not move forward in our Christian life, or in life in general except by the Lord.
  6. We must understand that there is more grace here then we realize. Achan could have repented. Further, God was preserving the rest of Israel. If He let that sin go unpunished He knows what that does to future generations.
  7. The family of Achan paid the price for their sin. Some day, some 1200 years later, Jesus will pay the price for all of our sin. We must praise and worship Jesus.
  8. Rejoice for God’s grace and forgiveness.
  9. Realize that God cared about Israel. One reason that God cared about Israel is because eventually the Messiah came through Israel and He forgives us.

A number of years ago I was senior pastor of a church and I knew of a leader living in sin. This was someone who led the congregation in worship and thought it was okay to move in with his girlfriend. I talked to him and then another leader talked with him. We were following Matthew 18:15-17. (By the way when someone repents we must forgive. See also 2 Cor. 2). This person did not repent. He lashed out in manipulative anger. I remember running for over an hour pushing Mercedes, who was just over 1 at the time. I was trying to pray but my mind kept dwelling on worst case scenarios. I was thinking, what if the church does not support me? I realized that I must obey God. A few days later I was on another run and I was listening to Swindoll’s sermon on this very passage. Swindoll said, “Personally, I would just as soon brush aside sinful behavior and enjoy a nice dinner. I hate confronting sin. I dislike with a passion wading through the muck and mire. Yet I cannot remember a time when I chose to delay a necessary confrontation that I didn’t later regret it.”[11]Interesting that God gave me those words and that message at a time when I needed it.

Some of you are thinking we are being judgmental when we confront sin. Wrong, we are being Biblical. Plus, we are helping them. We are helping them repent and run back to Jesus. Sin is a violation to our relationship with God and when we live in sin our relationship with God is blocked because sin is against God. Look at Psalm 66:18.

Jesus wants to forgive us.

Forgiveness video clip from ignitemedia

Confess, Believe, trust, commit: Firmly make the decision to be with Him in order to become like Him and to learn and do all that He says and then arrange your affairs around Him.


[1]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Jos 7:1.

[2]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[3]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[4]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jos 7:13.

[5]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jos 7:14–18.

[6]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible(Biblical Studies Press, 2005), Pr 16:33.

[7]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[8]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jos 7:21.

[9]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[10]The Moody Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 12624-12628). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[11]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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