There’s always one person who just doesn’t want to play along with the team. After a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho, everything was supposed to be destroyed. In Joshua 7 we learn that a man named Achan just had to bury a few goodies under his tent for later. How ridiculous it must look to God when we try to sneak around as if He can’t see us! Of course God sees Achan being annoying and He immediately withdraws His support from Israel’s army. Feeling high off of their Jericho victory, they go on to the next city where they get royally stomped on. Whoops–where was God?? Of course Joshua is upset and he has the classic meltdown, implying that Yahweh is the unfair one and moaning that all is lost. And of course he throws in a Moses-style comment about how Yahweh’s Name will be mocked if He lets Israel fail. Why not? Appealing to God’s ego worked well for Moses.
Yahweh promptly replies that Israel has sinned. He doesn’t give specific names, even though He obviously knows them. Instead He makes everyone squirm while every tribe stands before the group to see if God labels them as the guilty party. Who says God isn’t dramatic? Anytime there’s a chance to be theatrical, He’s all over it.
The next morning, we can feel the tension in the air as God slowly zones in on devious Achan–first selecting out his tribe, then his family line, and then his specific family. With so many eyes glaring at him, Achan finally cracks and admits to stealing a beautiful coat and some money.
“I wanted these things very much for myself, so I took them.” (Josh. 7:21)
That’s really great, Achan. Look around, pal, you’re not the only one on the planet and God gave some specific orders.
The stolen goods are brought out into the open and Achan is dragged off for his execution. Joshua says:
“I don’t know why you caused so much trouble for us, but now Yahweh will cause trouble for you.” (Josh. 7:25)
Everyone grabs rocks and stones Achan and his family to death, then they burn their bodies. The place they’re executed in is named “Valley of Trouble” for obvious reasons.
The community stoning ritual is an interesting idea. Yahweh calls for it in His Laws to Moses in several places. Today we let only a few individuals deal with the psychological trauma of executing prisoners while the rest of society keeps a safe distance. In the days of Moses and Joshua, God wanted the effects of sin to be felt by all. Once you have to hurl a rock at someone you care about because God is angry, you don’t ever forget the experience. God’s original punishment system was graphic, yet powerful. He wanted to underscore the seriousness of sin and discourage people from participating in it.