Achan's Sin at Achor: Joshua 7

This is the second post in a multi-post series on the 7 Memorials found in the Book of Joshua. See part 1 and part 3.

Could you imagine having a place named after you? Wouldn’t it be a great honor?

When we think of a place being named after someone, we typically think of a person who was worth remembering in a positive way. 

But what if a place was named after you as a warning, a cautionary message not to repeat your mistakes? Wouldn’t that be humiliating for your legacy?

That’s exactly what happened to a man called “Achan”. His personal sin brought God’s anger against all of Israel and a whole valley was named after him. But what about his sin was worth remembering?

After having crossed the River Jordan and defeating the city of Jericho, Israel was beginning to inherit God’s promised land, piece-by-piece. When they attack nearby Ai and its small militia, Israel is shockingly defeated. Israel experiences the same fear that Jericho (Joshua 2:11) and the Canaanites (5:1)  have experienced, described as “hearts melting like water” (7:5).

A possible location for the Valley of Achor. Wikimedia Commons

Joshua's Prayer

The trauma of this defeat leads Joshua and the elders to prayer, asking profound questions.
“Joshua said,’Alas, Lord Yahweh why did you surely cause this people to cross over the Jordan to give us into the hand of the Amorites, in order to destroy us? If only we had been content to live on the other side of the Jordan.” – Joshua 7:7 (my translation)

 Realize the magnitude of what Joshua is saying, he is crying out to God–”why are you going to destroy us!” “We would have been better off, not crossing into the promised land!” 

The fear is that God was intent on destroying them. This is quite an accusation–whether or not this was genuine or more of a rhetorical strategy.

To heighten his prayer, Joshua appeals to God’s reputation, much like Moses did before him (Exo. 32:1113, Num. 14:13-16, Deut. 9:28)  - and many others did afterwards.

“O lord what will I say after which Israel has turned its back [neck] before its enemies. The Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear and we will be surrounded and our name will be cut off from the land and what will you do for your great name?” – Vs. 8-9
Joshua sees an association between Israel’s reputation and God’s reputation.  When they crossed the Jordan, God said the natives of the promised land would know his power and then the text says they did (4:24, 5:1, see this blog post), but Israel’s defeat at Ai felt like a reversal of the Jordan River crossing.
Whether or not Joshua is right, he is saying that because of their defeat at Ai, the Canaanites will be emboldened to destroy Israel and therefore God cannot exalt his name any more–without Israel, God’s reputation would not be great. 

Joshua and the elders pray before the Ark. Free Bible Images.

God's Response

In this case, God does not respond to Joshua’s appeal for God’s own reputation but he does explain why Israel “turned their backs before their enemies” (the Hebrew word for “turn” is different here then “turn” in Joshua’s prayer). Because Israel took from the herem (things devoted to destruction) of Jericho, they themselves have become herem (v. 12)! God calls out six separate verbs in verse 11 to describe their sin: sin, transgressed with the covenant, taken from the devoted things, stolen, concealed and “put among their vessels”.

The Lord further reveals that all of Israel is experiencing the suffering from one man, who is revealed to be Achan through casting lots. When Israel removes the herem from among them, then God will stand with them again (v. 13)  and continue the victorious conquest of the land he had promised to them.

Achan—A Man to Remember

When Achan is revealed to be the troublemaker, Joshua makes a solemn charge for him to tell the truth,
“My son give honor to Yahweh the God Israel and give him confession and tell me what you have done, do not hide it from me.” – v. 19
Achan replied,
“Indeed I have sinned against Yahweh the God of Israel and thusly [lit: according to this and according to this] I have done. I saw among the spoil a pleasing robe of Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a golden wedge that weighed fifty shekels, I coveted and took them and behold they were hid in the ground in the midst of my tent and the silver is under it.” – 20-21

The text records only a six word response from Joshua,

“Why have you troubled us, Yahweh will trouble you on this day.” – 25

 The word for “trouble” is “Achar”(עָכַר), which is closely related to “Achan.” The name “Achan” was probably not his real name, but a literary nickname given to him later. One man’s covetousness brought trouble on Israel, so he would always be remembered as the troublemaker.

After he was stoned, a large amount of stones was piled over his corpse. The author (or later editor) comments that the stones were still standing at the time of the book’s composition (26a). The same is said about the place where he was executed—it was named the Valley of Achor, from the same word “Achar” and was still named that at the time of writing (26b).

The fact that both the name and the stones stood generations later is a testament to the importance of Achan’s sin.

A possible location for the Valley of Achor., using BibleMapper.

What the Israelites thought was worth remembering generations later is revealed in verse 1, the summary statement of this passage, 
“The sons of Israel did a trespass about the devoted things and Achan son of Jarmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah from the Tribe of Judah took from the devoted things and the anger of Yahweh burned against the sons of Israel.”

It wasn’t that God had backtracked on his promise, but Israel had “overstepped” the covenant. The same Hebrew word is used to describe how they “overstepped” the Jordan River. They would never want to overstep God’s boundaries again. God did to Israel what they had done to him. 

And while they did experience an immediate consequence, God relented his anger. The fear of Joshua in verse 9 about the Canaanites wiping out Israel (and thus Yahweh’s name) never happened. Instead, they walked away from that valley and the troublemaker’s corpse, and they went on with God’s blessing,

“Do not fear nor be dismayed, take with you all the people of war and go up to Ai and see I have given the king of Ai into your and with him his and his land. You will do to Ai and her king as you did to Jericho and her king, only plunder to yourselves the cattle and spoils.” – 8:1


Achan's sin led to Israel's defeat at Ai and the Lord's anger with them. Joshua and the elders questioned if God really was going to bring them into the promised land and implored him appealing to his own reputation and its perceived link with Israel's reputation.

Because Israel broke the covenant through Achan's taking of devoted things, Israel itself became a devoted thing.

When Achan is revealed to be the source of trouble, he is executed alongside his entire family, thus restoring Israel back to God's favor for future conquest. In the same way that Israel overstepped the boundaries of the Jordan River, so they had overstepped God's covenant.

Achan's sin is remembered in Israel generations later through a stone memorial and the name of the valley where these events transpired—Achor.


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