When the city of Jericho is conquered, nothing is to be taken from the city. The Hebrews are under strict order from Jehovah not to soil their hands with that which belongs to idolaters (Josh. 6:18). Because it was God who gave them the victory, He alone can determine the disposition of the spoils of war. What is not sanctified for use in the tabernacle rituals must be destroyed (v. 19).
After the city of Jericho falls, the next strategy is to conquer the city of Ai. But there the Hebrews have no victory. Although they only lose only 36 men of the 3,000 that went to fight, it is still a defeat (7: 5). The people of Israel are demoralized. Joshua tears his cloths in anguish and asks God why (v. 6). God informs him someone has taken goods from the city of Jericho in defiance of His command. The Lord makes the entire nation of Israel responsible for this outrage (vv. 11-12). Joshua is tasked with finding the culprit (v. 13-14). There will be no further victories for the nation until this sin is dealt with.
The suspects are narrowed to Achan. Although he has ample opportunity to admit his guilt during the investigation, he only confesses when he must (v. 19-21). Joshua does not call Acahn a thief, scold him, or torture him. In fact, he addresses him as “son.” But he is in direct defiance of God’s explicit orders not to take loot from Jericho for personal use. Achan might have thought the expensive Babylonian robe, the bag of silver, and bar of gold would never be missed. He admits he coveted them and took them. Eager to get rid of these contaminated things, Joshua orders men into Achan’s tent to retrieve them. The stolen items are laid out before God, indicating they actually belong to Him. But God has no need of them; He desires obedience.
Although Achan’s offense affects the entire nation, it is not Joshua who decides to make him a public example. God has determined the specific punishment for this crime even before the perpetrator is discovered (7:14-15). Like Ananias and Sapharia who are struck dead for their deceptive actions, Achan becomes an object lesson for God’s people (Acts 5:1-11). Trust has been breached and the covenant with God violated. Capital punishment by stoning is the sentence and all the people are to participate. Everything Achan has, including his wife, children, and livestock, are all destroyed (Josh. 7:25). God is teaching Israel group ownership of personal sin and how one man’s transgression affects an entire nation. It is only after punishment is carried out that God allows Israel to have victory over Ai (8:1-2).
Achan leaves his legacy as “the troubler of Israel” (I Chron. 2:7). Solomon wrote that he that is greedy of gain troubles his own home (Pv. 15:27). The fate of Achan and his family is sobering. Deception and greed brings God’s wrath down upon his entire household. The case of Achan shows nothing can be hidden from Him, even under the floor of a tent. Materialism can become the grave clothes in which a father buries his entire family.