Tuesday, March 8, 2011

JOSHUA: Chapter 7

Chapter 7
Summary:The Israelites however disregarded the command against the cursed items, as Achan - son of Camri, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah - of the tribe of Judah, took some cursed objects, which resulted in God's anger toward the Israelites.

Joshua sent some men from there camp outside of Jericho to the city of Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east of Bethel. He told the men to go up and view the country, and after they had done so they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Don't send the entire army, but instead about two or three thousand men to smite Ai. Let's not put the entire army to work, as there aren't many in Ai."

About three thousand men were sent, but retreated after the men of Ai smote thirty six soldiers. The men from Ai chased them from the city gates to Shebarim, and smote them as they descended. The hearts of the Israelites melted and became like water.

Joshua tore at his clothes and fell on his face before the ark of the covenant and stayed there until the evening. The elders of Israel also fell on their faces before the ark and put dust on their heads.

Joshua said, "Lord, why have you brought our people across the Jordan River, merely to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? Would you have been content for us to stay on the other side of the Jordan River? Lord, what shall I say when the people of Israel turn their backs before their enemies. For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of this, surround us and blot us out from this earth - what will you do for your great name?"

God replied to Joshua, "Get up! Why are you lying on the ground on your face? Israel has sinned and has violated my covenant - for they have taken cursed items, and have stolen, deceived, and put them amongst their own belongings. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but fled before them, because they were cursed - neither will I be with you anymore unless you destroy the accursed from among you.

"Get up, sanctify the people and tell them, 'Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, for the Lord God of Israel has said that there is a cursed thing in your midst, and you cannot stand before your enemies until you remove the cursed thing from among you. In the morning you shall be brought forward according to your tribes: the tribe that the Lord picks shall come forward according to their families; the family which the Lord picks shall come forward by their households; and the household which the Lord picks shall come forth man by man.

"'He that has taken the cursed object shall be burnt with fire, himself and everything he has, because he broke the covenant of the Lord and brought folly upon Israel.'

Joshua rose early in the morning and gathered the Israelites by tribe. After the tribe of Judah was selected, the family of the Zarhites were selected, the Zahrites were brought forth man by man until the household of Zabdi was selected, and the household of Zabdi was brought forth man by man until Achan (son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah) was selected.

Joshua said to Achan, "My son, give, I pray of you, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and confess to him. Tell me what you have done and don't hide it from me."

Achan replied, "Indeed I have sinned against the Lord, and I shall explain what I had done. When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a piece of gold worth fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. I hid them in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath it." Joshua sent messengers to investigate, and they found the items hidden in the ground of Achan's tent, with the silver underneath it, and brought them before Joshua, the people of Israel, and God.

Joshua, along with the rest of Israel, took Achan, the silver, the garment, the piece of gold, Achan's sons and daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and everything he owned and brought them out to the valley of Achor. Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The Lord will now trouble you today."

The Israelites stoned Achan, his family, and his livestock to death and set their remains on fire along with his belongings. They placed a great heap of stones over the charred remains, and God relented from his anger. The place was then named the Valley of Achor*.
Notes:1.) "Achor" is a Hebrew word for "trouble".
Thoughts:The chapter begins with the revelation that a man named Achan, decided not to heed God's command and warning from the previous chapter about not taking any of the "accursed" items, and that all the gold and silver was to be given to God. This of course made God angry with all of the Israelites, not just Achan.

Conveniently, the next city that the Israelites happened to have next on their list to massacre was a small one, so it was suggested to Joshua by the men he selected to scope out their intended target that he should only send two or three thousand soldiers. After thirty six soldiers were killed by the enemy soldiers of Ai, the Israelites turned tail and ran. Joshua tore at his clothes and fell on his face, and remained there on the ground in front of the ark of the covenant until evening. The elders of the tribes of Israel joined Joshua, also "falling on their faces" in front of the ark and additionally "poured dust on their heads". (Admittedly, I was a bit unfamiliar with the "pouring of dust on one's head" ritual practiced in Judaism to express grief, and I still fail to see much practical purpose behind such a bizarre ritual.)

Joshua then whines to God about the Israelites' loss, complaining that when the Canaanites hear about the defeat at Ai, that they in turn will attack and wipe out the Israelites. God replies to Joshua in an apparently condescending tone, telling him to get up, and explains that the reason the Israelites lost this battle is due to them taking cursed items from the spoils of Jericho and hiding them amongst their own belongings. He explains to Joshua that the Israelites therefore won't have God on their side anymore until and unless they destroy the accursed from amongst them.

Instead of informing Joshua who it is among them that must be destroyed, like an omniscient being should be wholly capable of doing, God tells Joshua to stage an elaborate production of assembling the entire population of Israel together and having God one by one pick out the tribe, the family, the household, and finally the guilty party, sifting them out man by man. Again, an omniscient being shouldn't need to orchestrate such an elaborate production, however, it's likely that the intent of this display was to intimidate and serve as a reminder as to what could happen to them if they don't keep in line.

God then tells Joshua that whomever has taken the cursed items must be set on fire - along with all of his possessions, which includes the members of his entire household.

The way "sins" and "curses" are treated by God in the bible are akin to the childhood game of "cooties", in which the child "infected with cooties" is stigmatized without any real discernible affliction or real symptoms while either simultaneously lacking any sort of "cure", or if there is a "cure", that it is just as ridiculous and rife with nonsense as is the "affliction". While one could make the rationalization that Achan committed an offense against God and perhaps deserves punishment, there simply is no rational justification for also punishing Achan's children and livestock, and setting every single item of his possessions on fire. In a modern context, it's baffling to me how we can recognize the unjust barbarism when a person in the Islamic world is stoned to death for a non-violent offense, yet simultaneously not see the same brutality in a biblical story like this that not only targets the offender, but the innocent lives of his children and livestock as well.

Our story continues with Joshua parading out the tribe of Judah, paring them down to the Zahrites, paring them down further to the Zabdi household, until Achan was finally brought out. Joshua then goads Achan to "give glory" to God by confessing, and demanding that Achan not try to hide what he has done. Achan confesses that he stole a Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a piece of gold worth fifty shekels, and also tells Joshua where he hid them in his tent. After Joshua's messengers search Achan's tent and find the items he took, Joshua has the Israelites take Achan, along with his sons and daughters, oxen, sheep, donkeys, his tent, and all of his possessions out to the valley of Achor.

Hauntingly, Joshua rhetorically asks Achan why he has he caused so much trouble for Israel, and retorts that now God will "trouble" Achan today. With those words, the Israelites stoned Achan, his children, and his livestock to death, set the remains on fire along with the rest of Achan's possessions, and placed a big heap of stones on top of the charred remains. The death and destruction of Achan and all that he owned, including the innocent lives of his children and his livestock, was sufficient to quell God's anger toward the Israelites.

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