12 September 2009

Achan and his family are stoned and burned to death

This is one of those bible stories that most believers don't really believe in, if they know it exists, that is. It's simply not possible to believe this story and also believe that the God of the Bible is anything other than evil.

The story begins with Joshua sending spies to the land of Ai. The spies return saying Ai would be easy to conquer, requiring only a few thousand men.
Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai … and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai. And they returned to Joshua, and said …let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai … for they are but few. Joshua 7.2-3
So Joshua sent 3,000 soldiers, but they were defeated by the men of Ai, who killed about 36 of them.
So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men. 7.4-5
When Joshua heard what had happened, he tore his clothes, fell on his face, and put dirt on his head, thereby proving that he was a real Bible character.
Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. 7.6
He then asked God why they were defeated.
Joshua said, Alas, O LORD God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? 7.7
God told Joshua to get up off his face.
The LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 7.10
And then God said that the Israelites were defeated by Ai because someone took an accursed thing during the Jericho Massacre.
Israel hath sinned … for they have even taken of the accursed thing … and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. 7.11-12
But God told Joshua what he needed to do to get back to successful genocide: burn to death the man with the accursed thing, along with his family.
He that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath. 7.15
God even pointed out the guy. His name was Achan.
In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which the LORD taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the LORD shall take shall come by households; and the household which the LORD shall take shall come man by man. … So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken: And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken: And he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 7.14-18
So Joshua ordered Achan to confess.
Joshua said unto Achan … make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. 7.19
And he did.
Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. 7.20-21
He then rounded up Achan, his family, his livestock, and all their possessions. "And all Israel stoned them with stones and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones." And that made God less angry.
And Joshua …took Achan … and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep … And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. … So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. 7.24-26
Since Achan’s sons and daughters were stoned and burned along with him, there must have been at least 5 victims here. (No mention is made of his wife.)

God's next killing: The Ai massacre

9 comments:

busterggi said...

Geez, Yahweh can't make up his mind can he?

First he tells the Israelites to loot cities, then he punishes them when they do.

Doomsday said...

"And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones."
Why do I find this incredibly funny?

v_quixotic said...

I'm curious,

Is this more rhetoric pointed at specific groups of pre-exilic Israelites, like those that refused to recognize the centrality of the Jerusalem temple, the exclusive hegemony of the Levitical priests, and the transcendence of Yahweh?

Steve Wells said...

v_quixotic,

Yes, I think that's what it was, but we'd have to ask danielo to know for sure.

The rest of us are just too loaded with those reductive and presentistic fallacies to appreciate the subtleties of the socio-religious history of the ancient Near East.

Ian G. said...

Just out of curiosity, did God specifically tell the men in Joshua's army NOT to loot certain things, or is this just another case of God being pissed off after the fact and deciding (like all good murderous tyrants) to take it out on someone who doesn't really deserve it?

Steve Wells said...

Ian,

Yeah, God was pretty clear about that. Everything in Jericho was accursed and they weren't to touch any accused thing or they and all Israel would be accursed too. (Joshua 6:17-18)

Except for the gold, brass, and iron, that is. They were all consecrated to God and were to go into his treasury.

Achan kept some of the cool stuff he found (both accursed and consecrated) and kept it for himself. So God had to have him and his family stoned and burned to death. What else could he do?

If you let somebody take one accursed thing, before you know it somebody else will take two. I think you can see where this would all end.

Fred said...

God's got nothing on the Catholic Church, with the number of people they killed in their 1500 years of terror with the Inqusitions and Crusades.

How anyone could build their life around a religion that has converted people by using fear is beyond me.

Tony Cook said...

adjctethe book of joshua is a history of the ancient israelites during the time they took possession of caanan, the promised land. the author, perhaps joshua, would have viewed god as a fearsome being with a nature not unlike what he, the author, would have been like had he had the same role and power. the reporting of god’s response to achan's misdeed is coloured by how joshua (or whoever) would himself have reacted. such a response, extreme by today's standards, was pretty much what the man in the street would have expected back then. certainly what the author expected. is this an ear-witness account of the out-loud words joshua heard god speak? or is it the impression joshua had in his heart of what god wanted to happen? if the latter, was the brutal outcome in Joshua 7:25 a representation of what was in god's heart or what was in the heart of joshua, and everyone else present at the time, including achan, and his wife and perhaps even his kids.
given what we see of god's nature later on in the bible, what jesus reveals of god, i have trouble going along with what you’ve read into this passage. it seems more likely to me that the surface picture being presented here of god tells more about the expectations of the people of the time than the nature of god. the distorted view of god held by the hebrews, israelites, jews and their successors down through history, is a recurring theme in the bible. take for example the way jesus repeatedly seeks to correct the attitudes of the pharisees and church officials in the gospels.
Incidentally, the fact that such, at first glance, unfavourable accounts as the achan story appear in the books of the old testament, adds to rather than detracts from their authenticity, don’t you think?

Mickadoo said...

Well, you've got to remember the difference between the old and new testament here. In the old testament, the punishment for sin is death. That is how the world was created. Humans are only good because God gave them that goodness. If He were to let sin live, He would cease to be a just God. If He were to let sin into heaven, it would cease to be holy. God hates sin...if He didn't, we'd have an even bigger problem. What's happening here with Achan is that old testament rule. Before Jesus came and died and people could wear his innocence, we were judged by the 10 commandments and by God's words. The OT is there to remind us why we need a savior...we can't NOT sin. But remember, this was accepted justice back then. We didn't have painless drugs to administer the death sentence like we do today. That was a serious crime that could have brought down Israel's defeat, killed 36 men, and disgraced the God who created them. Justice in the OT had to be served because God promised it would be if they disobeyed Him. Now, though, we can rejoice that God made a plan since the beginning to help us get away from getting what our sin deserves because Jesus took it for us...He became the once-for-all-death to cover our sins. Also try to remember that God is the one that made our "logical thinking"....you can't judge His actions with a slice of His own pie. He sees more and He saw their hearts. He would not kill innocence. Do you really think that our God-given ideas about justice are somehow superior to the same God?