Sunday, December 29, 2013

3 Perspectives on the Fate of Achan's Children (Joshua 7:22-25)

Joshua 7

King James Version (KJV)

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.
23 And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the Lord.
24 And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.
25 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.

Before discussing three views of the fate of Achan's family, let us note that Achan's wife is not specified - the text only deals with Achan's sons and daughters. Therefore whether or not the children were put to death, we see no reason to assume that his wife was (assuming he then had one). Also, let us note that the age of Achan's children are not specified, which means that they were not necessarily young children.

View #1:
Achan's children were innocent of Achan's sin, and not put to death

Some might hold that Achan's children were innocent, and therefore were not put to death. They may argue something like this: While the text does number Achan's sons and daughters among what was brought "unto the valley of Achor," the only person specified to be stoned was Achan:
"all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones."
The unspecified "them" that were stoned with stones may have just been Achan's livestock. And so, perhaps the sons and daughters were brought forth not to be put to death, but only to witness Achan's execution. 

It would be interesting to determine, however, whether the Hebrew word that we translate to "them" can refer to animals. 

View #2:
Achan's children were guilty of Achan's sin, and justly put to death

Others might argue that Achan's children aided and abetted Achan's sin, and thus were guilty accomplices. The text does not preclude this possibility, as it does not say they were innocent of the crime. Perhaps Achan's children helped Achan to conceal his spoil, as they were in the tent with it:
So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.And they took them out of the midst of the tent ...
This all assumes, of course, that Achan's children themselves knew that the spoil was in the tentand that they were old enough to know that they were assisting Achan's rebellion against God.

View #3: 
Achan's children may not have been guilty of Achan's sin, but were still justly put to death

Still another view holds that even if Achan's children were not guilty of Achan's sin, they were still justly put to death. But how can this be, in light of Deuteronomy 24:16, which forbids rulers from putting children to death for the sins of their parents?:
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
However, this law was given to men, not to God. Barring direct intervention from God, men may never put someone to death for the sins of their parents. However, in this situation, GodWho is not bound by this commandintervened with His own law's normal criminal procedures, and declared that "he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath."

Indeed, as the potter, God has the right to dispose of the clay in any way that He sees fit. God had just previously ordered the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of Jerichowomen and children included (Joshua 6:21). We must keep in mind that if Achan's children were in fact innocent of Achan's sin, they were not innocent before God in terms of their own sins. From conception, we are all rebels before God (Psalm 51:5) and deserve eternal death at His hands. How much more then, do we deserve physical death at God's hands? Even those of us saved by Christ from eternal hellfire must still in this life bear sin's consequence of physical death.

Therefore, assuming Achan's children were innocent of his sin, it still wouldn't be inappropriate for God to make Achan's death the occasion for theirs as well; and, in light of our previous comments, God had already mercifully delayed their just deaths since their conception. Moreoverand this is speculationperhaps the death of Achan's children was part of his judgment, to show him how heinous his crime was. An example of family judgment is seen in Eli, whose family God judges for the gravity of Eli's sin (1 Samuel 2:30-36). 

Commentaries on the Fate of Achan's Family

Matthew Henry:

 (3.) His sons and daughters were put to death with him. Some indeed think that they were brought out (v. 24) only to be the spectators of their father’s punishment, but most conclude that they died with him, and that they must be meant v. 25, where it is said they burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. God had expressly provided that magistrates should not put the children to death for the fathers’; but he did not intend to bind himself by that law, and in this case he had expressly ordered (v. 15) that the criminal, and all that he had, should be burnt. Perhaps his sons and daughters were aiders and abettors in the villany, had helped to carry off the accursed thing. It is very probable that they assisted in the concealment, and that he could not hide them in the midst of his tent but they must know and keep his counsel, and so they became accessaries ex post facto—after the fact; and, if they were ever so little partakers in the crime, it was so heinous that they were justly sharers in the punishment. However God was hereby glorified, and the judgment executed was thus made the more tremendous.

John Gill:

and his sons and his daughters; who, according to Ben Gersom, Abarbinel, and Abendana, were not brought forth to be put to death, only to be spectators of the sentence of judgment, and the execution of it, that they might keep themselves from such evil things; though, as Achan may be supposed to be a man in years, being but the fourth generation from Judah; his sons and daughters were grown up in all probability, and might be accessories in this affair; and so, as some Jewish writers remark, were worthy of death, because they saw and knew what was done, and were silent and did not declare it {p}; and it seems by what is said, Jos 22:20; that they died as well as Achan, since it is there said, "that man perished not alone in his iniquity"; though it may be interpreted of his substance, his cattle, perishing with him; and indeed from Jos 7:25; it seems as if none were stoned but himself, that is, of his family; no mention is made of his wife, who, if he had any, as Kimchi observes, knew nothing of the matter, it being hid from her:

Matthew Poole:

His sons and his daughters; but this seems hard and unjust, and therefore forbidden by God himself, Deut. xxiv. 16. Answ. 1. That law was given to men, not to God, who certainly hath a more absolute right and sovereignty over men than one man hath over another. 2. Their death was a debt they owed to nature and to their own sins, which debt God may require when he pleaseth; and he could not take it in more honourable and excellent circumstances than these, that the death of a very few in the beginning of a new empire, and of their settlement in the land, might be useful to prevent the death of many thousands, who took warning by this dreadful example, whom, if the fear of God did not, yet the love of their own and of their dear children's lives would, restrain from such dangerous and pernicious practices. 3. It is very probable they were conscious of the fact, as the Jewish doctors affirm. If it be pretended that some of them were infants, the text doth not say so, but only calls them sons and daughters. And considering that Achan was an old man, as is most probable, because he was the fifth person from Judah, (of which see on ver. 1,) it seems most likely that the children were grown up, and so capable of knowing, and concealing or discovering this fact. Nor doth it follow that they were not guilty because it is not said so; for it is apparent that many circumstances are omitted in divers historical relations in Scripture, which sometimes are supplied in other places. His oxen, and his asses, and his sheep; which, though not capable of sin, nor of punishment properly so called, yet, as they were made for man's use, so they are rightly destroyed for man's good; and being daily killed for our bodily food, it cannot seem strange to kill them for the instruction of our minds, that hereby we might learn the detestable and contagious nature of sin, which involves innocent creatures in its plagues; and how much sorer punishments are reserved for man, who having a law given to him, and that excellent gift of reason and will to restrain him from the transgressions of it, his guilt must needs be unspeakably greater, and therefore his sufferings more severe and terrible. Further, by this enumeration it appears that he had no colour of necessity to induce him to this fact, but was wholly inexcusable.

John Calvin:

If any one is disturbed and offended by the severity of the punishment, he must always be brought back to this point, that though our reason dissent from the judgments of God, we must check our presumption by the curb of a pious modesty and soberness, and not disapprove whatever does not please us. It seems harsh, nay, barbarous and inhuman, that young children, without fault, should be hurried off to cruel execution, to be stoned and burned. That dumb animals should be treated in the same manner is not so strange, as they were created for the sake of men, and thus deservedly follow the fate of their owners. Everything, therefore, which Achan possessed perished with him as an accessory, but still it seems a cruel vengeance to stone and burn children for the crime of their father; and here God publicly inflicts punishment on children for the sake of their parents, contrary to what he declares by Ezekiel. But how it is that he destroys no one who is innocent, and visits the sins of fathers upon children, I briefly explained when speaking of the common destruction of the city of Jericho, and the promiscuous slaughter of all ages. The infants and children who then perished by the sword we bewail as unworthily slain, as they had no apparent fault; but if we consider how much more deeply divine knowledge penetrates than human intellect can possibly do, we will rather acquiesce in his decree, than hurry ourselves to a precipice by giving way to presumption and extravagant pride. It was certainly not owing to reckless hatred that the sons of Achan were pitilessly slain. Not only were they the creatures of God’s hand, but circumcision, the infallible symbol of adoption, was engraved on their flesh; and yet he adjudges them to death. What here remains for us, but to acknowledge our weakness and submit to his incomprehensible counsel? It may be that death proved to them a medicine; but if they were reprobate, then condemnation could not be premature.

It may be added, that the life which God has given he may take away as often as pleases him, not more by disease than by any other mode. A wild beast seizes an infant and tears it to pieces; a serpent destroys another by its venomous bite; one falls into the water, another into the fire, a third is overlain by a nurse, a fourth is crushed by a falling stone; nay, some are not even permitted to open their eyes on the light. It is certain that none of all these deaths happens except by the will of God. But who will presume to call his procedure in this respect in question? Were any man so insane as to do so, what would it avail? We must hold, indeed, that none perish by his command but those whom he had doomed to death. From the enumeration of Achan’s oxen, asses, and sheep, we gather that he was sufficiently rich, and that therefore it was not poverty that urged him to the crime. It must therefore be regarded as a proof of his insatiable cupidity, that he coveted stolen articles, not for use but for luxury.