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Inductive Bible Study on Joshua 7 – The Sin of Achan

Discussion Questions

  • How did God react to the fact that Achan took some of the things under the ban?
  • What did the Israelites do after conquering Jericho?
  • What was their battle plan this time around?
  • Why did he only send two or three thousand people?
  • What was the result of the battle? Why did they lose?
  • Could they/Joshua have done anything to prevent this? What should they have done before the battle?
  • What do we learn about Joshua from his response?
  • What does Joshua do next (verse 7)?
  • What can we learn from his prayer of intercession?
  • What was he concerned the result of this defeat would be? For the Israelites? For God?
  • How did God respond to his prayer?
  • Why do you think the whole nation suffered for one family’s sin? Why does God use “they’ in verse 11 referring to the Israelites when one family was guilty?
  • What can we learn about sin from this?
  • In what way did their sin cause them to lose the battle? What does this show us about God’s sovereignty?
  • What was the people’s job (13)?
  • How could the casting of lots be so accurate?
  • What can you learn from Joshua about how he confronted Achan?
  • What can we learn about confession from Achan?
  • Why was Achan punished even though he confessed?
  • Why did his whole family have to be punished?
  • What can we learn from this about God’s character?
  • What application can we make in our own lives from this passage?


Numbers 32:23 – But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Numbers 14:8 – If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.

Deuteronomy 24:16 – Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

Ezekiel 18:20 – The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

Proverbs 15:27 – The greedy bring ruin to their households, but the one who hates bribes will live.

Revelation 20:12 – And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Joshua did not consult the Lord before entering battle – This time Joshua formed the battle plan by himself. First he spent spies. After their report, he sent two to three thousand men to the battle. Ai was evidently a small city. After the victory at Jericho, Joshua was confident that they could achieve another victory with a small force. (See Proverbs 13:10.)

In this case Joshua was presumptuous. He assumed that everything was good and that God would give them victory again. But he was wrong. The mistake was costly as thirty-six people lost their lives.

Joshua should have asked for God’s guidance before the battle. If so, likely God would have warned him that something was not right in the camp and he could have solved the problem with Achan before more people died.

God wants His followers to be vigilant at all times. We must guard against complacency. After a spiritual high, it is very common for Satan to attack. He knows that people tend to become prideful and confident after a victory. Joshua let down his guard just a bit and the weakness was exposed and exploited.

Every important decision should be taken to the Lord, no matter how straightforward it may be seem. James warns against presumption in James 4:13-15. He puts it this way:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Application: Do not be presumptuous. Do not assume that your plans are good and that God will be with you. Before engaging on any venture or making any important decision, you should pray to the Lord and seek His will. Before you start a new Bible study, pray and ask for God’s guidance. Before quitting your job or taking a new job, pray and ask for God’s guidance. Before you move to a new house, pray and ask for God’s guidance. If we are actively seeking God’s will, He will lead us.

2. Our sin affects others, sometimes seriously – When Achan took the gold that was under the ban, he never considered that this sin would affect others. In his mind, it was a personal thing. Perhaps he even justified it with the common excuse to sin, “It won’t hurt anybody. Nobody will know.” But it did hurt others. Not only did his own family pay the cost, but now the entire nation was paying the cost.

Joshua and the other leaders fell into the sin of presumption and their sins as leaders cost the lives of thirty-six people.

Adam and Eve’s sin affected the entire human race. Saul’s sin cost his sons their kingdom and lives. Ahab’s sin cost the lives of many Israelites. The list goes on and on. When we think, “my sin won’t hurt anybody” we deceive ourselves. The man looking at porn ruins his marriage and can cost him the respect and trust of his children and family. The couple that sleeps together before marriage rob each other of the true joy that comes from respecting God’s guidelines about the boundaries of sex. They also rob their future marriage partner.

Application: The next time you think, “this sin won’t hurt anybody,” think again. It will not only hurt you, but it may influence and hurt those around you as well in the group which you represent, albeit family, church, or company.

3. Joshua was deeply grieved by the result of this battle – As a military commander he was over hundreds of thousands of troops. But he cared deeply for them as individuals. Even though thirty-six people was a small number compared to the entire force, Joshua felt that each person was very important.

Good leaders are not perfect. They will make mistakes sooner or later. But when they do, they need to humble themselves and come before God for help. God’s Word also says, “love covers a multitude of sins.” Joshua loved his people. Many leaders would have responded callously to this news and thundered, “We have plenty of troops, send them again!”

In World War II Japanese leaders who knew they were defeated would send wave after wave of their troops in suicide death charges. Then they would kill themselves. These types of leaders have no compassion or concern for their followers. Viewing them as a number or a statistic, they respond with indifference to the pains and problems of their followers.

Application: In whatever area God has granted you authority, use it with compassion. Whether to your children, students, or disciples, treat them with compassion. Just as Paul says in Romans 12:15, “Mourn with those who mourn.”

4. Joshua wisely intercedes for the people – Joshua could have responded in a lot of different ways. Some leaders would have been angry with the military commanders and blamed them for the loss. Others would have “gone back to the drawing board” and figured out a new plan of assault. Some would harden their hearts and try the same thing again with more force. And not a few would turn back altogether and give up.

Joshua did none of these things. He turned to the one who give victory by interceding for his people. Thus from Joshua we learn that after a defeat we should turn to God to pick us up. Do not console yourself in a bottle or in binge watching television. Such self-destructive responses to failure will only make things worse. Instead, pray for help! God will give it.

There was once a boy who wanted to play in the sandbox in the backyard. But there was a big rock there in the sand. He tried to push it out, but it was too heavy for him. With all of his wit, he tried different ways. A running start didn’t move it. Even leveraging it didn’t work. All the time his father was watching from the window. After trying everything he could think of the boy angrily stormed into the house, “I can’t move the rock! I have tried everything!” The father replied, “not everything, you didn’t ask me for help.”

Turning to God for help should always be our first response when we face obstacles or defeat.

5. God’s answer to Joshua’s prayer – The nation had figuratively fallen down just like Joshua, but God tells him, “Rise up!” The same instruction is repeated again in verse 13. After getting up, then what? They were to consecrate themselves. God desires to use clean vessels.

God tells Joshua the reason for their defeat. Someone had broken his commandments. The effects of sin had insidiously spread throughout the camp. The only solution was to get right with God by getting rid of the sin.

6. God removed His help and the result was a defeat – Apart from Him we can do nothing. Joshua tried to do his part in sending spies to Ai just like he had done at Jericho. But there was a key difference between the two cities and it was not the walls of Jericho. Although Ai was smaller and less fortified, the people lost because God had withdrawn His help. Depending on their own strength, they were routed. The Israelite army was not necessarily smarter or stronger or better equipped than the armies of the people of the land. Their strength came from their relationship with God. When they were far from him, they were defeated.

The same is true for us today. If you want to be successful, you must not depend on yourself. Culture says, “I believe in myself.” It is a recipe for failure and destruction. The only way to win is by trusting in and following God.

7. Your sin will find you out – Achan believed that his sin was secret, that nobody knew. However, these things have a way of revealing themselves. God often works to bring these deep, dark secrets to light.

Some people live in fear afraid that their skeletons in the closet will be discovered. So they try to bury them deeper and deeper. Build a stronger door. Get a bigger lock. These methods only delay the inevitable. The solution is to not have the skeleton in the first place. However, if you already have done some things you are ashamed of, then hope is not lost. Come forward. Proactively repent of it. You may find people will show mercy and respect to those who of their own volition admit their own sins rather than being forced to as Achan was.

8. The casting of lots – It was a process by which the people trusted God to determine the results to show them what they needed to know. And he did.

9. The punishment of Achan and his family – From Adam Clarke about the possibility that this passage means Achan was stoned and his possessions were burned (not his family) – “The text certainly leaves it doubtful, but seems rather to intimate that Achan alone was stoned, and that his substance was burnt with fire. The reading of the present Hebrew text is, They stoned Him with stones, and burnt Them with fire, after they had stoned Them with stones. The singular number being used in the first clause of the verse, and the plural in the last, leaves the matter doubtful. The Vulgate is very clear: Lapidavitque Eum omnis Israel; et cuncta quae illius erant, igne consumpta sunt, “All Israel stoned him; and all that he had was consumed with fire.” The Septuagint add this and the first clause of the next verse together: Και ελιθοβολησαν αυτον λιθοις πας Ισραηλ, και επεστησαν αυτῳ σωρον λιθων μεγαν: And all Israel stoned Him with stones, and raised over Him a great heap of stones.”

From John Wesley’s commentary: “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, it seems most likely, that the children were grown up, and so capable of knowing, and concealing, or discovering this fact.”

Here we see the dreadful consequences of Achan’s sin on his family. Was it fair that the whole family suffer?

Deuteronomy 24:16 – Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

According to this command, it is clear that only the culprit was to suffer for their sin. While we don’t know for sure, it is probable that Joshua followed this command. He was not only a good and righteous leader, but he would even personally remember when this command was given so it is unlikely he forgot it. In this case, it is reasonable to conclude that Achan’s family knew about and supported his crime. They may have helped him to conceal this and therefore become accomplices after the fact.

Although the Bible is clear that authorities are not to directly punish someone for other people’s sin, it is still nonetheless true that sin does negatively affect others. It can pull everyone around into a vortex. I knew a man who was deported because of a crime. His entire family ended up leaving. Their business was lost and their lives drastically changed. Sin is deadly and it reaches far.

Application: How will you apply what you learned in this chapter?

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