Joshua 7:10-12 – Achan’s Sin and Israel’s Guilt

Joshua 7:10–12 (ESV) — 10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.

Achan sinned; he broke the “cherem” God enacted against Jericho.
  • And yet, in spite of Achan’s individual action, all of Israel was considered guilty.
  • Israel has sinned” (vs. 11)
  • Israel broke faith” (vs. 1)
  • The anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel” (vs. 1)

We have got to try and figure out how this can be.
  • Why is Israel seen as corporately guilty for Achan’s individual sin?


To get at this question, we need to understand Achan’s sin from a few different perspectives.
  • 1) Outward Expression of His Sin
  • 2) Inward Expression of His Sin
  • 3) Covenantal Expression of His Sin

The texts to do this are found in verse 1 and 21.
  • Joshua 7:1 (ESV) — 1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.
  • Joshua 7:21 (ESV) — 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

Outward Expression:
There is nothing very profound here at all.
  • Achan stole “a beautiful cloak”, “200 shekels of silver”, and a “bar of gold”.
  • Verses 1 and 21 tell us he “took” them.
  • And after he did, he hid them beneath his tent.
    • The actions of a guilty man.
    • And significant, as we will see later.
    • He hid them in a holy place; Israel’s camp
  • So the outward expression is the physical act of taking the loot and hiding it.

He no doubt justified his actions with some sorry inner dialogue, as we all do.
  • Perhaps with, “The Smiths’ won’t miss these – they’re dead anyway”.
  • Or maybe, “The tabernacle treasury is overflowing, I will care for the excess”.

Inward Expression:
Achan reveals the inward expression of his sin in verse 21.
  • He says, “I coveted them and then took them”.
  • So the inward expression of his sin was coveting.

His coveting gave birth to the stealing.
  • This is very similar to James 4.
  • James 4:2b (ESV) — 2b You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
  • The inward manifestation of our sin (coveting) leads to the outward physical act of sin (stealing, fights and quarrels).
  • Achan coveted riches and he became a thief.

In Achan’s case, the sad part is that God was literally in the process of giving to Achan and Israel the Promised Land.
  • In spite of this, Achan was still not satisfied.
  • More is never enough!

No Answers Yet:
Now thus far, we haven’t really gained any insight into the reason Achan’s sin wreaked such havoc on Israel.
  • Surely he was not the only Israelite who had sinned since Israel crossed the Jordan.
  • After all, we know that all are desperately wicked.
  • And again, as James 4 teaches us, our worldly desires are always warring within us.

In fact, at this point God’s imputing Achan’s sin to Israel seems a bit arbitrary and harsh.
  • Especially from this side of the cross.
  • Achan coveted and stole and God’s response to Israel is to declare, “they have become devoted for destruction” (vs. 12).

I think the third expression, however, will help us begin to make sense of our initial question.

Covenantal Expression:
Joshua 1 tells us that Achan “took some of the devoted things”.
  • In other words, God made a covenant with Israel concerning Jericho, its treasure, and people.
  • The people (except Rahab) were to be destroyed; the treasure given to the sanctuary treasury.
    • Joshua 6:17a (ESV) — 17a And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.
    • Joshua 6:19 (ESV) — 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.”
  • Achan disobeyed this covenant and took the things of God for himself.
  • So the covenantal expression of Achan’s sin is that he broke the “cherem” God had declared against Jericho.

This is far more profound than just the external and internal expressions by themselves.
  • “Achan’s violation was more than mere theft—it was spiritual adultery against Yahweh because he transgressed the cherem principle” – Michael Heiser.
  • “Achan was acting in a way that broke the fundamental covenantal relationship between God and Israel” – David Howard.

The covenantal expression of Achan’s sin leads us directly into why Israel was guilty before God.


We need to get one thing out the way.
  • One obvious reason that Israel was found guilty for an individual’s sin is because God said so.
  • Joshua 6:18 (ESV) — 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.
  • Though “God said so” is sufficient, fortunately, God’s revelation has given us more detail for why He would say so.

Sin – Individual and the Group:
There is a theological dynamic in play between the individual and the group of God’s elect.
  • And it is a frightening one.
  • “Though it was a single person that sinned, the children of Israel are said to commit the trespass, because one of their body did it, and he was not as yet separated from them, nor disowned by them.” – Matthew Henry
  • The sin of “Achan robbed the whole nation of the purity and holiness which it ought to possess before God” – Woudstra.
  • David Howard says simply “the one man’s sin infected the nation as a whole”.

This is why God tells Joshua in our text today:
  • Joshua 7:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.

Achan violated the devotion and Israel is seen as guilty because the sin, both its perpetrator and the booty (buried in his tent in Israel’s camp), is “in” them.
  • Therefore, Israel is in union with the sin of Achan.
  • And freedom from the sin and its guilt comes only from separation from sin.
    • A separation that will cost Achan his life.

This principle is revealed in Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement.

Separation from Sin:
Leviticus 16:6–10 (ESV) — 6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as [first goat] a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel [second goat] shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

The two goats demonstrate a couple of things:
  • Atonement comes from the “sin offering” – sacrifice.
    • This is a well know feature of Jesus' atonement.
  • Atonement also comes from the sin “sent away” – separation.
    • This necessity of separation from sin is foundational to our current subject matter.
    • And it is a parallel to Jesus being sent outside Jerusalem to be crucified.

Michael Heiser tells us why:
“In the Day of Atonement ritual, the goat for Yahweh—the goat that was sacrificed—purifies the people of Israel and the Tabernacle/Temple. Sins were ‘atoned for’ and what had been ritually unclean was sanctified and made holy. But purification only described part of what atonement meant…The goat for Azazel banished the sins of the Israelites to the realm outside Israel. Why? Because the ground on which Yahweh had his dwelling was holy; the ground outside the parameters of the Israelite camp [wasn’t]. Sin could not be tolerated in the camp of Israel, for it was holy ground. Sins had to be ‘transported’ to where evil belonged—the territory outside Israel…” – Michael Heiser.
Our Answer:
So I think now we know why God would consider Israel guilty for Achan’s sin.
  • It wasn’t just because he stole.
  • It wasn’t just because he coveted.
  • It was also because he broke a specific covenant with God as a member of Israel.
  • And in so doing he corrupted Israel because he was part of Israel.

“I suppose many twentieth-century American individualists might believe this is unfair. Naturally, we can complain. But we do better to fear. Fear because one man’s sin turned away God’s presence from a whole people. Fear because a man’s whole household was drawn into his punishment. We Christians generally have such tame views of sin; wrongly, we have no paranoia over this contagious power (cf. 1 Cor. 5; Acts 5:1–11) – Dale Davis.

The link between the individual and the body of the elect of God is not just an OT concept.
  • It is powerfully present in the NT as well.
  • And we would do well to reflect on it.


The link revealed in Joshua 7 still has relevance for the NT Church.
  • We will do a quick survey.

Church Body Life:
1 Corinthians 12:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:26–27 (ESV) — 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Church Discipline:
1 Corinthians 5:1–2 (ESV) — 1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
1 Corinthians 5:5–7 (ESV) — 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Original Sin and Salvation:
1 Corinthians 15:21–22 (ESV) — 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Union with Christ:
Romans 6:3–4 (ESV) — 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Final Thought:
In Christ we are all connected to one another.
  • This is both a profound and scary thought.
  • And it means that the phrase “my sin doesn’t affect you” is simply not true.
  • If a member of the body is in sin, the body of Christ suffers.