I just saw how someone asked this question on Facebook:
In light of Duet 24:16, Ezekiel 18:20 2King 14:5-6, could Joshuah have misinterpreted God when He said, “he and all that he has” 7:15 when he put to death Achan’s whole family?
I recalled another brother once asking me about this same incident in scripture a little while ago and so I searched and found this in my private messages:
Greetings my Brother! I was wondering if you could shed some light upon the incidents regarding Achan and Kore in which the families of each suffered the judgment of their fathers sin. Thank you
This was my response:
“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. 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. And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.” (Josh. 7:24-26).
A few points to consider:
1. If Israel had killed Achan’s children, not for their own sin, but for the sin of their father, this would have been a direct violation of the law that God had given them. “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” (Deut. 24:16; 2 Kng. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4).
2. If the children were put to death in this incident, it is not to be assumed that they had no involvement in the crime. Being of his household, they might have had full knowledge of what was hidden within their tent.
3. It is not to be assumed that his children were infants. Achan was an old man and his children, therefore, were likely passed the age of accountability.
4. The Hebrew text itself does not explicitly say that they were stoned. The KJV translated “fire” and “stones” as “them with fire” and “them with stones.”
5. It says they “stoned him” but that then “burned them with fire.” It would seem strange for Achan to be stoned but his family to be burned. There was no law that required any individual to be burnt, but only to be stoned. It would make more sense that Achan was stoned, since he was a person, but his physical possessions were burnt with fire, not his children.
Here are some thoughts from other minds:
Jos 7:24 – Joshua – took Achan – and all that he had – He and his cattle and substance were brought to the valley to be consumed; his sons and his daughters, probably, to witness the judgments of God inflicted on their disobedient parent. See Jos_7:25.
Jos 7:25 – Why hast thou troubled us? – Here is a reference to the meaning of Achan’s or Achar’s name, מה עכרתנו meh Achar-tanu; and as עכר achar is used here, and not עכן achan, and the valley is called the valley of Achor, and not the valley of Achan, hence some have supposed that Achar was his proper name, as it is read 1Ch_2:7, and in some MSS., and ancient versions. See the note on Jos_7:17.
And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones – With great deference to the judgment of others, I ask, Can it be fairly proved from the text that the sons and daughters of Achan were stoned to death and burnt as well as their father? 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. The Syriac says simply, They stoned Him with stones, and burned what pertained to Him with fire. The Targum is the same as the Hebrew. The Anglo-Saxon seems to refer the whole to Achan and his Goods: And Him they stoned there, and burnt his goods. The Arabic version alone says, They stoned Him and his Children, and his goods. Instead of burnt Them, אתם otham, two of De Rossi’s MSS. read אתו otho, Him; which reading, if genuine, would make the different members of the verse agree better. It is possible that Achan, his oxen, asses, sheep, tent, and all his household goods, were destroyed, but his sons and daughters left uninjured. But it may be asked, Why are they brought out into the valley with the rest? Why, that they might see and fear, and be for ever deterred by their father’s punishment from imitating his example. I have gone thus far into this important transaction, in which the justice and mercy of God are so much concerned, that I might be able to assign to each its due. That Achan’s life was forfeited to justice by his transgression, no one doubts: he sinned against a known and positive law. His children could not suffer with him, because of the law, Deu_24:16, unless they had been accomplices in his guilt: of this there is no evidence; and the text in question, which speaks of Achan’s punishment, is extremely dubious, as far as it relates to this point. One circumstance that strengthens the supposition that the children were not included, is the command of the Lord, Jos_7:15 : “He that is taken with the accursed thing, shall be burnt with fire; he, and all that he hath.” Now, all that he hath may certainly refer to his goods, and not to his children; and his punishment, and the destruction of his property would answer every purpose of public justice, both as a punishment and preventive of the crime; and both mercy and justice require that the innocent shall not suffer with the guilty, unless in very extraordinary cases, where God may permit the righteous or the innocent to be involved in those public calamities by which the ungodly are swept away from the face of the earth: but in the case before us, no necessity of this kind urged it, and therefore I conclude that Achan alone suffered, and that his repentance and confession were genuine and sincere; and that, while Justice required his life, Mercy was extended to the salvation of his soul.
Jos 7:24 The sin had been national (Jos_7:1 note), and accordingly the expiation of it was no less so. The whole nation, no doubt through its usual representatives, took part in executing the sentence. Achan had fallen by his own act under the ban Jos_6:18, and consequently he and his were treated as were communities thus devoted Deu_13:15-17. It would appear too that Achan’s family must have been accomplices in his sin; for the stolen spoil could hardly have been concealed in his tent without their being privy thereto.
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.
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