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1. The children of Israel - That is, one of them, by a very usual figure, as Matt. xxvi, 8, where that is ascribed to the disciples, which belonged to Judas only, John xii, 4. Accursed thing - That is, in taking some of the forbidden and accursed goods. Zabdi - Called also Zimri, 1 Chron. ii, 6. Zerah - Or, Zarah, who was Judah's immediate son, Gen. xxxviii, 30, who went with Judah into Egypt: and so for the filling up the 256 years that are supposed to come between that and this time, we must allow Achan to be, now an old man, and his three ancestors to have begotten each his son at about sixty years of age; which at that time was not incredible nor unusual. Against the children of Israel - Why did God punish the whole society for this one man's sin? All of them were punished for their own sins, whereof each had a sufficient proportion; but God took this occasion to inflict the punishment upon the society, partly because divers of them might be guilty of this sin, either by coveting what he actually did, or by concealing his fault, which it is probable could not be unknown to others; or by not sorrowing for it, and endeavouring to purge themselves from it: partly to make sin the more hateful; as being the cause of such dreadful judgments: and partly to oblige all the members of every society to be more circumspect in ordering their own actions, and more diligent to prevent the miscarriages of their brethren, which is a great benefit to them, and to the whole society.
2. To Ai - They were not to go into the city of Ai, but into the country belonging to it, to understand the state of the place; and the people.
3. Go up - Which was done by the wise contrivance of Divine providence, that their sin might be punished, and they awaked and reformed with as little mischief and reproach, as might be: for if the defeat of these caused so great a consternation in Joshua, it is easy to guess what dread it would have caused in the people if a host had been defeated.
4. They fled - Not having courage to strike a stroke, which was a plain evidence that God had forsaken then; and an useful instruction, to shew them what they were when God left them: and that it was God, not their own valour, that gave the Canaanites into their hands.
5. About thirty and six men - A dear victory to them, whereby Israel was awakened and reformed, and they hardened to their own ruin. The going down - By which it seems it was a down-hill way to Jericho, which was nearer Jordan. As water - Soft and weak, and full of fluctuation and trembling.
6. Rent his clothes - In testimony of great sorrow, for the loss felt, the consequent mischief feared, and the sin which he suspected. His face - In deep humiliation and fervent supplication. Until the even-tide - Continuing the whole day in fasting and prayer. Put dust upon their heads - As was usual in case of grief and astonishment.
7. Over Jordan - This and the following clause, tho' well intended, yet favour of human infirmity, and fall short of that reverence and modesty, and submission, which he owed to God; and are mentioned as instances that the holy men of God were subject to like passions and infirmities with other men.
8. What shall I say - In answer to the reproaches of our insulting enemies. When Israel - God's people, which he hath singled out of all nations for his own.
9. Thy great name - Which will upon this occasion be blasphemed and charged with inconstancy, and with inability to resist them, or to do thy people that good which thou didst intend them. The name of God is a great name, above every name. And whatever happens, we ought to pray, that this may not be polluted. This should be our concern more than any thing else: on this we should fix our eye: and we cannot urge a better plea than this, Lord, what wilt thou do for thy great name? Let God in all be glorified, and then welcome his whole will!
10. Upon thy face - This business is not to be done by inactive supplication, but by vigourous endeavours for reformation.
11. Israel - Some or one of them. Transgressed my covenant - That is, broken the conditions of my covenant which they have promised to perform, whereof this was one, not to meddle with the accursed thing. Stolen - That is, taken my portion which I had reserved, chap. vi, 19. Dissembled - Covered the fact with deep dissimulation. Possibly Achan might be suspected, and being accused, had denied it. Among their own stuff - Converted it to their own use, and added obstinacy to the crime.
12. Were accursed - They have put themselves out of my protection, and therefore are liable to the same destruction which belongs to this accursed people.
13. Sanctify yourselves - Purify yourselves from that defilement which you have all in some sort contracted by this accursed fact, and prepare yourselves to appear before the Lord, expecting the sentence of God for the discovery and punishment of the sin, and that the guilty person might hereby be awakened, and brought to a free confession of his fault. And it is a marvelous thing that Achan did not on this occasion acknowledge his crime; but this is to be imputed to the heart-hardening power of sin, which makes men, grow worse and worse; to his pride, being loath to take to himself the shame of such a mischievous and infamous action; and to his vain conceit, whereby he might think others were guilty as well as he, and some of them might be taken, and he escape.
14. The Lord taketh - Which shall be declared guilty by the lot, which is disposed by the Lord, Prov. xvi, 33, and which was to be cast in the Lord's presence before the ark. Of such use of lots, see 1 Sam. xiv, 41, 42 Jonah i, 7 Acts i, 26.
15. Shall be burnt with fire - As persons and things accursed were to be. All that he hath - His children and goods, as is noted, ver. 24, according to the law, Deut. xiii, 16. Wrought folly - So sin is often called in scripture, in opposition to the idle opinion of sinners, who commonly esteem it to be their wisdom. In Israel - That is, among the church and people of God who had such excellent laws to direct them, and such an all-sufficient and gracious God to provide for them, without any such unworthy practices. It was sacrilege, it was invading God's rights, and converting to a private use that which was devoted to his glory, which was to be thus severely punished, for a warning to all people in all ages, to take heed how they rob God.
17. The family - Either,
1. the tribe or people, as the word family sometimes signifies, or,
2. the families, as ver. 14, the singular number for the plural, the chief of each of their five families, Num. xxvi, 20, 21. Man by man - Not every individual person, as is evident from ver. 18, but every head of the several houses, or lesser families of that greater family of the Zarhites, of which see 1 Chron. ii, 6.
19. My son - So he calls him, to shew, that this severe inquisition and sentence did not proceed from any hatred to his person, which he loved as a father doth his son, and as a prince ought to do each of his subjects. The Lord God of Israel - As thou hast highly dishonoured him, now take the blame to thyself, and ascribe unto God the glory of his omniscience in knowing thy sin, of his justice in punishing it in thee, and others for thy sake; of his omnipotency, which was obstructed by thee; and of his kindness and faithfulness to his people, which was eclipsed by thy wickedness; all which will now be evident by thy sin confessed and punished.
20. Indeed I have sinned - He seems to make a sincere and ingenuous confession, and loads his sin with all just aggravations. Against the Lord - Against his express command, and glorious attributes. God of Israel - The true God, who hath chosen me and all Israel to be the people of his peculiar love and care.
21. When I saw - He accurately describes the progress of his sin, which began at his eye, which he permitted to gaze upon them, which inflamed his desire, and made him covet them; and that desire made him take them; and having taken, resolve to keep them; and to that end hide them in his tent. Babylonish garment - Which were composed with great art with divers colours, and of great price, as appears both from scripture, and Heathen authors. Two hundred shekels - To wit, in weight, not in coin; for as yet they received and payed money by weight. The silver under it - That is, under the Babylonish garment; covered with it, or wrapt up in it.
22. Sent messengers - That the truth of his confession might be unquestionable, which some, peradventure might think was forced from him. And they ran - Partly longing to free themselves and all the people from the curse under which they lay; and partly that none of Achan's relations might get thither before them, and take away the things. It was hid - That is, the parcel of things mentioned, ver. 21 and 24.
23. Before the Lord - Where Joshua and the elders continued yet in their assembly waiting for the issue.
24. His sons, and his daughters - Their death was a debt they owed to their own sins, which debt God may require when he pleaseth; and he could not take it in more honourable 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 deaths 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 pernicious practices. And 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, it seems most likely, that the children were grown up, and so capable of knowing, and concealing, or discovering this fact. 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 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. Farther, by this enumeration it appears, that he had no colour of necessity to induce him to this fact.
25. With stones - And burned him with fire; which is easily understood both out of the following words, and from God's command to do so. They were stoned (which was the punishment of such offenders, Lev. xxiv, 14 Num. xv, 35,) and not burned to death; but God would have their dead carcases burned to shew his utmost detestation of such persons as break forth into sins of such a public scandal and mischief.
26. A great heap of stones - As a monument of the sin and judgment here mentioned, that others might be warned by the example; and as a brand of infamy, as chap. viii, 29; 2 Sam. xviii, 17. The valley of Achor - Or, the valley of trouble, from the double trouble expressed, ver. 25.
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