Stoning Your Sin in the Valley of Achor

Stoning Your Sin in the Valley of Achor

The death of Achan is one of the more gory tales of the Bible. The harsh punishment meted out, not only on the man, but also on his whole family, may seem at least primitive, if not excessive. But as you ponder this story, don’t overlook Joshua’s threefold strategy to fight sin.

The Story of Achan

For those who are rusty on the story of Achan, let’s do a quick review. The Israelites, led by Joshua, have just crossed into the promised land. Jericho, the ancient and powerful city, fell (literally) to their legions. Now Joshua sends a small ‘strike-force’ out to conquer the tiny village of Ai. When his army returns, Joshua is shocked – they have been completely routed. He cries out to God, who says, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned…”

Joshua soon finds the perpetrator – Achan, the son of Carmi. When he asks what he did, Achan confesses that, rather than destroy everything as commanded, he took three things from the city of Jericho  – a beautiful Babylonian garment, 200 shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold that weighs 50 shekels. This would be the ancient equivalent of a custom-tailored suit, over $1000 worth of silver, and a chunk of gold worth over $21,000!

Joshua sends a messenger who finds the goods buried in the ground under Achan’s tent. The punishment is speedy and severe: “Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.”[1]

First Strategy: Be Ruthless

Joshua’s strategy toward sin in the camp was not one of forgiveness, but ruthlessness. He could not tolerate it. It wasn’t because Joshua was vindicative, but because the success of the entire nation depended on purity. One sinner, like Achan, could prevent God from blessing the people, and result in military disaster – or worse! Joshua did not give Achan a second chance. He dealt with the offender swiftly.

Second Strategy: Leave No Trace

Joshua left no trace of disobedience in the camp. Not only was Achan, the direct perpetrator, executed, but so was his whole family. They were indirectly guilty, because (we may assume) he would not have been able to dig a hole under his tent without their knowledge. Their silence about his sin made them accomplices.

Achan, and everything that he had, was entirely exterminated. Not only was he stoned, but afterward his remains were burnt with fire, and huge stones covered him. Not a trace of his sin was to remain. Nothing could pollute the camp of Israel, which was dedicated to the cause of the Lord.

Third Strategy: Remember the Effects

Achan was not forgotten. His story lived on in three ways. First, the valley that he was executed in was named ‘Achor,’ or ‘trouble,’ because he had troubled the nation of Israel. From that point on, the valley was a constant reminder of the trouble that one man’s sin had caused.

Achan was buried beneath a huge pile of stones. Anyone who passed by would see those stones, and remember who was buried beneath them, and why. It was a powerful deterrent.

And of course, the story of Achan was recorded in the book of Joshua for all future readers. We still remember how much trouble he caused his nation. Achan’s sin did not just affect himself. It had profound consequences.

The Old and the New

When we shift into the New Testament, we see an unfolding of God’s plan for the world. In the case of Achan, no substitute was held up for sin. Today, there is a substitute held up for sin – Jesus Christ! Without him, every sin against God would result in the sinner, personally, receiving the same judgment as Achan. Praise God for a substitute!

In the New Testament, we realize that God is not working on a single nation, but in his people all throughout the world. Perhaps the Old Testament focus was purity in the camp; now it is purity in one’s life. The story of Achan is not a call to stone sinners, but a call to deal with personal sin. It is a reminder that sin will destroy our lives and eternal souls, just as it threatened to destroy the nation of Israel. Joshua’s strategy is as real today as ever: a call to deal with sin in our own lives ruthlessly, to leave no trace of it, and to always remember its deadly effects.

[1] Joshua 7:24-26