Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Achar, the troubler of Israel, who transgressed in the thing accursed. (Joshua 7)

So now we come to the topic of Achan. Yes, the title of this post is a correctly copied verse from 1Chronicles, and I'm surprised this typo was not noted in the SAB, as Bible critics love to point out scribal errors, which this might be, although it could also be a matter of several hundred years' difference in Hebrew dialect. It is notable that achar is the Hebrew word for "trouble", and the names Achan and Achor that are found in this passage are forms of the word.

The first thing noted in this chapter is that the Israelite leaders rip their clothes, fall face down on the ground and put dust on their heads. This is noted as being absurd and intolerant, and I don't know why it was marked with either. This sort of behavior may seem strange to modern readers, but it was common practice in those days, and in fact may still be among modern Orthodox Jews, though I am not sure about that. It's just a way to show extreme sorrow. As for intolerance, I'm stumped as to what that's supposed to mean

Unless it's referring not to the actions of Joshua and the elders, but to the situation they find themselves in that causes them to be upset. God allowed them to suffer their first defeat at the city of Ai because (as it turns out) one person had done something wrong. As I said in my previous post, whatever this "accursed thing" was that Achan stole is not specifically named (unless it's the garment and precious metal mentioned in verse 21, which is possible if not likely), but the language used to describe it indicates that whatever it was, it was something of some pagan significance that he had no right to have in his possession. Why is it such a big deal?

The Apostle Paul said "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," a saying similar to the modern "One bad apple ruins the whole bunch." This is the point of the extremes of Holy war. The people and culture of Jericho had to be completely destroyed, and Achan saving some item he'd taken from the city was simply not acceptable.

In fact, shocking as it seems, it was apparently so very unacceptable that Achan along with his family and possessions were stoned to death and then burned. It's my personal opinion that God decided to have Achan punished so particularly severely in order to make him an object lesson for the rest of the nation. Just as the very first battle they fought in Canaan was won in a particularly spectacular manner to impress upon the people that God was with them in power, so the first transgression was punished in a spectacular manner to impress upon the people that while God was with them, He wasn't going to allow moral compromise.

As for the question of who Achan's father was, that's a simple matter that I've touched on before with other individuals, but I'll repeat here since it's so simple. The word "grandfather" never appears in the Bible. It was customary, whether by culture or by linguistic necessity, for any male ancestor to be called the "father" of a person. Twice in the chapter, Achan is referred to as "Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah". While he is once referred to as the "son of Zerah", this labeling is customary despite the fact that Zerah was actually his great-grandfather (or great-great-great-etc., sometimes genealogies are telescoped).

1 comment:

Ironite said...

The analysis of Joshua 7 and the sin of Achan, by brucker, was a defence of the Lord's indignation towards Achan, who was found out to be the guilty one through an excruciating process of elimination, planned by the Lord Himself, which slowly but surely left him standing alone. Achan brought great shame on Israel by taking goods from Jericho they promised the Lord they wouldn't take. He took some silver and gold and a cloak. His punishment was prescribed by God as thus: he was to be burnt. Including his family. Brucker understands the punishment is severe, but says it must have been so severe in order to impress upon Israel God's intolerance for wrong doing. Of course an apologetic could see morality in such an act. God is not cruel, He loves mankind and wants to teach his beloved children a harsh lesson for their own good. At such a point as this, it's important to wonder at the kind of love that God feels for Israel that he would have this covenant-breaker and his son's and daughters stoned to death and then burnt. It's the sort of love a tyrant would show to his country to keep the citizens in line. It's the sort of love a domestic abuser would show a loved one when he or she is angry. What God did was no different. It wasn't to impress the Israelites, it was to terrify them. It was a form of physical and mental abuse, in the guise of Israeli welfare. The apologetic only waters down this cruel act because God said it was right, therefore it must be. In fact God's love is so beyond human understanding that we lowly humans must blindly believe 'it's all for the best'. Indeed His sense/definition of righteousness is so beyond us that Achan's family HAD to die a horrible death for something they didn't do. How can a limited human judge the God of righteousness and love? To try would be absolute folly, so many don't try, they just agree with Him because it's safer. It seems that even Brucker thinks there must be more to Achan's guilt, so severe is the penalty, because he says it's not clear what Achan did wrong, and feels it must be more than taking some items. But the story is clear on Achan's guilt and he confesses himself. There is no need for Brucker to invent that it's related to paganism, in order to exalt the punishment. The bible is clear why Achan's family were stoned to death...God was furious with Achan for taking items from Jericho. It's not complicated. Others in the bible had suffered painful death for the sins of others, it was nothing new. It was characteristic of God. A constant reminder that the wages of crossing the Almighty, would be painful death...for your loved ones. It's called coercion. Thankfully a God like this doesn't really exist. These stories are the product of a religious elite intent on impressing fear and awe for God, but who won hearts and minds with stories of God winning battles for Israel.