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We read that Achan confessed his sin of taking spoil that was proscribed for the Lord:

Achan answered Joshua, “It is true, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I did: I saw among the spoil a fine Shinar mantle, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, and I coveted them and took them. They are buried in the ground in my tent, with the silver under it.”—Joshua 7:20-21 (NJPS)

But when it was time to punish the sin, Achan's children were included:

Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan son of Zerah—and the silver, the mantle, and the wedge of gold—his sons and daughters, and his ox, his ass, and his flock, and his tent, and all his belongings, and brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “What calamity you have brought upon us! The Lord will bring calamity upon you this day.” And all Israel pelted him with stones. They put them to the fire and stoned them.—Joshua 7:24-25 (NJPS)

This seemed to mollify God's anger.

Why then were Achan's children destroyed? Was it because Achan's sin was transferred to his children, or because his children were considered his property and not separate individuals, or because they were complicit in the sin, or for some other reason?

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4 Answers

The God of the Bible is covenantal in nature. He deals with nations, towns, families and sometimes with individuals. As Western believers we have a view of God as only dealing with individuals however he often places his mercy or judgment on larger groups.

Think for example of the Canaanites. Was each individual so wicked that they needed to be destroyed? Or how about Nineveh at the time of Jonah. They seemed to all be saved from destruction by the repentance of their King.

Examples abound in scripture of this sort of thing.

In the case of Achan's family I believe we have a similar case. As the covenant head of his family Achan was responsible for their fate. He failed, they died.

One more note. I do not believe that this sort of covenantal covering extends to salvation. God definitely extends His saving grace to individuals and not to groups.

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I agree the cultural context must be taken into account. And if all of Canaan was to be destroyed for the sin of their culture, it seems fair that all of Achan's line should be similarly destroyed. Support for your final paragraph comes from Jeremiah 31:27-34. (As you probably guessed, my question stemmed from yours. I'm glad you got some good answers over there even if I don't get the question. ;-) –  Jon Ericson May 4 '12 at 19:03
    
Yup, glad to see the question over here. The idea of covenant has almost been lost to the west, we need to hear more about it! Actually, I think all of his line was destroyed. –  Nathan Bunney May 4 '12 at 19:10
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I'm not sure. It sounds like punishment is per group but grace is per individual, which means it is much easier to get punished than to get grace. I suspect, somehow, that the others were complicit; God has previously stated He would not destroy many thousands for the sake of a few. –  Wikis May 4 '12 at 19:11
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Compare also with: Korach's rebellion in the book of Numbers, which led to his whole family being killed, and Haman's ten sons who were hanged along with him in the book of Esther (not by God or a rabbinic court, but tradition seems to approve). It seems like transgressions that threaten the whole community, as all three of these did, have more-dire consequences.

We are also told that God visits the sins of the father onto the children, to the third or fourth generation "of them that hate me". Not all transgressions necessarily involve hating God, but threatening the nation might qualify.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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What an interesting perspective! If I tell a secret, it might destroy a friendship. But if I tell a state secret to its enemies, I might destroy a nation. The first has no legal consequences, but the second could, theoretically, result in my death for treason. –  Jon Ericson May 4 '12 at 20:11
    
Just out of curiosity, Monica, I notice you don't have a problem writing, "God". May I ask what you think of this (just curiosity)? I was triggered by this answer which uses G-d. –  Wikis May 4 '12 at 20:40
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@Wikis, people differ on this. I am in the camp that says that "God", being (1) a translation and (2) not any form of the tetragramaton, isn't God's real name and so I'm not risking desecrating it through erasing. (Also, pixels aren't writing.) I understand (and do not criticize) the extra stringency of "G-d", but it's not my practice. –  Gone Quiet May 4 '12 at 21:13
    
Thanks, appreciate the answer! –  Wikis May 4 '12 at 21:16
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Yea...... If God can transfer the riches of a man down to his son/generating why wouldn't He transfer the sin of a man down to his son/generation? So God destroy the whole family of Achan because He once warned them never to take anything frm Jericho but Achan refuses to harken to God's voice.

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Hi, and welcome to the site! Can you fill this answer out a little more—explain your argument a little more carefully, offer some references, etc? –  Kazark Oct 13 '13 at 1:12
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Simple answer: Achan had hidden buried the items in his tent. It is unlikely that his children, who would have lived in the same tent, would have been ignorant of his sin, and they were therefore also culpable. We do know that the children were not killed innocently based on the sins of the father, as Joshua would have known the unequivocal prohibition in Deut 25:16 - 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. For instance, in the rebellion of Korah (cf. Num 16:25-34), Korah's children were not killed (Num 26:10-11), a fact of which Joshua would have been very aware.

Another aspect: Whether or not we believe in God, we cannot transpose Biblical events into our context today while ignoring the framework in which they were written. For instance, God is central in the book of Joshua. One can call God a main character. The book would make no more sense if one removed God, than Shakespeare's Othello would if one removed Iago. This character God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and He seeks the good of His people, which is for them to worship Him alone. This is the God who is right to give life and to take life. When He commanded something to be done, e.g. to "purge evil" by giving the death sentence to the perpetrators, the morally worst thing Joshua could have done would have been to disobey - which would have been worse both for himself, and for Israel as a whole. We cannot treat this incident as if Joshua himself were the originator of the command to destroy Achan and his family - whether or not one believes that God exists.

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protected by Jon Ericson Oct 16 '13 at 13:46

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