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Joshua 7:20-21 NASB

“So Achan answered Joshua and said, “Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.””

Does Achan’s comment here signify repentance? If so, how does God deal with repentance in the Old Testament? It seems like in other cases He turns His wrath when man admits his sin, but here He destroys the whole family. Is there consistency with how God deals with repentance in the Old Testament?

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  • instead of posing the que as questioning God's consistency, you should ask Why x was not forgiven, etc to be specific to the passage.
    – Michael16
    Aug 20, 2022 at 16:27
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    It's important to distinguish between regret (I got caught; I should have been more careful), remorse (I feel guilty; I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have done it), and repentance (I didn't care what I was doing; I now understand why it was wrong and will never think of doing it again). ¶ Repentance requires a true change in the way one views things, in one's character, and in one's behaviour. With repentance, one effectively becomes a new person; so any blame or punishment would be pointless. (That of course doesn't absolve one of any responsibility for the harm already done by one's actions.) Aug 20, 2022 at 21:01
  • Achan may have repented and might have been saved. But the judgment had to fall upon him and he had to suffer its proper consequence in this life, as an example.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 21, 2022 at 1:38

6 Answers 6

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To better understand the situation with Achan, two aspects need to be considered: confession and repentance.

First, does Achan's comment signify repentance? Achan's words show more an acknowledgment of what he did, i.e. a confession. Think of the movie trope where a villain/criminal states "Yeah, I did it and would do it again!" The individual is clearly admitting to what they have done but would eagerly repeat the offense.

Confession was a requirement under the Mosaic Law. (Leviticus 5:5) We see the example of David after he sinned:

Finally I confessed my sin to you; I did not cover my error. I said: “I will confess my transgressions to Jehovah.” And you pardoned the error of my sins. (Psalm 32:5)

Now, was Achan repentant? Herein lies the difficulty. The Hebrew word נָחַם nacham (Strong's H5162) is translated as "to be sorry, console oneself". Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words mentions it as:

a change of the heart or disposition, a change of mind, a change of purpose, or an emphasis upon the change of one’s conduct.

Since Achan was stoned to death, there is no way to see if he actually would have changed his life course. The only one that would have known if he was repentant would be Jehovah God. The scriptures clearly mention that Jehovah looks into a person's heart to determine their motives:

then may you hear from the heavens, your dwelling place, and may you forgive and take action; and reward each one according to all his ways, for you know his heart (you alone truly know every human heart), (1 Kings 8:39) [bold mine]

“And you, Solʹo·mon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a complete heart and with a delightful soul, for Jehovah searches through all hearts, and he discerns every inclination of the thoughts. If you search for him, he will let himself be found by you, but if you leave him, he will reject you forever.” (1 Chronicles 28:9) [bold mine]

(see also Psalm 7:9; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 17:10)

There are several accounts in the Bible that show that Jehovah God examines the hearts of individuals to see if they are truly repentant.

These are all instances of how Jehovah deals with humans that are/are not repentant in the Old Testament, but this also holds true in the New Testament because he says it himself:

“For I am Jehovah; I do not change" (Malachi 3:6)

With all of the above, it could be logical to conclude that Jehovah God examined Achan's heart and saw no evidence of repentance even though he confessed to sinning. It was for the lack of repentance that Jehovah determined to have Achan stoned.

For additional information on confession and repentance, see the Insight on the Scriptures article entitled "Repentance".

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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  • Very helpful answer with strong scriptural backing. Thank you! Aug 29, 2022 at 20:51
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There is no difference in the old or new testament here.

The opportunity for repentance - or turning - comes from God, not man. Thus it makes no sense to ask if God will accept it. Of course God accepts it. But just because someone weeps and says "I'm sorry" doesn't mean that they have found repentance. Thus many people confuse sorrow or regret with repentance.

Repentance means to turn inwardly and you have to turn to the right thing. What man does is feel bad about something and wishes he hadn't done it or wishes he could turn, but he doesn't know how or in what direction to turn. Man can "diligently seek repentance" - even with tears -- but not find it. E.g.

Heb 12.7 KVJ: For ye know how afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

Why wouldn't man find it if he seeks it? Because man can only seek what has been revealed to him by the Spirit. So the man to whom the Spirit has not revealed the right direction of turning ends up just wishing that things were different or that he was a good person, etc, and this turns to regret and eventually death.

2 Cor 7:10 KJV: For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

But the godly sorrow seeks rightness with God in knowledge, to those who are made aware of God's rigtheousness, not their own.

Thus we have a chain

  God --> sorrow --> turn
  The world --> sorrow --> death

All we can see visibly is the tears, the regrets, and the confessions. The sorrow. But like all other things, the key is spiritual and inward.

You cannot tell, based on what someone says or how he behaves while they sorrow, whether they are experiencing godly sorrow or the sorrow of the world.

The only way you can tell is by waiting and seeing the fruit, whether it is of death or life. Nothing of importance in the scriptures happens outside the heart, and everything depends on the source, whether it is from God or from man, which will determine what the person sees, as that is what he will seek.

This even applies to verses like "seek and ye shall find". or "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matt 6.33). God has to first give man grace to hunger for His righteousness - to give him some awareness of it and a taste of it -- or he will not hunger for it. That is why those who do hunger are called blessed (Matt 5.6). Some hunger for man's righteousness or even worse -- their own righteousness -- and so they never obtain the Kingdom, no matter how diligently they seek. They were never given a taste of God's righteousness so they had no knowledge about what to seek:

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Romans 10:3 (KJV 1900)

But on the other hand, all those who mourn are given some kind of comfort, at a minimum because the mourning itself gives comfort.

So in Matt 5.4, "blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" is the opening line. It is the first step in the beatitudes' progression which starts with "obtain comfort" and ends with "rewards in heaven". Sorrow is at least a type of acknowledgement that you are in the wrong place.

Esau, who was sorrowful, was comforted with great wealth and a large territory. Thus we must also believe that Achan was given some kind of comfort, which is why some believe he was given a share in the life to come while others argue that he was only comforted emotionally by the confession and expression of remorse. It all depends on what direction he turned inwardly, and the scriptures are silent on this.

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  • Esau said 'I have enough'. Jacob wrestled all night for a blessing. And prevailed, therefore he is called 'Prince with God'. Not much comfort in wealth and territory when death comes. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 21, 2022 at 3:10
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The answer to the title question is no, and yes to question as to whether Achan repented. God does seem inconsistent in the OT.

Killing Achan's whole family is inconsistent with Ezek 18

  • Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine... The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son

A similar example to Achan's is found in 1 Sam 15:

  • Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.” 26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

But of course, there are even more examples where God does accept a sinner's repentance. God forgave the Israelites of their sin with the golden calf in Ex. 32. He forgive David for his sin with Bathsheba. He forgives the various psalmists who cried out to him for mercy. He even forgave Israel's enemies, the Ninevites, when they repented in the Book of Jonah, much to Jonah' dismay. The OT thus presents God as sometimes accepting a sinner's repentance but not always and especially not immediately.

I conclude that God indeed seems inconsistent in accepting repentance in the OT. It may be that this depends on the seriousness of the sin as in Achan's case or or the quality of repentance, which is not visible. Also, God may be testing the sinner's steadfastness as in the case of the Psalms. Another possibility is that the seeming inconsistency results from the fact that the various OT books are written by different authors who present God's justice and mercy if different ways.

Even in the NT, God is not completely consistent in forgiving sinners. In Paul's teaching, God's forgiveness depends not only on repentance but also on belief in Christ's atoning sacrifice for our sins. The implication is that those who do not repent with faith in Jesus are doomed to die in their sins. And in Acts 5, Annanias and Sapphira are not even given an opportunity to repent but are repaid for the sins in very "Old Testament" manner.

  • After an interval of about three hours [Sapphira] came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

I personally believe that God is steadfast and consistent, hoping to show mercy to every repentant sinner. But I have to admit that the Bible, both the NT and the OT, does not always portray God that way.

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  • Acts 5:1-11 is a good example.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 23, 2022 at 0:56
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The story of Achan perfectly illustrates the difference between:

  • confession/admission of guilt
  • repentance/regret/remorse for the action and its consequences and the realization of its sinfulness

Our daily news regularly has examples of people who freely admit to a crime but show no remorse a crime and for the hurt it causes others.

Achan, had plenty of opportunity to repent during the casting of the lots to gradually find the guilty person. However, even when confronted, his admission speech still betrayed his love of the "beautiful Babylonian garment" and "two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them" (Josh 7:21). Thus, Achan broke the tenth commandment and also Deut 7:25 -

You must burn up the images of their gods; do not covet the silver and gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it; for it is detestable to the LORD your God.

Interestingly, the sin and reaction of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 has some great similarities - in their case, not even an admission of guilt.

The fact that Achan's entire family was killed along with him, suggests that they were complicit in this sin, based on the teaching in Eze 18.

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In order for repentance to work, there must be contrition. This means they have to relinquish the power they got in the soul from their misdeed.

On the issue of how the Creator deals with it, you must understand that god evolved as Man did. He had no experience with Man's insolence and other imperfections after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. The existence of the Tree implies that the Creator did not know everything and can be seen as the balancing force in Creation with a male from of God.

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The Jewish perspective on this is that repentance is always accepted, but that for certain kinds of sins, repentance plus condign punishment (in this case, Achan's execution) is needed for full atonement. The Talmud in fact points this out in connection with this very episode (emphases are mine):

When the condemned man is at a distance of about ten cubits from the place of stoning, they say to him: Confess your transgressions, as the way of all who are being executed is to confess. As whoever confesses and regrets his transgressions has a portion in the World-to-Come. For so we find with regard to Achan... And from where is it derived that Achan’s confession achieved atonement for him? It is derived from here, as it is stated: “And Joshua said: Why have you brought trouble on us? The Lord shall trouble you this day” (Joshua 7:25). Joshua said to Achan as follows: On this day of your judgment you are troubled, but you will not be troubled in the World-to-Come.

(Sanhedrin 43b)

Note: The "World-to-Come" refers to the realm in which the soul is granted its reward after its bearer's death.

Incidentally, further on in that discussion (ibid. 44a), the Talmud notes that Achan's children weren't actually executed; they were just brought there to witness their father's execution, "to chastise them and strike fear into their hearts by making them witness the stoning."

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