Achan

ACHAN (ā'kan, Heb. ‘ākhān). An Israelite whose tragic experience is recorded in Josh.7.1-Josh.7.26. Achan took a garment, silver, and gold—part of the spoil of Jericho. Joshua had devoted the metals to God (Josh.6.17-Josh.6.19). All else was to be destroyed. Because of one man’s disobedience, Israel was defeated at Ai. God revealed the reason to Joshua. By a process of elimination Achan was found out. He confessed, and he and his family and possessions were brought down to the valley of Achor. In spite of some difficulty in understanding the Hebrew text in Josh.6.25-Josh.6.26, there is little ground for holding that Joshua’s command (Josh.6.17) was not carried out in the execution of both Achan and his entourage. In the Scriptures the Lord often allows us to see the full significance of our sinful ways. Achan’s experience illustrates the biblical revelation that we never sin alone: there is always a family involvement (cf. Exod.20.5-Exod.20.6) and also a wider pollution touching the whole people of God and bringing them under judgment. Joshua expressed this thought in his epitaph: “Why have you brought this disaster on us?” (Exod.7.25), allowing the name Achan to slip over into the similar-sounding verb ‘āchar, “to trouble, bring disaster.” This in turn became the name of the place itself, Achor, “disaster.” In 2Chr.2.7, Achan’s name reads “Achar,” the man of disaster.

Additional Material

Source 2

AKAN (ā'kăn, Heb. ‘ăqān, twisted). A descendant or branch of the Horites of Mount Seir (Gen.36.27).

Source 3

ACHAN ā kăn (עָכָ֣ן, עָכָר, in 1 Chron 2:7, troubler). The descendant of Judah through Zerah, one of the twins born to Judah and Tamar, who was also Judah’s daughter-in-law. He was stoned to death for violating the “ban” (hērem) during the conquest of Jericho (Josh 7:1-26). Achan stole 200 shekels of silver, a Babylonian garment, and a wedge of gold weighing 50 shekels and hid them in the earthen floor of his tent (7:21).

The effect of this violation of the hērem (6:17) was immediately felt upon all Israel as they attempted to take the city of Ai. Jericho had been offered to God as a sort of first fruits, wholly given to God and utterly withdrawn from human use forever; Achan thought he knew better!

Joshua soon learned upon asking of God the reason for the military failure at Ai; that one man’s sin had affected the whole group (7:7-13). The response of God was that “Israel has sinned and they have transgressed.” With this evidence for “corporate personality” or solidarity of the community one may also note Achan’s personal confession (7:20, 21).

Not all scholars accept this narrative as evidence for corporate solidarity of the group with the actions of individuals in that group. More recently J. R. Porter has denied this explanation of collective responsibility and argued for an infectious holiness which spreads to all who touch it, which in turn earns the death penalty. Per contra, Haggai 2:12 would seem to negate this explanation by J. R. Porter.

When Achan was exposed after the lot fell upon him, all his family and their possessions were brought to the Valley of Achor for punishment. Whether the sons and daughters also were stoned depended on two things: (a) whether the pl. “them” (Josh 7:25) refers to his possessions only or includes his sons and daughters, and (b) whether the children were knowingly involved in the crime, for the law of Moses (Deut 24:16) prohibited children from being put to death for the sins of the fathers. Joshua 22:20 cannot be appealed to as settling the case, for while it does say “that man perished not alone in his iniquity,” the question remains whether this is not a reference to the thirty-six men who also lost their lives in the unsuccessful attack on Ai along with the life of Achan.

The valley of Achor (“trouble”) symbolized for the prophets (Isa 65:10; Hos 2:15) the opposite of the eschatological “door of hope” and thus became a byword.

Bibliography

R. P. Shedd, Man In Community (1958), 3-41; J. R. Porter, “Legal Aspects of the Concept of Corporate Personality in the OT,” VT, XV (1965); 361-380, esp. 367-373.

Source 4

AKAN ā’ kăn (עֲקָֽן). A son of Ezer, a descendant of Esau (Gen 36:27); also RSV JAAKAN, KJV JAKAN (1 Chron 1:42).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


The crime of Achan was a serious one. Quite apart from all questions of supposable superstition, or even religion, the cherem concerning Jericho had been proclaimed, and to disobey the proclamation was disobedience to military orders in an army that was facing the enemy. It is commonly held that Achan’s family were put to death with him, though they were innocent; but the record is not explicit on these points. One whose habits of thought lead him to expect features of primitive savagery in such a case as this will be sure to find what he expects; a person of different habits will not be sure that the record says that any greater cruelty was practiced on the family of Achan than that of compelling them to be present at the execution. Those who hold that the Deuteronomic legislation comes in any sense from Moses should not be in haste to think that its precepts were violated by Joshua in the case of Achan (see De 24:16). The record says that the execution took place in the arable valley of Achor, up from the Jordan valley. See Achor.

Source 5

A son of Ezer, a descendant of Esau of Seir (Ge 36:27). He is called Jaakan in 1Ch 1:42. The King James Version margin has Jakan.