(Josh. 7:24-26) Was the stoning of Achan’s family a case of divine overkill?

CLAIM: The Bible teaches that “The soul who sins will die” (Ezek. 18:4; see also Deut. 24:16). However, Achan’s children were included in being stoned. This doesn’t seem fair, and it seems to conflict with the Bible’s teaching that the righteous will not be judged with the wicked (Gen. 18:23-33).

RESPONSE: Achan’s action was similar to a DEA agent stealing money from a drug bust. It was absolute hypocrisy and greed:

  • Achan confessed (7:20), but this was under pressure and duress. Really, he only confessed after he was already busted. He could’ve confessed before the lots were ever cast.
  • Achan called the materials “spoils” of war (7:21), which was in direct contradiction to God’s view of them. He also “coveted” the silver, which broke the 10th commandment (“You shall not covet”). He was deliberately breaking away from God’s covenant. This shows that God was not playing favorites in the conquest of Canaan: If his own people broke the covenant, he would judge them with equal severity.
  • The verbs “I saw… I coveted… I took…” are identical to the verbs used for Adam and Eve’s moral fall (Gen. 3:6).
  • The long description of Achan’s livestock implies that he was wealthy and didn’t even need the silver he stole (7:24). This was total greed.
  • This was a time of war, and Achan’s greed cost 36 men their lives (Josh. 7:5).

Why were his children executed? For one, the text never says how old these children were. We might assume they were young, but on what basis? Likely, these were adult children because they were held morally responsible for profiting off of Achan’s greed. Since Achan kept the goods in his family tent, it would be highly unlikely that the family did not know about his action. Woudstra writes, “The fact that his family also shared in that fate may be due to their common knowledge of the crime. After all, the goods were hidden in the parental tent.”[1] In a modern house, a man might hide his porno stash in his office, but this would be impossible in the ancient world. The family was well aware.

Today when someone knowingly harbors a criminal, they are held morally responsible. In the same way, Achan’s entire family was implicitly responsible for his action. The people of Israel had agreed to follow Joshua’s leadership, and they had previously promised to follow his rules for the conquest (Josh. 1:16-18). This action of Achan not only disobeyed God, but it cost men their lives (Josh. 7:5). This is likely why they were punished so severely.

[1] Woudstra, Marten H. The Book of Joshua. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 198(1) 130.