(1) But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel. (2) Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, "Go up and spy out the country." So the men went up and spied out Ai. (3) And they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai arefew." (4) So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. (5) And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
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One man's sin! There were no accomplices. Nobody even saw him do it, yet Israel's army became paralyzed with fear. Joshua faltered and became confused. The whole nation was affected. Thirty-six men died. Thirty-six women became widows. And how many children no longer had a father?
One might say that the sin was somewhat atoned for. When they found out what Achan had done, Achan and his family (who were innocent of the deed) were put to death. When God saw it, however, He analyzed the sin according to different standards. He was dealing with His people, and He wanted to make sure that a witness was made—so that there would be information for those of His church in the end time.
God takes a personal interest in His people. Things happen out in the world, and He seems to do nothing. But when things happen within His church, He is concerned for the well-being of His people, and He takes action.
What we see here is a clear beginning of "the body" analogy that later becomes so important to the church in the New Testament. He shows us plainly that sin has a natural leavening effect. It increases; it will not just lie there and die. Corrections must be made to ensure that it does not spread, affecting others.
— John W. Ritenbaugh