Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Stoning an art piece by Pablo Camps, 2016
And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.
— Joshua 7:24-25
I'm tempted to skip over episodes such as this one, which leave me baffled and dismayed. But mine is a journey into the Bible, not around the edges. Such stories of violent retribution are not uncommon in the scriptures, and have been used over the centuries to justify similar actions against law breakers, and whole nations. For me, and for many people of Abrahamic faith they don't align with what we know of a loving God, a God of forgiveness, a God of Life. How does one make sense of it? Context matters, of course.
The sin Achan committed wasn't one of simple theft. He had taken the accursed thing. The people of Ai were idol worshippers, to be conquered not integrated with. The Israelites were to be kept pure, and not become tainted by the traditions of the people they came in contact with, therefore their property is considered taboo, to be destroyed, not possessed. The sin wasn't theft, but idol worship, breaking one of the Deuteronomic commandments.1 Such action was considered the start of a slippery slope into Godlessness, affecting not only the sinner, but tainting his family and estate, and consequently the entire people of Israel. Seen in this light it is understandable that the sin must be erased, the poison obliterated, the race kept pure. The punishment is brutal but in the context of the story it makes some sort of sense.
Read allegorically, as much of the Bible must be, we can understand this episode as being a lesson in the importance of purity. I don't mean this in the sense of puritanical, but of innocence. The more we desire that which we don't have, or covet that which belongs to another the more our innocence is corroded. Wealth is usually acquired at the expense of another, so the wealthy are always corrupt. Consider the national lottery as a modern day example: a few will gain, at the loss and suffering of the many. Consider the interest charged on loans by banks and money lenders, casting the poor into life-long debt, fear and misery. There are times of course that the loan is not taken out of necessity, but out of covetousness, but this merely emphasises that sin breeds sin. If we can eliminate this early, we may live to be a more innocent, and equal society. And that perhaps, amidst its horrific violence, is the message of the story of Achan.
1 You shall consign the images of their gods to the fire; you shall not covet the silver and gold on them and keep it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared thereby; for that is abhorrent to the LORD your God. — Deuteronomy 7:25