Considering Achan and Rahab of Jericho
Debby’s comments on the Jericho-connected battle of Ai story. (Joshua 7:1–8:28) (I discuss this on pages 313–316 of Talking With God.) Ai was another city that the invading Israelites attacked.
Their first attempt ended in disaster. The inhabitants of the Ai chased a small army of 3,000 Israelites and killed 36 of them. Achan, a man from the tribe of Judah, took the blame for this defeat He stole some items during the destruction of Jericho, when the people were expressly ordered to give them to “the treasury of the Lord.” The Lord told Joshua that he wouldn’t be able to capture Ai until the guilt was expiated. Achan confessed and he, his family, and his animals were stoned to death.
Then the Lord told Joshua it was alright to attack Ai. So Joshua assembled an army of 30,000 soldiers, and they succeeded in capturing and destroying the city. After prohibiting the people from taking loot from Jericho, the Lord now permitted them to take it from Ai.
Debby feels that this story is a lesson “learned that there was no room for even a single bad apple among the Israelites and that God meant business.” She contrasts this with the Jericho story where Rahab, the prostitute, hid the Israelite spies so they could safely return from Jericho to give their reports to Joshua.
Debby concludes: “I think the point of the story is this: The contrast [is] between Achan and Rahab of Jericho, whose reward for relinquishing Canaan to the Israelites actually won Canaan back for her in the form of The Promised Land, while Achan’s disloyalty to Israel brought him the same type of execution reserved for Canaanites at the same time his family lost its inheritance. Once … the lesson was learned… God told Joshua to take his whole army for a second attack-30,000 men, proving what a gross miscalculation they’d made the first time when the Lord wasn’t helping them. And as their reward, contrary to the usual rules, the Lord would allow them to keep all the plunder for themselves.”
The rabbis and scholars have worried over this story for centuries. There are countless explanations for the misdeeds of one man, which ended in killing 36 Israelite soldiers and the perpetrator’s whole family. I have given my opinion in the book in one of the few times I make a conjecture.
I believe that the entire Achan story was inserted into an original, simple explanation of the attack on Ai. I explain why it never should have been there in the first place. If it is omitted, there remains a smooth story detailing that Joshua sent spies to Ai. They miscalculated what it would take to capture the city. Then, and only then, after the too small army was defeated, did Joshua use the communications device, the Ark, to ask the Lord what to do. Then, omitting the Achan story, the normal procedure took place.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Up! Condition the people, and say ‘condition yourselves against tomorrow.’” (Where?) Why? For communication to work, the dangerous cloud had to be on the Ark, and the people had to protect themselves from it. The orders to send the full army now came directly from the Lord through the Ark.
Finally, while the details of the story could well be historical, when it was finally written presents a problem. Once again, as with so much of the Bible, we find that it was perfectly possible that the event took place, and the observers passed the details on orally as accurately as they could. However, when it came to the writing, the scribes no longer knew the technical aspects. I conclude this for several reasons.
(1) The concept of Ark of the Testimony (Ark of communication) isn’t mentioned. Here it is not even called the Ark of the Covenant, as it was later known, but only “ark [of the ] Lord.” So while observers explained that Joshua “fell down before the ark,” they didn’t seem to know why any longer.
(2) Whether or not it is true that the Achan story was inserted, this too was at a later date. Joshua said to Achan, “My son…, give glory to the Lord…and make confession to him.” (Joshua 7:19) This is a use of the word “glory” in its later sense. There is no understanding that it was the radioactive substance in the cloud. One could hardly give that to the Lord!
(3) Third, scholars have pointed out that Ai means “ruin.” To call it a “ruin” before it was destroyed is strange. It makes one suspect that the writer gave it the name after the fact.
As an aside I must mention that scholars have long felt the whole Ai story was just that— a story. They reason that archaeologists have found no trace of a city or destruction at the level dating to the attack in a place thought to be Ai, called et-Tell. However, very recently a nearby location called Khirbet-el-Maqatir has turned up evidence of a city that was destroyed at least partially by fire at the exact time of Joshua’s attack and in the perfect place where the event could have occurred. It even produced a child burial urn, indicating that there were women at the site. This, it is felt, could well be the city of Ai.
So, while Debby’s explanation of the contrast between Achan and Rahab is most ingenious, I feel that a study of the original word meanings don’t indicate they were actually meant to show a comparison between good and evil people.