Chapter seven contains the sad story of Israel’s first defeat in Canaan. God had specifically commanded that all of the treasure taken from Jericho would be put into God’s treasury, not be taken by any individuals. However, Achan did steal some, which brought God’s judgment on the entire nation (Joshua 7:1).
Not knowing about this, Joshua was making plans for the next battle, they city of Ai (Joshua 7:2-5). What they thought was going to be a quick defeat became a loss of 36 Israelite men. Joshua went to God to discover the reason for this defeat (Joshua 7:6-9). Like Moses, he was concerned about God’s reputation being tarnished in Canaan because of this. It was obvious that something was wrong.
God told Joshua that the people had sinned by taken some of the riches of Jericho (Joshua 7:10-15). Significantly, God did not automatically point out who the culprit was. Instead, he gave Joshua instructions to narrow down by tribe, clan, and family. As the men of the nation came before God, he would point out to Joshua when it was time to go to the next level. With over 600,000 men, this would naturally take a great deal of time, possibly so the offender could confess on his own. Joshua followed God’s instructions perfectly (Joshua 7:16-18).
When it finally came down to Achan, Joshua commanded to know what happened (Joshua 7:19-26). Achan said that, when he saw the gold, silver, and robe, he took them and hid them in the ground under his tent. He knew it was sin, but he did it anyway. God’s penalty for this sin was the death of Achan and his entire family and possessions; they were stoned to death then completely burned. Joshua put a memorial of stones over that spot as a reminder of God’s judgment.