Achan, a Study of Mutual Responsibility


     Alas, the concept of "mutual responsibility" relative to mankind is almost a lost concept today, even among too many professing Christians. All men affect others and, to a degree, we are each responsible for one another (cp. Rom. 14: 7). Cain was the first to reflect the selfish human autonomy thinking when he asked, "Am I my brotherís keeper?" (Gen. 4: 9). Yes, Cain was his brotherís keeper; notwithstanding the fact that he had just murdered his brother, an act totally in violation and opposition to "mutual responsibility." There is in the general sense, a brotherhood of men taught in the scriptures and since we share in humanity, there is a consequent responsibility to see to the welfare of one another (cp. Acts 17: 26 ff.). This "mutual responsibility" and moral awareness and reciprocity circumstance is clearly observed in the relationship Christians are to experience one with another. Paul expressed it this way:

     "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Rom. 12: 5).

     As I establish a stage for the introduction of "Achan, a Study of Mutual Responsibility," allow me to mention one important role of the "Old Testament." The many examples found in the Hebrew scriptures are profitable for us today (I Cor. 10: 1ff.). Hence, our study of Achan.

     Achan, his identity. Very little is known of Achan. Most of what we read of this individual is found in Joshua chapters six and seven. He is mentioned relative to the conquest of the land of Canaan. Under Joshuaís military leadership, the army of Israel had taken Jericho on the east side of Jordon and was next focused on the city of Ai, on the western side of Jordon (Josh. 6). It is just after the conquest of Jericho and in connection with the taking of Ai that Achan is mentioned.

     The fuller context in which we observe Achan. Israel had shamefully failed in regards to the small city of Ai and had suffered humiliation (Josh. 7: 4, 5). Joshua could not understand such a military defeat, especially in view of how they had just taken Jericho (Josh. 7: 6-9). Joshua is told why there had been such a failure:

     "10: And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 11: Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. 12: Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you" (Josh. 7).

     In the case of Jericho, Israel was warned not to, "Ötake of the accursed thing" (the spoils of war, Josh. 6: 18). We read, though, that this command had been violated.

     "But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel" (Josh. 7: 1).

     What some view to be in the least a problem and in the most, an irreconcilable contradiction. Please read again my insertion of Joshua 7: 10-12. Notice the plural noun and pronouns in the case of who sinned, "Israel," "they." Without question, "Israel hath sinned." Yet, upon closer examination, we are told that it was an individual named Achan who had sinned (Josh. 7: 1). The particularity of Achanís sin is provided. Upon a search of Israel as to the sin, Achan was discovered and he confessed his sin (Josh. 7: 7ff.). Achan had to be probed, though, before he confessed that he had hidden in his tent the "accursed thing." Notwithstanding the fact that it was Achan who had committed this flagrant trespass, the whole nation of Israel is held responsible and it was not until Israel had addressed Achan and his sin that Israel was again blessed of God. I submit that herein lies a very relevant and powerful lesson for Godís people today, one that most certainly involves "mutual responsibility." Allow me to emphasize and further explain this mutual responsibility as seen in the instance of Israel and Achan by sharing some cogent quotations from the Pulpit Commentary. Quotations which, I believe, will help us to understand how the recorded case of Achan is teaching us that Christians have a responsibility one for another and that such a case is both presumptive and reflective of the nature and extent of the unity that is to characterize Godís children, especially in the local church circumstance. Consider:

     "The crime of this one man is imputed to all Israel on the principle of the organic unity of the nation. As the body is said to be diseased or wounded, though the malady may lie only in one of its members, so his trespass destroyed the moral integrity of the whole nation. We are reminded of certain ways in which a community may be implicated in a wrong actually done by only one of its members."

     "Commentators have largely discussed the question how the sin of Achan could be held to extend to the whole people. But it seems sufficient to reply by pointing out the organic unity of the Israelitish nation. They were then, as Christians are now, the Church of the living God. And if one single member of the community violated the laws which God imposed on them, the whole body was liable for his sin, until it had purged itself by a public act of restitution (see Deuteronomy 21:1-8)."

     Notice how the immediately foregoing excerpt refers to this national state that was so characterized by oneness or unity as "organic unity." This condition is sometimes called "body politic."

     "The very words Ďbody politicí applied to a state imply the same idea - that of a connection so intimate between the members of a community that the act of one affects the whole. And if this be admitted to be the case in ordinary societies, how much more so in the people of God, who were under His special protection, and had been specially set apart to His service?" (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 3, excerpts from both the exegetical and homiletic sections).

     "You are binding the Old Testament by referring to the case of Achan and such is wrong!" This is an objection to applying the thought of "organic unity" to Godís people today. However, an examination of Paulís teaching to the church at Corinth exemplifies this same idea of "body politic." While the church at Corinth as a whole was not engaged in the specific fornication addressed in chapter five of the first epistle, they (as a body) are still held responsible.

     "1: It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2: And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3: For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4: In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5: To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (I Cor. 5, cp. 2 Thes. 3: 6).

     In the case of the church at Corinth, we have provided explanation as to why "organic unity" is taught in the scriptures, whether it be Israel of old or the church of Christ.

     "6: Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7: Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (I Cor. 5).

     In view of how God holds the church responsible for the actions of one, many of the too common attitudes and excuses observed today are manifestly wrong. Such excuses as: "I am not responsible for what another member does." While it is true that each is an acting free moral agent in matters religious, we, notwithstanding, have a duty and responsibility one to another. We are to "exhort one another," "warn the unruly," and "withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly" (Heb. 10: 25; I Thes. 5: 14; 2 Thes. 3: 6). Such duties stem from this close bond characterizing Christians and from teaching that is designed to maintain purity.

     Achan may have thought, "If I elect to keep the accursed thing, such is my business and mine alone." Notwithstanding, his sin adversely affected the entirety of the great Nation of Israel. Indeed, our "personal sins" today, sins that we as Achan may think are "hidden," usually do involve others. It appears that even though Achan "confessed," his confession was more forced than the result of true repentance. He and all that pertained to him were stoned and burned in the valley of Achor (Josh. 7; 24ff.).

     The command to "Örejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep" presupposes "organic unity" (Rom. 12: 15). Let none of us be a "troubler of Israel" today (Josh. 7). Moreover, let us exercise "mutual responsibility."

     Addendum: The principle of mutual responsibility is actually observed throughout the scriptures and its presence is precipitous to many truths and requisite acts. For instance, we read how one is responsible for the "wicked" and "righteous" who go astray and to fail to warn them is to incur their blood (Ezek. 3: 17-21). Paul articulated this same truth (Acts 20: 26, 27). The church at Thyatira is held answerable for the element of evil among them and the church as a whole is told to "repent" (Rev. 2:18-28, see also Pergamos, Rev. 2: 12-17).