Joshua 7:15, 24—Was God just in punishing Achan’s family along with him?
Problem: When Achan committed a capital crime against God, the Bible says the children were stoned along with their parents, and then “they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones” (v. 25). Yet the Scriptures insist that God does not punish the children for the sins of their parent (Ezek. 18:20), nor destroy the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18:23).
Solution: There are two responses to this problem.
Some have argued that Achan’s children were not given capital punishment with him, but merely brought along so that the event could be an example to them. In favor of this, several things are offered. First, it is noted that nowhere does the text say anyone beside Achan committed the crime. God speaks of the guilty as “he who is taken with the accursed thing” (v. 15). Also, Achan confesses alone: “I have sinned” (v. 20) and “I coveted” (v. 21).
Third, stoning Achan’s family for his crime would be a clear violation of the OT law which says emphatically that “the son shall not bear the guilt of the father” (Ezek. 18:20).
The most serious problem with this position is that verse 25 says, “they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.” Stoning an inanimate object does not seem to make good sense. Rather, it seems to be a reference to Achan and his family.
Another view acknowledges that Achan’s family was stoned with him, but argues that they were complicit with his crime, so they were being punished for their own sins, not his. This position notes the following:
First, it is argued that it is unlikely that Achan could have accomplished this deed and hidden the stolen material in the family tent without their knowing something about it.
Second, the guilt of the family is implied in their very punishment. Since it was forbidden to punish someone for another’s sin, the family must have sinned with him or else they would not have been punished with him.
Fourth, there is no reference to small children in the family, but even if there were, God has the sovereign right to take them and sometimes does in sickness without implying their guilt. Further, if the parents were killed, then there would be no parents to care for them. It would be more merciful for God to take them into His direct care. This is so because children who die before the age of accountability are saved (see comments on 2 Sam. 12:23); there is no problem about their eternal destiny.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.