Archive for the ‘Joshua’ Category

Why is the whole family punished for one man’s sin?

April 15, 2010

Reference: Joshua 7:19-26

Throughout the readings in the Old Testament we could see that God not only punished the one who failed, he punished the whole family (e.g. Achan’s family). Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness?

In the incident of Achan sin we are reminded that sin is not simply something that inflicts the individual, but the family and the community.  Western society is very much a culture of individualism.  It is a culture where the success of the individual is almost always valued above the success of the community; each individual is allowed there own idea of what ‘truth’ is; and when it comes to consequences, we always focus on the punishment of the individual rather then that of the community.  But I recall a very different approach when I was in elementary school.  Often times if only one or a few people were misbehaving in class the whole class would receive a punishment, e.g. no recess, extra homework, etc.  “That’s not fair!” we would protest.  But it didn’t matter, the teacher was the boss, and at the end of the day, the class was better for it… the trouble makers learned their lesson, and our little community (the class) slowly learned to hold each other accountable instead of looking out for number 1.

In this passage, it wasn’t just Achan’s family that was punished but the Nation of Israel of Israel as well.  Earlier in the chapter we see that Israel was “soundly defeated” in battle with the town of Ai.  Thus, the sin of one man affected not just him, not just his family, but the entire community.  Later on Joshua systematically discovered who the culprit was, the man named Achan.  But again, it was not only Achan, but his whole family that suffered the harshest of punishments.  God made an example of one family for the sake of the whole nation.  We don’t know if Achan’s family had taken part in the theft of the some of the ‘dedicated things’, the text doesn’t say.  But even if they had not, this stands as a reminder that we do not stand alone, but in family and community.  When one suffers, we all suffer.

Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness? The second part of this question is much easier to answer… “no and yes“.  First of all the ‘no’.  We need to remember that the punishment for sin, death, has already been dealt out when Jesus received the punishment on the cross.  Furthermore, that punishment was rendered powerless, without “sting” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:55), because Jesus rose from the dead, effectively conquering death forever.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t still holy and just.  Jesus death on the cross didn’t change God.  It simply allowed us to approach him as righteous people.  But look at the incident in Acts 5 where Ananias and his wife Sapphira died instantly when they lied about withholding money from the church.  Both husband and wife were culpable for the crime, so we cannot draw the conclusion that God still operates in the same way as he did with Achan and his family.  Each of us is responsible for our own denial of or submission to God’s will.  But who of us in any family could say that our lives are completely aligned with God’s will, or that we have never strayed from his ways.  Thus, in the Old Testament when a whole family suffered because of one person’s sin, that doesn’t mean that the ‘innocent’ by-standards were not guilty.  Each of us is guilty, but through the cross of Jesus we are made righteous and uncondemnable (Romans 8:1).