Achor: The Valley of Causing Sorrow

From the book The Former Prophets
By Gerald Flurry

One of the Bible’s most painful stories is recorded in Joshua 7. It is a story that should be taught today to all the world. If we could learn this lesson, it would prevent massive pain.

Achan had committed a frightful sin and caused hideous suffering in Israel; as a result, God had him executed. “And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day” (Joshua 7:26). Because of the bloodcurdling events in this area, God named it the “Valley of Achor.” The word Achor means “causing sorrow” (see Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon).

Joshua erected a “heap of stones” in this huge valley as a memorial for all the Israelites. He wanted this lesson to remain in their memory. As children grew up, they would ask questions about the heap of stones and the valley named “causing sorrow.” Then someone would explain the story in the seventh chapter of Joshua.

Broken Faith

Here is the story. “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” (Joshua 7:1). “Committed a trespass” is rendered “broke faith” in the Revised Standard Version. That expression is from the Hebrew word maal, which means treachery. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). When we stop walking by faith, we stop walking with God.

God was having the Israelites fight for the Promised Land. They always won their battles unless they “broke faith” with God. Achan’s act was a calculated sin that “broke faith.” When this happens, God no longer fights our battles for us. Today, that means we begin to lose our fight with Satan, ourselves and the world. It is no small sin.

Israel was about to fight what seemed to be an easy battle. Scouts thought the city could be taken by just two or three thousand men. But when they attacked, they were driven back by the men of Ai, who killed about 36 Israelite soldiers. When the Israelites heard what had happened, “the hearts of the people melted, and became as water” (Joshua 7:5).

Joshua and the elders were deeply depressed. Joshua lay upon his face before the ark for hours! (verse 6). “And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?” (verses 7-9). Joshua was actually trying to blame God!

Cause and Effect

“And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 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” (Joshua 7:10-11). God spoke with Joshua very directly and bluntly: Get up! Why are you lying on your face? Then He pointed Joshua to the cause of the problem: Israel had sinned!

There is a giant lesson here. When we stop winning our battles, sin is the cause! And even though only one person had done it, there were probably others who knew and who thought it wasn’t their problem. But even if only one person sins, there is sin in the congregation—and it needs to be gotten out! God condemned all of Israel for this because it happened in Israel—this theocracy, ruled by God!

This lesson was for ancient Israel but applies even more today. If you break faith, you will begin to lose your spiritual battles. That is happening to the Laodicean churches right now. There is cause and effect. True education revolves around learning cause and effect!

God tells the Laodiceans, as He told Joshua, Israel has sinned! That is the cause of their problems. Unfortunately, they have not learned the lesson as Joshua did. But they must if they are ever to start winning their battles again.

Joshua 7 is not talking about the sins we all have to battle daily. He is talking about a blatant, calculated turn away from God motivated by lust or some other character flaw. God will deal pretty roughly with us if we’re doing something blatantly like was done here.

“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” (verse 12). God makes it clear: Either we get rid of the sin, or He won’t be with us anymore.

Hear and Fear

God instructed Joshua how to discover who was responsible for the problem and what to do about it. It was severe punishment: “And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel” (Joshua 7:15). God was establishing a new nation. He wanted to demonstrate to everyone what makes or breaks nations. He wanted the people to “hear and fear.”

Today, the nations of Israel should punish severely for gross sins like the one Achan committed. But we don’t, and our societies are falling apart! When will we ever learn that breaking God’s commandments destroys nations?

When God was leading the Israelites, they had very little crime.

But of course, the main lesson is spiritual, and it is for God’s Church.

Joshua carried out God’s instructions precisely, and Achan was discovered. He confessed to have coveted and stolen the spoils of Jericho despite God’s explicit command (verses 16-23). He thought it was the “perfect crime”—but God had seen the whole thing! I’m sure his family knew about it as well. “And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones” (verses 24-25).

Coveting is a great sin—it breaks the Tenth Commandment. God had all Israel stone Achan! Everybody had to see the ghastly horror of how God punishes for sin! Then they burned “them.” Joshua apparently had the whole family burned because they knew of the sin and kept quiet. The burning was a type of Gehenna fire, portraying the final death from which there is no resurrection (Revelation 20:14-15).

That is how God deals with carnal nations. You see why people today tend to not like the Old Testament? But do you realize that if God dealt with people that way today, we wouldn’t have all the problems we have? They can say whatever horrible things about God they want, but God knows how to keep carnal men in line! And if evil isn’t stopped, it destroys the nation. Better to destroy a few people than have the whole nation fall!

Of course, God doesn’t deal with His Church the same way, but sin is still far more serious spiritually. If we don’t repent of breaking God’s law, we will burn in Gehenna fire and die for all eternity!

A Memorial of Sin

Look at Joshua 7:26 again. God wants us to make a memorial like this today when we sin. He wants us to do something to etch it into our memory.

The world has paid little attention to God. In fact, this whole world has become a valley of “causing sorrow.” There is cause and effect. This world is about to be blown apart with nuclear bombs! Man’s sins have caused this nightmare. Now man is about to destroy himself. Only God can guide and save us. When man learns this lesson, we can remove the sign “Valley of Achor.”

There is actually hope in the bad news. If man reads the sign carefully, he will see how to get out of this deadly valley.

That will happen. “And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt” (Hosea 2:15). The valley of Achor is to become “a door of hope.” Once we learn how we are causing our sorrows, there is a “door of hope.” This world and the Laodiceans have some painful lessons to learn before that happens.

What wonderful news lies ahead in the World Tomorrow.

“And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for the herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me” (Isaiah 65:10). Then Israel will seek God. The valley of Achor will be a valley of peace. May God speed that glorious day!

Continue Reading: 3: Judges: The Bible’s Bloodiest Book