Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Children. Achan was guilty of theft: some of the rest might have connived at his fault. He had taken what was reserved for the Lord. The offender was discovered, to inspire all with a horror for his conduct. Some of his brethren were punished, (ver. 5,) but they suffered for their own secret transgressions, or death might be no real punishment to them; while the Israelites were awakened to a sense of their own inability to conquer without the divine protection, and were forced to humble themselves. (Haydock) --- Chastisements are the marks of God's displeasure, though they frequently proceed also from his clemency. --- Achan is called Achar, 1 Paralipomenon ii. 7. These five persons occupy the space of 265 years; so that they must have been 50 or 55 years old, when they had children.
Against Hai, to see the situation and strength of that city, which was about 10 miles west, or rather north, of Jericho. It was afterwards rebuilt, 1 Esdras ii. 28. --- Bethaven and Bethel are the same place; (St. Jerome; Calmet) though many distinguish them, with Cellarius. The former name means "the house of iniquity," because Jeroboam there set up a golden calf. Bethel was its former appellation, in consequence of the vision of Jacob, Genesis xxviii.
Few. It appears, however, that the city contained 12,000 fighting men; so that these spies must have formed a false notion of its strength, chap. viii. 25.
Sabarim, which means people "broken and defeated." Septuagint, "they pursued them from the gate, till they had entirely broken them," destroying 36, and putting the rest to flight. (Calmet) --- This small disaster filled the whole camp with dismay, as the Lord generally caused the victories of his people to be complete, and without any loss, as long as they continued in his favour. None were found wanting of those who attacked and destroyed so many of the Madianites, Numbers xxxi. 49. (Haydock)
Heads. These marks of grief were very common. Achilles covered his head with ashes, tore his garments and face, when he received news of the death of his friend, Patroclus. Homer and Virgil, (Æneid xii.) speaking of Latinus, the king, says, It scissa veste Latinus---Canitiem immundo perfusam pulvere turpans.
Began. Some had established themselves in the land of Galaad. (Menochius) --- Hebrew, "would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan." Josue speaks in this animated manner, through zeal for the glory of God, (Calmet) more than for any personal inconvenience. He was grieved that any one should have merited God's displeasure. He was afraid that the Chanaanites would blaspheme the great name of the Lord, ver. 9.
Lied. Each one, on delivering up what he had taken, made profession, at least by his behaviour, (Haydock) that he retained nothing. Achan did like the rest, but he kept back of the plunder. (Calmet) --- He lied, and did not comply with the promise made by all Israel, which he was bound to observe, as much as if he had made it with his own mouth.
Sanctified. Prepared by washing, &c., to appear before the tabernacle, and see the event. Septuagint, "purify the people." Chaldean, "call an assembly."
Find. Hebrew, "it shall be the tribe which the Lord taketh." (Haydock) --- This was done by lots, as on similar occasions, 1 Kings x. 20., and xiv. 41. When God authorized this method, there could be no danger in it. But to have recourse to lots without such authority, would be often tempting God. The apostles chose an apostle by lot: but they had first taken every precaution (Calmet) to select two persons, both fit for the important charge. (Haydock) --- To commit the choice of sacred ministers to chance would be extremely improper. "We forbid the use of lots in the elections," said Honorius. (Calmet)
Juda. The dignity of this tribe enhanced the fault of Achan. (Menochius)
My son. Clemency is the virtue of great souls. --- Give glory. Confess candidly, John ix. 24.
Garment. Hebrew, "a robe of Sannaar, or of Babylon." This city was famous for embroidered, or painted robes, such as were worn by kings, Jonas iii. 6. (Pliny, [Natural History?] viii. 48.) --- Rule, or linget. No coin was yet used. (Calmet)
His sons, &c. Probably conscious to, or accomplices of the crime of their father, (Challoner) as he could hardly have concealed these things in the midst of his tent without their knowledge. (Menochius) --- But granting, with St. Augustine (q. 8,) that they were innocent of this crime, God, who is the sovereign arbiter of life and death, might order them out of the world, on this occasion, without injustice.
Day. Hence some have drawn a very weak argument, to prove the repentance of Achan, as if he had only to undergo a temporary punishment. It is probable, however, that his sincere confession, proceeding from a penitent heart, might influence God to shew him mercy. --- Fire. Children, as well as his other effects; though some have supposed that the former were spared, as they are not here specified. Hebrew seems to include them; "and burnt them with fire after they had stoned them with stones." Chaldean says they were stoned first. (Calmet)
Achor. That is, trouble; (Challoner) in allusion to the name of Achar, as he is called in the Septuagint invariably, and in the Hebrew and Vulgate in the Book of Chronicles. (Haydock) --- This heap of stones was thrown upon the ashes of the deceased, or perhaps at his person, while he was burning at the stake, as it is the custom still among the Turks. (Roger. ii. 7.) The king of Hai was treated in this manner, chap. viii. 29. See 2 Kings xviii. 17. The vale of Achor was on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, where a small castle, at Adommim, was built to protect travellers from the insults of robbers, who infested that part, Luke x. 30., and chap. xv. 7.