Sweat ran down his face, drawing web-like lines through the layer of dirt and blood that caked his face. His eyes, bloodshot and paranoid, darted to and fro, and tentatively, he licked his dry, cracked lips. He winced, tongue lingering over a recent cut that had occurred at some point in the recent battle. His clothes, covered in dirt and blood, were disheveled, torn in a myriad of places. He was nervous.
With trembling hands, his fingernails already filthy from sand and grit, he scooped away the small pile of loose sand that had accumulated in the small hole. Then, using his knife as a spade, he drove it deeper and deeper into the earth, loosening the hard sand. Glancing over his shoulder, fear gripping him, he knew he had to hurry. He could hear the excited voices of his children a short distance from the tent, their voices a mix of wonder and excitement as they interrupted the stories of the men that were retelling the glorious victory of the recent battle.
His wife, knowing he had been both dirty and thirsty, had taken the earthen vessel and, after a quick peck on the cheek, had gone down to the well to fetch water. He didn’t have much time!
With maddened, frantic motions, he plunged the knife, then scooped. Again, and again he repeated the process, slowly making progress in the depth and width of the hole. He felt the sweat running haphazardly down the small of his back. Little drops, mixed with dirt and blood, dripped from his nose to land in the freshly turned sand of the hole he was digging. Finally, feeling both a sensation of guilt and excitement, he examined the hole and gauged that it was suitable for the objects.
Glancing around, ensuring that the tent remained empty and that there were no roving eyes in the tent door, he gently picked up the silver. The moment his hands touched the silver, his gut clenched in guilt. Shoving the feeling aside, hands giving the silver one last feel, he gently laid the silver into the bottom of the hole.
There, he thought to himself, silver at the bottom and the gold on the top…and, in the middle, the garment.
Feeling the urgency of time, he quickly, but deftly pulled the garment from the folds of his disheveled and dirty cloak. His hands lingered on the garment as his fingers, callous and dirty, began to stroke the silky material. Lightly tracing the elaborate stitching of intricate designs and patterns he began to envision the day, perhaps after his tribe conquered the lands God had promised, that he could wear the magnificent garment. How magnificent he would look, he thought to himself. Oh, how he would be the envy of everyone when they saw him, strong and proud, wrapped in the beautiful, royal garment.
Tearing himself away from this thoughts, he gently laid the garment upon the silver. He had very little time. Then, with one last, longing look at the garment, he lifted the 50-shekel wedge of gold, its material oddly cold in the humid, hot air. Slowly, he laid the wedge upon the garment and, with one last look, began to push the pile of dirt and sand into the hole.
What’s that! he thought with alarm, every muscle having gone rigid. It was the voice of his wife greeting his children! With a sudden burst of energy, everything else forgotten, he frantically began to shove the remaining dirt into the hole. Finally, as he knew his wife must be getting closer, he began to pat down the sand, quickly smoothing out any impressions revealing disturbance. Jumping up, satisfied that his efforts would do, he grabbed the small table and repositioned it over the freshly disturbed earth, using his feet to swipe at marks that had been made by the table legs.
Without a moment to spare, he ran to the far side of tent and, throwing himself to the ground, plunged his hands in the small amount of water that remained the in earthen washing pot. As he frantically dug the dirt out of his fingernails, attempting in the process to remove the wet, dark sand and earth that caked his hands, he began to think, what have I done? Oh, what have I done?
The guilt had returned, his gut once again clenched, threatening to bring up the small morsel of bread he had eaten not long before. His heart was racing, seeming as though it would beat right out of his chest. His face felt clammy, made only more so by the increase of sweat pouring down his face. He blinked, eyes stinging with the sweat that had dripped over his eye-lids, and then he saw her.
She is beautiful, he thought to himself, forcing a smile on his face. Immediately, his face freezing between a smile and a grimace, the guilt struck him with alarming sensation. Imperceptivity, unaware of the action, he should his head and forced the guilt down. Standing to his feet, smelling the light scent of jasmine wafting from her hair, Achan approached his wife, kissing her lighting on the check and, sighing, pulled her into a deep, passionate hug.
Yes, jasmine and, was that a little bit of orange he smelled? Breathing deeply, her hair tickling his nose, his eyes suddenly darted toward the table and the slightly discolored patch of sand beneath it. The dull ache of guilt persisted and, knowing that his wife was talking to him, he still could not hear a word as his thoughts were lost on plans of the future…dreams of days to come.
Plans of the future…
He was trembling now, his mind seeming to taunt him with the memory of that hug; the scent of jasmine and orange lingering as though still fresh. It had been a disaster. Everyone was talking about it. 36 men were dead, chased down like dogs, and the remaining garrison of almost 3,000 barely making it home to give account of the terrible events of the battle. He felt his wife’s hand grip his a little tighter, sensing her anxiety and uncertainty of what was going on. Everyone, young and old, their hearts had become as water.
Jericho’s victory seemed a distant echo now. The celebration and sounds of joy that had risen as the walls had fallen were now replaced by the mourning of those families whose fathers, brothers, and sons had fallen at the hand of Ai. A desperate, almost fanatical sense of despair had seemed to grip the congregation of Israel. You could see in the eyes of even the bravest of men; the fear so thick one could almost imagine it being the dense fog that moved throughout the camp.
He could hear the whispering just outside of his tent. Joshua had gone to speak with God, seeking to find the cause of such an unexpected defeat. Achan shuddered, a sick feeling blossoming in the pit of his stomach.
He went to talk to God, he thought, casting a glance in the direction of the small table, and underneath the table, the hard-packed earth. All that day and into the night Achan had worried. Should I go to Joshua? Should I confess? Tossing and turning, trying to ignore the guilt that he felt, Achan finally lay on his back listening to the light breathing of his wife beside him, then, eyes slowly closing, he gradually drifted to sleep.
He jolted awake, the sound of a ram’s horn piercing his sleep induced thoughts and dreams. What time is it, he thought, as his heart began to race. Groggily, he pulled himself out of the bed and began to pull his clothes on.
“What’s going on Achan”, his wife asked, alarm evident in her tone as well.
“I don’t know,” Achan responded. “It sounds like a call to assembly.”
Sure enough, he heard the shouting of Caleb, elder of the tribe of Judah, over the buzz of alarmed voices and noisy movements of neighboring families. He was calling everyone together.
Stepping out of the tent, squinting into the bright morning sun that was burning away the cold, wet dew at his feet, Achan and his family began to join the others around them.
“What’s going on,” Achan asked one of the men standing nearby.
“Don’t know,” the man shrugged, obviously irritated at having been awakened. “It seems that Joshua is calling every tribal leader to a meeting, something must be wrong.”
A sick, foreboding sensation overwhelmed Achan. No, he thought to himself, surely this wasn’t about the items in his tent. It must be something else.
One by one, Achan watched as the elders of each tribe approached Joshua. He couldn’t help but notice how terrible Joshua looked, the sun seeming to glow hotly behind him and the aura of dissipating dew surrounding him. Then, he noticed something else as well. Beside Joshua, just off to the right, stood the priest, unmistakable in his garb and the brilliant sparkle of 12 exotic stones hanging over his chest. But it wasn’t the ephod that captured Achan’s attention, but rather, the little fold in the ephod where he noticed the hands of the priest, the location of the Urim and the Thummim. What was going on?
One by one, each tribal leader turned away. The tribe of Benjamin, Rueben, Ephraim…one by one, each leader nodded, shoulders seeming to slump in relief. Suddenly, Achan’s throat constricted, the veins in his neck going taunt, and his hands clenched into fists. Joshua had not turned Caleb away!
Slowly, Achan watched, horrified as Caleb turned, and with a loud, pained voice cried out, “All the clans of Judah, come and stand before Joshua and the priest!”
Heart pounding, Achan watched as each of the clan elders approached Joshua. One by one they passed by, the priest slowly shaking his head. Then, almost knowing that it would happen, not realizing he had been holding his breath, Achan let out a long, terrible gasp. The priest was nodding, consulting the stone that was in his hand, and, without question, the priest was motioning at Achan’s grandfather, Zabdi, who was now standing before them. Turning, Zabdi, a pained expression on his face, yet a slight look of confusion turned and beckoned to his tribe.
The men around Achan murmured with alarm, some with fear, and others with confusion. It was like a dream, his movements erratic and seemingly disconnected from his brain. His feet felt like lead, his heart, rather than pounding, seemed to have stopped beating in his chest. His breath was coming in short, pained gasps, and his fingers, wet with sweat, clenched and unclenched. All he could hear were the words that his memory repeated over and over in his mind, when ye take of the accursed thing…
Slowly, after the other men before him had stood before Joshua, Achan approached. He tried to meet Joshua’s eyes but found that he couldn’t. Those eyes, burning with anger and pain, were too much for Achan. Then, feeling the stare of Joshua like a burning poker, Achan noticed the blackened stone in the hand of the priest.
“Why,” he heard Joshua ask? What have you done?”
The last words of his confession still lingered in his mind as the wail of his wife ripped into his dulled conscience. There was the gold, the silver, and the beautiful, silk garment thrown in a small heap before him. His livestock jostled and brayed around him, but his wife, oh God, his wife! Hot tears began to slide down his face and over his chin, before falling to the ground at his feet. She was screaming at him, begging him to do something. What could he do, he thought, numbed by the scenario that he was now in. He didn’t realize it, but as the hot tears flowed, his wife and children screaming, he began to whisper “I’m sorry,” again and again. His chest heaved up and down, the words becoming more fervent; more pained; “I’m sorry.”
He was guilty! It was he that had caused the death of those 36 men. Never had he envisioned that the gold, silver, and garment at his feet would have resulted in such despair! He never dreamed that something so small could lead to something so terrible. But it had, and it did, and now it was too late. He barely felt the first stone that grazed him, cutting into the flesh of his arm. Numbly, mumbling incoherently, Achan looked up as the first volley of stones began to rain down into the pit. Then the screams began, the frenzied calls of panicked livestock, and then, the stone slammed into his temple. He was falling, his vision going in and out. He saw, as he seemed to fall in slow motion to the ground, the sunlight glint off the gold bar. He didn’t see the silver or the garment.
He gasped in pain as his body hit the wet earth. He was on his back, the searing pain in his temple like little knifes slashing and cutting. Blinking, he felt another stone as it slammed into his leg; felt the bone in his knee shatter. Then, just before his vision failed him, he turned his head, the pain now gone, shock setting in. Her lifeless eyes started at him…accusing him, pleading with him…and then, closing his eyes, the haunting vision of those eyes burned into his eyelids, he exhaled and felt the last lingering fingers of life let go, the words ringing in his head, I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m sorry.