Q. The Law of Moses states in Deuteronomy 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Why was Achan’s entire family put to death for the sin of their father (Joshua 7)? Was the entire family complicit in Achan’s sin?
A. Complicity might be a slight possibility, since the stuff was hid in the tent, and the whole family might have been aware of it. On the other hand, there is nothing in the text of Joshua 7 that suggests they were aware of the hidden stuff. In addition, Achan’s “oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had” were destroyed. None of these things would have been complicit in any moral way, yet they were destroyed. Another answer best fits the context.
The law in question (Deuteronomy 24:16) only dealt with the punishment of ordinary criminals and the human deliberation of such cases. Therefore, it was not applicable in the case of Achan. The command that Achan disobeyed was given immediately and directly by God for this time and place (Joshua 6:18). God exposed the sin and the sinner (Joshua 7:16-18). The Lord himself directed the punishment (Joshua 7:10-15).
Joshua 7:10,15 And the Lord said unto Joshua...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.
This was not a general case of a criminal punished under the law of Moses, but rather a case of sin exposed by God and punishment directed by God to a man who had brought his family (indeed, all of Israel) under a curse.
The association of a man’s children and the curse of rebuilding Jericho is also worthy of note. This fate was ordained by God rather than a punishment under the law of Moses – as is true in the initial sin with Achan. Compare Joshua 6:26 and 1 Kings 16:34. An incidental reference in Joshua 22:20 observes “That man perished not alone in his iniquity.” See also 1 Chronicles 2:7, where Achan’s line is not continued.
So this is best understood as a special case of God’s specific dealing. God placed a curse (Joshua 6:18). God pronounced the punishment (Joshua 7:10-15). Achan and his household suffered the fate of the inhabitants of Jericho (Cf. Joshua 7:15, 25 with Joshua 6:24). Their curse became his curse. Since God directly declared the proper sentence, the Israelites did not execute Achan and his family under the law of Moses, and they did not violate Deuteronomy 24:16.
“But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”