1.But the children of Israel committed, etc Reference is made to the crime, and indeed the secret crime, of one individual, whose guilt is transferred to the whole people; and not only so, but punishment is at the same time executed against several who were innocent. But it seems very unaccountable that a whole people should be condemned for a private and hidden crime of which they had no knowledge. I answer, that it is not new for the sin of one member to be visited on the whole body. Should we be unable to discover the reason, it ought to be more than enough for us that transgression is imputed to the children of Israel, while the guilt is confined to one individual. But as it very often happens that those who are not wicked foster the sins of their brethren by conniving at them, a part of the blame is justly laid upon all those who by disguising become implicated in it as partners. For this reason Paul, (1 Corinthians 5:4) upbraids all the Corinthians with the private enormity of one individual, and inveighs against their pride in presuming to glory while such a stigma attached to them. But here it is easy to object that all were ignorant of the theft, and that therefore there is no room for the maxim, that he who allows a crime to be committed when he can prevent it is its perpetrator. I certainly admit it not to be clear why a private crime is imputed to the whole people, unless it be that they had not previously been sufficiently careful to punish misdeeds, and that possibly owing to this, the person actually guilty in the present instance had sinned with greater boldness. It is well known that weeds creep in stealthily, grow apace and produce noxious fruits, if not speedily torn up. The reason, however, why God charges a whole people with a secret theft is deeper and more abstruse. He wished by an extraordinary manifestation to remind posterity that they might all be criminated by the act of an individual, and thus induce them to give more diligent heed to the prevention of crimes.
Nothing, therefore, is better than to keep our minds in suspense until the books are opened, when the divine judgments which are now obscured by our darkness will be made perfectly clear. Let it suffice us that the whole people were infected by a private stain; for so it has been declared by the Supreme Judge, before whom it becomes us to stand dumb, as having one day to appear at his tribunal. The stock from which Achan was descended is narrated for the sake of increasing, and, as it were, propagating the ignominy; just as if it were said, that he was the disgrace of his family and all his race. For the writer of the history goes up as far as the tribe of Judah. By this we are taught that when any one connected with us behaves himself basely and wickedly, a stigma is in a manner impressed upon us in his person that we may be humbled — not that it can be just to insult over all the kindred of a wicked man, but first, that all kindred may be more careful in applying mutual correction to each other, and secondly, that they may be led to recognize that either their connivance or their own faults are punished.
A greater occasion of scandal, fitted to produce general alarm, was offered by the fact of the crime having been detected in the tribe of Judah, which was the flower and glory of the whole nation. It was certainly owing to the admirable counsel of God, that a pre-eminence which fostered the hope of future dominion resided in that tribe. But when near the very outset this honor was foully stained by the act of an individual, the circumstance might have occasioned no small disturbance to weak minds. The severe punishment, however, wiped away the scandal which might otherwise have existed; and hence we gather that when occasion has been given to the wicked to blaspheme, the Church has no fitter means of removing the opprobrium than that of visiting offences with exemplary punishment.