How much influence do you have in your family? The examples of Rahab and Achan provide timeless lessons about how we can impact our loved ones.
The study of family influence upon a child is a challenging endeavor. Given the fact that today’s families have so many variables, it can be hard to identify and quantify the impact a parent has.
How does one find common denominators when researching adopted children versus biological ones, single parents versus two parents, biological parents versus one biological parent and a stepparent?
And how much influence can a parent have upon children when they reach their teenage years? What about when they are in their 20s or 30s or 40s? And how much influence can one have upon extended family members no matter their age?
Given the fact that people ultimately make their own decisions about how they will live, is it worth our effort to even try to influence members of our family?
I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Two biblical accounts of leadership in the family
Tucked into the biblical narrative of the Israelites’ taking possession of Canaan are the stories of two families. Each had an influential member of their clan, and major events affecting these families occurred within days of each other.
These family histories have enduring relevance for us today.
Rahab: an unlikely heroine
The first of these two families included a person named Rahab. As the story begins, this woman—a gentile (a non-Israelite) harlot plying her trade in the city of Jericho—didn’t appear to be someone who would turn out to be famous (Joshua 2:1).
Two Israelite spies who came to check out Jericho prior to the attack decided to spend the night at Rahab’s house. They likely reasoned that such a choice would help them avoid suspicion from the city’s residents.
Unfortunately, their presence at Rahab’s house and their identities were soon revealed to the king. The ruler of the city quickly asked Rahab to turn over the men.
The spies were surely surprised when this streetwise woman provided cover for them and risked her life to allow them to escape. Her response to the king was that the men had indeed come to her home, but she then lied by saying she did not know where they were from and that they had left just before the gate to the city was closed at nightfall.
Later that evening Rahab told the Israelite spies that she knew that God had given them the land and that the fear of the Israelites had come upon the city’s residents. She then gave them additional instructions on how to leave the city to avoid being caught. Noting that she had shown them kindness, she asked them to return the favor.
Please “show kindness to my father’s house” by saving alive “my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death,” she said (verses 12-13).
The spies agreed, and the arrangements were made to identify Rahab’s house with a scarlet cord hung in a window. The lives of those relatives she brought into her home would be spared when the city was attacked.
By her courageous actions and influence, she saved the lives of all her family members who sheltered in her home (Joshua 6:25).
Rahab surely learned that harlotry and lying were sinful. Her faith would have led her to obey the God of Israel and His laws. Rahab married and became a respected member of Israel, and her son, Boaz, became part of the lineage of King David (Matthew 1:5-6).
In the book of Hebrews she is listed as an example of faith (Hebrews 11:31), and James cited her as an example of how faith and works go together (James 2:25).
Achan: a misguided leader
After the Israelites, with the miraculous assistance of God, successfully took the city of Jericho, they burned the city with fire. The only spoil to be taken was “the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron,” which would be put in “the treasury of the LORD” (Joshua 6:19).
Unfortunately, a man of the tribe of Judah named Achan coveted some of the spoils—a beautiful garment, as well as silver and gold—and buried them inside his tent (Joshua 7:21).
Achan’s disobedience did not go unnoticed by God. As the Israelites prepared to take the next city—Ai—they decided that the city was so small that only 2,000 to 3,000 men would be needed. They were very discouraged when the men of Ai prevailed, killing 36 Israelites in the process.
Joshua and the elders of Israel soon learned why they had been defeated.
God said, “Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies . . . Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed things from among you” (verses 11-12).
The next morning the Israelites discovered that Achan was the one who had sinned. After recovering the forbidden items, “Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had . . . So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones” (verses 24-25).
Achan did not provide the family leadership that would have protected his family. Instead, it appears that his bad influence led to the destruction of everyone in his immediate family.
Why did God punish Achan’s family?
God does not hold family members responsible for the sins of other family members. As God had previously explained, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16; compare Ezekiel 18:20).
So why did Achan’s whole family perish? In this case, it seems that everyone in his immediate family was complicit in his sin. God—who knows all and sees all—indicated that there were several people who had sinned—“they . . . have both stolen and deceived” (Joshua 7:11, emphasis added).
In his commentary Through the Bible Day by Day, F.B. Meyer writes: “Achan’s family had been privy to this crime. It could hardly have been otherwise, since the goods were buried in the common tent” (notes on Joshua 7:16-26).
An important lesson from the story of Achan is that our actions can greatly influence and impact others. As Joshua noted years later, because of Achan’s sin wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel: “And he [Achan] did not perish alone for his iniquity” (Joshua 22:20).
There were other people in the Bible—including Noah, Abraham, Lois and Eunice—who positively influenced their families. These examples show that family leadership and influence can be very powerful. But how do we accomplish this for the good of our families?
Our own example is often the most powerful influence we can have upon our loved ones. Our own example is often the most powerful influence we can have upon our loved ones. While it is tempting to think that what we do is no one else’s business and that our actions don’t affect others, this reasoning is mistaken. What we say and do does impact others and especially our families.
The ancient Israelites learned firsthand through Achan’s example the damage one person’s sin can have upon a family and nation. Some 1,500 years later, Paul likened the Corinthian congregation’s acceptance of the sexual immorality of one person to a little bit of leaven leavening “the whole lump” of dough (1 Corinthians 5:1, 6).
Providing a strong spiritual example is one of the best gifts we can give our families. The Bible clearly instructs parents to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) and to teach children the benefits of carefully obeying God’s commands (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).
This biblical instruction has been tested and proven by modern research. A Marripedia article titled “Effects of Religious Practice on Society,” says, “Considerable research has emerged over the past five decades that demonstrates the benefits of religious practice for society. Religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families, and the community.”
As for specifics, the article further states: “Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages, and well-behaved children. Religious worship also leads to a reduction in the incidence of domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse, and addiction.
“In addition, religious practice can increase physical and mental health, longevity, and education attainment. These effects are intergenerational, as grandparents and parents pass on the benefits to the next generations” (ibid.).
These benefits are seen from religious practice in general, and I believe that the closer one follows the teachings and values of the Bible, the greater the blessings.
For additional study about God’s design for marriage and family, see our booklet God’s Design for Marriage. If you would like to have biblically based instruction on how to raise your children, see “Practical Tips for Positive Parenting” and the accompanying articles on the LifeHopeandTruth.com website.