The Babylonian Garment

Joshua 7:20-21, “And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.”

“What Achan took is also instructive. He stole two kinds of things. First, he took two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight. We can understand easily why he took something that had monetary value. But he also took  a ‘goodly Babylonish garment’ or a beautiful robe from Babylonia. Why did he bother with this? The Hebrew literally calls it ‘a mantle of Shinar.” Because Shinar is Babylonia, the Authorized Version translates it ‘Bablylonish garment.” Babylon was one of the greatest cities of the world — the cultural center of Mesopotamia. It stood for success and power. Anything from Babylon was chic. Even in Assyrian times, Babylon was a great place. As far as military might was concerned, Babylon was strong in Hammurabi’s time and again in Neo-Babylonian times, but it kept its cultural prestige even throughout its periods of military weakness. In 606 B.C. it returned to military greatness and soon overflowed the Jewish nation. At the period of the Israelite’s conquest of the promised land, Babylon was weak militarily but still tremendously great in everybody’s mind.

“So this mantle of Shinar was not just an old shepherd’s cloak but a very stylish garment. It marked somebody as being ‘in’, as really being ‘a man of the world.’ This garment, therefore, becomes important for understanding the story. Achan bothered to take it because he wanted to be marked with success, to be chic. Achan’s sin, then, had two parts: simple theft and prideful desire deep in his heart. What should this teach Christians? Do we struggle against the danger of stealing from God because we want a mantle of Shinar? Does it teach us to beware of grasping for affluence, for prestige, of trying to be a VIP?”

Francis A. Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History