Humanly speaking, how difficult was the task that confronted Joshua and the people with regard to entering the land of Canaan? What were some of the obstacles Joshua and the people faced? As the leader, Joshua faced following in the steps of a leader like Moses and leading a stubborn, stiff-necked group of people. All of them together faced fortified cities, giants, and a flooded Jordan. Everything Joshua and the people were called to do, humanly speaking, was far beyond their ability. From the crossing of the swollen and turbulent waters of the Jordan to conquering the fierce, powerful, ungodly people who occupied the land.
Regardless of these obstacles, by believing the promises of God, by applying the principles of God’s Word, and by counting on the presence of God’s person, Joshua courageously moved ahead and secretly sent two men to spy out the land to gather needed strategic and tactical information that any military commander would need to plan a successful strategy for taking the land.
1a Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”
We might wonder, why Joshua sent out the spies. Was this necessary if he was really trusting in the Lord? After all, had not God promised Joshua that He would give him success? Why didn’t he just go ahead knowing God would somehow supply? After all, the battle is the Lord’s … isn’t it?
Joshua had the precedent of the leadership and example of Moses for this action, an action which was the result of God’s own command in Numbers 13:1-2. By application, Joshua was living and acting on the precepts of Scripture as he was commanded in 1:7-8.
While Joshua had the promise of God’s deliverance, he had not been given instruction on just how God would defeat the enemies they would face. As a wise military leader, he was simply gathering information concerning the layout of the enemies defenses, the condition of their moral, and other factors that would be important to any military campaign. Moreover he was not to presume on the Lord. He was to trust the Lord implicitly, but in that trust, he was also to use the resources God gave him: the training, the men, and the wisdom he had gained. See Matt. 4:6-7.
Principle: Faith in the Lord’s provision should never lead to presuming on God’s decrees or sovereign actions, our intuitive feelings, or on our wants and desires. Faith looks for the principles of Scripture that might be applicable, gathers information or the facts needed in making wise decisions, and then, based on biblical principles and the facts known, moves ahead trusting in the provision and directions of the Lord (cf. Luke 14:31). If the Lord wants to intervene in some miraculous way as with Jericho, that’s great, but we should never presume on His sovereign ways.
Why the secrecy? Obviously, the spies were to go into the land secretly, as spies do. Here, the reference to secrecy had to do with the people of Israel. He did not inform them that he was sending in the spies. Nehemiah did similarly when he surveyed Jerusalem. Joshua was acting on behalf of God’s purposes and in the peoples’ best interests. He remembered the evil report of the spies from the preceding generation and the way this disheartened the people. People are people and he didn’t want them to unnecessarily get their eyes on the problems.
Principle: Sometimes it is wise for the leaders to do what is needed to keep the eyes of their people on the Lord and His promises rather than on the problems. The need is to encourage one another. We sometimes have to face the problems, but we must learn to do so through the eyes of faith in God’s person, promises, principles, and purposes. This was a matter of discretion and God’s leading through studying and knowing what was best in this particular situation. Sometimes it is good to call everyone’s attention to the problems, other times it is not (cf. Neh. 2:4-17).
Note the text says, “especially Jericho” which shows us Joshua was particularly interested in this city. Why? Jericho lay just five miles on the other side of the Jordan and was one of the most formidable fortresses in the land. Conquering this city would not only give them a strong foothold into the land, but conquering Jericho would literally split the forces of the Canaanites by coming into Canaan in the middle hindering their communication and supply lines. This would have a further demoralizing effect on the rest of the inhabitants.
Principle: Again, this illustrates how after praying for wisdom (Ja. 1:5), we all need to assess and evaluate our own situations: Where we are, where we need to go, God’s calling on our lives, our gifts and talents, our weaknesses, hindrances, and the circumstances and forces we are facing. Then, based on this information, establish plans, goals and objectives along with priorities and attack the problem accordingly, all the while resting in God’s intervention and direction (see Prov. 16:1f). Start with the things that are the most important and work on them one by one. This includes our personal life (spiritual needs, physical needs, educational needs), our family life (relationships, spiritual needs, etc. as a family), our church life and personal calling and so on.
1b So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there.
Rahab is mentioned eight times in Scripture (Josh. 2:1, 3; 6:17, 23, 25; Matt. 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), and in six of these occurrences, her name is found with a specific descriptive noun. Do you know what it is? It is “harlot.” Why did the men go in to a harlot? Is there anything we can learn from this?
This has created problems for many. To remove this stigma because her name is listed among the ancestors of the Savior in Matthew 1:5, it has even been argued that she was not a harlot, but was only an ‘innkeeper.’
One expositor, Pink, admits that she had been a harlot, but you can tell it bothers him. He says, “They were divinely directed to that particular house, though it is not likely they were personally conscious of the fact at the first.” Then a few lines later he adds: “The house in which they sheltered was owned by a harlot, named Rahab: not that she was still plying her evil trade, but that formerly she had been a woman of ill fame, the stigma of which still clung to her.”7
Unless Pink is assuming from 2:9f and Rahab’s statement of faith included an understanding of the Law and its statutes, I see no scriptural support for this, only a prejudice that God could and would use such a woman or draw her to Himself while she was still working as a harlot. It’s almost as though she had to clean up her act before she could get saved or before God could work in her heart.
Josephus (Antiq. V, 8 [i.2]) sought to clear the spies of any suspicion for having stayed at the house of a prostitute by calling Rahab an “innkeeper” (cf. NIV mg.). “Innkeeper” and “prostitute,” however, were synonymous terms in that culture (cf. TWOT, p. 246). Rahab’s house was the only place where the men could stay with any hope of remaining undetected and where they would be able to gather the information they were seeking. Moreover, her house afforded an easy way of escape since it was located on the city wall (v. 15). There is no indication that Rahab was a temple prostitute.8
More than likely, the two spies met her in the street where she could have been practicing her trade or perhaps, hearing of them, she was out looking for them as though she were drumming up customers as was the custom of a harlot or even an innkeeper (cf. Prov. 7:6-23). At this time she had come to believe that Israel’s God was the true God, but living in this totally decadent culture, it is unlikely she had such understanding of the Law of Moses.
Rahab may have recognized the men as strangers, and because the whole city was on alert to the possibility of spies, and because of her convictions about the God of Israel, she may have concluded they were Israelites and invited them into her house for protection and to express her faith, but not for business.
This wonderfully illustrates God’s grace. He is no respecter of persons. He accepts and forgives us not because of what we are or might be, but because of His Son, because of what He would do and now has done and will do through those who trust Him and act in faith. It matters not what we were or have been. What matters is who Jesus Christ is, what He has done, and whether or not we will put our trust in Him.
This also points to God’s sovereign control over the affairs of men and how He directs the steps of those who rest in His provision or are looking to know Him better. God had worked in Rahab’s heart, He knew her faith, her longing to know God and perhaps even to become a part of God’s people, so God sovereignly worked and brought the spies and Rahab together for their protection and her blessing.
God could have made the spies invisible or smote the people with blindness or used angels, but He chose to use two men and one woman walking by faith with courage to act on their convictions and He chose to use the more normal circumstances of life.
Principle: In order for us to trust the Lord, are we looking for miracles, the sensational, and asking for out-of-the-ordinary experiences before we will step out and count for the Lord? Or are we willing to step out in the normal situations of life trusting God to use us and lead us to ordinary people whose hearts He has touched?
Note that Joshua is an interesting combination of the miraculous and the ordinary.
2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.”
These verses indicate the whole city had been on alert and the spies were recognized and seen going into the home of Rahab. The fact the king did not tear down the door and storm into the house may have been a matter of oriental hospitality. They had great respect for hospitality even in this decadent city. In fact, Unger says, “Oriental custom accords an almost superstitious respect to a woman’s apartment.”9
The king would have assumed that the spies were staying with Rahab. In antiquity too, as in modern times, prostitutes frequently were involved in intelligence activities. The king expected Rahab to do her patriotic duty and turn the spies in. The ancient law code of Hammurabi contains the following provision: “If felons are banded together in an ale-wife’s [prostitute’s or innkeeper’s] house and she has not haled [them] to the palace, that ale-wife shall be put to death” (S.R. Driver and J.C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws [Oxford: Clarendon, 1956], 2:45).10
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And it came about when it was time to shut the gate, at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. 7 So the men pursued them on the road to the Jordan to the fords; and as soon as those who were pursuing them had gone out, they shut the gate.
In these verses Rahab conceals the spies, lies to protect the soldiers, and sends the soldiers of the king on a wild goose chase. Because to do otherwise was an act of treason and punishable by death, the king believed her to be loyal and didn’t even have her home searched.
At this point, we would do well to look at two New Testament verses and one Old Testament verse:
Hebrews 11:31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
James 2:25 And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
Joshua 6:17 And the city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.
Why was Rahab saved? Because she had believed in the God of Israel. Hiding the messengers was an outworking of her faith. To hide the messengers was a calculated deception to protect them, just as many godly people hid Jews in European countries during World War II.
First, what Rahab did was a matter of faith. She had come to believe that the God of Israel was indeed “God in heaven above and earth beneath” (2:11) and she is listed in the faith Hall of Fame chapter.
Second, Rahab’s faith, which gave her strong convictions about God, caused her to act on her faith to the point of putting her life on the line. She knew eventually Israel would attack the city and destroy it because their God was the true God, and she wanted to be delivered and to become a part of Israel. She did not know a lot about Israel’s God, His laws of righteousness, or the way of salvation, but she knew He was the supreme God.
What about Rahab’s lie? Was it justified? Does Scripture condone it? Most commentaries approve of her faith, but disapprove of her lie. In essence, they approve of her hiding the spies, but not telling the lies. For instance:
Dr. Campbell writes, “To excuse Rahab for indulging in a common practice is to condone what God condemns. … The lie of Rahab was recorded but not approved. The Bible approves her faith, demonstrated by good works, but not her falsehood.”11
Dr. Unger writes, “Rahab’s lie, of course was morally wrong.”12
Pink agrees and says, “She failed to fully trust the Lord, and the fear of man brought a snare. He whose angels had smitten the men of Sodom with blindness (Gen. 19:11) and who had slain the fifty men sent to lay hands on His prophet (2 Kings 1:9-12), could have prevented those officers finding the spies.”13
But is this correct? What was she supposed to say? “If you think they are here, come on in and search the house.” Please note, this is a matter of warfare.
In 6:17 Joshua explained that Rahab was to be spared because she hid the spies, and she did this as an ally. Let’s be honest here. When you take a vacation, do you leave a light on or have the TV come on in the evening to give the impression you are home when in truth, you are gone? We do this to deceive intruders, but it’s not the truth.
Note what Expositors Bible Commentary says: “Rahab lied as much in what she did as in what she said. Deception is an important strategy in warfare. Espionage would be impossible without it. When Rahab hid the spies, she sided with Israel against her own people. It was an act of treason!”14
In preparation for D Day in World War II, we purposely let the Germans believe that we were going to invade France at, I believe, Calais when our intention was to invade the beaches of Omaha and Utah at Cherbourg France.
8 Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, 9 and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. 10 For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. 12 Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, 13 and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”
First, we see Rahab’s confidence and conviction in the fact of the Lord’s power. Somehow she knew what had occurred at the Red Sea and afterwards and that it was the product of the sovereign power of Israel’s God. It was not merely the product of Israel’s genius or some quirk of nature that parted the Red Sea.
Application: This reminds us how our lives should not only be different, but there should also be that in our lives which points to God as the reason our lives are different through the things we do and say—like going to church, our concern for people and their needs, and our specific testimony giving a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
Second, we see Rahab’s confidence and conviction in Israel’s God (Yahweh) as the one and only true God who rules over heaven and the affairs of men on earth. Her statement in verse 11, “… for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath,” is more than a statement that Israel’s God was a god. The idea is that He and He alone is the true God and that He is involved with the affairs of the earth and man.
Application: This reminds us of God’s involvement in our lives. He is the sovereign God who holds all things together by the word of His power, who is at work in our lives. Do we live in the light of this?
Third, we see Rahab’s confidence and conviction of coming judgment on her people and her desire to be delivered through aligning herself with the God of Israel (vs. 13). Note the “Now therefore …” This indicates that this request was the product of her knowledge, conviction, and faith concerning the Lord.
Fourth, we see in verses 12-13 that she was not only concerned about herself. Her concern included her family or household. This is God’s number one plan for evangelism, our network of family, friends, co-workers.
Application: How concerned and involved are we in our network—praying for salvation, reaching out to know and love them, and in eventually sharing the love of Christ.
The inhabitants of the land were terror stricken. Three times in this chapter, the word “melted” is used to describe the emotional condition or the morale of the people (vss. 9, 11, 24). Mentally and emotionally, they were a defeated people. God had already given the people of Jericho into their hands. This had been the case for how long? Since they had heard about the events of the Red sea (2:9-11).
The question is, did Israel know it? With the exception of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, the people of Israel refused to believe the promise of God, instead they allowed the negative report of the ten spies to melt their hearts because they were looking at the problems rather than at their God.
Note the irony here: the inhabitants were looking at Israel’s God and were shaking in their sandals. The Israelites, who had seen the mighty works of God over and over again, were looking at their problems rather than God and were terrorized into unbelief.
Note the following passages:
25 When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, 26 they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan” (Numbers 13:25-29).
26 “Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; 27 and you grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there.”’ 29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be shocked, nor fear them. 30 The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked, until you came to this place.’ 32 But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, …” (Deuteronomy 1:26-32).
Application: How like us this is! Regardless, whether it’s the bite of a mosquito or the charge of a lion, we must learn to keep our eyes on the Lord and off the problem (see Heb. 12:1-2).
14 So the men said to her, “Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the LORD gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”
Keeping quiet about their presence and refusing to inform on them would be an evidence of her faith in the Lord and good will to the people of God (cf. Matt. 25:24f).
15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go to the hill country, lest the pursuers happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days, until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.” 17 And the men said to her, “We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, 18 unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household. 19 And it shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be free from the oath which you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” So she sent them away, and they departed; and she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
Just before the spies left, they confirmed their agreement with Rahab: First, her house must be identified by a scarlet cord hung from the window. Second, she and her family were to remain in the house during the attack on the city. Third, the spies reassured her that they would be free of their oath guaranteeing her protection if Rahab exposed their mission.
This story was much like the deliverance experienced in the last plague God brought on Pharaoh and on Egypt when He killed the firstborn in every household, but He spared the Israelites because of the blood of the Passover lamb which had been sprinkled on the two doorposts and the lintel of their houses. Though it has not been identified as such, it seems the scarlet thread was a picture of Christ.
In the days of Noah, there was safety and refuge for those who entered into the door of the ark. In Egypt there was safety and refuge for those who were gathered behind the doors that were sprinkled with the blood of the Passover lamb. For you and me, there is safety and refuge from eternal judgment—but only if we enter the right door: Jesus Christ alone. As He said in John 10:9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved.”
George Whitefield, the eloquent preacher of the Great Awakening in North America (1738-40), once spoke on the text, “The Door Was Shut.” There were two arrogant and disrespectful young men in the congregation, and one was overheard to say to the other in mocking tones, “What if the door is shut? Another will open.”
Later in the sermon, the evangelist said, “It is possible that there may be someone here who is careless and self-satisfied, and says, ‘What does it matter if the door is shut? Another will open!’”
The two young men looked at each other in alarm!
“Yes, another door will open,” Whitefield concluded. “It will be the door to the bottomless pit—the door to Hell.”15
22 And they departed and came to the hill country, and remained there for three days until the pursuers returned. Now the pursuers had sought them all along the road, but had not found them. 23 Then the two men returned and came down from the hill country and crossed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they related to him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Surely the LORD has given all the land into our hands, and all the inhabitants of the land, moreover, have melted away before us.”
Joshua and the men of Israel saw the words and actions of Rahab as a clear evidence of the sovereign providence and blessing of the Lord. Note their confidence, “Surely, the Lord has given all the land into our hands, …” There are some obvious lessons from this passage:
(1) This demonstrates God’s concern and work to deliver one person or one family who will trust Him (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9). It reminds us God knows the hearts of men and will lead us to them if we are only available. It also teaches us that the work of God must take place at both ends.
(2) It demonstrates God’s protection and provision of His servants to enable them to carry out their calling and purpose regardless of the circumstances. The only thing that can hinder us in doing the will of God and fulfilling our calling is our own unbelief.
(3) It demonstrates how our faith should lead to action and ministry to and for others. Rahab reached out to both the spies and to her household (John 1:35-51; 4:28-29, 39).
(4) It demonstrates how God’s mercy and grace overcomes His wrath through the cross. Rahab was an Amoritess and according to the law of Moses there was to be no pity or covenant with any inhabitants—only judgment (cf. Deut. 7:2). Through her genuine faith, she became an exception.
(5) Rahab forms a type and a pledge of God’s purpose to save the Gentiles who, though without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12), could to come to God and be a partaker with Israel through faith in Christ.
(6) Rahab provides a lesson by noting the contrast with Israel as well as the other inhabitants of Jericho. It becomes a warning against the hardening of the heart in those who see and hear but fail to respond by faith. Just hearing is not enough. Note the applications here:
In relation to Israel:
1 Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard (Heb 4:1-2).
In relation to Jericho:
9 and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. 10 “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9-11).
In relation to the disciples:
52 for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. (Mark 6:52).
In relation to us:
7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw My works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; And they did not know My ways’; 11 As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’” (Hebrews 3:7-11).