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2. Rahab – The Courage Of Faith (Joshua 2:1-24)

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One of the remarkable aspects of the Bible is that it contains stories of some of the most disreputable and despised people in society, who come to faith in the one true God. Who would have thought that a prostitute would have been afforded such an important place in the unfolding of God’s ways with Israel? Indeed, Rahab the prostitute (as she is known) not only acted in faith to enable Israel to defeat Jericho, but she is actually recorded in Scripture as one of the mothers in the messianic line. How about that for the grace of God!

Let us never underestimate the saving power and grace of God in Jesus Christ. He reaches out to all levels of society, some of whom are among the lowest and poorest social outcasts, into whom he pours his love and grace to bring them to a saving knowledge of, and relationship with, Jesus Christ. We see this abundantly in the Gospels, where Jesus reached out to those who were hungry, sick, poor, and demonized, as well as the elite and powerful.

We are continuing our series studying O.T. characters. The primary character we are studying at the moment is Joshua. One person who plays an important role in Joshua’s siege of Jericho, the first city he attacks as he begins to take possession of Canaan, is Rahab the prostitute. Rahab is one of those people who lives on the edge of society and in whose life God powerfully intervenes. We don’t know how or when she realized that the God of Israel is God in heaven above and on earth below (2:11), but this interaction with Joshua’s spies clearly indicates that her faith was real, as demonstrated in what she said and in what she did.

The passage we are studying today is Joshua 2:1-24. The subject of this study is the sovereign and providential ways of God through the most unlikely people. The primary theological point of this passage is that in the midst of impending judgement, God still saves sinners and uses them to achieve his own purposes.

Let’s start by examining the action that gives rise to this event. By this point in the narrative of Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan, (1) Moses has died, (2) Joshua has taken Moses’ leadership position, and (3) the Israelites are about to enter and take possession of the promised land, in preparation for which Joshua sends out a spying mission to Jericho in response to which the king of Jericho activates his own intelligence mission.

I. The Two Spying Missions (2:1-7)

A. Joshua’s spying mission (2:1). Evidently Joshua wants to gather intelligence about Jericho, the first city they would encounter upon their entrance into the Promised Land, a fortified and wicked city. So, he sends to Jericho two unnamed Israelite spies.

Joshua was well qualified to organize a spying mission. After all, he himself had been one of the spies sent out by Moses to check out the Promised Land some 40 years earlier (Num. 13). Notice that one of the lessons Joshua learned from his earlier experience was to only send two spies not twelve. Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two men as spies from the Acacia Grove (2:1a). Perhaps he didn’t want to take the risk of disagreement among the spies, which might once again cause havoc among the Israelites. Or, perhaps he just knew that two spies could be more successful than twelve - after all, secrecy was of the utmost importance for such a mission.

So, he instructed the spies as follows: “Go and scout the land, especially Jericho.” So they left, and they came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab, and stayed there (2:1b). At first reading, it seems most peculiar to us that the spies would take refuge and counsel from such a person: (1) because she was a Canaanite – the enemy; (2) because she was a woman - women in that society were regarded as second class citizens; (3) because she was a prostitute – one of the lowest, immoral members of society. But what becomes clear as we continue our study is that, despite all these negative characteristics, she had faith.

Clearly, as the narrative continues, though Rahab was known for her sordid profession (a trait that would remain with her throughout Scripture), a spiritual conversion had taken place that would now become known as well. So, not only was this a military mission which would give them intelligence regarding how to defeat Jericho, but also it was a providential mission which would secure the salvation of Rahab and her family.

In addition to Joshua’s spying mission, there was also another counter intelligence mission going on…

B. The King of Jericho’s counter intelligence mission (2:2-7). Someone in Jericho had seen the Israelite spies enter the city and, somehow, knew what their intentions were. The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelite men have come here tonight to investigate the land” (2:2). How this intelligence was gathered we don’t know. But including this detail certainly gives life and movement and heightened tension to the story. What we do know is that as soon as the king of Jericho found out what was going on he sprang into action to counter this act of aggression. Then the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab and said, “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, for they came to investigate the entire land” (2:3).

Having established the setting, the narrator now leads us into the mystery of the story, that Rahab is not intimidated by the king’s demand (2:4-7). Rahab’s actions here are the first clear demonstrations of her faith. Notice…

First, Rahab hides the Israelite spies: But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them (2:4). This in itself is an overt act of faith. After all, at that point she had no guarantee that the Israelite spies would protect her. This was her unilateral act of faith in the Israelites and in the God of Israel.

Second, Rahab risks being discovered by the king’s spies, which undoubtedly would have incurred being put to death for treason. The king’s spies knew that the Israelite spies had entered her house and what their mission was. Thus the king of Jericho issues the order to Rahab: Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house for they came to investigate the land (2:3). Rahab readily admits that 4a Yes, the men did come to me… but she lies about who and where they were: 4b…but I didn’t know where they were from. 5a At nightfall, when the city gate was about to close, the men went out, and I don’t know where they were going (2:4-5a). If the king’s men had searched her home, they would have undoubtedly found the Israelite spies hiding on the roof, but, incredibly, they didn’t. In God’s providence they naively believed Rahab’s word that the spies had left her house just before nightfall. This was a bold act of faith on her part.

Third, the king’s men blindly followed Rahab’s advice. 5b “Chase after them quickly, and you can catch up with them!” 6 But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them among the stalks of flax that she had arranged on the roof. 7 The men pursued them along the road to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as they left to pursue them, the city gate was shut (2:5b-7). With the king’s men gone and the city gates locked shut the question remains as to how the Israelite spies will escape. We shall see as the story unfolds.

Let me take a moment to briefly engage with the issue of Rahab’s deceit. Much has been said and written about the ethical implications of what Rahab did. First, it appears that she committed treason by harboring and hiding spies in her home. Second, she lied to protect the Israelite spies from the king. Though a discussion on whether it is ever morally right to lie is a good and worthwhile debate to have, I wish to simply note the following two observations:

1. The passage emphasizes…

a) The rightness of what she did and said as it relates to God’s providential ways with, and the subsequent victory of, the Israelites.

b) Rahab’s confession of, and faith in, the God of Israel, rather than the morality of what she did for the spies. Or, to put it another way, the text focuses on her confession of faith and the consequent promise of salvation from the Israelite spies rather than on her deception of the king’s spies (cf. Heb. 11:31; James 2:25).

2. This passage does not comment on the morality of what she did and said. Therefore, this is not the time to have that discussion. But I think it worthwhile just to note that throughout the O.T. it is apparent that the moral standards in war and oppression are very different from those of everyday life – e.g. killing in war is not considered murder. Perhaps the same can be said of lying in such circumstances. In that regard, one cannot help but think of the many lies told by those involved in the resistance movement during the second world war in order to protect the lives of Jews they were hiding. Who of us would condemn them for that? In fact, they are generally considered by most to be heroes. Since Rahab knows that the Lord is giving Canaan to the Israelites and since she confesses that the God of Israel is the one true God (2:11), her lie was undoubtedly formulated on that basis: (a) to advance what God was doing; and (b) to protect the Israelite spies in the process.

The way the narrator tells this story, it seems that the king’s spies are either very naïve or they are of the same persuasion as Rahab herself regarding the Israelites and their God, since they took her at her word without any search of her home, even though, by her voluntary confession, they knew that the spies had come to her house. As the subsequent narrative explains, somehow Rahab knew about the mighty acts of God on behalf of Israel in the past and she understood the implications of that as we shall see.

II. Rahab’s Courageous Confession of Faith (2:8-14)

A. Her faith is based on evidence (2:8-11). First, the evidence of what she knew (2:8-9). 8 Before the men fell asleep, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and everyone who lives in the land is panicking because of you.”

How Rahab knew that “the Lord has given you (the Israelites) this land” is not stated. Evidently the experiences of the Israelites in their departure from Egypt and their miraculous journey through the wilderness had been widely reported, including the fact that their intention, under God’s guidance and through God’s power, was to inhabit and subdue the land of Canaan, the land God had promised to them. As a result, Rahab knew that there would be inevitable conflict between her people and the Israelites and that Jericho would be the first point of conflict. The amazing fact is that she did not rebel against that reality but accepted it. In saying “God has given you this land” she is admitting the defeat of the Canaanites and the sovereign right of the Israelites to the land. As a result, even before the Israelites take any aggressive action against the Canaanites, terror and panic had struck the inhabitants of Jericho.

Second, the evidence of what she had heard (2:10-11). 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 Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings you completely destroyed across the Jordan” (2:10).

This is why terror and panic had struck the inhabitants of Jericho. They had heard two terrorizing pieces of news. They had heard about the Israelites’ miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. Undoubtedly, the news about the Red Sea crossing would have quickly spread throughout that part of the world. Not only was the parting of the waters a miraculous demonstration of God’s power in delivering the Israelites from their enemy, but also the drowning of the Egyptians was a powerful demonstration of God’s power in judgement on their enemy. This ought to, and apparently did, strike terror and panic into those with whom the Israelites would come into conflict.

And they had heard about the Israelites’ defeat of the two Amorite kings. They had heard how Israel had resoundingly defeated King Sihon of the Amorites (Num. 21:21-31). They had merely asked him for permission to pass through his territory on their journey to Canaan. Yet, despite their promise to not traipse through their fields or vineyards or drink any of their well water but to keep strictly to the King’s Highway, King Sihon refused permission. As a result, Israel struck him with the sword and took possession of his land (Num. 21:25). As they journeyed on they met with similar opposition from King Og of Bashan. Again they struck him, his sons, and his whole army until no one was left and they took possession of his land (Num. 21:35).

So, Rahab continues her testimony: When we heard this, we lost heart, and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below” (2:11). Though everyone else was terrorized by this news, somehow Rahab began to put the pieces together and drew different (and correct) conclusions from everyone else concerning the Israelites and their God. She concluded from what they knew that “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. This was a major step in her journey of faith. She acknowledged who God is, the Lord almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.

Evidently, she also came to the realization of her deep need. She needed God in her life. She needed a new life, a new beginning, one that could erase her past and grant her a brand new future with new values, new behavior, new relationships. Seemingly, these convictions led her to act as she did in protecting the spies. What Rahab needed and wanted was salvation and peace and security for herself and for her family, which she recognizes can only be found through God’s people, as represented by the spies.

So, to that need she now turns. Notice that her faith is not only based on evidence but also…

B. Her faith is demonstrated in action (2:12-14). Her first concern is for the salvation of her family. “Now please swear to me by the Lord that you will also show kindness to my father’s family, because I showed kindness to you” (2:12a). This clearly indicates that she truly believes what she has confessed since her first concern is the safety of her family from certain and impending doom. True faith always manifests itself in works. We are saved by faith (Rom. 5:1) and justified by works (James 2:25).

Rahab’s negotiating position is a quid pro quo – a favor granted in return for something – as follows: “Since I have shown you kindness in saving your lives, now you also show me kindness by saving my family’s lives.” To make this agreement binding…

First, Rahab demands a seal of authenticity. It is common to seal an agreement with a pledge by the other party that they will do what they say. Rahab obviously considers the highest and most trustworthy pledge to be to swear to me by the Lord (2:12a). Her faith in God is already in evidence.

Second, Rahab demands a sign of security. 12b Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, sisters and all who belong to them and save us from death” (2:12b-13). Rahab demonstrates the faith of one who has just discovered the truth of the gospel - she does not keep it to herself but wants her family to participate in the security and peace that she has found. Evidently, her family must have trusted her and believed her testimony. She is like the woman in John 4 with whom Jesus speaks at the well. He exposes her past by declaring that she has had five husbands and the man she now lives with is not her husband. At first the woman confesses Jesus as a prophet, but Jesus makes known to her that he is the Messiah: “I, the one speaking to you, am he” (Jn. 4:26). As soon as she realizes who Jesus is, she immediately went into the town and told the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (4:28-29).

Though the spies did not immediately give Rahab a sign as she requested, the men did make her a pledge. The men answered her, “We will give our lives for yours. If you don’t report our mission, we will show kindness and faithfulness to you when the Lord gives us the land” (2:14). These must have been wonderful words of security for Rahab. The spies are agreeing not just to show her “kindness and faithfulness” but to actually give their lives for her life, to sacrifice themselves as her substitute, if they failed to keep their pledge. The only condition is that she must not report their mission. Considering that she was already complicit in their mission, this condition is a no-brainer.

Surely, this pledge reminds us of the substitutionary atonement of our Lord on our behalf. He gave himself for us (Eph. 5:2; Tit. 2:14); he took our place on the cross so that we, by faith in him, would not have to bear God’s punishment for our sin. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24).

After Rahab’s courageous profession of faith, she enters into…

III. The Promise Of Salvation (2:15–21)

Her faith continues to be shown in action. She frees the spies: She let them down by a rope through the window since she lived in a house that was built into the wall of the city (2:15). And she instructs them what to do: “Go to the hill country so that the men pursuing you won’t find you. Hide there for three days until they (the king’s officers) return; afterward, go on your way” (2:16).

As the spies leave her home, the agreement of 2:14 is signified, detailed, and finalized (2:17-21). The agreement of 2:14 was very broad-brush – it did not include her family or a sign. A good agreement always contains a pledge of the sincerity of the parties and clear details as to its conditions, which the men now state:

First, a pledge of sincerity is signified: 17 We will be free of this oath you made us swear 18 unless, when we enter the land you tie this scarlet cord to the window through which you let us down” (2:17-18a). The only way that the invading Israelites could identify Rahab’s house simply and easily would be by the scarlet cord in her window. This signified the identity of her home and her relationship to the Israelites – she was one of them, she was on their side.

Thus, the scarlet thread of redemption continues to unfold throughout salvation history. We see it in the Passover: “When I see the blood I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). Now the blood on the two doorposts is signified in the scarlet cord hung in the window. In both instances salvation takes place in the context of judgement. Also, through the scarlet cord, Rahab is unified with Israel - the prostitute becomes a member of the covenant people of God!

Then, the agreement is detailed: “Bring your father, mother, brothers, sisters and all you father’s family into your house” (2:18b). Earlier they had talked about Rahab’s security (2:14) and now they include her family just as she had requested (2:13). They would not be responsible for anyone who is not in Rahab’s house. That is the only secure place of refuge from the oncoming attack of the Israelites. And just to make sure that Rahab understands the importance of this condition, “If anyone goes out of the doors of your house, his death will be his own fault, and we will be innocent. But if anyone with you in the house should be harmed, his death will be our fault” (2:19). Everyone in Rahab’s home would be secure unless they ventured outside, in which case their demise would be their own responsibility and the spies would be innocent.

Finally, they repeat the condition first mentioned in 2:14: “If you report our mission, we are free from the oath you made us swear” (2:20). It seems that the spies wanted to emphasize the importance of this condition. The deal is off if you prove to be unfaithful to us.

And so, at last, the agreement is finalized: “Let it be as you say…” (2:21a). This same sentiment is echoed by Mary after hearing and submitting to the news from the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of our Lord: “May it happen to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). This is a statement of acceptance and submission. And so it is with Rahab, who immediately puts the first condition into practice: After they had gone she tied the scarlet cord to the window (2:21b).

As to the spies, they obeyed unquestioningly Rahab’s instruction: So the two men went into the hill country and stayed there three days until the pursuers had returned. They searched all along the way, but did not find them (2:22). The search for the Hebrew spies by the King’s men having been called off, they could safely return to Joshua on the other side of the Jordan river.

Returning to Joshua they reported everything. 23 Then the men returned, came down from the hill country, and crossed the Jordan. They went to Joshua son of Nun and reported everything that had happened to them. 24 They told Joshua, “The Lord has handed over the entire land to us” (2:23-24a). What a different report from the earlier report by the ten spies in Numbers 13. With what confidence they reported to Joshua. Only sending two spies this time was clearly the right thing to do. They were in full agreement as to the Lord’s providential hand in this and as to the climate in Jericho: “Everyone who lives in the land is also panicking because of us” (2:24b).

Final Remarks

Some have wondered what the point of this narrative is. It seems to sit here between chapters 1 and 3 without adding anything to the storyline, but such is not the case. What chapter 2 teaches us is that in the midst of impending judgement, God still saves sinners and uses them to achieve his own purposes. In the wicked city of Jericho, the first fortified obstacle that the Israelites would encounter upon their entrance into the Promised Land, God marvelously saved a prostitute and her family, such that when the walls of the city fell, her home remained standing as a vivid witness to God’s mercy and salvation. Though there is only this one family in the whole of Jericho and despite Rahab’s tainted past, they are the objects of God’s saving grace. Gentiles are thus brought into the family of God, a precursor of and evidence for God’s promise that through Abraham all the nations (Gentiles) of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3; 18:18; 22:18; Gal. 3:7-9).

Also, this story gives us vital background to this remarkable woman, Rahab. Following the events of Joshua 2, Rahab is not mentioned again until the invasion and defeat of Jericho in chapter 6, where it is recorded that Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, her father’s family, and all who belonged to her, because she hid the messengers Joshua sent to spy on Jericho (6:25).

Remarkably, Rahab surfaces again in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1. It turns out that Rahab the prostitute would marry Salmon and give birth to Boaz. Boaz would marry Ruth the Moabitess and give birth to Obed. Obed would be the father of Jesse and Jesse would be the father of King David, to whom, by the prophet Nathan, God had promised that his kingdom would an eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7: 16), which promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, great David’s greater Son. Talk about the grace of God! Rahab the prostitute is recorded in holy Scripture in the ancestral line of the Messiah (Matt.1:5). Perhaps the scarlet cord was a sign of this wonderful heritage that was to come.

After Matthew 1 we hear no more about Rahab until Hebrews, where she is listed in the hall of faith: By faith Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed (11:31). The last we hear of her is in James where she is commended for her works: Wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route? (James 2:25).

I wonder what the Israelite spies must have thought when they found out God’s plan for besieging Jericho, by which the walls of the city would collapse. At that moment their promise to Rahab must surely have caused them some discomfort. How would they keep their pledge to her? But their fears are assuaged when, after the seventh circuit around Jericho, Joshua announces that “the city and everything in it are set apart to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and everyone with her in the house will live, because she hid the messengers we sent” (6:17). How could this be, they must have wondered? Well, little did they know that the entire city wall would collapse except for the part on which Rahab’s house was built.

What a wonderful story of God’s power and saving grace, even to those whose lives have been marked by moral and spiritual depravity. Let us take comfort and courage in knowing that in the midst of impending judgement, He still saves sinners and uses them to achieve his own purposes.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life

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