“Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, ‘Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.’ So the king of Jericho sent 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 country.’ Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.’ (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate” (Josh. 2:1-7).
Jericho was a tremendous city in that day. Excavations at the city’s location indicate it was one of the earliest fortified cities. It is believed that Jericho was defended by a wall 12 feet high and 6 feet wide. Beyond the wall was a ditch, 27 feet wide and 9 feet deep, cut into the rock. Jericho was the first city the Israelites would attack, and if they could take Jericho, they could take any city in Canaan!
Although there is no textual indication that God commanded the sending of the spies, the possibility still remains that He did. The spies would provide Joshua with helpful tactical information about Jericho. They were sent secretly, perhaps to avoid a repeat of what had happened back in Moses’ day (cf. Num. 13 & 14).
The spies ended up at a harlot’s house for lodging. What better place could they go to avoid being seen or taken special note of? Despite their desire to blend in, they are identified as Israelite spies. The king sends men to arrest them, but Rahab lies to protect them, not once but twice! She lies about not knowing where they were from, and she also made up a story about them leaving before the city gate was shut. Contrary to the thinking of some, this does not justify “situation ethics.” We will have more to say about this at the end of the lesson.
Rahab had evidently suspected they were in danger since she had hidden the spies on her roof. After the authorities leave, she engages the spies in dialogue.
“Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men: ‘I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.’ So the men answered her, ‘Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you” (Josh. 2:8-14).
From Rahab’s words here, we learn that news travels fast (even without the internet!). The inhabitants of Jericho were familiar with the military successes of the Israelites. They knew about the Egyptian disaster in the Red Sea. They knew about the slaughtered Amorite kings. And know they know that Israel is headed toward them! The city of Jericho is terrified (i.e., their “hearts melted”) because of the Israelites, which explains the king’s desire to capture these spies. As Rahab speaks her personal faith shines through clearly (e.g., “I know that the LORD has given you the land”…”for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath”). Although she lived among heathens, Rahab was a believer in the true God and she knew what was about to happen to Jericho. Thus, she begged the spies to swear to protect her and her family when it was time to conquer the city. She was hopeful they would do so because of the kindness she had shown them.
“Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall. And she said to them, ‘Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there for three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way.’ So the men said to her: ‘We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household to your own home. So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear.’ Then she said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window” (Josh. 2:15-21).
The spies accept her request for mercy and make an oath with several conditions: (1) Don’t tell anyone about this, (2) Have all of your family with you in your home for safety, and (3) Bind the line of scarlet cord in your window (so her home would be easily identifiable). If any of these conditions were not fulfilled, the oath would be void. She accepts these conditions as she helps them to escape and provides good advice for their personal safety.
“They departed and went to the mountain, and stayed there three days until the pursuers returned. The pursuers sought them all along the way, but did not find them. So the two men returned, descended from the mountain, and crossed over; and they came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all that had befallen them. And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us’ (Josh. 2:22-24).
After safely avoiding those who were pursuing them, the spies return to Joshua with a positive report. The LORD had promised them the land, and even the inhabitants are terrified of them! Soon Jericho’s worst fears would become reality.
We have focused most of our comments in this lesson on observations from the text itself, but there are many practical points to be gleaned from this context. We will have more to say about Rahab in our next lesson.