Bible Commentary: Joshua 2

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Joshua 2

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Rahab and the Spies 

Verse 1 of this chapter should apparently say "had sent" rather than "sent," as the events from 2:1 through 3:1 evidently transpire before the "three days" mentioned in Joshua 1:11. Indeed, putting events together, we apparently have the following timeline:

Abib 1 Spies sent to Jericho (Joshua 2:1)

Abib 2 Spies in Jericho (Joshua 2:1-21)

Abib 3-5 Spies in hiding outside Jericho (Joshua 2:16, 22)

Abib 6 Spies return and report to Joshua (Joshua 2:23-24)

Abib 7 Israel moves from Acacia Grove to the Jordan (Joshua 3:1)

Abib 7-9 Israel camped at the Jordan (Joshua 3:3)

Abib 8 Joshua commands officers to tell the people to prepare provisions (Joshua 1:11)

Abib 9 Officers instruct the people about following the ark (Joshua 3:2-5)

Abib 10 Israel crosses the Jordan; Memorial set up; Males circumcised (Joshua 3:6-17, Joshua 4:1-24, Joshua 5:1-9)

Abib 10-14 Israel encamped at Gilgal (Joshua 4:20-24, Joshua 5:1-10)

Abib 14 Israel keeps the Passover (Joshua 5:10)

Abib 15 Israel eats produce of the land; Last day of manna; Joshua meets Christ (Joshua 5:11-15)

Abib 15-20 Israelite procession once around Jericho each day (Joshua 6:1-14)

Abib 21 Israelite procession seven times around Jericho and it falls (Joshua 6:15-27)

When the spies enter the land, the Israelites have been in Acacia Grove since their defeat of Sihon and Og (Numbers 22:1; Numbers 25:1). Rahab and the Canaanites had heard the stories of the Red Sea crossing, now 40 years ago. Within the past few months the Israelites had completely destroyed the Amorites just east of the Jordan (verse 10). And now they were camped on Jericho's doorstep. But while most of the people of Jericho were faint with fear, Rahab recognized who was behind the Israelites' successes (verses 9, 11). She had developed faith in the true God and His power, and now she demonstrated her faith by protecting the spies and then asking them for protection in return (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).

The spies evidently did not know the manner in which Jericho would be destroyed. Otherwise, they probably would have expected Rahab's house, which was built into the city wall, to be destroyed. Instead, the spies clearly assumed the house would still be there since they told Rahab to gather her family therein and remain inside—and to bind the scarlet cord in the window from which the spies were let down. Taking an oath that Rahab's family would be protected, the scarlet cord was undoubtedly intended to make it easy for Israelite warriors to identify those to spare. As it turned out, however, the cord was apparently unnecessary for that purpose. God Himself backed up the oath, and Rahab's faith, by miraculously keeping her portion of the wall from falling flat, making identification quite simple. (This is obvious from the fact that her house, which, again, was built into the city wall, still stood after the wall as a whole fell, according to Joshua 6:22.) Moreover, rather than just any Israelite soldiers being the ones to spare Rahab and her family, Joshua sent in the spies themselves—who would actually recognize Rahab—to retrieve them (verses 22-23). Nevertheless, the scarlet cord, the instructions to remain inside the house and the family's subsequent deliverance from death, do seem to carry with it some remarkable symbolic parallels with the events of the Passover the Israelites had kept in Egypt exactly 40 years earlier.

Rahab eventually married Salmon, a very prominent member of the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:5). He was the son of the tribal leader at the time of the Exodus, Nahshon (compare Numbers 2:3), and first cousin of Eleazar the high priest (compare Exodus 6:23). Their son or perhaps later descendant Boaz would marry Ruth (of the book of Ruth), and from them would come David and eventually Jesus Christ (Ruth 4:20-21). In spite of her questionable history in the town of Jericho, Rahab evidently became converted (Hebrews 11:31, Hebrews 11:39-40), and her important role in the history of Judah and Israel is unquestioned.

It should be pointed out, however, that some view the Bible's praise of Rahab as an endorsement of her lying to the men looking for the spies. Based on this, they argue that it is okay to lie when it is "for a good cause." However, that is simply not the case—ever (Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 12:22). The Nelson Study Bible, in laying out the possible explanations with regard to Rahab's lying, ends with the one it clearly favors: "A lie is a lie, and...Rahab's action was wrong.... Rahab sinned no matter how noble her intentions. Of course, in her case, her sin is understandable because she lacked complete knowledge of the living God. That is, what she did was wrong, but she did not know any better. We must be careful to make a distinction between Rahab's faith and the way Rahab expressed it. The Bible praises Rahab because of her faith in God, not because of her lying. That is, her actions would have been more noble had she protected the spies in some other fashion; as it is, she did the best she could. The Bible calls Rahab a prostitute, but we are not meant to take that as an endorsement for immorality. Rahab, like the rest of us, had a mixed character, but she believed in God and strove to honor Him and His people. That is what draws her praise. We should honor Rahab the way the Bible does. She was a great heroine of faith, who came from a most surprising place. In time, her name would be honored not only for what she did for Israel, but for what she became—a mother in the line of Jesus" ("In Depth: Lying").

Of course, over time, with the help of God's laws and His Spirit, Rahab surely came to repudiate her former lifestyle. Indeed, she must have to have married a prominent Israelite. Thus, it is likely that she herself came to view her lie as wrong—and repented of it, as we all must of our own sins.

Supplementary Reading:"Rahab: From Harlot to Heroine," The Good News, March-April 2002, pp. 26-28.