Preparing to Enter the Land (2:1-14)
The Lord has prepared Joshua for leading the people into the promised land, telling him to be strong and courageous because he is with him and will never leave him. In preparation for entering the land, Joshua sends in two men to spy the land, in particular, the town of Jericho. So they go to Jericho and stay in the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab. It is important that we slow down and recognize who Rahab is and not try to sanitize her as a righteous person. She is not. She is a prostitute. She sells her body to men. Now we may wonder why these two men would pick her house as the place for staying. First, this would be a wise place to hide because strangers from around the area would regularly be entering this woman’s house. Nothing would appear out of the ordinary for two strangers to enter her house. Second, most scholars do not think we should read her house as a brothel. Rather, her house is more likely to be a tavern or a hostel for this town where also these kinds of sexual services were offered. Therefore, staying in the house did not mean you were there for prostitution, but it was known that such could be found there. Visitors came in and out of this house for a number of reasons.
With that in mind, when the king of Jericho learns that men of Israel have come to investigate the land, he immediately informs Rahab because strangers would certainly stay in her home as an inn or hostel. Now think about this situation. These spies are doomed. It is not good to be a spy if the town you are spying knows you are there. However, Rahab does something that is shocking. Rather, than turning the men over to the authorities of the town, she took the two men and hid them. Not only this, she tells the authorities that the men already went out of the town and, if they hurry, they can catch them. We are left puzzled for the moment. Why would she not turn these men over? Why would she hide these spies? Why would she send the pursuers on a wild goose chase? She could have been the hero of the town for exposing these men and turning them over. But she protects the men instead. Why? Verses 8-11 tell us the reason why she did all of this.
8 Before the men 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 fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt 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 devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua 2:8–11 ESV)
Rahab knows that the Lord has given this land to Israel and all the people are afraid. How does she know this? She knows this because they heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea when they came out of Egypt. They had heard and remembered what had happened 40 years earlier. Further, they heard about how they destroyed the two kings in battle on the east side of the Jordan River. God has melted the hearts of the inhabitants through the victories over these nations. Listen to her confession in verse 11, “For the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” The motivation behind her actions is that she knows these men are sent by God. This means that she knew exactly why these two men had come and why she protected them. This is why she lies about the situation.
So people get really stuck on Rahab lying, especially when the writer of Hebrews speaks of her faith for “giving a friendly welcome to the spies.” But she did not lie for mere selfish purposes. She realized that these men were carrying out God’s will and so she acted to preserve their lives, just as the Hebrew midwives acted to preserve the Hebrew babies in Egypt in Exodus 1.
Now she makes a request of the spies in verses 12-13. Because I have dealt kindly with you, please deal kindly with myself and my family. Deliver our lives from death. The spies respond that if she does not report the town about their mission, they when the Lord gives them the land, they will deal kindly and faithfully with her.
In verse 15 Rahab now assists in the spies’ escape. Her home was built on the city wall so she could let these men out the window. She tells the men to hide in the hills for three days until the pursuers give up. The men confirm their oath to her and her family. But they also give some conditions for her deliverance. First, tie this scarlet cord in the window for when they come into the land (2:18). Second, all her family needs to be gathered in her house to be rescued (2:18-19). Third, do not tell anyone why they were there (2:20). She agrees to the terms and ties the scarlet cord to her window. The spies hide in the hills for three days and then returned to the camp, telling Joshua all that happened. Notice that is confirmation to Joshua and the people. “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” (2:24)
Now there is a reason why this historical event is recorded for us. Remember that the apostle Paul told us that what was written in former days was written for our instruction so that we would have endurance and encouragement (Romans 15:4). So what is the message from this account of Rahab? There are a few messages God is proclaiming.
First, we see God creating faith. God was already doing his work, striking fear in the hearts of the land’s inhabitants. We see God’s fame spreading despite the actions of Israel. The people knew about what God had done for his own glory against Egypt and the other nations. The exodus was intended to be a global story that created faith in those who heard. In this we are seeing God intentionally bringing salvation to the Gentiles. God did not need to spy out the land. God was going to fight for the people and give them victory. But God is going to show the world a picture of how he will redeem people, even the Gentiles.
Second, anyone can have faith, regardless of the depth of their sinfulness or background. She is a Gentile doomed for destruction but was saved from the wrath to come. She is doomed as a Canaanite because the nation is deserving destruction. She is doomed as a prostitute because of her own personal sins. There is nothing about her that is worthy of saving. She is not an Israelite. She lives in a wicked land. She is a wicked person. But she has something that necessary for salvation. She does not have good works, but she has faith. If God will save Rahab, then anyone can be saved. No one is beyond God’s love, concern, or reach. It does not matter who you are or what you can have done, you can be saved by faith.
Yet, even more amazing is that her name is emblazoned as part of the faithful. Not only is she listed in Hebrews 11 for her faith, but she is also listed as part of the family line that leads to the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). Think about this. She is going to marry someone in Israel and they are going to have children, and their children will have children, until we get all the way down through time that one of her descendants will be Jesus. Rahab becomes fully included in the nation of Israel. Her sinfulness is washed away. Her profession is washed away. She is given a whole new life through the salvation God brought to Jericho.
Finally, we see that faith will be necessary for salvation. James tells us that Rahab is a model of necessary faith.
And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:25–26 ESV)
Rahab’s faith is amazing and represents the faith needed for salvation. First, she knows and acknowledges that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below. Second, she asks for salvation from the coming judgment. Third, she forfeits her own earthly citizenship, rescuing these men rather than obey the authorities of Jericho. Finally, she acts on her faith. She protects the spies at great personal risk. She puts the cord in the window as she was instructed to do. She does not tell the authorities about these men and helps them escape. Everything she does is her acting on her faith. This is the picture of true, saving faith. Faith acknowledges the Lord and submits to his requirements. She knows God is going to win and she wants to belong to the winning side. Thus, her name is set for eternity next to Abraham’s name as a model of faith in the book of James. Can you believe it!
Our name can also be set for eternity by having the same faith. God has created faith to those who will hear through the cross of Jesus and his resurrection. God has brought salvation to all people, without regard for your background and culture. Most importantly, God has brought salvation to all people, without regard for the degree of your sins. If Rahab, a prostitute and worldly person of Jericho, can receive salvation for her faith, so can you. Have her faith by acknowledging that the Lord is God who rules over all creation and give your life to God’s will and direction. Seek God’s salvation and do all that he asked. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). You also can become fully part of God’s family.