When it was time for Moses to die the Lord had Moses commission Joshua as Israel’s new leader. The Lord would go before Israel and destroy the land’s inhabitants and Joshua would lead them into the land the Lord promised their forefathers. Moses climbed Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 32:48–52) and there the Lord gave Moses a vision of the land but he would not be able to physically enter in. Moses dies and the Lord buried Moses in an unknown grave somewhere in Moab (Deuteronomy 34:1–12). There had never been a prophet in Israel who knew the Lord face to face like Moses and who did such miraculous signs and wonders before Egypt and in the sight of all Israel. This brings us to the story of Rahab and the Israelite spies (Joshua 1-2).
Rahab and the Israelite Spies.
There had never been a prophet in Israel who knew the Lord face to face like Moses did. Moses had led Israel to the border of Canaan, but now the Lord’s faithful servant is dead. Now Joshua as Israel’s leader was to get the people ready to cross the Jordan and enter Canaan as the Lord had promised Moses. The Lord promises that He would be with Joshua as He had been with Moses and to never leave or forsake Joshua. Therefore Joshua is to be strong and courageous and lead Israel into the land the Lord swore to their forefathers. However, Joshua was to meditate day and night on the ‘Book of the Law’ that God gave Moses and to be careful to do everything written in it. The Lord would be with Joshua so Joshua need not be afraid or discouraged (Joshua 1:1-9).
The people commit themselves to do what Joshua says to do and to go where Joshua says to go. They commit to obey Joshua as they claimed they fully obeyed Moses (Joshua 1:17). Hadn’t their obedience to Moses been somewhat questionable? Isn’t their perception of their own faithfulness distorted? Well compared to their parents who died in the wilderness; they were relatively faithful. Then in the recent events there was less rebellion than at previous times (Numbers 21:1-3). So now the second generation out of Egypt commits to do what Joshua commands and go wherever Joshua sends them. What they request is that the Lord be with Joshua as He was with Moses and that Joshua be ‘strong and courageous’ (Joshua 1:16-18)!
Joshua sends two men and not twelve to spy out Canaan. The spies stay at the house of a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab. When the king of Jericho finds out about this he sends a message telling to Rahab to bring out the men because they were spying out their land. The king sees these men as a threat to Jericho but Rahab aligns herself with Israel and their God over against Jericho’s king. Rahab hides the two Israelite spies and deceives the messengers of Jericho’s king so that they leave the city to search for the spies. Rahab knew where they were from and that they were hiding in her house. While the ethics of her tactics have been debated but what is clear is that her allegiance was to Israel and their God. Rahab feared the Lord more than she fears the king of Jericho and she actually sought to preserve the lives of those spying out the land to destroy it (Joshua 2:1-11).
Rahab confesses her belief to the spies that the Lord would give Israel the land of Canaan. She says her whole country was melting with fear because they knew how the Lord dried up the Red Sea when Israel came out of Egypt and how more recently Israel had completely destroyed the kings of the Amorites. She goes on to acknowledge that the God of Israel is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Then she pleads that the Israelites spare the lives of her family and her whole household. Rahab had protected them so now they assure Rahab that they will do the same for Rahab when the Lord gives them the land. Then Rahab let them down by a rope through the window in her house which was built into the wall. Rahab tells them to go hide in the hills for three days until those pursuing them return to Jericho, then they could go on their way back to the Israelite camp .
The oath would be binding as long as Rahab tied a scarlet cord in her window, and keep her family inside her house during the attack. Rahab agreed and she tied the scarlet cord in her window and she sent the spies to hide in the hills until their pursuers returned to Jericho without finding them. After this the two men went and told Joshua son of Nun everything that had happened to them. They told Joshua that the Lord had surely given them the land because all the people in the land were melting in fear because of the Israelites. A Canaanite prostitute may seem like an unlikely person to come to Israel’s aid. But, Rahab hid the spies and sent those searching for them off in another direction. Her testimony that her whole country was melting with fear encouraged the Israelites that God was working behind the scenes on their behalf. That Rahab lied to protect the spies creates an ethical tension which the story does not resolve. The story highlights Rahab’s confession showed she feared Israel’s God. The New Testament goes on to tell us in James that by concealing the spies and sending them off in a different direction Rahab demonstrated that she had faith. Also the writer of Hebrews tells us that Rahab welcomed the spies by faith and she was not killed with those who were disobedient.
James 2:25–26 (NIV84) 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Hebrews 11:31 (NIV84) 31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.