1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. 2 And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” 4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. 7 So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. – Joshua 2:1-7 ESV
You would think that Joshua would have learned from Moses’ experience from 40 years earlier. It was at that time that Moses had sent spies into the land of Canaan. Upon their return, the spies had good news and bad news. They had found the land to be rich in produce and abundant in natural resources, but it was also occupied by well-armed nations living in well-fortified cities. And while the spies had brought back proof of the kinds of fruit available in the land, the people only heard the bad news and chose to rebel against Moses and Aaron, refusing to enter the land God had given them.
27 “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” – Numbers 13:27-29 ESV
But, in spite of what had happened four decades earlier, Joshua sent in two spies. Their mission was to reconnoiter the area surrounding the city of Jericho. Jericho was not a large city, but it was located on the eastern border of the land of Canaan and would have been one of the first cities the Israelites encountered as they entered the land from the east, passing across the Jordan River.
One might argue that Joshua showed a lack of faith in God by sending in the two spies. After all, God had assured Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Joshua 1:3 ESV). He had given Joshua a guarantee his success. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:5 ESV). So, why was Joshua intent on sending in spies? It seems that Joshua’s purpose for this mission was not to gather information in order to determine whether or not to enter the land. He was simply seeking news regarding the fortifications of the city of Jericho. He was doing what any good military leader would do – he was assessing the capabilities of his enemy.
We are told that the two spies entered the city of Jericho and chose the house of a woman named, Rahab, in which to spend the night. The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes Rahab as having been an innkeeper. The text tells us she was a prostitute. It could be that Rahab owned and operated a brothel in the city of Jericho. This kind of destination would have provided the spies with a certain amount of anonymity, since it was the kind of place where men’s secrets were well kept and jealously guarded. But the important thing to note is that Rahab’s name is mentioned at all. This obscure woman, who practiced one of the oldest and least respected occupations in human history, has her name included in the story of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. And Rahab’s role in the Israelites victory over Jericho would be just the beginning of her influence over and association with God’s people. She is included in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, a section often referred to as the “Great Hall of Faith.”
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV
Not only that, we see her name appear in Matthew 1, in the genealogy of Jesus. Rahab would go on to marry a Hebrew named Salmon, and the two of them would have a son named Boaz. Boaz would become the father of Obed. Obed would father a son named Jesse, and Jesse would become the father of David, the eventual king of Israel. But most importantly, from David’s line would come Jesus the Messiah. So, Rahab would not only play an important role in the salvation of the two spies, but in the redemptive plan of God to bring salvation to mankind through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.
It seems that news about the people of Israel had gotten out. The people in Jericho had heard about their presence beyond the Jordan River. The size of the Israelite nation had obviously grown over the 40 years they had been wandering in the wilderness. It has been estimated that there were as many as 3.5 million of them by the time they reached the Jordan. It would have been impossible to disguise the movements of a group of that size, so it is no wonder that Rahab knew exactly who the spies were when they arrived. She also knew why they were there. News of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their conquests in the land east of the Jordan had spread. And Rahab seems to have concluded that it was only a matter of time before this massive force of people made their way into the land of Canaan, wiping out anyone who stood in their way. And from what she ends up telling the two spies, Rahab feared the God of the Jews more than she feared their army.
“…the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” – Joshua 2:11 ESV
Rahab took a great risk in providing shelter for the spies. And the danger inherent in her decision became apparent when the king of Jericho heard about the presence of the two spies and sent soldiers to Rahab’s house in order to find and arrest them. And this sets up a scenario that has raised all kinds of ethical questions over the centuries. When the soldiers asked Rahab about the spies, she lied. She had hidden them in her house, but told the king’s soldiers that they had left and she had no idea where they had gone. Was Rahab wrong in doing this? Did her motive to protect the two spies justify her decision to lie on their behalf? Interestingly enough, in his chapter on the relationship between faith and works, James includes Rahab as an example.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 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? – James 2:24-25 ESV
James indicates that Rahab was showing her faith in God by taking in the two spies and helping them escape. This in no way justifies her decision to lie. Lying is always a sin. God was not dependent upon the lies of a prostitute in order to protect the spies. The truth is, Rahab put herself and her family at great risk for doing what she did. But God protected her in spite of her decision to lie. God did not ask her to lie. That was not part of His plan. But God used this woman, in all her human frailty, to accomplish His divine will for the spies and, eventually, for the fall of Jericho. Not only that, God would include this less-than-stellar individual in the lineage of His Son, Jesus Christ.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.