Close, But Yet So Far

13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, 14 and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ 17 And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19 Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. 25 Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.” Numbers 14:13-25 ESV

God was angry. He had deemed the ungrateful and disobedient response of the people to His leadership as unacceptable and worthy of judgment.

“How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” – Numbers 14:11-12 ESV

But this was not the first time that God had grown impatient with His chosen people. When they had been camped at the base of Mount Sinai, He had reached a similar conclusion because of their blatant display of rebellion. While Moses had been on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people had decided to fashion and worship a golden calf. To make matters worse, the Israelites were crediting their new idol with their recent deliverance from Egypt. So, God told Moses:

“I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” – Exodus 32:9-10 ESV

In both cases, God declared His intent to destroy the people of Israel and start from scratch. But notice that in neither scenario would His destruction have included Moses and his family. God was willing to spare His chosen leader and start the process of building a great nation all over again. He had started the original plan with Abraham, and there was nothing to prevent Him from doing so with Moses. Except for Moses.

On both occasions, one person stood in the way of God carrying out His plan to completely destroy His rebellious people. Moses intervened. He interceded on behalf of his fellow Israelites. Despite the fact that these very same people had repeatedly questioned his leadership and had even attempted to replace him, he boldly defended them.  In Exodus, we read that “Moses implored the Lord his God…” (Exodus 32:11 ESV). And in Numbers, it states that “Moses said to the Lord…” (Numbers 14:13 ESV).

This beleaguered and often discredited man stood by his fellow Israelites and begged God to consider the impact His destruction would have on His reputation. At Sinai, Moses had raised the prospect of the Egyptians gloating over the annihilation of the Jewish people by their own God.

“Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?” – Exodus 32:12 ESV

Moses appealed to God’s sense of honor and reminded Him of the covenant commitment He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” – Exodus 32:13 ESV

As a result, “the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:14 ESV).

In the wilderness of Paran, Moses employed a similar tactic with God, arguing that news of His destruction of the people would get back to the Egyptians and they would spread rumors among the Canaanites about His unfaithfulness.

“Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land…” – Numbers 14:13-14 ESV

Moses reminded God that the nations that occupied Canaan had already heard of His presence among the people of Israel.

“They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.” – Numbers 14:14 ESV

News of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt had already reached Canaan. They had heard about God’s power and the devastating plagues He had poured out on the Egyptians. Rumors concerning this massive host of people traveling through the wilderness had made their way to the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites. Reports of Israel’s God going before them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night had reached their ears and left them shaking in terror.

But Moses warns God that if He follows through with His plan to wipe out the Israelites, it could do irreparable damage to His reputation among the Canaanites. They will go from fearing Him to feeling sorry for Him.

“Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’” – Numbers 14:15-16 ESV

So, Moses appeals to God’s love, patience, and faithfulness.

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Numbers 14:18 ESV

Moses was not denying the guilt of the people; he was simply calling on God to only punish those who were responsible for the rebellion. He pleaded with God to “pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love” (Numbers 14:19 ESV). From Moses’ perspective, the people had been misled and negatively influenced by the report of the ten spies. These men had coerced the people into rejecting God’s command to enter the land of Canaan. Moses believed the spies were deserving of God’s judgment but the people deserved God’s forgiveness. And God agreed. He pardoned the people but declared His intent to punish the ten spies.

“…none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” – Numbers 14:22-23 ESV

But what Moses failed to understand was the deep-rooted rebellion among that generation of Israelites. The problem was greater than Moses realized. And while God was willing to pardon the nation as a whole, He would not forgive those who had questioned His integrity and rejected His command to enter the land. The ten spies would suffer immediate death as a result of a God-ordained plague (Numbers 14:36-38). But the rest of that generation would be spared. Yet, as the following verses reveal, they would ultimately die of natural causes in the wilderness (Numbers 14:32-33).

They had listened to the report of the spies and refused to obey God’s command to enter the land of promise. In doing so, they were denying God’s power to give them victory over their enemies. They were discrediting God’s promises, inferring that He was incapable of doing what He had said He would do. And they were displaying their ingratitude for all that He had done on their behalf. God would remain faithful. He would continue to display His steadfast love and extend His grace and mercy. But that generation would pay dearly for their refusal to do His will. He had wanted to bless them but they had forfeited that right through their stubborn disobedience.

God would not destroy them, but they would never set foot in Canaan. They had been delivered by God but would never experience the joy of entering into His rest.

“…when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 90:9-11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

I’ve Got Good News and Bad News

25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they told him, “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.”

30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 13:25-14:4 ESV

For 40 days, the people of Israel anxiously awaited the return of the 12 men who had been sent to reconnoiter the land of Canaan. And each passing day must have fueled their growing doubts and concerns. The longer the delay, the more they must have wondered whether the spies had met an untimely demise at the hands of the land’s current occupants. Had they been captured and enslaved? Worse yet, had they been tortured and forced to disclose the location of Israel’s camp in the wilderness of Paran? Was a heavily armed force headed their way with plans to annihilate the rest of the Israelites before they could cross the Jordan River?

But much to the relief of the Israelites, the spies eventually returned, bearing news and “the fruit they had taken from the land” (Numbers 13:26 NLT). Rumors of their return spread quickly through the camp and soon everyone had gathered to hear their long-anticipated report. And as the people stood in breathless silence, they heard the spies deliver their findings.

“We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. – Numbers 13:27 NLT

The spies had not returned empty handed. According to verse 23, they had gathered tangible evidence of the land’s fruitfulness and now used these props as a kind of show-and-tell.

When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 13:23 NLT

It was as if the spies knew that their words would not be enough. Any attempts they made to describe the land’s abundance would fall short and be met with skeptical ears. So, they brought proof. And it was like nothing the Israelites had ever seen before. A single cluster of grapes had to be carried on a pole between two men. This land was super-abundant and more than adequate for meeting the physical needs of the Israelites. It’s interesting to remember that, just recently, the Israelites had been reminiscing about the wonderful cuisine they had enjoyed in Egypt.

“We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:5-6 NLT

While their memories of the food they enjoyed in Egypt were probably a bit cloudy and far-from-accurate, they couldn’t argue with the evidence right before their eyes. Canaan was a virtual cornucopia of culinary delights. And it was just across the river Jordan.

But before the Israelites had time to take in the wonderful news about the fruitful land of Canaan, the spies poured a bit of cold water on their enthusiasm. They delivered the bad news.

“But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.” – Numbers 13:28-29 NLT

If the size of the grapes had been enough to make their mouths water, this news must have made them sick to their stomachs. It was the last thing they wanted to hear. After all, what good was a fruitful and abundant land if it was filled with frightful and dominant enemies?

As soon as the Israelites heard the downside of the spies’ report, they went into a panic. And Caleb, one of the 12 men who had seen the land with his own eyes, tried to calm them down. He didn’t attempt to dismiss or discredit the presence of enemies in the land. He didn’t refute their existence or diminish the report of their superior power. Instead, he simply encouraged the people to do what God had commanded them to do.

“Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” – Numbers 13:30 NLT

The spies had done exactly what Moses had instructed them to do.

“Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) – Numbers 13:18-20 NLT

They had returned with a report and samples. But at no point were their findings intended to play a role in whether or not the Israelites entered the land. Their mission had been a fact-finding one. And when their report turned out to be a combination of good news and bad news, it should have had no bearing on God’s plans for Israel. It provided proof that the land was fruitful. But it was also provided evidence that the land was already occupied. While the first fact was encouraging, the second was disheartening. But both were intended to remind the people that God was their provider. Not only had He given them a land, but He would also give them victory over its more formidable occupants.

But for ten of the spies, the thought of the Israelites defeating the Canaanites was a pipe dream. There was no way a rag-tag army of former shepherds and slaves was going to conquer a land filled with “giants.” The Israelites would find themselves up against Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites. They would be out-numbered and under-equipped for the task. And the ten spies made their views plainly known.

“We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” – Numbers 13:31 NLT

These men were more than scared. They were absolutely petrified and determined to convince the people to disobey God’s command to enter the land of Canaan.

“The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” – Numbers 13:32-33 NLT

Notice how they conveniently leave God out of the picture. It was all “us-versus-them.” It was giants against grasshoppers, the powerful against the weak. The odds were completely lopsided and any hope of victory was wishful thinking.

And their words had the desired effect. The people were devastated and demoralized. They wept and mourned. They regretted ever having left Egypt. And any encouragement they may have received from the sight of oversized fruit was crushed by the prospect of annihilation at the hands of their enemies.

Fueled by the disheartening rhetoric of the ten spies, the people railed against Moses and Aaron, questioning why they had ever left the land of Egypt in the first place.

“If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:2-3 NLT

They had regrets. And they suffered from a severe case of good-old-days syndrome. When confronted with the less-than-ideal option of entering the land of Canaan, they began to long for their days back in Egypt. They preferred slavery to possible slaughter at the hands of the Canaanites. Their view of the promised land was anything but promising. Filled with pessimism and fueled by fear, they lashed out at Moses and Aaron. And then, anxious to derail any plans these two men may have had to lead them into Canaan, the people began to plot their overthrow.

“Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” – Numbers 14:4 NLT

Little did they know that they were thumbing their noses in the face of God Almighty. They were rejecting the gift of an inheritance that He had promised to Abraham. The land was theirs by right. But now, they were declaring their intention to return to slavery rather than obey the word of their gracious deliverer. They were rejecting the will of the One who had redeemed them from captivity and refusing to believe that He could provide them with victory over their enemies. And they were about to learn just how deadly their decision would be.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Scarlet Cord.

Before the men 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, 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. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” – Joshua 2:8-24 ESV

ScarletThreadRahab had a fear of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, yet had never met Him or worshiped Him. She had only heard about Him. She told the two spies that word of His mighty acts, done on behalf of the people of Israel, had made their way all the way to Jericho. They knew about the parting of the Red Sea. They had heard about the destruction of Sihon and Og. And these stories had made an impact on the people of Jericho. She told them, “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” (Joshua 2:9 ESV). All of this was in direct fulfillment of the promise that God had made to the people of Israel.

“I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” – Exodus 23:27 ESV

Notice that it was God’s reputation that had made its impact on the people of Jericho. Rahab made it clear that their fear of the Israelites was based on the power of the God of the Israelites.

“…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 2:11 ESV

The God of the Jews had struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho. But it was because He acted on behalf of His people. He was the power behind their military success. He was the one who was going before them and fighting their battles for them. Rahab was convinced that this God had given the land of Canaan into the hands of the Israelites and there was nothing she or anyone else in her well-fortified city could do about it. Except ask for mercy. Which she did. She pleaded with the two spies to reward her willingness to protect them by sparing the lives of her household. What Rahab did at that moment was an act of faith. We know so, because of what the author of the book of Hebrews tells us.

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

While Rahab made it clear that the fear of God had melted the hearts of all the people of Jericho, she was the only one who turned to God in faith, asking His representatives to show her mercy. While the king of Jericho was busy sending his soldiers to capture the two spies, Rahab was busy begging for her life to be spared. She knew she deserved death, but was trusting that the God of Israel would spare her life. So, she asked the two spies for a sign or symbol to assure her of their intentions to extend mercy to her and her household. And the sign they gave her was a scarlet cord or string, which she was to tie in the window of her home. We know from the passage, that her home was located inside the wall that surrounded the city, and the window was the same one through which she allowed the two spies to escape. By placing the scarlet cord in her window, it would act as a sign, telling the Israelite forces to spare all those inside that home. But it also exhibited her faith, not only in the word of the two spies, but in their God. And the spies made it clear that Rahab must gather all those whose lives she wished to protect from destruction and bring them into her home. As long as they remained there, they would find protection. But if they left for any reason, their blood would be on their own hands. The scarlet thread was their guarantee of salvation.

This story should conjure up images of the first Passover. As God was preparing to bring His tenth and final plague upon the people of Egypt, He commanded Moses to have each household among the people of Israel select a one-year-old, unblemished lamb. They were to take that lamb and sacrifice it, sprinkling some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. And God told the Israelites, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). The people of Israel had to step out in faith, obeying the word of God and following His command to sprinkle the blood on their doorways. Then they had to gather in their homes and wait to see what God would do. And God warned them that no one was to leave their homes until the morning. They were to stay within their homes, protected by the blood of the lamb and under the promise of God.

The scarlet cord in the window was a similar sign of God’s power to save. It was to be a reminder of God’s willingness to “pass over” Rahab’s house and to spare all those who had sought shelter behind the simple red thread hanging in the window. What makes this story so amazing is that it reveals the incomparable ways of God. That the two spies sought shelter in the home of a prostitute is amazing enough. But that her home just happened to be within the wall of the city with a window that provided a way of escape should not go unnoticed. And that this sinful woman, by even the pagan standards of Jericho, should exhibit faith in the God of Israel, ought to jump out at us. And as we saw in yesterday’s study, Rahab had already been preordained by God to be in the lineage of Jesus, the coming Messiah and Savior of the world. Nothing that happened that day in Jericho was a case of happenstance or chance. This was all the work of a sovereign God who had already orchestrated the order of these events long before they happened. It was He who had prepared the heart of Rahab, placing within her the fear that motivated her faith. It was He who directed the two spies to choose her home as their place of refuge. It was He who prompted the spies to act as His agents of salvation, offering Rahab a sign or token of His mercy in the form of a simple scarlet cord.

Rahab helped the spies escape. She tied that cord in her window and she gathered her family members. Then she waited. And she trusted. She risked death so that she might experience life. She stepped out in faith and placed her life in the hands of a God she had never met and based on the words of two men she knew nothing about. And it was the scarlet cord hanging in her window that gave her hope. And the apostle Peter reminds us:

18 you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. – 1 Peter 1:18-21 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unexpected Ally.

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. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 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.” 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. 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.” 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. 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

JerichoYou 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.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson