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Reconnaissance in Jericho

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Joshua 2:1-24

Thesis: God goes ahead to provide for all he purposes us to do.

Goal: Identify ways God has prepared for current ministries, and step into the calling with confidence and obedient trust.

Oswald Chambers once said: “If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.” All noble things are difficult.

My father fought in the Army during World War II, and experienced horrific atrocities in helping to win victory for his country. Our military is currently engaged in a war against terror around the world, protecting our very lives from those who would take them. Freedom is difficult.

Most adults we know completed thirteen years of education; the large majority completed four years of college afterwards; and a sizeable number completed several years of advanced study still later. Educational preparation is difficult.

The 40-hour week is now a thing of the past. Fortune magazine recently reported that 75% of CEOs work 60 hours a week or more. Vocational success is difficult. It is no different in serving the Lord in building his Kingdom. William Barclay was right: we progress in life and faith in proportion to the fare we are prepared to pay.

The book of Joshua is calling you and your class this fall to a higher level of obedience to God’s purpose, to unconditional commitment to his plans for your life and church. Chapter two will encourage us to know that God precedes us—he has already provided for all he purposes us to be and to do. When we see all God has done to prepare us, we can step into our callings with confident obedience.

Take the risk to serve the Lord (v. 1)

The battle for Canaan was about to begin. Where should Joshua commence the attack?

Making a courageous choice

Jericho was a logical first option. Standing just north of the Dead Sea, five miles west of the Jordan River and about 20 miles from what would become Jerusalem, the city stood at the base of roads which climbed beyond into the mountains of Palestine. Its location made it a strategic military base. Once the city was captured and the roads beyond made defensible, it would be an easier matter to claim the mountains and use them for attacks into the valleys beyond.

However, the city was extremely well fortified. Fed by natural springs within the city walls, it was self-sufficient and could withstand years of siege. Its walls were among the tallest and thickest known to the culture of the day. Archaeologists have discovered multiple layers of populations which lived at the site, going back in time as far as 7,000 B.C. and making Jericho the oldest continuously-occupied city on earth.

Victory would encourage the children of Israel and discourage their enemies, something like the air raid on Tokyo which was accomplished early after Pearl Harbor for the same purpose. It would give Joshua’s armies a strategic base for the operations to follow.

But defeat here would be catastrophic. The Jewish army would be forced to withdraw and attempt to enter the land elsewhere. The Canaanites would be strengthened in resolve, and fortified in defense of their land. The Israelites would be discouraged, and might well despair of Joshua’s leadership. Moses had never led them to defeat; Joshua must win his first battle in the Promised Land for the sake of his future as their leader.

So, should they attack Jericho? Or should they go around this fortified city and attack later after their armies are stronger? Jericho lay in the middle of Canaan; there were other ways to enter the land. At question was not whether the Jews would begin their conquest of their Promised Land, but where.

Choosing courageous men

Joshua will prove himself a brilliant military strategist all through this book. He began his career as leader of the nation with this decision: he would send two spies into Jericho and the surrounding area. They would help him decide whether or not the Lord intended this to be the first stage in their battle strategy. He sent the two spies from the plains of “Shittim,” which means “acacia trees” (v. 1a). These trees would mark the location of the great victory to come for all the generations who would follow.

But first the spies must exercise enormous courage. They could expect their enemies to anticipate their arrival, as they did. If the king of Jericho could capture them, he could defeat Joshua’s attack before it began. The military attention of the entire city and area would be focused against them. These soldiers are two of the unnamed heroes of Scripture, models of risk-taking, courageous faith.

They slipped across the Jordan River and into the city, and “entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there” (v. 1b). Few biblical people or stories are more famous than the account which follows. Who was this woman?

Finding a courageous woman

The Hebrew word translated “prostitute” can also be rendered “inn-keeper,” as the NIV textual note shows. Josephus and some other Jewish historians attempted to defend Rahab’s honor, arguing that God would not select a woman of such immoral character for a responsibility and honor so great as this. But the New Testament describes Rahab with words which leave no question as to her occupation. Hebrews 11:31 calls her “the prostitute Rahab”; James 2:25 likewise calls her “Rahab the prostitute.” The Greek word translated “prostitute” can mean only this. She was clearly a woman who sold sexual favors as her livelihood.

Why did the men enter her house first? For several reasons. First, strangers would be less unusual entering a prostitute’s house than other homes or businesses in Jericho, as it was customary for a man to travel away from his own home and city when visiting the house of a harlot.

Second, her house was easily accessible to them, as it was situated on the edge of the city, inside its walls (v. 15). Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Jericho city walls were so thick that many were made into apartments. Those living in the walls would be a first line of defense for the city, warning of intruders long before those inside would know of their presence. But such apartments were less desirable than the houses in the city, and in time came to be used commonly by social outcasts such as Rahab.

Third, Rahab’s occupation would likely make her less supportive of her king and fellow citizens than those in other vocations. She would know the sexual sins of many of the “leading citizens” of her people. Perhaps she had been sold into prostitution years earlier by her family to pay debts to wealthy leaders of the city. Or perhaps she was forced into prostitution at the death of her husband, when no one in the city would provide for her family. It was likely that she would resent the current authorities, and be more amenable to the Jewish army and its plans for the city.

While the spies chose her house for logical reasons, she received them for reasons which speak less of reason than of faith. She took an enormous risk in welcoming them. She knew far more about them than they might have expected, as we will soon see (vs. 8-11). She could expect the king to send his soldiers to seek them, and knew that she would be killed if they were found in her shelter. Rahab demonstrated courage no less significant than that of the spies she protected.

Here is an appropriate place to glance at the rest of her story. As you know, Jericho would fall to the Jewish armies; Rahab and her family would be spared as a result of her faithfulness. For her obedience, she would be preserved in God’s word as a model of courageous faith: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31); “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?” (James 2:25).

What’s more, Rahab would enter the genealogical line of the Messiah himself: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab” (Matthew 1:5). Rahab’s son Boaz would marry Ruth in one of the great love stories of all literature. He would continue the line from Abraham to David, making her part of the royal family. And that line would eventuate in the birth of Jesus the Christ, making Rahab part of the Messiah’s family line. In a very real sense, all of us who have Christ for our Savior are part of her family. She is a spiritual ancestor to us all.

Thomas a Kempis once wrote, “If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine. There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.” Rahab proves that it is so.

If your service to the Lord does not involve risk, it is not noble enough. But when you are about to step courageously into God’s purpose, know that the Father has gone before you. He has already prepared the way.

Many years ago, a shipwreck off the Japanese islands resulted in a small New Testament being washed ashore. A man walking on the beach found the tiny volume, and judged its paper just the right dimensions and weight for cigarettes. As he tore a page from the book to roll a cigarette, he would read what was printed on it. And so he came to trust in Christ, and to start a church in his village. Years later, when missionaries first visited his island, they found a thriving community of faith awaiting their arrival.

Take the risk to serve the Lord. You will find that it is really no risk at all.

Expect God to provide for your needs (vs. 2-7)

The king of Jericho was lord of a miniature kingdom. Egypt was the great power in control of Canaan at this stage of history. So long as the rulers of local cities and communities paid tribute to the Pharaoh, they could manage their kingdoms as they wished.

The walled cities of this period in ancient history were not large; as the NavPress commentary states, the city itself was probably about nine acres in size. The king, his nobles and the wealthier citizens of the area would actually live inside the walls. Tenant farmers lived further out, and paid taxes to the king for his protection.

The king and his military leaders had already heard about the Jewish people camped across the Jordan River, as Rahab will make clear shortly. They were on “terror alert,” as America is today. They knew somehow that Jewish spies had come and went to Rahab in seeking them, perhaps for the same reasons the spies chose her house when they entered the city. They wanted to find and kill them, to dissuade the Jewish people from crossing the river to attack. Likely such an action would have had the desired effect. On some level, the conquest of Canaan hung in the balance.

Rahab’s report to the king’s men was both brilliant and unexpected. She patently lied to these messengers (vs. 4-5). If they had chosen to search her house and found the spies, she could make no claim of ignorance. Hers was an unlikely source of protection for the soldiers of God’s army, but it was part of his plan. Straight licks with crooked sticks, as the saying goes.

It may bother some in your class that God appears to have used deliberate deceit to further his purposes. Rahab clearly broke the ninth commandment (Ex 20:16). While we cannot expect her to know the Torah or keep it, we would expect God’s people to refuse such deception. But sometimes we must choose which commandment to break. If she had kept the ninth prohibition against lying, she would have broken the sixth commandment against murder. When Corrie ten Boom and her family kept Jewish refugees during the early days of Nazism in Holland, and German soldiers would ask if they had Jews, they had to make Rahab’s choice.

When forced to make such a decision, always choose the highest value. In this case, the most significant purpose of God was the military defeat of Jericho and conquest of the land for his covenant people. Deceiving the pagan king was less important, so long as such deceit was intended to accomplish the larger good.

There is much to discuss here ethically. Does the end always justify the means? Are we here espousing situational ethics? Note that the book of Joshua describes Rahab’s behavior, but it does not prescribe it for us. There is much sin described in the Bible (David’s sin with Bathsheba comes to mind immediately); never does the Bible teach us to practice the immorality it describes.

In any case, Rahab hid the two Jewish spies under stalks of flax on her rooftop, in case the king’s soldiers did not believe her. To this day people in that arid climate lay crops and clothes on their rooftops to dry in the hot sun. But never has a rooftop hidden more important figures than here.

The result was that the king looked no further inside his city for these spies. Instead, his soldiers were occupied for days outside its walls. The Jewish soldiers had complete safety to complete their reconnaissance of the city and bring their report to their general.

The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain. When you cannot find the answer around you, look up. There is always a rooftop of safety. There is always a Rahab waiting to help God’s people fulfill God’s purpose by God’s provision. Always.

Look to the past to find faith for the future (vs. 8-13)

What follows is one of the most remarkable confessions of faith to be found in the word of God. Rahab began: “I know that the Lord has given this land to you” (v. 9a). Her word for God, “the Lord,” was the Hebrew name Yahweh. This was his covenant name, the “I Am,” the One who was, is, and ever shall be. Here we find instant indication of her faith in Israel’s God. If someone calls Jesus “the Lord,” you have a clear sense that he trusts in Christ personally.

She knew that God had already given them the land. She has seen what God has already done for them (v. 10). Now she knows that their God is God in heaven above and on the earth below (v. 11).

Note the unusual structure of her statement of faith. Begin at the lower left of the diagram, and follow the arrows:

“We have heard how the Lord

dried up the water of the Red Sea for you

when you came out of Egypt, and what you did

to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites

east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed” (v. 10).

“A great fear of you has fallen”When we heard of it, our hearts

on all of us, so that all who livemelted and everyone’s courage

in this country are melting in fearfailed because of you” (v. 11a)

because of you” (v. 9b).

“I know that the Lord”For the Lord your God is

has given this land to you” (v. 9a).God in heaven above and

on the earth below (v. 11b).

Rahab knew what God had done in the past, and trusted him for what he would do now and in the future. She trusted these foreign spies and their nation for her own future, more than her own king and people (vs. 12-13). And she was right.

She asked the Jewish soldiers for “kindness” (v. 12), using hesed, one of the great Hebrew words. Akin to agape in the Greek, it stands for unconditional love, absolute acceptance, grace and mercy bestowed.

It is a covenant word within the context of Hebrew faith. By using it she was asking them to treat her as a member of the covenant community. It was a “profession of faith” on her part, stating that she believed in their God as hers and asked them to receive her and her family as part of their own.

Coming into Jericho, there could have been no more unlikely candidate for such a faith commitment to the God of Israel than Rahab the prostitute. If you were assigned a part of Dallas as your mission field, you might begin by walking its streets to gain a feel for the community. If you met immediately one of the most notorious and public sinners in the entire city, and won her to Christ on your first attempt, you would know that God plans to use you greatly in this place. The conversion of a Hugh Hefner or a Mike Tyson would be a fair analogy.

Not only could Rahab look to God’s dealings in the past to find faith for her future, now these spies could look to their experience with her as encouragement for the entire nation. And they did (v. 24).

Step with obedience into the plan of God (vs. 14-24)

But there was a catch: obedience was required of Rahab (vs. 14, 17-20). And she did as she was told, refusing to betray the soldiers and attaching the scarlet rope which would signify her home to the Jewish attackers to come (v. 21). The Jews would see in this scarlet rope a reminder of the blood placed over their homes at the Passover (Exodus 12:13, 22-23). And Christians would forever find in it a foreshadowing of the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us (cf. Hebrews 9:11-14; 1 Peter 1:19).

The soldiers would demonstrate their own obedience, returning at risk to Joshua and his army (vs. 22-23a). They fled to the west of Jericho, where the hills and mountains are dotted with caves made by centuries of weather beating against the sandstone. They would be difficult to find, but less secure than with Rahab. But disobedience was no option for their courageous faith.

When they returned to their general, they gave a full report of their reconnaissance (vs. 23b). And in marked contrast to the spies who had first surveyed this land with Joshua 40 years before, they concluded, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us” (v. 24). Joshua had all the answer he would need. And the most important military battle in the conquest of the Promised Land would commence shortly.

Conclusion

God promises that he will always prepare his servants for the purpose to which he calls them. He promises to precede us into battle, with the assurance of his providence and power. We can seldom know beforehand how he will keep these promises; none would have imagined at the start of chapter two that Rahab the prostitute would be its central hero and become one of the great figures in biblical history. But now we know what they did not. And all we have seen of God teaches us to trust him for all we have not yet seen.

Look in the rearview mirror of your own faith pilgrimage for a moment. Who brought you to Christ? Who has been instrumental in your walk with the Lord? What likely and unlikely figures have been used by his providence to bring you to your current place of ministry and discipleship? Step into God’s calling for your future with the same confidence and obedience we have discovered in our study. He did not bring us this far to leave us. This is the promise of God.