Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. Joshua 2:1
Joshua commanded two spies into the land. This was not an exercise in faith as it was before in Exodus, when God directed a move to give them an opportunity to respond in faith. Joshua had already told Israel to prepare to move into the land, so this was a recon mission to gather additional information or confirmation.
The spies went to Jericho, and arrived at the house of Rahab the prostitute. If that was all we knew of her, it would be a shame. But isn’t that how we categorize and define people? By their profession or most prominent behavior or latest sin? Or by their sexual preferences or marital status or skin color? But we are so much more than that – we are complex individuals. One individual can be of Mexican descent, a wife, a mother, a sister, a teacher, an alcoholic, and a lover of Jesus. Some will know her as a teacher, others will know her as someone they see at church, and some will know her as a drinking partner.
But how did God look at Rahab? Did He simply see her as a harlot? We will look at Rahab’s faith twice in our study of Joshua: Today in Chapter 2, and again in Chapter 6 when the battle at Jericho takes place. So how did the spies end up at Rahab’s house? They probably entered the city, and went to a public place where there was much coming and going. Rahab’s house was a place to lodge, eat, and take advantage of other services.
It was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” Joshua 2:2-3
The spies were not stealthy. They had just arrived in the city, and the king of Jericho already knew they were there. Jericho and the other cities in Canaan each had a king. Canaan was the general description for all the land. Each city operated independently of the others, and the cities would come together against common enemies or for mutual benefit. These verses make it clear that the Canaanites were very aware of Israel – even though Israel had not crossed the Jordan yet, news of them had spread throughout Canaan.
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. “It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that 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 hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued them on the road to the Jordan to the fords; and as soon as those who were pursuing them had gone out, they shut the gate. Joshua 2:4-7
Here we see the first act of faith for Rahab. She protected the men of Israel at great risk to herself. We don’t know all the details, but she was proactive to get the spies out of sight for their protection. What she did was acknowledged as faith in Hebrews:
By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. Hebrews 11:31
You may be thinking, “But didn’t Rahab lie?” There are many arguments about that, including a greater good principle or a hierarchy of sins so that a lessor sin cancels out a greater sin. While there are many theories, what we do know is that Rahab was commended for her faith. Her faith was not a perfect faith, but she exercised her faith and trusted in a God she hardly knew.
In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? James 2:25
Rahab had faith in God, and it affected her behavior. She acted on her faith, which is why James said that she was justified by her works.
Now before they 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 terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. “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 utterly destroyed. “When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Joshua 2:8-11
Rahab acknowledged God’s power and imminent victory in the land. She said that terror had fallen on the land, and everyone was afraid of Israel and their God. But what was missing? Repentance! Rahab was the only one who understood and she submitted to God’s authority and people. The people had heard and believed the stories of Israel and their God, but belief is not the same as faith. Even the demons believed in one God (James 2:19), but their belief in God did not equal faith in God – faith is accompanied by behavior and action.
Rahab acted on her faith and acknowledged God’s dominion over the heavens and the earth. She professed Yahweh, the God of Israel, as the only true God and shifted her allegiance from the gods of Jericho to the God of Israel. She also claimed God’s sovereignty in the heavens above and the earth above. God’s exclusive sovereignty was found only three times before Rahab’s confession (in Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 4:39, and Deuteronomy 5:8). Rahab would not have known the 10 Commandments; she was pagan with no formal knowledge or teaching of the God of Israel, but God’s hand was clearly upon her, just as His hand was upon Peter when he professed Christ as the Messiah. God was at work in Rahab’s life, and He saves all those who truly seek Him.
“Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” So the men said to her, “Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the LORD gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.” Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall. She said to them, “Go to the hill country, so that the pursuers will not happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.” The men said to her, “We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household. “It shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. “But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be free from the oath which you have made us swear.” She said, “According to your words, so be it.” So she sent them away, and they departed; and she tied the scarlet cord in the window. They departed and came to the hill country, and remained there for three days until the pursuers returned. Now the pursuers had sought them all along the road, but had not found them. Then the two men returned and came down from the hill country and crossed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they related to him all that had happened to them. They said to Joshua, “Surely the LORD has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.” Joshua 2:12-24
Rahab’s final act of faith was to tie the scarlet thread in the window. The scarlet thread represents the blood of Christ and signifies Rahab’s hope for the redemption of herself and her family. When Jesus was on the cross, He cried out, “It is finished!” At that moment, the veil in the temple was torn in two. God made a way through the blood of Christ for man to be in His presence. Just as the scarlet thread hung on the outside of the wall for the redemption of Rahab and her family, so Jesus’ blood flowed outside the city walls and made a way for our redemption.
Thoughts for us today:
1. God is faithful to His word – God promised salvation to Rahab and her family, and when the walls of Jericho came down, He spared her. All those who genuinely seek Him will find Him. God cares about the individual, and He paused the battle to save Rahab and her family. Our God is kind, compassionate, caring, loving, and ready to forgive all who believe.
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. 1 Chronicles 28:9
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
2. Acting in faith initiates the work of God in our lives – Rahab acted in faith and God saved her and her household. She is named in Hebrews 11, and she is one of four women named in the lineage of Christ found in Matthew 1. Do you want God to work in and through you? Believe in His name and act in faith like Rahab did. She had no formal knowledge of God, but what she heard about God, she believed.
3. God cares about the individual – God paused for one woman. Shouldn’t we? God cares for that one Muslim man or woman or child across the world in a small village. I saw a video this week of a young girl being pulled from the rubble after a bombing in Damascus. She was completely buried, and men were digging through the rubble with their bare hands. They came upon her and wiped the dirt away from her face, and slowly lifted her from the debris as her mother wept, she cried, and God rejoiced! God cares for every individual.
4. It is the sick who need a doctor; all the poor and powerless – Rahab was a prostitute, an outcast who lived on the very edge of Jericho in the wall. She was marginalized and disenfranchised, pushed as far out of the city as possible, yet Rahab is who God called! Rahab placed the scarlet thread of redemption out her window, a picture of salvation that would come from the scarlet blood flowing from Jesus’s body. What a scandalous lineage that Jesus comes from! Yet God chooses the weak and the foolish to receive and communicate His love, not the rich or the powerful (1 Corinthians 1:26).
5. God has greater plans – We have no idea how or when God will use our obedience. Joshua went into the land out of obedience, and part of that process was to send spies into the land for recon and confirmation. On that mission, another step in God’s glorious plan unfolded as Rahab was brought into faith and saved, a direct ancestor of Jesus. Did Joshua and the spies know how God would use Rahab? Did Rahab even know God’s plan? No! Do we know how or who God is impacting through our obedience? No! We don’t have a clue how God is going to use our obedience, but none of our obedience to God is ever wasted.
Who are you today?
Are you one of the spies, and have you found yourself in a place where you are vulnerable and need to trust Jesus? Just like Rahab, Jesus was an outcast – He was mocked and rejected, marginalized by the rulers and religious leaders. He had no apparent earthly position; He associated with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He was taken to the outskirts of the city, outside of the wall to be crucified.
Rahab was an unlikely source of redemption for the spies. Jesus, who loved His enemies outside the city on the cross, is our redeemer. Do you need His grace today? Do you need to trust in Him today? Have you found yourself in a position of vulnerability? Maybe you find yourself in Rahab’s position this morning, and need to trust in the scarlet thread of redemption. Maybe you are feeling unworthy this morning. The assurance for you is that God is working in your life today, and He will be faithful to complete the work in you. God does not waste a single act of obedience in your life. Will you trust Him today?