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A Study of Joshua 2:1-16


If God were going to destroy Merced, and he decided to save only one person, who do you think that would be? Would it be our Mayor? Or a long-time businessman? Do you think it would be the pastor of this church? Would it be you? Who do you think he would choose?

In Joshua 2 we have the story of God choosing a person in the city of Jericho to spare from the coming destruction. The person he chose was Rahab, a common harlot. We might ask: out of all the people in Jericho, why on earth did he choose such a woman? We will see why as we study about this fascinating woman.

Fausset tells us this about Rahab, "The flax she spread on her roof and the scarlet line make it likely she manufactured linen and dyed, as did the Phoenicians ... implying a trade in such articles with Mesopotamia."

From verses 12-13 it seems that Rahab lived in her own house. As Fausset wrote, "She had a house of her own, separate from her father, mother, brothers, and sisters...." It seems that Rahab, though engaged in a sordid profession, was able to live comfortably.

Verse 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 harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there.

Joshua sent two men to scout out the enemy territory. Even though God had promised Joshua victory, he still could not neglect the necessary military preparation for the coming invasion. God has promised us victory in the battles we will be facing, but we need to be preparing for the upcoming conflict. Instead, too often we think that all we have to do is sit in our easy chair, and God will take care of the rest. He will give us the victory, but he wants us to prepare ourselves — in prayer, in Bible reading, and in spiritual growth. Let us make preparation for whatever God has for us in the future.

Why is it that Rahab took special note of these two spies? Why did they choose her house as a place to stay? Keil and Delitzsch’s suggestions might be true, "Their entering the house of such a person would not excite so much suspicion. Moreover, the situation of her house against or upon the town wall was one which facilitated escape." But I have a hunch that it was Rahab that found the two spies. She felt something in her soul, and was led by God to invite these men to her house. I believe this was all ordered by God. He had chosen one person and her family in the city to be saved, and it was the harlot Rahab.

God is still searching through the alleys and the dark sides of our cities to find the harlots, the drug users, the destitute, and the hopeless to show them the way of salvation. But Rahab could not be saved on her own. She needed these two spies to find her and tell her the good news. To whom does God want to send you to tell the good news? It may not be to a very nice-looking person. It may be to a criminal, an abuser, or even ... a harlot. Be ready to tell others about Christ. God may have already prepared their heart to receive your message.

Verse 2-3

And it was told the king of Jericho, "Behold, certain men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land." Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring forth the men that have come to you, who entered your house; for they have come to search out all the land."

This is the moment of truth for Rahab. Before this, she could have gone along and helped the spies without really making a commitment in her heart. But now she must choose sides. Will she protect these spies or will she warn her city? Something deep in her heart helped her to make this decision.

Verses 4-7

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them; and she said, "True, men came to me, but I did not know where they came from;

and when the gate was to be closed, at dark, the men went out; where the men went I do not know; 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 which 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 as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

She made her choice to protect these strange men from a foreign country. She has been condemned here for lying and being deceitful, but she did what was necessary to save the lives of these young men. Just as Christians in Nazi Germany had to deceive the Gestapo in order to hide Jews, so Rahab did the same. It is easy for us from our pious position of safety and comfort to condemn her action, but I believe her intentions, if not her actions, were ordered from God.

As Keil and Delitzsch point out, "But the Lord so guided the course of the spies, that they found in this sinner the very person who was the most suitable for their purpose, and upon whose heart the tidings of the miracles wrought by the living God on behalf of Israel had made such an impression, that she not only informed the spies of the despondency of the Canaanites, but, with believing trust in the power of the God of Israel, concealed the spies from all the inquiries of her countrymen, though at the greatest risk to herself."

Yes, she was deceptive, and she was not obeying the law of her country, but she was listening to the call in her life to a higher power. Could she have done things differently so she wouldn’t have been so deceptive? Perhaps, but we weren’t there to know. Scripture does not condemn her for this action, but she is praised for her faith and her good works. So I think we need to leave the judgement of the correctness of her actions in the hands of the righteous judge. It is obvious that the results of her action were ordered by God. Could God have done it a different way? Perhaps, but he didn’t. He used this brave woman to fulfill his plan, and that is where we should probably leave the matter.

Verses 8-11

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 fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt 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 that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any man, because of you; for the LORD your God is he who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath."

What a wonderful statement of faith by a woman with little knowledge of the God of Israel. God had placed this faith in her heart, and he had caused the spies to be led to her house for the purpose of saving her and her family. Notice the statement she makes in verse 11, "for the LORD your God is he who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." Who told her this? She reveals an understanding of God beyond human capability considering her background. Perhaps it was the very nature of her life that caused her to recognize the power of God. She had been so entrapped by sin for so long, that when she was faced with the Divine, her soul cried out in faith and longing to be free from those things that would separate her from the Creator. We see the same thing in Jesus’ ministry — where the poor and disadvantaged of society were the ones drawn to Jesus’ message. In fact, in Matthew 21:31 he told the Pharisees, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."

Matthew Henry comments, "Rahab the harlot, who had only heard of the wonders God had wrought, speaks with more assurance of the truth of the promise made to the fathers than all the elders of Israel had done who were eye-witnesses of those wonders, many of whom perished through unbelief of this promise. Blessed are those that have not seen, and yet have believed; so Rahab did. O woman, great is thy faith!"

What have you done that makes you feel unworthy to be part of God’s family? What secret sins from your past are still haunting you and causing you to be discouraged and to feel worthless? If we were asked to choose, we probably would not have chosen Rahab as the one to be saved from Jericho. But God chose Rahab because he loved her. And he loves you just as much. There is nothing that you have done that is so awful that it can separate you from God’s love. Be like Rahab, and step out in faith and accept God’s invitation to you.

Fausset wrote, "A woman of loose life, and a Gentile, is justified even as Abraham, the father of the Jews, the friend of God, was; showing that justifying, working faith manifests itself in every class."

What is hindering your faith? An unknown author wrote these encouraging words.

Faith came singing into my room,
And other guests took flight:
Fear and Anxiety, Grief and Gloom
Sped out into the night.
I wondered that such peace could be,
But Faith said gently, "Don't you see?
They really cannot live with me."

Verses 12-13

"Now then, 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, and save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death."

Rahab reveals her caring heart. She is not only interested in herself, but she cares about her family. When we have an encounter with the living God, something happens in our heart. All our actions take on new meaning as we consider the welfare of others.

It was Rahab that had the faith in God, but because of her actions God saved her entire family. I don't know if Rahab had to do a lot of convincing with her family or not. I am reminded of Lot who spoke to his sons-in-law in Genesis 19:14 warning them that they must flee Sodom because of God’s coming judgement. But all they did is mock him. Did Rahab face the same kind of disbelief? Perhaps she did. But she was determined to save her entire family, and when the time came for Jericho’s destruction, all her relatives were with her in the safety of her house.

How many times did she have to share her faith with her family before they finally believed? How many times did she become frustrated with their questions and maybe even mocking before they were finally convinced of the reality of God? We are not told. All we know is that Rahab did not give up on her family until they were all saved. Do we have that same kind of determination with our own family? Will we not give up on them? Rahab knew that for her family it was a matter of life or death. Do we realize that for our family it is a matter of spiritual life or death? Let us be faithful in showing Christ’s love to our relatives, and let us not be afraid to share the gospel message with them.

Matthew Henry wrote, "The provision she made for the safety of her relations, as well as for her own, is a laudable instance of natural affection, and an intimation to us in like manner to do all we can for the salvation of the souls of those that are dear to us, and, with ourselves, to bring them, if possible, into the bond of the covenant."

Verses 14-16

And the men said to her, "Our life for yours! If you do not tell this business of ours, then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the LORD gives us the land." Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she dwelt in the wall. And she said to them, "Go into the hills, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned; then afterward you may go your way."

From verse 18 we know that Rahab let the men down with a scarlet cord. This same cord would be the sign in her window to the Israelite army that her house should be spared the coming destruction. God’s judgement on the world is coming, but we have a scarlet cord that spares us from the coming destruction. That scarlet cord is Christ’s atonement for us on the cross. He shed his blood that we might be saved.

The story of Rahab is an amazing story of faith by a despised member of society from a godless nation. In the New Testament, James gives Rahab as an example in James 2:25 of a person whose faith causes them to do good works. And in Hebrews 11:31 she is listed in this famous roster of the heroes of the faith along with Moses, Abraham, and Noah. What does this tell us about the mercy of God? He took a despised person who committed great sins and elevated her to a position of honor among the greatest in the history of Israel.

Rahab went from harlot to heroine. But God will do the same thing for each of us. It doesn’t matter how great our sins may be. It doesn’t matter how despised we may be or how worthless we may feel. God loves us as much as he loved Rahab. He can elevate us from a confused, frustrated, discouraged sinner to a person of faith. All we have to do is believe on him.

The story of Rahab does not end here in the book of Joshua. We learn later that she married Salmon. Some commentators think that he might have been one of the two spies whom she saved. From Ruth 4:21 we learn that her son was Boaz who married Ruth. So she became a respectable woman.

But more than that, we learn from the genealogy in Matthew 1:5 that Rahab the harlot was the great-great-many times great-grandmother of Jesus, who came to the world to bring sinners and harlots into the kingdom of God. What awful things have you done that make you feel you can’t do anything worthwhile for the kingdom of God? Rahab did them all, and yet God used her as part of the bloodline of his son, the Messiah. If God can use Rahab, he can use you too.


This study on Joshua 2:1-16 1997 by David Humpal. All Rights Reserved
All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version 1971, A. J. Holman Company

Fausset: Bible Encyclopaedia and Dictionary pg. 596, Zondervan Publishing House

Keil and Delitzsch: Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, pg. 34, Hendrickson Publishers

Keil and Delitzsch: Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 2, pg. 34, Hendrickson Publishers

Matthew Henry’s Commentary, electronic version 1996 Biblesoft

Fausset: Bible Encyclopaedia and Dictionary pg. 596, Zondervan Publishing House

Matthew Henry’s Commentary, electronic version 1996 Biblesoft

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