Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Joshua 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter details the sending of the spies to reconnoiter the city of Jericho. Holmes’ opinion that this chapter is “from a different source”(F1) and that it does not really belong in this book at all is based upon the failure to observe its vital connection with the whole narrative. In Joshua 1 and Joshua 2 are given the preparations Joshua made for the invasion of Canaan. Keil summarized these as follows:

(1) (1) Instructions were issued to the people to prepare.

(2) A renewal of the pledge of the trans-Jordanic group to aid the struggle was required by Joshua.

(3) Spies were sent out to reconnoiter the land. (F2)

The first two of these fundamental preparations were given in Joshua 1, and here we have the third, namely, that of the sending out of the spies. One may only pity the willful BLINDNESS that is evidenced by anyone’s missing such an obvious and necessary connection.

As to why Joshua sent out spies, it would appear to have been only what any competent general would have done. Joshua, at this point did not know HOW God would deliver Jericho without any kind of a military assault, and, besides that, there was a Divine precedent in Moses’ sending out the spies some forty years earlier, Joshua himself having been a part of that mission (Numbers 13). In the light of all the facts, we should have been greatly surprised if Joshua had NOT sent out spies!

The whole chapter is devoted to the narration of this third preparatory step by Joshua antecedent to the invasion.

Verses 1-7


“And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men as spies secretly, saying, Go view the land, and Jericho. And they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lay there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in thither tonight of the children of Israel to search out the land. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, bring forth the men that are come to thee, that are entered into thy house; for they are come to search out all the land. And the woman took the two men, and hid them; and said, Yes, the men came unto me, but I knew not whence they were: and it came to pass about the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out; whither the men went I know not: pursue after them quickly; for ye 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 upon the roof. And the men pursued after them the way to the Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they that pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.”

“Joshua … sent out of Shittim” This place was five or six miles east of Jordan, just as Jericho was about the same distance west of Jordan. “Shittim means Acacias, and they are still found in that area.”(F3)

“Two men as spies secretly” The critics insult this passage as being “redundant,”(F4) That type of cavil is based on the proposition that the word “spies” automatically means “secretly,” such a cliche being itself untrue. When Joshua himself went out as a spy forty years earlier, all Israel knew of the sending out of those spies and of their disastrous report (by the majority) that resulted in the cursing of Israel for the space of forty years. Thus, the word “secretly” in this place means that Joshua concealed their mission from everyone, even in Israel, except from himself. This clearly was done to avoid the mistake that followed the earlier example of sending out spies. Keil and many other able scholars have accurately discerned this. “This was done so that, if the report proved unfavorable, the people might not be thrown into despair as they had been in the times of Moses.”(F5)

“The house of a harlot whose name was Rahab” Adam Clarke and others have insisted that “harlot” here actually means “innkeeper,” and that there is no reason to question the character of this woman.(F6) It is true that many harlots ran inns, casting some doubt upon what, exactly, may be meant here, but we believe that Matthew’s mention of only four women in the ancestry of Jesus - the four being: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba - is powerful evidence that Rahab was a common harlot. There is no other consideration that would entitle her to a place in this list. Also, the particular words used with reference to Rahab, both in the O.T. ([~zownah]) and in the N.T. ([@porne]) “definitely class her as a common harlot, not as a [~qedeshah] (temple or cult-priestess).”(F7) Then, there is the almost invariable custom of the times in that part of the world, that, “Inns, in the ordinary sense, were never kept by women.”(F8)

Such a fact as this truth about Rahab always embarrasses “nice people,” who in all too many cases are too conceited and self-righteous ever to be saved. In all ages, it has been the worst of sinners, in many cases, who most readily turned to God for salvation. Christ himself stated that, “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 21:31) before the Pharisees! This pattern distinguished the early church also, which counted among its members those who once had been the very worst of sinners, including, thieves, drunkards, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, revilers, extortioners and covetous persons (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Therefore, we favor understanding Rahab as a prostitute in the ordinary sense of the word. Our word “pornographic” comes from the Greek word applied to her in the N.T. How, then, should we account for the declaration that, “She was an innkeeper”?(F9) We believe that men have always been reluctant to admit either their own sins, or the former sins of the saved, whether in their own case, or in that of others. Similar efforts have been applied to the story of Mary Magdalene. Christ came to save sinners, and it does the Lord no honor to cover up the sins of the people whom he redeemed. It is the same foolish effort that marks the words of apologists who deny that Rahab’s lie was sinful. Holwerda, for example, in a passage quoted by Woudstra, argued that, “Truth can mean something different than agreement with fact! It means loyalty toward the neighbor and toward the Lord!”(F10) This is certainly a sinful and unlawful “crutch” to support a lie.

The story of Rahab has always intrigued the Christians of every age. Charles H. Spurgeon delivered one of his most memorable sermons on “Rahab.” (For a sermon outline based partially upon Spurgeon’s great masterpiece, see Vol. 10 of my N.T. commentary series (Hebrews, under Hebrews 11:31).)

Although Plummer freely admitted the immorality of Rahab, he nevertheless tried to justify the entry of the spies into Rahab’s house, saying, “It does not appear that the spies entered Rahab’s house with any evil intent!”(F11) We are not at all convinced by such an opinion. The basic truth is that, as soon as these men hit town, they made a bee-line to the most popular whorehouse (known to the king) in town not to do anything wrong? We pray that Plummer was right! In favor of that view is the observation made by Philbeck that, such a place, “Was the least likely to arouse suspicion.”(F12)

“And Jericho” “At least three cities of this name have been identified in this location: (1) the Jericho of the N.T.; (2) the Jericho of the O.T.; and (3) the Jericho of Roman times.”(F13) Two of these existed simultaneously in days of our Lord’s ministry, the same being the explanation of why one of the synoptics described a certain miracle of Jesus as taking place “as he was leaving Jericho,” and another said the same miracle took place “as he was entering Jericho.” Both Jericho’s were mentioned by Taylor: “A town grew up near the ancient site (razed by Joshua) … There were two adjacent cities by that name, so the miracle was wrought at a place between the two.”(F14)

The location of the Jericho that fell to Joshua is not definitely known. Woudstra says, “The question of identification must be left open. There are still many unexplored tells in the area.”(F15)

“And it was told the king of Jericho” At that time, and until about the 9th century, kings, even of extensive areas were called after the name of their capital. In Jonah, for example, the king of Assyria is referred to as “the king of Nineveh.” Such designations are a mark of very great antiquity, and such signs compel us to look at the age of Moses and Joshua as the period when all of these first O.T. books were written. Palestine at the time of the conquest by Israel had about thirty-two such kinglets over that many little kingdoms.

It is significant that the king’s representatives were very easily deceived by Rahab, indicating that the king himself considered her to be dependable.

Most of the recent versions supply in this chapter at appropriate places the pluperfect tenses which are missing in the Hebrew (due to the deficiency of that language in those days) translating Joshua 2:6, for example, thus: “The woman had brought them up on the roof, etc.” This necessity is well understood by translators. Holmes professed ignorance of this, however, and stated that, “Joshua 2:15-17 should be omitted. We can hardly think of the conversation being continued between Rahab at the window and the spies on the ground outside the wall!”(F16) The use of the pluperfect in such verses clears up everything.

The general morality of people throughout the world at the times in focus here was very imperfect, even on the part of the Israelites. Rahab, like the Israelites, is commended in the Word of God, “not for her immorality (adultery and falsehood), but for her FAITH,”(F17) and especially for her works in moving to support God’s people. See Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25.

“The stalks of flax” (Joshua 2:6) reveal several things: (1) The time of the year was about March or April, that being the time when the flax was ready to harvest.(F18) (2) It also meant that the Jordan was flooding (Joshua 3:15), as it always did at harvest time. (3) Likewise, there is a glimpse here of Rahab’s cultivation and processing of flax, indicating that that industry was at least one source of the woman’s livelihood. The flax industry dates from “the earliest times in Palestine.”(F19)

Verses 8-14

“And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof; and she said unto them, I know that Jehovah hath given you the land, and that the fear of you is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how Jehovah dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond the Jordan, unto Sihon, and to Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by Jehovah, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you will also deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a true token; and that ye will save alive, my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death. And the men said unto her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business; and it shall be, when Jehovah giveth us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.”

This passage is one of the most significant in the Bible. It bears eloquent testimony to the universality of the knowledge of those great miracles that led to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and of the near-panic that swept over the world in the wake of those tremendous Acts of God! Naturally, unbelieving enemies of God’s Word vent their hatred of a passage like this. Holmes said: “No greater anachronism can be found than the one here, where a Canaanite heathen is made to utter a monotheism worthy of Amos.”(F20) It is not that, however, that so upsets Holmes; it is the testimony of this woman to the genuine nature of the Red Sea Miracle! That is what requires unbelieving critics to bring forth every device in their arsenal to try and get rid of it, but here it is. There is no textual evidence against this testimony! It is the truth of God. Nothing but the literal truth of the Red Sea miracle could have inspired such words as Rahab spoke here.(F21) “This pagan prostitute is the first one to recite saving history in this book!”(F22) (See Exodus 15:15-17. Also, see special discussion of the Reed Sea or the Red Sea in Vol. 2 of this series (Exodus), pp. 177-179.)

“Swear unto me by Jehovah” “The words here refer to an unwritten promised agreement, as distinguished from a written covenant,”(F23) but it was of a kind that both parties accepted as absolutely valid and binding upon them both.

The two spies did attach one condition to their promise, that being, that under no circumstance would the woman betray their mission (Joshua 2:14). Also, there was the agreement that the identity of Rahab’s house would be indicated by the red cord.

Verses 15-16

“Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the side of the wall, and she dwelt upon the wall. And she said unto them, Get you to the mountains, lest the pursuers light upon you; and hide yourself there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way.”

This whole narrative is clear enough when due allowance is made for the deficient Hebrew tenses. Joshua 2:16 is a clear reference to the woman’s instructions before she let them down from the window. Also the elements of the conversation that are given in the remaining verses also took place, obviously, while the men were in Rahab’s house.

“Get you to the mountains” These were the rugged hills that rise 1,500 feet to 2,000 feet above the Jericho plain within a mile or so of the city. These limestone hills with many caves and grottoes were the very ones where the Dead Sea Scrolls have been discovered in recent times, only about eight or ten miles southward from Jericho!(F24) Rahab had correctly surmised that the search party would go toward the Jordan River; or, was she familiar with the king’s search parties from previous experiences?

Verses 17-21

“And the men said unto her, We will be guiltless of this thine oath which thou hast made us to swear. Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt gather unto thee into the house thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household. And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we shall be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him. But if thou utter this our business, then we shall be guiltless of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear. And she said, according to your words so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window.”

Joshua 2:21 indicates that the previous conversation back through Joshua 2:16 came before the woman sent them away. Anyone with even an elementary understanding of ancient writings should have no trouble understanding what is written here. “There is no reason for visualizing two sources here, nor for supposing that this conversation took place `while the spies were dangling from a rope’“ (As alleged by Boling),(F25) as stated by John Lilley.(F26)

That “scarlet thread” so prominent in this narrative was surely a very strong and efficient rope, capable of carrying the weight of a man. A red rope is certainly unusual, and we cannot entirely overlook the connotation throughout history of the color red, often associated with brothels. “The red light district” is an expression still known in many places.

As to the time when the woman might have bound the scarlet thread in the window, we agree with Keil that, “She did so when it became necessary.”(F27)

Verses 22-24

“And they went, and came unto the mountain, and abode there three days, until the pursuers were returned: and the pursuers sought them throughout all the way, but found them not. Then the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun; and they told him all that had befallen them. And they said unto Joshua, Truly God hath delivered into our hands all the land; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land do melt away before us.”

“Amidst the grottoes of the limestone rocks, which in later times were the abode of many hermits, they could easily have sheltered themselves for three days.”(F28)

“The fords of the Jordan,” mentioned back in Joshua 2:7, does not mean that adequate passage for a nation like Israel was located there. It is even doubtful that the spies were able to use them, due to the flood-stage of the river. Many commentators have expressed the opinion that the spies “swam the river,” both coming into Jericho, and after leaving it. The Septuagint (LXX), also, seems to indicate the same thing, due to their mention of the spies as “young men,” who would have been able to do such a thing.

The report of these spies to Joshua must have been a source of infinite encouragement to the Commander. Up to here, Joshua could have supposed that a military assault would be necessary, but, after this report, he no doubt sought to know the will of God by every means open to him. In these circumstances, God spoke directly to Joshua (Joshua 3:7) with specific instructions on how the conquest was to proceed.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joshua-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Ads FreeProfile