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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 2

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And Joshua the son of Nun sent, etc. The object of the exploration now in question was different from the former one, when Joshua was sent with other eleven to survey all the districts of the land, and bring back information to the whole people concerning its position, nature, fertility, and other properties, the magnitude and number of the cities, the inhabitants, and their manners. The present object was to dispose those who might be inclined to be sluggish, to engage with more alacrity in the campaign. And though it appears from the first chapter of Deuteronomy, (Deuteronomy 1:22,) that Moses, at the request of the people, sent chosen men to spy out the land, he elsewhere relates (Numbers 13:4) that he did it by command from God. Those twelve, therefore, set out divinely commissioned, and for a somewhat different purpose, viz., to make a thorough survey of the land, and be the heralds of its excellence to stir up the courage of the people.

Now Joshua secretly sends two persons to ascertain whether or not a free passage may be had over the Jordan, whether the citizens of Jericho were indulging in security, or whether they were alert and prepared to resist. In short, he sends spies on whose report he may provide against all dangers. Wherefore a twofold question may be here raised — Are we to approve of his prudence? or are we to condemn him for excessive anxiety, especially as he seems to have trusted more than was right to his own prudence, when, without consulting God, he was so careful in taking precautions against danger? But, inasmuch as it is not expressly said that he received a message from heaven to order the people to collect their vessels and to publish his proclamation concerning the passage of the Jordan, although it is perfectly obvious that he never would have thought of moving the camp unless God had ordered it, it is also probable that in sending the spies he consulted God as to his pleasure in the matter, or that God himself, knowing how much need there was of this additional confirmation, had spontaneously suggested it to the mind of his servant. Be this as it may, while Joshua commands his messengers to spy out Jericho, he is preparing to besiege it, and accordingly is desirous to ascertain in what direction it may be most easily and safely approached.

They came into a harlot’s house, etc. Why some try to avoid the name harlot, and interpret זונה as meaning one who keeps an inn, I see not, unless it be that they think it disgraceful to be the guests of a courtesan, or wish to wipe off a stigma from a woman who not only received the messengers kindly, but secured their safety by singular courage and prudence. It is indeed a regular practice with the Rabbins, when they would consult for the honor of their nation, presumptuously to wrest Scripture and give a different turn by their fictions to anything that seems not quite reputable. (33) But the probability is, that while the messengers were courting secrecy, and shunning observation and all places of public intercourse, they came to a woman who dwelt in a retired spot. Her house was contiguous to the wall of the city, nay, its outer side was actually situated in the wall. From this we may infer that it was some obscure corner remote from the public thoroughfare; just as persons of her description usually live in narrow lanes and secret places. It cannot be supposed with any consistency to have been a common inn which was open to all indiscriminately, because they could not have felt at liberty to indulge in familiar intercourse, and it must have been difficult in such circumstances to obtain concealment.

My conclusion therefore is, that they obtained admission privily, and immediately betook themselves to a hiding-place. Moreover, in the fact that a woman who had gained a shameful livelihood by prostitution was shortly after admitted into the body of the chosen people, and became a member of the Church, we are furnished with a striking display of divine grace which could thus penetrate into a place of shame, and draw forth from it not only Rahab, but her father and the other members of her family. Most assuredly while the term זונה, almost invariably means harlot, there is nothing here to oblige us to depart from the received meaning.

(33) In the present instance they set no limits to their extravagances, and gravely tell us, that instead of leading a life of infamy, she was merely an innkeeper or “hostess,” and was afterwards honored to be the wife of Joshua. — Ed.

Verse 2

2.And it was told the king, etc. It is probable that watchmen had been appointed to take notice of suspicious strangers, as is wont to be done in doubtful emergencies, or during an apprehension of war. The Israelites were nigh at hand; they had openly declared to the Edomites and Moabites that they were seeking a settlement in the land of Canaan; they were formidable for their number; they had already made a large conquest after slaying two neighboring kings; and as we shall shortly perceive, their famous passage of the Red Sea had been noised abroad. It would therefore have argued extreme supineness in such manifest danger to allow any strangers whatever to pass freely through the city of Jericho, situated as it was on the frontiers.

It is not wonderful, therefore, that men who were unknown and who appeared from many circumstances to have come with a hostile intention, were denounced to the king. At the same time, however, we may infer that they were supernaturally blinded in not guarding their gates more carefully; for with the use of moderate diligence the messengers after they had once entered might easily have been detained. Nay, a search ought forthwith to have been instituted, and thus they would to a certainty have been caught. The citizens of Jericho were in such trepidation and so struck with judicial amazement, that they acted in everything without method or counsel. Meanwhile the two messengers were reduced to such extremities that they seemed on the eve of being delivered up to punishment. The king sends for them; they are lurking in the house; their life hangs upon the tongue of a woman, just as if it were hanging by a thread. Some have thought that there was in this a punishment of the distrust of Joshua, who ought to have boldly passed the Jordan, trusting to the divine guidance. But the result would rather lead us to conclude differently, that God by rescuing the messengers from extreme danger gave new courage to the people; for in that manifestation of his power he plainly showed that he was watching over their safety, and providing for their happy entrance into the promised land.

Verse 4

4.And the woman took the two men, etc. We may presume that before Rahab was ordered to bring them forth the rumor of their arrival had been spread, and that thus some little time had been given for concealing them. (34) And indeed on receiving the king’s command, had not measures for concealment been well taken, there would have been no room for denial; much less would she have dared to lie so coolly. But after she had thus hidden her guests, as the search would have been difficult, she comes boldly forward and escapes by a crafty answer.

Now, the questions which here arise are, first, Was treachery to her country excusable? Secondly, Could her lie be free from fault? We know that the love of our country, which is as it were our common mother, has been implanted in us by nature. When, therefore, Rahab knew that the object intended was the overthrow of the city in which she had been born and brought up, it seems a detestable act of inhumanity to give her aid and counsel to the spies. It is a puerile evasion to say, that they were not yet avowed enemies, inasmuch as war had not been declared; since it is plain enough that they had conspired the destruction of her fellow-citizens. (35) It was therefore only the knowledge communicated to her mind by God which exempted her from fault, as having been set free from the common rule. Her faith is commended by two Apostles, who at the same time declare, (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25,) that the service which she rendered to the spies was acceptable to God.

It is not wonderful, then, that when the Lord condescended to transfer a foreign female to his people, and to engraft her into the body of the Church, he separated her from a profane and accursed nation. Therefore, although she had been bound to her countrymen up to that very day, yet when she was adopted into the body of the Church, her new condition was a kind of manumission from the common law by which citizens are bound toward each other. In short, in order to pass by faith to a new people, she behooved to renounce her countrymen. And as in this she only acquiesced in the judgment of God, there was no criminality in abandoning them. (36)

As to the falsehood, we must admit that though it was done for a good purpose, it was not free from fault. For those who hold what is called a dutiful lie (37) to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God. Therefore, although our purpose, be to assist our brethren, to consult for their safety and relieve them, it never can be lawful to lie, because that cannot be right which is contrary to the nature of God. And God is truth. And still the act of Rahab is not devoid of the praise of virtue, although it was not spotlessly pure. For it often happens that while the saints study to hold the right path, they deviate into circuitous courses.

Rebecca (Genesis 27:0. (38)) in procuring the blessing to her son Jacob, follows the prediction. In obedience of this description a pious and praiseworthy zeal is perceived. But it cannot be doubted that in substituting her son Jacob in the place of Esau, she deviated from the path of duty. The crafty proceeding, therefore, so far taints an act which was laudable in itself. And yet the particular fault does not wholly deprive the deed of the merit of holy zeal; for by the kindness of God the fault is suppressed and not taken into account. Rahab also does wrong when she falsely declares that the messengers were gone, and yet the principal action was agreeable to God, because the bad mixed up with the good was not imputed. On the whole, it was the will of God that the spies should be delivered, but he did not approve of saving their life by falsehood.

(34) Had the season of the year when these transactions took place not been known from other sources, the mode of concealment to which Rahab resorted would have gone far to fix it. The “stalks of flax” with which she covered them, was evidently the crop of flax as it had been taken from the ground after attaining maturity, and laid out in the open air to dry, agreeably to a custom still practiced, before it was subjected to the process of skutching, for the purpose of being deprived of its woody fiber. The flax sown about the end of September was pulled in the end of March or beginning of April, which accordingly was the period when the Israelites began to move their camp. — Ed.

(35) It may either mean that “they” (the Israelites) “had conspired,” as here translated, or as the French has it, that “Rahab had conspired,” — Ed.

(36) Latin, “Nullum in proditione fuit crimen;” literally, “there was no crime in the treachery.” French, “Il n’y a point eu de crime de trahison en ce faict;” “There was no crime of treachery in the act.” Neither of these properly conveys Calvin’s meaning. From what follows it is evident that he held all treachery to be criminal as implying a deviation from truth; while he also held, that under the special circumstances Rahab was justified in withdrawing her allegiance from her countrymen and transferring it to the Israelites. He therefore only justifies the act without approving of the mode of it. This view appears to be accurately expressed by the term “abandoning,” which has accordingly been substituted in the translation. — Ed.

(37) Latin, “Mendacium officiosum.” French, “Le mensonge qui tend au profit du prochain;” “The lie which tends to our neighbor’s profit.” The mendacium officiosum is an expression of frequent use among the Casuists, and properly means, “a lie which it may be an act of duty to tell.” One of the most common instances given is the case in which a simple statement of the truth might essentially endanger the interest, or, it may be, the life of an individual whom we are under a natural or conventional obligation to defend from all injury. A son, for example, is pursued by murderers; he takes shelter under the paternal roof; his mother has just succeeded in concealing him when the murderers arrive. Is she entitled to give a false answer to their interrogatories? The question is one of the most difficult and delicate that can be raised; but Calvin has undoubtedly given the right decision when he lays down the broad principle, that those who hold any lie to be excusable, “do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God.” Were anything necessary to reconcile us to this decision, we may easily find it in the havoc which has been made of all morality by acting on its opposite, as evinced particularly in the case of Jesuit and other Romish casuists. — Ed.

(38) The original text had the reference to Genesis 28:0, an obvious typesetting error. —fj.

Verse 7

7.And the men pursued, etc. Their great credulity shows that God had blinded them. Although Rahab had gained much by deluding them, a new course of anxiety intervenes; for the gates being shut, the city like a prison excluded the hope of escape. They were therefore again aroused by a serious trial to call upon God. For seeing that this history was written on their report, it is impossible they could have been ignorant of what was then going on, especially as God, for the purpose of magnifying his grace, purposely exposed them to a succession of dangers. And now when they were informed that search was made for them, we infer from the fact of their being still awake, that they were in anxiety and alarm. Their trepidation must have been in no small degree increased when it was told them that their exit was precluded.

It appears, however, that Rahab was not at all dismayed, since she bargains with so much presence of mind, and so calmly, for her own safety and that of her family. And in this composure and firmness her faith, which is elsewhere commended, appears conspicuous. For on human principles she never would have braved the fury of the king and people, and become a suppliant to guests half dead with terror. Many, indeed, think there is something ridiculous in the eulogium bestowed upon her both by St. James and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, (James 2:25; Hebrews 11:31,) when they place her in the catalogue of the faithful. But any one who will carefully weigh all the circumstances will easily perceive that she was endowed with a lively faith.

First, If the tree is known by its fruits, we here see no ordinary effects, which are just so many evidences of faith. Secondly, A principle of piety must have given origin to her conviction that the neighboring nations were already in a manner vanquished and laid prostrate, since terror sent from above had filled all minds with dismay. It is true that in profane writers also we meet with similar expressions, which God has extorted from them that he might assert his power to rule and turn the hearts of men in whatever way he pleases. But while these writers prate like parrots, Rahab declaring in sincerity of heart that God has destined the land for the children of Israel, because all the inhabitants have fainted away before them, claims for him a supreme rule over the hearts of men, a rule which the pride of the world denies.

For although the experience of all times has shown that more armies have fallen or been routed by sudden and un-looked for terror than by the force and prowess of the enemy, the impression of this truth has forthwith vanished away, and hence conquerors have always extolled their own valor, and on any prosperous result gloried in their own exertions and talents for war. They have felt, I admit, that daring and courage are occasionally bestowed or withheld by some extraneous cause, and accordingly men confess that in war fortune does much or even reigns supreme. Hence their common proverb with regard to panic terrors, and their vows made as well to Pavor (Dread) as to Jupiter Stator. (39) But it never became a serious and deep-seated impression in their minds, that every man is brave according as God has inspired him with present courage, or cowardly according as he has suppressed his daring. Rahab, however, recognizes the operation of a divine hand in striking the nations of Canaan with dismay, and thus making them as it were by anticipation pronounce their own doom; and she infers that the terror which the children of Israel have inspired is a presage of victory, because they fight under God as their Leader.

In the fact, that while the courage of all had thus melted away, they however prepared to resist with the obstinacy of despair; we see that when the wicked are broken and crushed by the hand of God, they are not so subdued as to receive the yoke, but in their terror and anxiety become incapable of being tamed. Here, too, we have to observe how in a common fear believers differ from unbelievers, and how the faith of Rahab displays itself. She herself was afraid like any other of the people; but when she reflects that she has to do with God, she concludes that her only remedy is to eschew evil by yielding humbly and placidly, as resistance would be altogether unavailing. But what is the course taken by all the wretched inhabitants of the country? Although terror-struck, so far is their perverseness from being overcome that they stimulate each other to the conflict.

(39) French, “Et y a eu un proverbe commun entre eux, pour signifier les frayeurs soudaines dont le cause n’apparoit point; (car ils les appeloyent Epouvantemens Paniques;) aussi ils faisoyent voeus a un Juppiter qu’ils appeloyent Stator, c’est a dire Arrestant; et a une deesse qu’ils nommoyent Pavor, c’est a dire Peur afin que les armees tinssent bon, et ne s’en fuissent de peur;” “And there was a common proverb among them to denote the sudden alarms of which the cause does not appear; for they called them Panic Terrors; in like manner they made vows to a Jupiter, whom they called Stator, that is, Staying; and to a goddess whom they named Pavor, that is Fear, in order that armies might stand good, and not flee from fear.” — Ed.

Verse 10

10.For we have heard how, etc. She mentions, as the special cause of consternation, that the wide-spread rumor of miracles, hitherto without example, had impressed it on the minds of all that God was warring for the Israelites. For it was impossible to doubt that the way through the Red Sea had been miraculously opened up, as the water would never have changed its nature and become piled up in solid heaps, had not God, the author of nature, so ordered. The transmutation of the element, therefore, plainly showed that God was on the side of the people, to whom he had given a dry passage through the depths of the sea.

The signal victories also gained over Og and Bashan, were justly regarded as testimonies of the divine favor towards the Israelites. This latter conclusion, indeed, rested only on conjecture, whereas the passage of the sea was a full and irrefragable proof, as much so as if God had stretched forth his hand from heaven. All minds, therefore, were seized with a conviction that in the expedition of the Israelitish people God was principal leader; (40) hence their terror and consternation. At the same time, it is probable that they were deceived by some vain imagination that the God of Israel had proved superior in the contest to the gods of Egypt; just as the poets feign that every god has taken some nation or other under his protection, and wars with others, and that thus conflicts take place among the gods themselves while they are protecting their favorites.

But the faith of Rahab takes a higher flight, while to the God of Israel alone she ascribes supreme power and eternity. These are the true attributes of Jehovah. She does not dream, according to the vulgar notion, that some one, out of a crowd of deities, is giving his assistance to the Israelites, but she acknowledges that He whose favor they were known to possess is the true and only God. We see, then, how in a case where all received the same intelligence, she, in the application of it, went far beyond her countrymen.

(40) French, “Que Dieu estoit le principal conducteur de l’entreprise du peuple d’Israel, et qu’il marchoit avec iceluy;” “That God was the principal conductor of the enterprise of the people of Israel, and that he was marching along with them.” — Ed.

Verse 11

11.The Lord your God, he is God, etc. Here the image of Rahab’s faith appears, as if reflected in a mirror, when casting down all idols she ascribes the government of heaven and earth to the God of Israel alone. For it is perfectly clear that when heaven and earth are declared subject to the God of Israel, there is a repudiation of all the pagan fictions by which the majesty, and power, and glory of God are portioned out among different deities; and hence we see that it is not without cause that two Apostles have honored Rahab’s conduct with the title of faith This is sneered at by some proud and disdainful men, but I wish they would consider what it is to distinguish the one true God from all fictitious deities, and at the same time so to extol his power as to declare that the whole world is governed at his pleasure. Rahab does not speak hesitatingly, but declares, in absolute terms, that whatever power exists resides in the God of Israel alone, that he commands all the elements, that he orders all things above and below, and determines human affairs. Still I deny not that her faith was not fully developed, nay, I readily admit, that it was only a germ of piety which, as yet, would have been insufficient for her eternal salvation. We must hold, nevertheless, that however feeble and slender the knowledge of God which the woman possessed may have been, still in surrendering herself to his power, she gives a proof of her election, and that from that seed a faith was germinating which afterwards attained its full growth.

Verse 12

12.Now, therefore, I pray you, swear, etc. It is another manifestation of faith that she places the sons of Abraham in sure possession of the land of Canaan, founding on no other argument than her having heard that it was divinely promised to them. For she did not suppose that God was favoring lawless intruders who were forcing their way into the territories of others with unjust violence and uncurbed licentiousness, but rather concluded that they were coming into the land of Canaan, because God had assigned them the dominion of it. It cannot be believed that when they sought a passage from the Edomites and others, they said nothing as to whither they were going. Nay, those nations were acquainted with the promise which was made to Abraham, and the memory of which had been again renewed by the rejection of Esau.

Moreover, in the language of Rahab, we behold that characteristic property of faith described by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, when he calls it a vision, or sight of things not appearing. (Hebrews 11:1) Rahab is dwelling with her people in a fortified city: and yet she commits her life to her terrified guests, just as if they had already gained possession of the land, and had full power to save or destroy as they pleased. This voluntary surrender was, in fact, the very same as embracing the promise of God, and casting herself on his protection. She, moreover, exacts an oath, because often, in the storming of cities, the heat and tumult of the struggle shook off the remembrance of duty. In the same way she mentions the kindness she had shown to them, that gratitude might stimulate them the more to perform their promise. For although the obligation of the oath ought of itself to have been effectual, it would have been doubly base and inhumane not to show gratitude to a hostess to whom they owed deliverance. Rahab shows the kindliness of her disposition, in her anxiety about her parents and kindred. This is, indeed, natural; but many are so devoted to themselves, that children hesitate not to ransom their own lives by the death of their parents, instead of exerting courage and zeal to save them.

Verse 14

14.Our life for yours, etc. They imprecate death upon themselves, if they do not faithfully make it their business to save Rahab. For the interpretation adopted by some, We will pledge our lives, seems far-fetched, or too restricted, since their intention was simply to bind themselves before God. They constitute themselves, therefore, a kind of expiatory victims, if any evil befalls Rahab through their negligence. The expression, for yours, ought, doubtless, to be extended to the parents, brothers, and sisters. They therefore render their own lives liable in such a sense, that blood may be required of them, if the family of Rahab do not remain safe. And herein consists the sanctity of an oath, that though its violation may escape with impunity, so far as men are concerned, yet God having been interposed as a witness, will take account of the perfidy. In Hebrew, to do mercy and truth, is equivalent to performing the office of humanity faithfully, sincerely, and firmly.

A condition, however, is inserted, — provided Rahab do not divulge what they have said. This was inserted, not on account of distrust, as is usually expounded, but only to put Rahab more upon her guard, on her own account. The warning, therefore, was given in good faith, and flowed from pure good will: for there was a danger that Rahab might betray herself by a disclosure. In one word, they show how important it is that the matter should remain, as it were, buried, lest the woman, by inconsiderately talking of the compact, might expose herself to capital punishment. In this they show that they were sincerely anxious for her safety, since they thus early caution her against doing anything which might put it out of their power to render her a service. In further distinctly stipulating, that no one should go out of the house, or otherwise they should be held blameless, we may draw the important inference, that in making oaths soberness should be carefully attended to, that we may not profane the name of God by making futile promises on any subject.

The advice of Rahab, to turn aside into the mountain, and there remain quiet for three days, shows that there is no repugnance between faith and the precautions which provide against manifest dangers. There is no doubt that the messengers crept off to the mountain in great fear, and yet that confidence which they had conceived, from the remarkable interference of God in their behalf, directed their steps, and did not allow them to lose their presence of mind.

Some have raised the question, whether, seeing it is criminal to overleap walls, it could be lawful to get out of the city by a window? But it ought to be observed, first, that the walls of cities were not everywhere sacred, because every city had not a Romulus, who could make the overleaping a pretext for slaying his brother; (41) and secondly, That law, as Cicero reminds us, was to be tempered by equity, inasmuch as he who should climb a wall for the purpose of repelling an enemy, would be more deserving of reward than punishment. The end of the law is to make the citizens secure by the protection of the walls. He, therefore, who should climb over the walls, neither from contempt nor petulance, nor fraud, nor in a tumultuous manner, but under the pressure of necessity, could not justly on that account be charged with a capital offence. Should it be objected that the thing was of bad example, I admit it; but when the object is to rescue one’s life from injury, violence, or robbery, provided it be done without offence or harm to any one, necessity excuses it. It cannot be charged upon Paul as a crime, that when in danger of his life at Damascus, he was let down by a basket, seeing he was divinely permitted to escape, without tumult, from the violence and cruelty of wicked men. (42)

(41) This is an instance of the quiet and almost sly humor which occasionally betrays itself in Calvin’s other writings, and shows, that had it comported with the general gravity of his character, he might easily have added wit to the other weapons with which he fought the battles of the faith. In private life, when greater freedom was allowable, it appears, according to Beza’s statement, to have not infrequently contributed to the charm of his conversations. — Ed.

(42) The whole objection, as to the overleaping of walls, is so ridiculous in itself, and so very inapplicable to the circumstances of all parties at the time, that it is difficult to understand why Calvin should have condescended to notice it at all, or, at least, given himself so much trouble to refute it. If one might hazard a conjecture, it would be that some question of a similar nature had been raised in regard to the walls of Geneva, and given a local interest to a discussion which otherwise seems somewhat out of place. — Ed.

Verse 24

24.And they said unto Joshua, etc. This passage shows that Joshua was not mistaken in selecting his spies; for their language proves them to have been right-hearted men possessed of rare integrity. Others, perhaps, not recovered from the terror into which they had once been thrown, would have disturbed the whole camp, but these, while they reflect on the wonderful kindness of God, displayed in their escape from danger, and the happy issue of their expedition, exhort Joshua and the people to go boldly forward. And although the mere promise of possessing the land ought to have been sufficient, yet the Lord is so very indulgent to their weakness, that, for the sake of removing all doubt, he confirms what he had promised by experience. That the Lord had not spoken in vain, was proved by the consternation of the nations, when it began already to put them to flight., and to drive them out, as if hornets had been sent in upon them. For they argue in the same way as Rahab had done, that the land was given to them, as the inhabitants had almost fainted away from fear. I have therefore used the illative particle for, though the literal meaning is, and also. But it is sufficiently plain, that in the other way there is a confirmation of what they had said. And, indeed, the courage of all melted away, as if they felt themselves routed by the hand of God.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/joshua-2.html. 1840-57.
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