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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


3. The spying out of Jericho ch. 2

As preparation for entering Canaan, Joshua sent spies to reconnoiter the area Israel would enter.

"Although Joshua had received a promise from the Lord of His almighty help in the conquest of Canaan, he still thought it necessary to do what was requisite on his part to secure the success of the work committed to him, as the help of God does not preclude human action, but rather presupposes it." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 33.]

Verse 1

The two men sent out as spies were young (cf. Joshua 6:23). Joshua sent them out secretly (cf. Joshua 7:2). He did not want a recurrence of the Kadesh Barnea rebellion (Numbers 13-14).

"He had learned by experience that spy reports should be brought to the leaders only, for the people did not have sufficient orientation or experience to properly evaluate such a report." [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, p. 33.]

Their mission was to explore the area Israel would enter, especially Jericho. Jericho is possibly the lowest city on earth, lying about 750 feet below sea level. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Jericho," by Kenneth A. Kitchen.] Their object was to determine when and how to attack, not whether to attack.

"Sending out men for reconnaissance was a widespread phenomenon in the east. Moreover, a prostitute’s or innkeeper’s house was the accustomed place for meeting with spies, conspirators, and the like. Thus, for example, we read in Hammurabi’s Code: ’If scoundrels plot together [in conspiratorial relationships] in an innkeeper’s house, and she does not seize them and bring them to the palace, that innkeeper shall be put to death’ (law § 109). In a Mari letter we read about two men who sow fear and panic and cause rebellion in an army. Also, the pattern of a three-day stay in an area when pursuing escapees has support in ancient eastern sources; for example the instructions to the Hittite tower commanders specify that if an enemy invades a place he must be pursued for three days. In the same collection of instructions we find that it is forbidden to build an inn (arzana) in which prostitutes live near the fortress wall, apparently because of the kind of danger described in Joshua 2." [Note: Moshe Weinfeld, The Promise of the Land: The Inheritance of the Land of Canaan by the Israelites, pp. 141-43.]

Jericho was not a large city, but it had strong fortifications and a strategic location on the eastern frontier of Canaan. It lay just a few miles west of the Jordan River in the Jordan Valley. If the Israelites were to gain a foothold in Canaan, they would have to defeat Jericho.

The spies probably stayed at Rahab’s house because they hoped to be less conspicuous there than they would have been if they had lodged elsewhere. [Note: See Butler, pp. 31-32, for a discussion of the many instances of irony in this chapter.] Josephus called Rahab an innkeeper, which she may have been. [Note: Josephus, 5:1:2, 7. See also Hess, pp. 83-84; and M. A. Beek, "Rahab in the Light of Jewish Exegesis," in Von Kanaan bis Kerala, pp. 37-44. Bush, pp. 31-32, strongly rejected this possibility.] The writer recorded Rahab’s name because she became an important person in Israel’s history. She was an ancestor of David as well as Israel’s helper on this occasion (cf. Matthew 1:5).

Verses 2-6

Rahab was a woman of faith in Yahweh (cf. Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). Apparently what she had heard about the God of Israel led her to place her trust in Him (Joshua 2:9-12). The protection of one’s houseguests was very important in the ancient Orient (cf. Genesis 19:8; Judges 19:20-24). This cultural pressure fortified her faith and doubtless encouraged her to hide the spies. Rahab should not have told a lie, however.

"To excuse Rahab for indulging in a common practice is to condone what God condemns." [Note: Donald K. Campbell, No Time for Neutrality, p. 19. See also R. Kent Hughes, Living on the Cutting Edge, p. 37; and Irving L. Jensen, Joshua: Rest-Land Won, p. 38.]

Though she had come to faith in Yahweh her moral life had not yet undergone radical change.

"Having been born and brought up among the depraved Canaanites, she had probably never been taught the evil of lying, and least of all where an apparently good end was to be answered by it." [Note: Bush, p. 34.]

". . . a lie is always a sin. Therefore even if Rahab was not actuated at all by the desire to save herself and her family from destruction, and the motive from which she acted had its roots in her faith in the living God (Heb. xi. 31), so that what she did for the spies, and thereby for the cause of the Lord, was counted to her for righteousness (’justified by works,’ James ii. 25), yet the course which she adopted was a sin of weakness, which was forgiven her in mercy because of her faith." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 35.]

"It has often happened, that even when good men have endeavored to keep a straight course, they have turned aside into circuitous paths. Rahab acted wrongly when she told a lie and said that the spies had gone; and the action was acceptable to God only because the evil that was mixed with the good was not imputed to her. Yet, although God wished the spies to be delivered, He did not sanction their being protected by a lie." [Note: John Calvin, quoted by idem, p. 35.]

Lying is a more serious sin in some circumstances than in others, but it is always a sin (Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 5:20).

"For one to lie in this manner is for one to assume that he knows the outcome of a situation which, in fact, he does not. God has control of every situation and therefore it might well be the will of God that the spies should die. It is the job of the believer to represent the truth and allow the Lord to care for that situation." [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, p. 35. For an explanation of Rahab’s lie as legitimate, see Jim West, "Rahab’s Justifiable Lie," Christianity and Civilization 2 (Winter 1983):66-74.]

Verses 7-14

Assuming the spies had fled back to the Israelite camp, the men of Jericho searched all along the road from their city to the place where travelers forded the Jordan (Joshua 2:7), about five miles.

Rahab’s reference to the fear of the Israelites that God had put in the Canaanites’ hearts (Joshua 2:9-11) shows that the Lord had fulfilled His promise to make the Israelites’ enemies fear them (Exodus 23:27; Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25). This is one of the longest uninterrupted statements by a woman in a biblical narrative. [Note: Hess, p. 88.]

"Yahweh had proved himself more powerful than any other claimants to deity. The irony of the situation existed in the fact that Israel’s enemies recognized this when Israel did not." [Note: Butler, p. 33.]

"Utterly destroyed" translates the Hebrew herem, a technical term for the practice of completely destroying the spoils of war as a way of consecrating them to a deity (cf. Joshua 6:17). [Note: Madvig, p. 262.]

"The people who in Rahab’s time most frequently used such houses of prostitution were the traveling merchants. From them she had repeatedly heard of the marvelous nation which was approaching from Egypt, and of the God of Israel who had perfected such striking miracles." [Note: Abraham Kuyper, Women of the Old Testament, p. 69.]

The melting of the heart (Joshua 2:11) pictures utter despair. We must be careful not to overestimate Rahab’s confession of faith in this verse. She had come to place her faith in Yahweh (cf. Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), but she did not become a mature believer immediately. No one does.

Verses 15-21

The spies gave their solemn promise to spare Rahab and her household but specified three conditions that Rahab had to meet.

1. She had to make her home known to the Israelites when they attacked (Joshua 2:18).

2. She had to assemble her family into her home before the battle (Joshua 2:18).

3. She had to keep the mission of the spies a secret (Joshua 2:20; Joshua 2:14).

The cord Rahab was to hang out of her window and over the town wall-her house stood on the wall (Joshua 2:15)-was scarlet in color (Joshua 2:15; Joshua 2:18). Archaeologists have discovered houses within the ruined walls of ancient Jericho. [Note: See Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence," Biblical Archaeology Review 16:2 (1990):56.] Its unusual color would have marked Rahab’s house for the Israelites. The color had symbolic significance, too, since red recalls blood and vigorous life.

"In the preaching of the Christian church, all the way back to Clement of Rome . . ., this has been taken as a sign of the blood of Christ, the Lamb." [Note: Frances Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, p. 77.]

There is no Scriptural statement that the cord is a type, however.

"It answered, therefore, the same purpose with the blood sprinkled upon the door-posts in Egypt, which secured the first-born from the destroying angel." [Note: Bush, pp. 39-40.]

God spared the lives of Rahab and her household because of her faith. Any of Rahab’s relatives that would have gathered with her before the Israelite siege would have done so because of their faith in God’s promise through the spies. If they had no faith they would have stayed in their own homes. Thus the deliverance of Rahab and her family depended on believing a promise from God. Salvation always depends on believing a promise from God (cf. Genesis 15:6; John 3:16; et al.).

Verses 22-24

The "hill country" referred to (Joshua 2:22-23) was probably the mountainous area west of Jericho. This area contains many caves in the "deeply eroded and lonely chalk hills" and many "isolated canyons cut through the [1,500 feet high] limestone cliffs." [Note: James Monson, The Land Between, p. 163.] The spies evidently were absent from the Israelite camp a total of three days (Joshua 2:22; cf. Joshua 1:11; Joshua 3:2).

One of the major emphases in this chapter is God’s faithfulness. When the spies returned to Shittim with news that some of the Canaanites believed that Yahweh would give the Israelites the land, God’s people would have felt greatly encouraged (Joshua 2:9-11; Joshua 2:24; cf. Joshua 1:2-3; cf. Joshua 1:6; cf. Joshua 1:11; cf. Joshua 1:15).

This chapter also shows that God will deliver those who seek salvation from coming judgment, regardless of their past or present sins, if they have faith in Him. Rahab believed Yahweh was the true God (Joshua 2:11; cf. Ruth 1:16; 1 John 5:1). Her protection of the spies demonstrated the sincerity of her faith (Joshua 2:6; cf. James 2:25). Her confidence about her preservation from the coming judgment rested on the promise given to her by God’s spokesmen (Joshua 2:21; cf. John 6:47).

"If Joshua represents the Israelite male who finds guidance and success through faith in the LORD God, does Rahab represent his counterpart, the Canaanite female who also finds guidance and success through faith in the LORD God? In one of the most nationalistic books in the Hebrew Bible, does it not serve the purposes of the promise to Abraham that ’all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’ (Genesis 12:3) to place side by side with the choice of a military leader and his initial preparations for battle, the story of a foreign woman who believed and was saved without arms or bloodshed?" [Note: Hess, pp. 96-97.]

"The spies violated God’s explicit command that none of the people living in the land were to be spared (Deuteronomy 7:1-6; Deuteronomy 20:16-18). Rahab, however, turned to God and sought deliverance. Her experience is proof of the gracious saving purpose of God. His overarching decree is that ’everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved’ (Joel 2:32). This is one of the most dramatic examples of grace in the OT and is set in bold relief by the questionable aspects of Rahab’s profession and conversion.

"The salvation of Rahab is an example of what God would have done for others also. The king and the other citizens of Jericho knew all that she knew, but they did not turn to Israel’s God for mercy. The fear that drove her to beg for mercy drove them in their stubborn rebellion. Accordingly, the others are called ’the disobedient’ in Hebrews 11:31 . . ." [Note: Madvig, p. 264.]

Contrast the response of the Ninevites in Jonah’s day.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/joshua-2.html. 2012.
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