THE MISSION OF THE TWO SPIES
Jos . Joshua sent] Or, as in the margin, had sent. It is probable that the spies had left the camp for Jericho one or two days before the giving of the two addresses by Joshua, which are recorded in chap. 1. Out of Shittim] Called in Num 33:49, Abel Shittim. The last camping-ground of the Israelites in connection with their nomadic life, and the scene of their sin with Moab. (Cf. Numbers 25.)
Jos . Hid them] "Heb. ‘hid him,' i.e. each one of them; implying, probably, that she hid them separately, at some distance from each other" (Bush).
Jos . The time of shutting the gate] This was at sunset. The absence of artificial light would render this precaution necessary, especially in a time of war. When it was dark] As it grew dusk (De Wette). The evening twilight in the East is of very short duration.
Jos . Stalks of flax] "Flax of the word, that is, undressed flax, or flax with its ligneous parts" (Kitto).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Jos
EMERGENCIES IN THE LIFE OF PIETY
1. Here was an emergency to Joshua and all the people. They were on the eve of a bloody and terrible war. Omnipotence and Omniscience had guaranteed success; how far were jealous precautions and earnest efforts on the part of men to be coupled with the promised help of God? Joshua had to choose between idle trust and active co-operation.
2. Equally eventful is this same period to Rahab. Her newly found faith in God was tried hard in its very beginnings. She had to choose between her country and her newly discovered God; she chose God, and chose rightly. She had also to choose between telling a lie and giving up the spies; she chose the lie, and thus sinned. We see here, faith working to ensure a victory which God has already promised; faith choosing between a country on the one hand, and God on the other; and faith mixed with sin, and God graciously over-ruling the sin for the good of men.
I. The relation between man's efforts and God's guarantees. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you," said God to His servant Joshua, and immediately after Joshua sent out the two spies, saying, "Go, view the land, even Jericho." The spies were sent out as a special precautionary measure. They were thoroughly to acquaint themselves with Jericho; its situation, its approaches, its surroundings, its fortifications, its weak places, the tone of the people—whether they were confident or, as we should say, demoralised by fear; all these things, and more as they might be able, these men were to spy out. Here was as much care as though all things depended on Joshua. Would not the Divine omniscience do the spying, and omnipotence secure the victory already guaranteed? As it proved, the work of the spies had nothing to do with the victory; it was in no way accessory to triumph. This was peculiarly God's battle, in which for wise purposes He seemed to be saying, "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." Yet God manifestly approves the sending of the spies, giving the whole mission the stamp of His approval in the salvation of Rahab, and in the commendation of her faith in the N.T.
1. God's help was never intended to make us idle. The promises are not so many arm-chairs in which we may quietly ensconce ourselves, and letting ecstasy take the place of service, cry out in lazy rapture,
"My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away
To everlasting bliss;"
neither are they couches on which we may recline, softly chanting about
"that sweet repose.
Which none but he that feels it knows;"
a truth which however happy as it concerns the world in general, would, in such an application of it, be simply wickedness in the lips of the singer. The promises of the Bible have sometimes been compared to golden stones with which God has paved for His children a highway to heaven. Let us rather say, God has given them to us, that we may pave with them this firm and beautiful way; but that unless each one of them is laid and imbedded in active service and holy obedience, none will be firm; they will simply precipitate us into the Slough of Despond, or, if not, they ought to, lest like Ignorance we presently find that even from the gate of heaven there is a by-way to hell. The promises have been likened to a boat in which God's children ride to their desired haven; yet are there times when we must row hard to keep the head of the boat to sea, lest the waves prevail and swamp us, and we perish. If we would know the true value of God's assurances, it must be by using them for something better than idleness.
2. God's help should not only mean no less work; it should mean more work. It is because the end is guaranteed that we should work cheerfully and strive manfully. Is not this what fervent John intended, when he said, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith"? How some of the old heathen, whose deeds have been sung in the Iliad and Æueid, used to offer their sacrifices, pour their libations, and then fight! How some believers in fate have striven on in life's battle, just because of faith in an idea, like the last Napoleon, who was always "accomplishing his destiny." Oh, how we ought to fight, who have for a faith and a guarantee the many and beautiful words of the Scriptures from the "God that that cannot lie," and "who made the worlds." How beautifully significant is Paul's phrase, "Fight the good fight of faith;" that is just why we should fight—the issue is guaranteed, and the very battle is a faith. (a) With faith in God, we should go into every conflict zealously. (b) It should be just the same in our temporary defeats; we should look on them as only temporary. What led David and Peter back into the way of truth, but faith? there was faith in forgiveness, in God's love, and the Saviour's tenderness; in help for future. (c) No true Christian should complain, because life will have to be like this to the very end. The inheritance to all of us is on the other side of the river; our strife is all on this side, and it will last all the time we are here. The long conflict is meant to develop manhood and womanhood in ourselves, as well as to inspire it in others. The life of an infant in heaven, saved ere it fell, will be beautiful; the life of the aged saint, made strong by many a conflict, seamed it may be by not a few scars, but graced withal by numerous victories, will be far nobler. The penitent thief's life above is doubtless glorious, but that of Paul must be incomparably more so.
3. The assurances of victory given us by God demand not only our active efforts, but our caution and prudence. Promise does not free us from work, neither does it absolve us from the consequences of indiscretion. The late Mr. Binney once said, "If the twelve apostles were walking on a railway when a train was rushing along, it would go over them, if they did not get out of the way, and the whole twelve apostles would be crushed to atoms. God would not interfere." Certainly God would not; such interference would be a miracle to save careless men from their folly; it would put a premium on imprudence, it would make law uncertain, not only for destruction, but for protection, and it would make carelessness the best form of prayer out. It is very instructive to hear God say, "I will not fail thee," then to see Joshua turn away and command the spies to "Go, view the land," and finally to see God stamp this mission with His manifest approval. To some people zeal is everything, and prudence is nowhere. They seem to think that Zeal is the very chief among the elect angels of the Almighty, sitting on His right hand, and close to His throne, whenever found sitting at all; and that Prudence, if in heaven, can only have a mission in keeping the most remote gate of the city, so that none but zealots may he suffered to enter. These good people make Zeal not only the chief, but almost the sum of the graces; Prudence is a stranger and a foreigner in the land—a mere Gibeonite, fit for nothing better than to be "a hewer of wood, and a drawer of water" on behalf of the disciples of Zeal. Such is not God's way, and such is not the spirit of the Saviour. "Behold, my servant shall deal prudently." is a word embodied with marvellous emphasis in the life of the Messiah. Christ's true followers must have not only the zeal which consumes, but the prudence which is wise. No man has any commission for abolishing all but his own pet graces; we are to be Christians all round and all through, "transformed into the image of His Son."
II. The relation of patriotism to piety. This woman had to choose between her country and her God, and she chose to put the claims of the King of kings before those of her sovereign. She was no traitor, who sold her country for considerations which were mean and paltry. True, she stipulated for the safety of her family, but even this could only spring from faith in God. This conclusion was right; but the case must be taken on its own merits: the N.T. does not speak one way or the other about the character of her works; it merely commends her faith because that was not inactive. God's claims must come before those of earthly monarchs. Would not this justify the claims of Rome, which are based on the Vatican Decrees? Ought not those of our soldiers and sailors who are Roman Catholics to desert to the enemy in a time of war, if the infallible (?) Pope bade them? The whole question lies in another—Is the voice of Rome the voice of God? A history of pontifical crime and sensuality, stretching through many generations, is answer enough to any who are not devotees. The simple truth as to Rome is this—it is a great mixed system, having a single name; the system is political and spiritual, but the name is wholly religious; its deepest political schemes are baptized with the name of God, and backed, by the claims of God. It is on this ground that it claims the right to subvert the allegiance of the Roman Catholic subjects of any sovereign on earth. English dignitaries of that Church tell us that this will never be done. History answers, "It often has been done, and still oftener attempted; and this was so many generations before the decrees were defined and declared; the war stirred up between France and Spain in 1556, Black Bartholomew, the Spanish Armada, the Oath of Allegiance which followed the Gunpowder Plot, and not a few other instances bearing prominent official witness." The recent case of the Roman Catholic dignitaries is this—"Even if the Vatican Decrees mean what they have been said to, it is impossible that Rome should ever interfere to require English soldiers or sailors to desert the cause of their country;" that is to say, "Rome having done this kind of thing for many generations, when she had no decrees to declare her voice to be the voice of God, cannot POSSIBLY do it now that the process is made comparatively easy since the passing of these decrees." I must grieve all lovers of freedom to say it, but surely when a church with a history like this claims liberty to teach high treason in every nation in the world—to teach it to the uneducated and superstitious, backed by all their hopes of heaven and fears of hell—the time has come to insist on so much of civil disability to Roman Catholics as shall ensure the safety of the state in which they may happen to live. This is not a question merely of tolerating a religion; it is a question of tolerating an open claim of right, made by the largest and most compact society in the world, to establish an imperium in imperio throughout the earth. That the claim is made in the name of religion is perfectly true; but when religion condescends to become an instrument of grave political disturbance, men must treat with the facts, and cannot afford to be duped by a label.
III. The relation of human sin to Divine triumphs. About this woman's lie there can be no doubt whatever; it was as palpable a lie as human lips ever uttered. About the universal condemnation in the Scriptures of all lying there can be no doubt; no temptation, no danger, no good aims ever justify an untruth; to do evil that good may come is always sin in the judgment of the Bible. The N.T., however, absolutely commends the faith of Rahab, and the fact that her faith had works is the very point of the commendation given by the apostle James. The fact that she worked as well as believed was good; the manner of her working in this matter was indisputably wicked. The austere morality of James is alone sufficient to tell us that he could give no approval to that. The question has often come up, could the woman have protected the spies in any other way? Probably not; it is enough that God could have protected them. The woman evidently did not think the lie very wrong, and God will probably judge her, as others, in light of the word, "To whom much is given," etc. A great part of the difficulty about this case lies in assuming that this woman should at once be an angel the moment she begins to be a saint. Her faith was mixed with much sin, but was good as far as it went. One difficulty remains; God seems to have suffered both a lie and a liar to be the means of sheltering His people, and that when they were engaged in a work intimately connected with the fulfilment of His covenant. God often takes sin in its own snares, and that is what He is doing here. The Canaanites, though children of Noah, and warned by many judgments, had chosen a lie for their very religion. As this woman, who had learned both her morality and religion of the Canaanites, turns to desert them, she fires this lie like a Parthian shot, which they themselves had taught her how to aim, and God suffers the lie to wound those whom the woman meant to wound, and to rescue those whom she sought to defend. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee;" and why should it not? Blessed be God, who condescends to overrule even sin for good. So God suffered Jacob's lie to work out good; so He permitted the malice and lying of scribes and Pharisees to work out the greatest of all mercies, the cross of Christ. And this principle is in the gospel of nature, and belongs to all men, Christians or not. The atheist should rid it from his book, ere he condemns it in ours. Drunkenness is seen working its own cure, sensuality its own shame, war its own healing, while even such outrages as that of the persecution of the Huguenots laid the foundation of much of the commercial prosperity of our land. Oh, there is hope for sinners, when God by sin overthrows sin. Just as He set Midianites against Midianites, and Philistines to beat down Philistines in some of the later battles of Israel, so He arrays sin against itself. With Christ for us, and sin working its own ruin, who may not dare to hope?
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Jos .—SECRET SERVICE.
I. The secret service of governments. The sum yearly voted for this in our national estimates. The necessity for it born of human deception and sin.
II. The secret service of the world. Secret pursuit of sinful pleasures. Secret enmity against, and watching of Christians.
III. The secret service of the Church. The spying out of the world's most secret pleasures. None should go, but such as are wisely chosen and sent. It is always a service of danger. It is ever tending to the light. If necessary at all, the sooner it is over the better.
Jos . Your terror is fallen upon us] As Moses had predicted forty years before; Exo 15:15.
Jos . Give me a true token] Rahab asks them to enter into solemn covenant with her, and to establish something as the usual token or sign. The sign of the covenant in this case was the scarlet cord named in Jos 2:18.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Jos
PHASES OF HUMAN FAITH AND DIVINE MERCY
Notwithstanding the labours of such writers as Josephus, the Jewish Rabbins, and Adam Clarke, who from worthy motives have tried to shew that Rahab was merely an innkeeper, or hostess, there can be no doubt to most people that she was the abandoned woman which our version declares her to have been. Kitto summarises the argument nearly as follows:—The balance of opinion among scholars supports our translation; the Septuagint renders the Hebrew word by an expression which all agree means "a harlot;" the Epistle to the Hebrews and that of James follow the Septuagint; Rahab, who is so careful about the saving of her relatives, says no word as to her husband or children; after her settlement among the Israelites she married Salmon, a Jewish prince; and, finally, there are no such persons as "hostesses" in the East. Volney says, "There are no inns anywhere, but the cities and commonly the villages have a large building called a khan or caravanserai, which serves as an asylum for all travellers. The keeper of this khan gives the traveller his key and a mat, and he provides himself the rest." It is important, as it affects the gracious teaching of the Scriptures, that Rahab's character be taken as it is set before us.
I. Some phases of this woman's faith.
1. It seems, at the stage where the N.T. commends it, to have been only the faith of fear. It sprang from her terror (Jos ). The strange and unprecedented passage of the Red Sea had appalled the Canaanites. The overthrow of Sihon and Og had alarmed them no less. The Amorites were a very powerful and warlike race. They had overcome the Rephaims or giants (Deu 2:20-21); they had driven out the Ammonites and Moabites. A contest with Sihon, therefore, was a terrible thing for Israel; but they had Ebenezers of mercy even then behind them, Moses with them, and God and His word for all the conflicts before them. The Amorites were utterly defeated, and their king slain. The kingdom of Og was even more formidable. The territory was far larger, the people very warlike, their king a giant, and their land crowded with fortified cities. For the armour of those days the very houses must have been as forts; they were built, we are told, of huge basalt rocks, having the walls, in some cases, four feet thick, and thick stone slabs, swinging upon pivots in sockets, for doors. But the battle of Edrei was decisive; Og was slain, as Sihon had been, and his forces were utterly routed. No wonder that the fear of the Lord fell on the Canaanites on the western side of the river. No wonder that the inhabitants of Jericho felt their hearts melting for fear. With Rahab's fear there came something more; she was convinced that the God of Israel was "God in heaven above, and in earth beneath." Her fear led her to faith, and her faith to fear still more. Is such faith "saving faith"? Yes, if you follow it up, and no amount of faith will save any one without. See how God has often aimed at the salvation of men by beginning with their fears. What else but leading men to faith through fear was God's work through Elijah on Carmel, or through Jonah at Nineveh? What else had been God's work with these Israelites and their fathers in Egypt and the wilderness? The ten plagues, the miracle at the Red Sea, the judgment on Korah and his followers, the fiery serpents, and many other wonders were designed to work awe in the minds of the Israelites, and, with awe, belief. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" in these days of the gospel, as well as in those days of old. It does not matter how we begin to be Christians, if we only go on, and keep on. What men want is to be made to think; thought on God will soon lead to decision, let the thinking begin how it may. If a sleeper awake at night in a burning house, it is of no consequence whether he sees the fire, smells it, tastes the disagreeable smoke, feels the hot air, hears the roaring of the flames within, or earnest voices calling "fire" from without. The one thing for safety is to know that there is fire, and it does not matter at all by which of the senses it was first apprehended. Let no one say, "I am so full of fears; I cannot be saved:" it is just as well for safety that we apprehend God through fear as through any other faculty or power of our being. After all, there may be more faith in fear than many think there is. No man should expect to begin a Christian life in songs of rich experience. If a rich man were to adopt a ragged child from the streets, the joys of childhood would not come at once. At first there would be timidity and pain at all the new grandeur; it could be only when the child got to feel it was really loved that it would gradually come into the child-feeling, and begin to store up filial experiences. The twenty-third Psalm was not written as the beginning of David's piety. Peter wrote, "Unto you therefore which believe He is precious," but he had to find all that out by a long, a varied, and often a most humiliating experience. It was only as an old man, who had learned how Christ had prayed that Satan might not "sift him as wheat," how Christ had often forgiven him, often encouraged him, and always loved him, that Peter could say, "He is precious." Go on with even the faith of fear; that also leads to an inheritance in the land.
2. Rahab's faith was mixed with absolute sin. I do not know if she was immoral at the time when the spies came; many good people say she was not, trying to prove the next best thing possible. Why should we go so far about to prove this sinner almost a saint, in order to make her fit to be saved? Perhaps it would be better to take her for just what Scripture calls her. It is much more simple, more encouraging to many, and certainly more sensible. If the Saviour could say to the Pharisees, "The thieves and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you," we shall do very little, excepting that we shall lower the grace of the gospel, by saying here of Rahab that she "had formerly been of ill fame, the reproach of which stuck to her name, though of late she had repented and reformed." Any way, Rahab lied. Not a few good men, with laudable motives, doubtless, but with most unwise zeal, have tried to justify or excuse even this. Under no circumstances whatever can a lie be anything but sin. The morality of the great epic poet of the Greeks, call him a heathen though we may, is blessedly better than some of the casuistry which Christian men have written on this. Homer said bluntly,—
"My soul detests him as the gates of hell,
Who knows the truth, and dares a falsehood tell."
With equal firmness and excellent definition good George Herbert also wrote,—
"Lie not; but let thy heart be true to God;
Thy tongue to it, thy actions to them both.
Dare to be true! nothing can need a lie;
The fault that needs it most grows two thereby."
Some who begin to serve God are discouraged when they find sin mixed with their faith. Sin cannot make us too much distrust ourselves, but no sin that has penitence should lead to distrust of God.
3. As far as Rahab's faith had knowledge, it also had works. James seizes on that feature. The woman hid the servants of God. She confessed her faith freely, and her confession is very wonderful. No amount of faith can be of any use without works. We may believe as much as the angel Gabriel, but not to work is to sin against all the additional light which goes with our faith. God garners faith in fruit, not faith in blossom.
4. Rahab believed in God in the midst of unbelief. She alone, in Jericho and all Canaan, seems at this time to have accepted Israel's God for her God. It is all very well and sufficiently easy to believe what every one else accepts; can we dare to believe God when alone? Can we believe when all the companions of our daily life scoff at us? Can we hold our faith singly about particular truths or principles?
5. Rahab's faith went with compassion and love. She had thought for the safety of her relatives. If we are doing nothing to save others, let us remember that no one can fill our place. No one else has our particular mind, or temperament, or experiences, or opportunities.
6. Rahab's faith was only in God. She believed in a living being of great power, who loved the Israelites, and helped them so that none could stand against them. She was absolutely without any systematic creed. Creeds are good so far as we must have them, but we had better leave them to come to us, and not go in search of them. Max Mller has pointed out that though "nature is incapable of progress or improvement," when men become familiar with any science they begin to classify its features. So the botanist began in time to classify flowers; and when men began to study language, that too entered upon its "classificatory stage." Classification is the necessary outcome of knowledge. Men accumulate items of knowledge, and then, in order to remember them better, and understand them more thoroughly, they formulate and arrange them. A Christian with much experience and many thoughts of God must have a creed; he cannot help it; it is the necessary outcome of growth. But it is unwise for anxious souls seeking Jesus Christ as their Saviour to burden and perplex themselves with theology. Like Rahab, let them simply believe in Him who has helped so many of His people to such mighty victories.
II. Some forms of Divine mercy.
1. God's mercy tends to strengthen faith from its very beginnings to its crisis. This woman had heard of the Red Sea, of the overthrow of Sihon and Og, and she believed. After her confession she is strengthened right up to the time of trial. (a) The Jordan divides; while the hearts of her neighbours became still more "as water," how Rahab must have been confirmed in the choice she had made! (b) Then here was this strange procession of this vast army, marching round Jericho, for six days, once a day Not a shout was to be heard; the only noise was from those seven rams' horns, which blew out their strange notice just in front of the ark, which was the symbol of religion and of God's presence. How unlike ordinary fighting it must have seemed! Taken in connection with the circumcision and passover hard by at Gilgal, how superhuman the aspect of the whole campaign must have become! Every movement would be saying to Rahab, "The God of heaven and earth is undertaking all." Surely the very strangeness of the siege, so terrifying to the Canaanites, would have tended to increase her faith. (c) On the seventh day, at the close of the seventh march round the city, each of the last six of which had been indicating the coming crisis, the people shouted, and the wall fell down flat, and the Israelites went up "every man straight before him into the city." It seems as though the wall fell down entirely round the city, so that the men who surrounded the city had not to walk some one way and some another to various breaches, but there was an open path before them all. We find, however, that Rahab's house was upon or against the wall, and yet that fell not; for the spies went in, and brought her and her family out in safety. Here, then, in the very crisis of trial, God gave this woman a sign which seemed to say within her, "Israel has covenanted with me, and, lo, the God of Israel makes the covenant of His people His own bond also!" All the wall, or much of it, had fallen; her house stood firmly. Thus from its beginning to its greatest ordeal does God's mercy graciously provide means to sustain and strengthen this woman's faith. Is Divine mercy less careful for us? No; to us all, if we will only look, God gives increasing light. "The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
2. God's mercy is very pitiful in its estimate of human surroundings. Only this woman's faith is spoken of in the N.T.; nothing whatever is said of her lie; and while she is called a harlot, there is no upbraiding of her because of past sin. The good is proclaimed with honour; the evil is recognised, but the very terms in which it is named seem to treat it as forgiven. Thus God "hides His face" from our transgressions, and our sin He "covers."
3. God's mercy is seen giving exceptional faith conspicuous honour. (a) This woman marries a prince in Israel; (b) becomes a progenitor of our Lord; (c) and has most honourable mention in the New Testament. Christ comes through all sorts of characters, and through all ranks of society; some ancestors are kings, and some are the poor. He seems to say by the very manner of His coming that He appears on earth for all sorts of sinners, and for all ranks and conditions of men. It is significant, too, that Christ's parents—the last in the line of genealogy—are poor, as though even the birth of the Saviour should lay its emphasis on the after word, "To the poor the gospel is preached." When sinful Rahab stands in the line of so much honour, faith in any one may well anticipate "the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him."
4. God's mercy is seen saving "all them that believe," even though faith may be poor and small. Rahab had only the faith of fear, and she and her family were delivered from death; doubtless the wonders of God's mercy, when Jericho fell, led her into a larger trust and a holier life. We cannot but look on her as in heaven, when we see her so commended in the New Testament. So does God encourage even fear, and so does He teach our feeble faith to hope in His mercy.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Jos . THE DIFFERING MEASURES OF LIFE'S INFLUENCE ON MEN.
"I know that the Lord" (Jos ); "WE have heard how the Lord" (Jos 2:10). "WE heard, and OUR heart did melt" (Jos 2:11). "Now therefore I pray you" (Jos 2:12). All had heard the same things, and all feared; only one prayed, and only one believed and worked the works of faith.
I. There are multitudes who hear of the Lord, but the voice of the Lord is one voice to them all. Some men hear or see more of the Lord's deeds than others, but, substantially, the deeds all "speak the same thing." There are no contradictions; the works and words are all in one direction.
1. The teachings of NATURE are substantially the same everywhere. "The testimony of the rocks" is one testimony to all who read it aright. Each flower and blade of grass and tree alike tells of creative wisdom, power, and love. The voice is the same in all places. So it is of the "great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable." "The heavens declare the glory of God.… There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line [or teaching] is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world;" and the words are the same wherever men will listen to them and search out their meaning. African stars, American heavens, the Asian firmament, and the European sky, all speak in harmony. In the hymn usually attributed to Addison, but recently claimed, and apparently with good reason, as Andrew Marvell's, we sing—
"The spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim;"
and they proclaim Him without contradiction, and, unlike men, without controversy. Law everywhere preaches the same thing about fire and water, about heat and actinism and colour, about chemical properties and mechanical appliances, about obedience to its precepts on the one hand, or our transgression of them on the other.
2. The teachings of Providence have been everywhere similar. In all times the wicked have often been found to "flourish like a green bay tree," and the true-hearted have often been "an afflicted and poor people;" yet the industrious and the wise have ever had their reward. Sudden accidents and calamities have been the heritage of all the ages. Similar weaknesses, sicknesses, diseases, bereavements, graves, have been, from the first proclaiming one providence for all times and lands.
3. The teachings of Human History are similar. Man's sins—his wars, murders, lyings, duplicity, mere pleasure-seeking, his pride and selfishness—have always tended to degradation and misery: Man's virtues—his sympathy, self-denial, generosity, love, meekness—have always worked peace, and brought a goodly heritage.
4. The teachings of the Human Conscience and the Heart have never materially differed. Conscience has brought fear to the wicked and peace to the pure, from the day when Adam hid himself till now. The heart that has lived merely for this world has always had its sense of emptiness. Human desires and yearnings and hopes have ever gone out to things beyond death.
5. The teachings of the Bible have ever been in one direction. The early times had not so much light as these latter days, in which God has spoken unto us by His Son, but the light has ever shewn one path, having but one kind of traveller, and one hope and end for them all.
II. When the mightier works of the Lord and His sterner words have been forced prominently on the thoughts of men, they have always tended to work fear and despondency. Now some divided sea, now the smiting of mighty kings who could have helped them, and now promises of a heritage to some one else which threatened them with dispossession, have, all through human history, made the hearts of men "to melt." Disastrous earthquakes, the ravages of epidemic disease, appalling accidents, the threatenings of the Scripture against idolatry and all sin, have, when forced suddenly on the attention, made men's hearts "as water." Power, when not understood, ever works awe.
III. While the works and word of the Lord bring fear to all men at first, in some fear gives place to faith, and desire, and love. The inhabitants of Jericho all heard and trembled; only Rahab passed out of fear into faith and service. Nothing is more marked in the Bible than this differing measure of influence wrought by the same word. Whether the risen Saviour has revealed Himself to men, or Paul has preached at Athens or in his own lodging at Rome, it has ever had to be written, "And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not." How are we hearing? "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
I. The testimony of those who are weak and untaught. "I know," said Rahab; what witness should we bear? "Much is given" to us;—education, associations, godly parents, Christian teachers, an entire gospel of mighty and merciful works.
II. The confidence of the weak and untaught. "I know," etc. In all Rahab's gospel there was not a single promise. She only saw two or three of the mighty acts of the Lord, yet she believed, doubting nothing. Our gospel has the cradle, the promises, the tenderness, and even the tears and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
III. The encouragement given by the weak and untaught. "The Lord hath given you the land," etc. Rahab was with these Israelites "in much assurance;" she might have no promise of her own, she would read and understand and proclaim the blessedness of theirs.
Jos . COMING TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.
I. The use of religious memories. The miracle of the Red Sea had taken place forty years before. This was a period equal to half a lifetime. If living then, Rahab could have been only a child. Perhaps, to her, the miracle was only a tradition; but she thought on it, and it helped to lead her to a conclusion.
1. We want help from all the faculties of our being when we are seeking to know the Lord. Within, we have much to dim our vision: pride, self-love, and sin in many forms. Without, temptation has a thousand fair disguises, and every time we sin we hide God from our eyes. We might as well try in the same instant to look north and south, to the sky over our heads and the earth at our feet, as to seek sin and see God. To know Him, we need each power of our being for that one purpose.
2. Memory, however, is peculiarly helpful in getting this knowledge. (a) Memory brings to us life's select teachings. We look through our family albums, and do not find there cartes in general; they are not portraits of Her Majesty's army or navy; they are select—every face is the face of a friend. We look through our Bibles, and we have in them favourite passages which fill us with peace; and we know far better where to find our twenty-third Psalm, or our fourteenth of John, than some name in the genealogies, or some obscure incident written in the book of Chronicles. So when we look through our minds, many things are hidden by time, only select memories come up, and these, where they are religious, are the most beautiful and the most helpful. (b) Memory often brings delineations of God from the past which are both clearer and purer than our present impressions. They are pictures of our childhood, at once full of realism and full of innocence. (c) Memory might bring up, not only its visions of the past, but its reproof in the present. Rahab, and we not less, might find room to ask, "How am I, compared with my thoughts of God years ago? what has my life been since—alas! what? Have I grown in the knowledge of Him?" Memory helped her to decide in this her last opportunity; destruction soon came, suddenly as at the Sea, and these few moments with the spies were standing for her eternity. What of our moments; are they equally important? what of our memories; are we using them, while yet there is time, to help us to know Him, "whom to know is eternal life"?
II. The blessings of observation and reflection. "The two kings of the Amorites" had fallen but recently. The victories obtained over them made this woman think. Some pass through life seeing but little, and not reflecting on even that. Life is a stream which runs past them; they see its waters shimmer in the sunlight, and hear the cheerful ripple, the soft murmuring, or the ceaseless roar of its progress, but they never stoop to drink. Life carries everything past them, and brings them nothing which they make their own. Who can wonder if danger and death overtake them while yet unprepared?
III. The value of cumulative evidence and repeated emotions. The Red Sea made Rahab do nothing, the death of Sihon does not apparently move her to any works, the overthrow of Og leaves her still in Jericho; but the coming of the spies, and their conversation, added to all that went before, make her covenant for her salvation.
1. The unused evidence of life. No man can destroy this evidence. It is accumulating either to (a) gradually convince us, or to (b) finally overwhelm us.
2. The unimproved feelings of life. Joys, sorrows, fears, etc., are either exhausting and withering our hearts, and leaving them callous, or they are being treasured up and cultivated within us as the beginnings of our eternal hymn of adoration and praise.
IV. The salvation that comes of facing the whole truth, and then confessing it to others.
1. We should never conceal from ourselves our utter helplessness as against God.
2. We should never deny even to our own hearts the glory of God; (a) His sovereignty in heaven above; (b) His sovereignty in earth beneath.
3. What we acknowledge of the glory of God to ourselves, it is best to confess to His people. (a) It is God's right. (b) His people may be able to help us. (c) Our confession may lead to our salvation.
I. Faith looking within.
1. It has self-distrust.
2. It has no rest till it secures covenanted mercy.
3. Though it be faith, it yet needs some help from signs—"Give me a true token." Those who feel most sincerely how blessed it is to believe when they have not seen, cling, nevertheless, to that sign of the everlasting covenant, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. Faith looking around. Faith in God, though in a sinner like this, and in days so far back and light so feeble as hers, has ever the same tendencies.
1. It wants others to be in the covenant also.
2. It begins among its own kindred.
3. It places the life first, and makes things subordinate.
4. It not only has compassion for others, but expectation from others: "I pray you, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness." Faith is very human in its pity and generous kindness; it is not so superhuman that it can receive harshness for gentleness without feeling wounded. Some people know very well that the faith of Christians should lead to compassion and help; they utterly forget that it is natural for even faith to be pained by ingratitude.
III. Faith looking on high.
1. It has adoration and praise for God's power (Jos ).
2. It regards that power no longer as a terror, but a joy. Rahab wanted to get with God's people, in order that Divine power, instead of destroying her and hers, might defend them. The truth which at first made the heart melt, became speedily its "shield and buckler."
3. Faith has not only praise for God, and a new feeling as to His power, it has regard to the honour of His name: "Swear unto me by the Lord."
On the passage in Jas, Manton gives the following very suggestive thoughts concerning the case of Rahab:—
"I. God may choose the worst of sinners. Even in a harlot faith is acceptable. II. The meanest faith must justify itself by works and gracious effects. III. Believers, though they justify their profession, are still monuments of free grace. It is Rahab the harlot, though justified by works. IV. Ordinary acts are gracious, when they flow from faith and are done in obedience. Entertainment, in such a case, is not civility, but religion. A cup of cold water in the name of a prophet is not courtesy, but duty, and shall not lose its reward. A carnal man performs his religious duties for civil ends, and a godly man his civil duties for religious ends. There is no alchemy like that of grace, where brass is turned into gold, and actions of commerce are made worship. V. The great trial of faith is in actions of self-denial. Rahab preferred the will of God to the welfare of her country; Abraham the same will to the life of Isaac. A man is not discovered when God's way and his own lie together. VI. The actions and duties of God's children are usually blemished with some notable defect. Rahab's entertainment was associated with Rahab's lie; Moses smote the rock twice, and with faith mixed anger. Thus we still plough with an ox and an ass in the best duties. VII. God hideth His eyes from the evil that is in our good actions. He that drew Alexander while he had a scar upon his face, drew him with his finger upon the scar: God putteth the finger of mercy upon our scars. Job curseth the day of his birth; it is simply written, ‘Ye have heard of the patience of Job.' How unlike are wicked men to the Lord; with them one blemish is enough to stain much glory, but with Him a little faith and a few works are thrown into everlasting honour."
Jos . Our life for yours] The sentiment is, "If we fail to regard your lives as sacred, may God so fail to think of ours." It became afterwards a common form of oath in Israel. (Cf. Rth 1:17; 1Sa 3:17; 1Sa 25:22; 1Ki 19:2, etc.)
Jos . Get you to the mountain] "Probably the cavernous mountain to the north of Jericho, which the Arabs now call Kuruntul" (F. R. Fay).
Jos . This scarlet thread] This crimson cord. The dye is supposed to have been made from the larv of the cochineal insect, called in Arabic "kermes," or crimson.
Jos . His blood be upon us] A common form of adjuration (Eze 33:4; Mat 27:25, etc.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Jos
SOCIAL INTEGRITY AND THE PUBLIC FAITH
Perhaps no one knows the value of integrity better than those who abuse it. Just as the great are valued after their death, and just as we prize our mercies when they have departed from us, so they who have forfeited their truthfulness have a keen appreciation of its worth. It is not a little suggestive that this woman who has just told a lie to shield the spies, proceeds immediately to ask an oath from them, wherein she and her family may find some assurance of salvation. Probably the cruelties attendant on the worship of Baal, and the lewd rites connected with the service of Ashtoreth, had so far debased the public conscience of the Canaanites generally, that Rahab had become familiar with both deceit and its consequences in many forms. She proves herself an adept in deceiving others, and then asks a solemn covenant to protect herself from similar deception. This is ever the way where truth is lightly esteemed; they who think that there is little harm in telling lies, ever confess the measure of their wickedness by the suspicions and precautions in which they endeavour to shield themselves from the deceit of others. The distrust of a liar is a sort of habitual confession, "If every one were as wicked as I am, life would have no securities, and would become unbearable." Thus, ever, "out of its own mouth" the judgment of sin is spoken.
I. The importance of public integrity. It is a national calamity when a nation is not believed. When the policy of a government is made up of diplomacy and subtlety and acts of small cleverness, the policy is ruinous; it may be dignified by the name of ‘statesmanship," but the name can only make the ruin greater by deferring it, through a temporary concealment. A good label will not alter the contents of a poison-bottle, nor can a promising name keep a rotten vessel afloat through a storm. One Machiavel is not only enough to pass a name into a proverb, and to introduce a new set of words into language; he is also enough to curse a country for generations, till some succeeding Garibaldis, through self-denying and disinterested integrity, shall, notwithstanding mistakes, do a little to restore the public faith. It was a terrible verdict for Crete, when "their own poet," Epimenides, wrote, "Liars and sluggish gluttons, savage beasts, the Cretans are," and when an apostle gave the sentiment the fearful prominence of a Scripture record, in which the nations still read, "The Cretans are alway liars." The commercial world could not go on for a month, if "credit" were not maintained. There are few pulpits where the relation of truth to prosperity is preached as it is "on ‘Change." He who does anything to lessen the faith of men in each other, does just so much to ruin them for all prosperity in the things of this life and the next. Probably one or two of our own countrymen in high places, during the last quarter of a century, have done sufficient to lower the tone of the public conscience manifestly and appreciably for a long while to come. When falsehoods are repeatedly told, which depend on a sufficient amount of grave impudence and effrontery in the teller to provoke the laughter of the hearers, it is perfectly well understood that the laughter makes the audience in some measure participators in the untruth, and that rebuke is silenced in its very beginnings. Thus it has got to be known in some quarters, that a great liar need only have an equivalent impudence and gravity, to be heard and received as though he were only a wit, and no liar at all. This flippancy of untruth, practised by anybody, is an incalculable wrong to everybody, and as such it should be resented.
II. The culture of the public conscience.
1. These spies were most careful not to make a promise which they could not keep. They held Rahab bound by several conditions. (a) They would not be responsible, unless she bound the sign of the crimson cord in the window. As God Himself had once bidden the Israelites to mark their houses, so that the destroying angel might pass them by, in like manner this woman is to distinguish her house from the abodes of those who were delivered over to destruction. (b) The spies covenanted that they would be guiltless of the blood of any of this family who might be slain out of the house. Any one might say, "I am of Rahab's family;" nothing would avail, but to be in the covenanted dwelling-place. (c) The spies would be blameless, unless Rahab kept the oath a secret. Let her once betray that, and all Jericho might bind its windows with crimson cord.
2. These two spies were representative men, and it was therefore most important that the promise should be made carefully. (a) Joshua was held bound by the word of these men. They were his servants. (b) All Israel was bound by their word. The men represented the nation. (c) Even God graciously condescended to recognise the promise of the spies as His own bond. While almost all of the wall of the city seems to have fallen, the part on which Rahab's house stood was safely preserved (chap. Jos ). Had this one promise to a Canaanite been broken, the good faith of Israel would have been despised among the idolaters, wherever it had become known; added to this, the Israelites themselves would have been harmed. These men who were sent to spy out the land cultivate a conscience void of offence, Joshua and Israel support them, and the Divine seal is set to this care of a truthful spirit. The Divine teaching of the O.T. in these early times is most emphatic in the stress which it lays on truthfulness. No one can carefully read of the solemn tokens which God gives with His own covenants, and the solemn charges which are given in connection with vows, oaths, and all forms of promise made by men, without being made to feel that all lying and deceit are hateful to God. Promises were, in every case, to be made with the utmost care, and when once given, to be most sacredly kept.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Jos .—THE SELF-PRODUCING POWER OF PIETY.
In the record given of the creation we read of the tree "whose seed was in itself." All life tends to spontaneous increase. It is ever thus with the life of God in a human heart. Of each grace it may be said, "Its seed is within itself."
I. Mercy begets mercy. "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy." Rahab had risked her life for the spies, and now they readily respond, "Our life for yours," or literally," Let our soul be to die instead of you."
II. Faith stimulates faith. Rahab had said, "I know that the Lord hath given you the land." Under her influence the spies have insensibly and more than ever come to regard this as a truth; thus they answer, "When the Lord hath given us the land."
III. Kindness and truth reproduce themselves in kind. "We will deal," etc. Rahab, though false to some, had been kind and true to them, and nothing of her good words falls to the ground.
Jos . It seems necessary to bear in mind, when reading this verse, that fanciful interpretations of Scripture may be no part of the teaching of God. Any quantity of imaginative nonsense has been written on the incidents of this chapter, and particularly of this red cord. Thus Lyra, who is followed by Mayer, and partly by some others, found here, that "by Rahab is meant the church of the Gentiles; by the two spies, the sending forth of the apostles two and two; by Jericho, the mutable moon; by the king of Jericho, the devil; by the scarlet red cord there is figured out the blood of Christ," etc., and ad lib. Can it be seriously thought that God ever meant to teach this, or anything like it? Ought we not to ask with some anxiety if we can teach as Divine truth things of this character, without grave harm to many who hear us? The maxim of Cecil is a good rule for us all—"The meaning of Scripture is the word of God." Nothing else ever was, ever is, or ever will be.
Jos . Abode there three days] One clear day, and part of two others. The spies were probably sent out on the sixth of Abib; on the evening of the same day as that on which they arrived at Jericho they escaped to the mountain; they waited in hiding there throughout the next day, and through the night and the day and the greater part of the night following, when they returned to Joshua, and made their report.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Jos
WITH AND "WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD"
I. He who watches and works without God, watches and works in vain. The king of Jericho had sent to take the spies, but they escaped out of his hand; "the pursuers sought them throughout all the way, but found them not." "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain;" so, apparently, out of the rich experience of his life the aged David counselled his son and successor in "The Song of degrees for Solomon." The children of God, when they are without the presence of their heavenly Father, labour as much in vain as the greatest idolater or infidel. The king of Jericho and his pursuers fail; equally do the Israelites themselves, when a week or two later they go up without God against Ai. Moses well said, "If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence."
II. He who goes out under the care of God is safe from the wrath of man. If Rebekah and Jacob had not lied, the younger son would still have inherited the blessing. The promise of God needed no falsehood of men to make it into a truth. If Rahab had said only the thing which was right, God could with equal ease have secured the safety of these His two servants. Even had it been otherwise, they had been no less safe; they fall well, who fall into their Father's arms. Where God does not bless our righteous efforts to preserve ourselves, we need not seek safety in sin. Those were noble blushes which rose on the face of Ezra, when he said, "I was ashamed to require of the king a band of men and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way" (cf. Ezr ). Paul in his perils; Luther at Worms; Wesley preaching under threats of violence and falling stones.
III. He who reports the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord can never report too confidently or too cheerfully. The ten spies had given the report of fear; these give the report of faith. The giants and the Anakim were probably as huge as they were forty years before, the cities walled up as near to heaven, and the Israelites no larger than they were formerly; but where fear then saw grasshoppers in the presence of giants, faith said now, "Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land." The message of these two men to Joshua was full of confidence, full of cheerfulness, and full of praise. They thanked God for victories yet to come.
1. He who makes the best of everything which concerns God, serves God and men much better than he who is timid and doubting and depressed. It is quite possible to make too much of the work of men; we cannot well over-report God. Too many modern servants are far more like the ten spies than the two.
2. A bad report of Divine things is not only injurious to others, but most harmful to ourselves. Good Bp. Hall well said, "Our success or discomfiture begins ever at the heart. A man's inward disposition doth more than presage the event. If Satan sees us once faint, he gives himself the day. There is no way to safety, but that our hearts be the last that shall yield." We have need to keep our heart with all diligence; for out of it, even in this sense, there are issues of life. The glad confidence in Christ which some constantly manifest carries its own reward; for "the joy of the Lord is their strength," and hardly less strength to all who are sufficiently with them to catch the enthusiasm of their praise.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany