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Joshua sends two spies, whom Rahab receives and conceals: they give her an oath, that they will save her and her family: after three days' continuance in the mountains, they return to Joshua, and relate all that had happened to them.
Before Christ 1451.
Ver. 1. And Joshua—sent—two men to spy, &c.— Or had sent, as the Margin of our Bibles more properly renders it. Joshua had certainly sent the spies to Jericho before he issued in the camp the order mentioned ver. 10, 11 of the former chapter. This supposition removes every difficulty that can arise in this history with respect to the order of time, and clears up the 22nd verse of the present chapter. Moses had succeeded so indifferently in sending spies before to discover the land of Canaan, that it is surprising, at first view, that Joshua should venture to recur to this method. But, not to mention that he might be determined to it of his own mind, or perhaps by the express commands of God, without any solicitation on the part of the people, it appears, that he sent these two spies secretly, and that to him only they reported the success of their commission. As an able general, prudence required that Joshua should gain a knowledge of the place which he purposed to attack: his confidence in the divine promises did not exclude a diligent and judicious employment of such second causes as might favour the success of his enterprize. We would, therefore, translate the beginning of the verse in this manner: And Joshua, the son of Nun, had secretly sent out of Shittim two men to espy, and had said, &c. See Houbigant. By the land which Joshua orders them to go and view, we are not to understand the whole land of Canaan, but the environs of Jericho: the city, its avenues, its situation, its fortifications, the troops defending it; in a word, every obstacle that he would have to surmount in order to make himself master of it. The city of Jericho, situated in a wide plain according to Josephus, was but about seven miles and a half distant from Jordan. Maundrel says, that he came from Jericho to the banks of Jordan in two hours; which answers pretty nearly to the former calculation.
And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab— The doubtfulness of the term used by the sacred writer, to signify Rahab's mode of life, has divided interpreters. It may equally signify a hostess, and a prostitute. Onkelos takes it in the former sense, making Rahab to be the keeper of a public house, who received, victualled, and lodged strangers. Josephus, and several rabbis, are of the same opinion, which has also its partizans among Christians. St. Chrysostom, in his second sermon upon Repentance, twice calls this woman a hostess. It does not appear by the text, say some, that she followed any other trade; and it is improbable, that Salmon, who was one of the chief heads of the house of Judah, and was one of the ancestors of the Messiah, would have married her had she been a prostitute. And yet it must be owned, the greatest probabilities, in this particular, are against Rahab. The Hebrew word zonah constantly implies a prostitute. Thus the LXX understood it, and two apostles have approved of their version; see Hebrews 11:31. Jam 2:25 which they would not have done, considering her as a woman whose memory they ought to hold venerable, had they not been constrained by the laws of truth. Besides, it is observable, that, in this relation, Rahab says not a word of her husband or children, when she begs the life of her kinsfolks; which, considering the trade she carried on, must naturally render her suspected. We may add with Serrarius, that, perhaps, Rahab was one of those young women, who, in a religious view, devoted herself to impurity in the idol temples. The same critic supposes the moon to have been the tutelary deity of Jericho. See Calmet, and Leviticus 21:7.
And lodged there— Supposing Rahab to have actually lived in an irreproachable manner, it is nothing surprising to see the spies sent by Joshua on this discovery come by night to lodge at her inn. Whatever were her modes of life, her house was the most favourable place for the execution of their design. And it is sufficiently evident, from reading the sequel of this history, that God himself conducted them thither by a special direction of his providence.
Ver. 4. And the woman took the two men, and hid them— Or rather, as some versions have it, Now the woman had taken the two men, and had hidden them; having, without doubt, perceived the king's officers coming, or being informed of the search which was made at the time when, being already instructed by the two spies, she had conferred with them and given them assurances of her fidelity.
And said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were— As if she had said, "My house is open to all: two men did come to lodge here; but I was not obliged to inform myself who they were, or whence they came; nor was it my business to inquire."
Ver. 5. And—about the time of shutting of the gate— Rahab's house was evidently nigh to one of the gates of Jericho: she feigned, therefore, that, before the gate was shut, those whom they took for spies had gone out, and so had left her house but a very short time before. The spies arrived at the close of the day, and Rahab asserts that they went out in the dusk, just at the shutting of the gate.
Whither the men went, I wot not: pursue after them quickly, for ye shall overtake them— The argument was plausible: if the two men who came to Rahab, and who, as she said, had gone out of the city at the shutting of the gate, were emissaries from the camp of Israel, they had only to follow them with diligence, and overtake them before they had repassed the Jordan: but Rahab most certainly told a falsehood; and it cannot be said that this lie was merely officious, since she uttered it to the king's people, and in prejudice to the safety of her country: but the idea of saving the life of two innocent persons evidently prevailed in her mind, and she thought she might harmlessly employ a falsehood to effect her purpose. Some of the ancient fathers of the church have thought the same; and St. Augustin, though very rigid upon the subject, granted it to be a very difficult question. See cap. 15 ad Consentinum. But this is carrying matters certainly to an excess. The fathers before St. Augustin, and all the Jewish doctors, condemn the practice altogether. It may, indeed, be said, in palliation of Rahab's crime, that if she had heard of what had happened to Pharaoh, Sihon, and Og, the same events could not be unknown to the king of Jericho; so that it was as natural for her to be afraid, and to provide for her own security, as for him to defend himself courageously, or perish in the attempt. For we apprehend, that to reject peace offered by a formidable conqueror, at the hazard of being massacred, for the love of a king who might very probably have been only a petty tyrant, and to continue attached to a people whom fear had disabled from defending themselves; we apprehend, I say, that to reject peace under such circumstances, and even supposing that the king of Jericho lawfully swayed the sceptre, would have been an instance of love for one's country, or rather for truth, which there was hardly room to expect from a Canaanitish woman; much less from a hostess so young as Rahab must have been, since she brought forth Boaz above thirty years after, as Junius has fully proved, in Jacob. She did, upon the whole, what might be expected from her in such a case, an honest action, and conformable to the will of God, in joining the party of those whom His powerful arm supported, and in relinquishing the interests of a nation, whom so many reasons united to render worthy of an utter destruction. Still more fully to justify the reception which Rahab gave to the Israelitish spies, and the asylum she afforded, two things may reasonably be supposed; 1. That God had revealed to this woman the wonders he had wrought in favour of the children of Israel, and his design of giving them the land of Canaan. By faith, we read, the harlot Rahab perished not; Hebrews 11:31. This faith seems to suppose something more than persuasion founded on common report; it supposes some divine warning, a Revelation 2:0. It is natural to suppose, that God had summoned the king and people of Jericho to submit themselves to the Israelites on pain of utter destruction; and that, while Rahab's fellow-citizens refused to comply with that summons, this woman, more submissive to the divine commands, took part with the Israelites, and asked in consequence of her option. The words of St. Paul favour this conjecture. Instead of saying, according to our version, by faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, τοις απιστοις, he says, agreeably to the marginal rendering, perished not with them who were disobedient, τοις απειθησασι ; i.e. disobedient to the orders which God had given them to submit to the Israelites. There was nothing, therefore, unfaithful, nothing criminal, in the asylum which Rahab afforded the spies; nothing which can be deemed treasonable in the care she took to screen them from the knowledge and search of the officers of the king of Jericho. Impressed with sentiments of true faith in the commands of God, that faith, that confidence in his word, was the principle of her whole conduct in this emergency; though we acknowledge, that she sinned by having recourse to a lie. Again: Rahab testified her faith by her obedience, and for this only is she celebrated in Scripture. Let those who find themselves in like circumstances imitate her in that wherein she is imitable, her humble submission to orders undoubtedly issued by God, and her eagerness to comply therewith; to them also will then belong that fine eulogium of St. James: Was not Rahab justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?—As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith, without works, is dead also. James 2:25-26. See Waterland's Scripture vindicated, part 2: p. 52.
Ver. 6. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house— We have elsewhere remarked in what manner the roofs of houses in this country were constructed. See Deuteronomy 22:8. They were flat, or rather terraces, on which men might either lie or walk.
And hid them, &c.— All this had passed before the arrival of the king of Jericho's officers, and upon a report of the search that they were ordered to make.
Stalks of flax— Hemp-wood,—line-stalks. See Ulpian. Digest. lib. 32: cap. 55 sect. 5.
Ver. 9. She said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, &c.— As if she had thus addressed them. "Be not surprised at the care I take for your security. I, as well as you, believe in the one true God, absolute master of the fate of nations. I know that he hath resolved to give this country to the people of Israel; and I can already sensibly perceive the effect of his sovereign decree, in the terror which has seized on all the inhabitants of this land," &c. This terror is here painted by two very strong expressions. First, It was a terror fallen upon the inhabitants of the country; i.e. a sudden terror, which had struck them like thunder. Secondly, They fainted, or, as the Hebrew imports, they melted; as wax is made to melt in the fire: they were bereft of their strength and courage.
Ver. 11. For the Lord your God, he is God, &c.— "Is a God whose power, far different from that of the idols, who only preside over certain places of which they are considered as the tutelar deities, extends through all nature, and hath no bounds." This fine confession of Rahab is a convincing proof of the purity of her sentiments. We are not to be surprised, after this, at the apostle's celebrating the faith of this memorable Canaanite; much less, that, animated by a faith so judicious and noble, she should receive as she did the spies sent by Joshua.
Ver. 12. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord— In acknowledgment of the signal service which Rahab had done the two spies, she requests of them a favour, which is, that, at the taking of Jericho, not only herself and her parents, but all those also of her family who were found in her house, should be exempted from the general destruction. And she desires that it may be assured to her by an oath: this was the greatest security she could have; an oath is the most respectable and sacred tie of fidelity in all discourses and promises. All nations have so deemed it. All have believed, that the gods, avengers of sin, were particularly so of perjury; and, doubtless, the worshippers of the true God should be the most religious of all mortals in their observance of an oath. But how lively must the faith of this woman have been, that could excite her to act as she did! She speaks of Jericho, rather as a city already taken, than as barely threatened; and behaves as if she actually beheld the accomplishment of God's aweful decree. Hence the precautions that she takes, and the oath which she requires, are so many proofs of the confidence wherewith she received the word of God, and of her perfect acquiescence in his will.
And give me a true token— That is, a sign, which might serve her as a safeguard, and put her house in perfect security against the violence of the soldiery. Houbigant renders it, and that you will give me a true token.
Ver. 13. That ye will save alive my father, &c.— We here see what Rahab means in the foregoing verse by her father's house;—namely, his family: her enumeration of which demonstrates that she had neither husband nor children. By all that they have, she meant the children of her brethren and sisters, and all her kindred. See chap. Joshua 6:23.
Ver. 14. And the men assured her, Our life for yours— i.e. We will perish rather than suffer you to receive the least injury; or, May we perish, if your demand be not complied with! They engaged themselves by oath, (see ver. 17.) so far as in them lay, in a firm persuasion that Joshua would not fail to ratify what they had promised solely for the public good.
If ye utter not this our business— Or, as the Hebrew signifies, this our word;—in the engagement we make with you. Persuaded that their oath must be kept, these prudent Israelites did not think proper to give it rashly; they specify the condition upon which they undertake it, namely, that Rahab should keep secret what had passed between her and them. Without this, others than those of her family might have taken shelter in her house, or other houses than her's might have imitated the token, by which the latter was to be known; and thus have deceived the vigilance of those, who, as executioners of God's commands, were to spare none but herself, and those who belonged to her.
We will deal kindly, &c.— That is, "We will exercise mercy towards you, and will keep our promise." The Scripture often makes use of these expressions to denote the favours of God towards his children, and the faithfulness wherewith he performs the promises he has made them.
Ver. 15. Then she let them down, &c.— Having thus mutually given their word to each other, she took advantage of the darkness of the night, to let them down by means of a cord, through a window of her house which opened to the country. This house was built upon the wall, or in the wall itself of the city, very near the gate. One of the fronts looked into the city; the other out of it.
Ver. 16. And she said unto them, &c.— It is not probable that the conversation which begins at this, and ends at the 22nd verse, was held under Rahab's window. Nothing could have been more imprudent. She certainly gave them this excellent advice on dismissing them, immediately before she let them down. We should therefore translate, and she had said unto them, Get you, &c. that is, "Take care not to keep the road to Jordan, for you will be discovered: first, retire to the mountains on the borders of this territory; conceal yourselves in some cave, and do not make your appearance till after three days; at the end of that time, the king's people will certainly not think of any further search for you, and you will easily escape." But why (it may be asked) does Rahab suppose that three days will be spent in searching for the spies, since it is but two leagues, or two and a half, from Jericho to Jordan? To which it may be answered, that by three days she meant, properly speaking, but one day and two nights, apprehending that the officers of the court, who went out by night, would spend all the next day in looking for them, and return early on the third day. Or, perhaps, she had learned that they would go about on all sides for three days together, in order to discover the spies; and, reasoning from this conjecture, she counsels the spies to hide themselves closely for three days; because that, after so long a time, it was evident the king's people, being tired with their fruitless search, would think no more about them.
Ver. 17-20. And the men said unto her, &c.— Before they left her house, they had answered her request with respect to her security; as they not only engaged themselves to perform it, but also settled with her about the token which was to be her safeguard, and to assist them in keeping their word. This token was a line of scarlet thread, according to our version. But it is not quite clear that שׁני shani specifies the colour of this line. The word comes from שׁנה shanah, i.e. to double; so that it may signify in this place, a double, strong, well-twisted line, the same as the spies made use of to descend from Rahab's window. Gataker is of this opinion. However, setting one conjecture against another, it must be confessed, that that founded on the most common signification of the word שׁני sheni, according to the ancient versions, seems to deserve the preference. It is certain that the LXX, Chaldee and Syriac, understand by sheni, the colour of scarlet, or, at least, red; and we may suppose that these ancient interpreters understood the language of the Old Testament a little better than our modern critics. The Hebrew word תקות tikvath, rather signifies a riband, or a web, than a line. We may judge of this by the analogy of the expression with others similar to it. Kevai, in the Chaldee, is a web: kevin, cobwebs; and mikveh, 1Ki 10:28 seems to signify cloth. Besides, a scarlet line would not have been remarkable enough to serve as a safe-guard to Rahab. It is more natural to suppose, that there was in the apartment, where she communed with the spies, some piece of stuff of a red colour; and that it was this which they directed her to hang at the window for her security. See Le Clerc and Calmet.
Ver. 21. And she bound the scarlet line in the window— It is pretty generally supposed, that Rahab bound it there immediately, and there left it till Joshua made himself master of Jericho. But, as this affectation might have made her suspected by the people of the city, it has seemed most reasonable to others to suppose, that Rahab did not place this token at the window till the army of Israel had approached the city.
Ver. 22. &c. And they went, &c.— The risk they had run took from them the desire of making fresh inquiries, which might have been as dangerous as useless, having already received sufficient information from Rahab at Jericho. Supplied with provisions, therefore, they concealed themselves in the neighbouring mountains; and on the third day after their departure from that city, having repassed the Jordan, returned to the camp of Joshua, and gave him an account of their enterprize; who, doubtless, could not but be extremely rejoiced at having met with better success in his choice of emissaries, than Moses had before done on a like occasion.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25