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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 2

 

 


Introduction

Commentary On The Book of Joshua Chapters 1-4.

Israel prepare to enter the land of Canaan, and experience the miraculous power of YHWH in opening up the River Jordan so that they can pass over. Meanwhile two military scouts have reconnoitred Jericho, being saved from capture by a prostitute innkeeper Rahab who is promised that when Jericho is taken she and all her close family will be spared. The crossing of the Jordan is safely accomplished and twelve stones set up as a memorial of the event.

Chapter 2. The Spies in Jericho.

This chapter gives an account of the spies sent by Joshua to Jericho, and of their entrance into the house of Rahab, who hid them from the king's messengers. It describes her account of the fear and dread of Israel that had fallen on the Canaanites, and of the request she made to them, to save her and her father's house, when the city should be taken. She asked for a sure sign of it to be given to her. The spies solemnly promised to honour her request, and gave her a sign by which she could ensure her safety, and with a charge for her not to tell anyone, were let down by a rope from the window of her house, which was on the outer wall, from where they made their escape to a mountain, where they waited a day or so, and then returned to Joshua, and made their report.


Verse 1

Chapter 2. The Spies in Jericho.

This chapter gives an account of the spies sent by Joshua to Jericho, and of their entrance into the house of Rahab, who hid them from the king's messengers. It describes her account of the fear and dread of Israel that had fallen on the Canaanites, and of the request she made to them, to save her and her father's house, when the city should be taken. She asked for a sure sign of it to be given to her. The spies solemnly promised to honour her request, and gave her a sign by which she could ensure her safety, and with a charge for her not to tell anyone, were let down by a rope from the window of her house, which was on the outer wall, from where they made their escape to a mountain, where they waited a day or so, and then returned to Joshua, and made their report.

Joshua 2:1 a

‘And Joshua, the son of Nun, sent out of Shittim two men as spies secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” ’

These would be trained fighting men experienced at scouting. They were also young men (Joshua 6:23). The aim was to cross the Jordan, probably by swimming it (compare 1 Chronicles 12:15), and survey the land with a view to planning strategy, reconnoitring for camping places and seeking to find out what they could about Jericho. Their hope was probably to slip into Jericho without being spotted, for they did not realise that Jericho was already very much aware of the Israelite army across the Jordan.

Shittim was elsewhere called Abel-shittim (Numbers 33:49), which probably means ‘the stream of the acacias’. Shittim means ‘the acacia trees’. Josephus later spoke of an Abila in the area which was possibly the same place, probably located at Tel el-Hamman, although others prefer Tel el-Kefrein. It was about sixteen kilometres (ten miles) from the probable crossing point.

“As spies secretly.” That is without letting their own people know. He did not want to spread alarm among his own people or let them think he was afraid. Joshua wanted the spies to then report back directly to him. He was aware of the danger of the people getting the wrong impression and remembered what had happened thirty eight years previously when spies had been sent out.

Jericho was actually a fairly small city with less than two thousand inhabitants, but because it guarded the way into the land and was on its mound it must have appeared larger than it was, and a major problem was going to be breaching its walls. The Israelites were not skilled in siege warfare. Its name probably connects it with an early western Semitic moon god called Yarich. It was also known as ‘the city of palm trees’, being near an abundant spring and oasis, an important position in the hot tropical climate of the Jordan Rift, well below sea level. The main problem archaeologically speaking is that after its capture by Joshua it was not rebuilt as a city, largely because of the curse that he put on it, for over four hundred years. Thus what remained was subject to constant weather erosion and scavengers over a period of four hundred or more years. Not much evidence was likely to remain.

Joshua 2:1 b

‘And they went, and came into a prostitute’s house, whose name was Rahab, and lay (or ‘slept’) there.’

They may have met her in the square by the gate, or she may have had a sign of some kind on her house. For Rahab probably acted also as the equivalent of an innkeeper, offering beds to strangers and general ‘services’ to all. Such places were always a source of vital information. In the Code of Hammurabi the death sentence was declared against any innkeeper who failed to apprehend ‘rogues’ and hand them over to the authorities, because it was recognised that that was where such people gathered. A similar law may well have applied here.

The word for ‘prostitute’ can also signify a cult prostitute (see Ezekiel 16:15-16; Hosea 4:14; Hosea 9:1; Micah 1:7), but probably not here.

“Lay (slept) there.” This may simply mean booked accommodation, or that they rested, or it may refer to them going to sleep after sunset.


Verse 2

And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, there came men in here tonight of the children of Israel, to search out the land.”

Someone, possibly one of the ‘guests’ made suspicious by their questions, or possibly a watchman at the gates who noticed where they went (Rahab’s house was on the city wall), sent a report to the local king about their visit. They would be given away by their clothing, their looks, their dialect and the workings of suspicious minds. Indeed spies had probably been expected and they would be on the watch for them, for news would have come through about the total defeat of the Amorites and that a large army was waiting to cross the Jordan once the floods had subsided.


Verse 3

And the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, which have entered your house, for they are come to search out the whole land.” ’

The king, a petty kinglet of a small city, immediately sent Rahab a message, no doubt for her ears alone, telling her to arrange for the visitors to be seized and brought to the king. Indeed the messengers were even then almost certainly outside the house waiting to arrest them.

“Who have come to you, which have entered your house.” Such repetition occurs regularly in ancient literature. While unnecessary in reading, it assists a hearer to take in the story, become a part of it and remember the details as the story unfolds. A listener is not able to check back on the facts.


Verse 4-5

Joshua 2:4 a

‘And the woman took the two men, and hid them.’

We should probably read these as pluperfects, ‘had taken the two men and had hidden them’. (Hebrew is only interested in the fact that the thing happened, not when it happened. It has no way of indicating the different past tenses). The sharp knock on the door, so unlike her usual visitors, probably alerted her to the situation with the result that she would have hid them out of sight before she opened the door. This was an introductory comment prior to her excuse to the messengers. But why should she do so? Possibly because she knew that the city had little chance against the large Israelite army after what they had done to the Amorites, and because of the way her fellow citizens treated her. Possibly she saw a chance to start a new life. Possibly she had heard of the power of the God of Israel and had a yearning within her for something new, and a sense that here might be the answer. For the truth is that God was at work.

“Hid them.” Literally ‘hid him’. Either seeing the two men as one, or meaning ‘each one’, possibly hiding them in different places.

Joshua 2:4-5 (4b-5)

‘And she said, “True, the men did come to me, but I did not know where they came from. And so it was that about the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Chase after them quickly, for you will overtake them.”

Her excuse was first that she had not realised who the men were, and secondly that they had left in time to get away before the shutting of the gate, just as it was getting dark. The suggestion was that they had escaped, and that the best thing therefore was for them to chase after them to catch them before it was too late.

Rahab is often criticised for lying. This raises an interesting moral question. When only two courses are open to someone, both ‘sinful’, does that mean that they have no alternative but to sin? The truth is that one of the two actions must be the right one in the circumstances, and therefore morally right in that particular case. Here the truth would have immediately sentenced these brave men, who were there in the service of God, to death. That would have been sinful. Was it more sinful to lie? One of the courses had to be chosen, thus one was right (silence would have been just as bad). To be the direct cause of the men’s death would have been grossly wrong. If we accept that, then the lie was right in this particular case. Her contemporaries would not have cavilled about that. Rather they would have thought that her greater sin was her treason.


Verse 6

And she brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof.’

Compare 2 Samuel 17:19. The word for ‘hid’ is different from Joshua 2:4. It may be that in Joshua 2:4 she had just quickly hidden them out of sight, but now found a more secure hiding place under the stalks of flax spread out on the flat roof to dry out. Alternately we must remember that the account was written to be read out aloud, and such an introductory comment as that made earlier, made to prepare the hearer, followed later by a more detailed explanation, was an ancient technique, and occurs often in Scripture.

The roof was a regular drying place for produce from the fields. Flax was cultivated in Palestine and Egypt (see Proverbs 31:13; Isaiah 19:9) and was one of the gifts of lovers to prostitutes (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 2:9). It grew to a height of a metre and produced beautiful blue flowers. Its shiny seeds produced linseed oil. The woody fibre of the bark provided the flax fibre woven into linen.


Verse 7

And the men pursued after them by the way to Jordan, to the fords, and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.’

Believing her words the pursuers left the city and made for the fords of the Jordan, using the regular road, ‘the Way to Jordan’ (Judges 3:28; 2 Samuel 19:15), hoping to catch the men there, and the gate was shut after them. This may not have been the first time that night that the gate had been shut, for it may have been shut previously and they may have arranged for it to be opened in the king’s name The mention of it is to demonstrate the fear in all their hearts. Even though the king’s men were to come back they dared not leave the gates open.


Verse 8

And before they were laid down (or ‘slept’), she came up to them on the roof.’

This may mean after they had been first hidden, but before they laid down finally to sleep (compare Genesis 19:4), or be referring back to a conversation which took place before they were finally hidden under the stalks, she having left them for some reason and then returned. The telescoped descriptions hid far more detailed happenings for at present they were in little danger and would not just lie under the stalks all the time. It possibly indicates that she had had time to think and had come up with an idea.


Verse 9

And she said to the men, “I know that YHWH has given you the land and that your terror is fallen on us and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.” ’

Here is a clue to her behaviour. News and rumour had spread widely while Israel were capturing the land Beyond Jordan, brought probably by those who fled from them. The news was about this terrible nation with their terrible God, YHWH, Who seemed invincible, a nation who claimed He had given them the land of Canaan and that they were coming to take it.

“Your terror is fallen on us -- the inhabitants of the land melt away.” This was as Yahweh had promised Israel (Exodus 15:15-16; Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25). The gist of her conversation is translated in words reminiscent of these promises. She would, of course, be speaking in a Canaanite dialect, not in pure Hebrew.

LXX omits ‘all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.’ Perhaps it was not in their copy of the Hebrew text (compare Joshua 2:24 where it is in LXX). Or perhaps they were abbreviating the text. LXX in Joshua is based on a shortened text and the translators were ready to be quite free with it.

Joshua 2:10 a

“For we have heard how YHWH dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds before you, when you came out of Egypt.”

Compare Joshua 9:9-10 also Exodus 14:21. The story of what happened at the Sea of Reeds had become famous, passed on by travellers and storytellers from mouth to mouth, no doubt improving as it went. Most of Canaan would have delighted in the discomfiture of the Egyptians, and the story would have brightened many a weary night until they suddenly learned that the same people were now threatening their own borders.

Joshua 2:10 b

“And what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were in Beyond Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed (‘devoted’).”

See Numbers 21:21-35; Deuteronomy 2:26-36 especially Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 3:1-12. The practise of ‘devoting’ conquered people to a god and destroying them was known elsewhere and was common. In the Moabite Stone we read of Mesha devoting the city of Nebo to his god(s) Ashtar-Chemosh and slaughtering all its inhabitants. This practise was, in the case of Israel, reinforced by the fact that Israel must not live among the Canaanites and Amorites, but must destroy them or drive them out because of their debased religion, lest they themselves become corrupted by it. The Canaanite religion was a religion obsessed with perverted sex, distorted but physically attractive. But the news of the intention of the Israelites was sufficient to chill the heart of those waiting for an invasion to come.

We may sometimes question why they behaved so harshly, but we need to recognise the harshness of the times, and the necessities that were laid on them (as well as God’s right to bring His judgment in any way that He decided was right). Everyone in Canaan (and elsewhere) accepted that they themselves had a right to possess other people’s land and drive out the inhabitants. That was not open to question. The only thing that prevented it was their weakness or strength at any particular time (what happened in Judges when there were strong kings over different nations brings this out). The Amorites mentioned here had refused Israel safe passage along the King’s Highway. In other words their threat had been that if they did not go back, or if they tried to take the road though their land, they would slaughter them all, men, women and children. Israel had been left with no alternative but to reply as they did, for the alternative was to leave alive an enemy who at any moment could rear up against them, having obtained reinforcements, and Israel had no cities in which to guard their women and children. In such circumstances the only ‘good’ Amorite was a dead one. As for the Canaanites in the future. They would on the whole resist Israelite occupation of the land tooth and nail. They were not peace loving nations suddenly attacked by a warlike Israel. Israel were in constant danger of attack from them. Even though much of the land that they initially occupied was uninhabited no one would cede it to them. They had to fight every inch of the way. But added to that were the evil practises which were a part of the Canaanite way of life. They were probably riddled with sexually transmitted diseases due to their sexual perversions, and mingling with them would have destroyed Israel both spiritually (as indeed it did in the end) and physically. The only path really open to them, as YHWH had made clear, was either to drive them out or slaughter them.


Verse 11

And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts melted, nor did there remain any more spirit in any man because of you, for YHWH your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath.”

The name of YHWH had become a terror in the ears of the Canaanites, as One God Who acted in both heaven and earth (Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 3:24), and thus closer and more personally active and wider ranging than their own gods, One Whose activities could be seen in what He did, defeating other people’s gods (heaven above) and taking possession of their land (earth beneath). We must not think of her as having a deep philosophical view of God, She was impressed by facts. Her primitive belief would grow and expand once she united with Israel, but she had the basics.

The wording of her new belief was as found in Deuteronomy 4:39, the wording of which had possibly become attached to the name of YHWH in the news about Him that travelled around, or it may have resulted from translating her similar words in those terms. It was her belief in these facts that had persuaded her to side with Israel. But we must not read into them yet a full blown faith. She was feeling her way to the truth.

Thus the hearts of the Canaanites had melted on hearing about what He was doing, and their spirits had drooped within them (contrast Deuteronomy 1:28). The words of Deuteronomy would be familiar to the writer, who would know them by heart, and are echoed throughout verses 9-11, probably unconsciously, as her words were translated from the Canaanite dialect.


Verse 12-13

Now therefore, I pray you, swear to me by YHWH, since I have dealt faithfully with you, that you also will deal faithfully with my father’s house, and give me a true token, and that you will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death.”

They were to swear by their own God, for then they would take it seriously. The word ‘faithfully’ is the word used for ‘covenant love’, containing ideas of kindness, loyalty and faithfulness. Kindness on its own is not strong enough as a translation. It involves commitment. She considered, quite reasonably, that her actions had committed them to her so that she could count on their assistance in return. With that in view she asked for a token of that commitment, which they gave her with an oath (Joshua 2:14) and with a piece of scarlet thread which was probably itself a commitment token (Joshua 2:18).

A piece of scarlet thread seems to have been a regularly recognised token (Genesis 38:28; Genesis 38:30; Song of Solomon 4:3). Possibly it was a commitment token (sometimes a love token), worn round the neck (compare Genesis 38:18).

“That you will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death.” They would recognise that any commitment to her involved her family. She pleaded only for close family, blood relatives and their families, that they would be given their lives and allowed to retain their possessions. As she does not mention a husband she was clearly unmarried (or widowed).


Verse 14

And the men answered her, “Our life for yours, if you do not tell about this our business, and it shall be, when YHWH has given us the land, that we will deal faithfully and truly with you.” ’

Their pledge was a strong one, that their own lives might be forfeit if they failed (compare Ruth 1:17; 1 Kings 2:23; 1 Kings 20:10 for similar oaths). The condition was that she did not inform anyone about what they had been doing there, or what they had promised her. They were confident that YHWH would give them ‘the land’, that is, in this case, that part by the Jordan. And when He did so they swore to show faithfulness and kindness and to be true to their promise.

LXX omits ‘if you do not tell about this our business’ but compare Joshua 2:20 where LXX does have it. It may well be that LXX was ironing out repetitions.


Verse 15

Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.’

The rope could have been fastened to some object in the room (they were no longer on the roof for there is a window) so that they could safely descend (compare 1 Samuel 19:12). She was probably used to doing this. A house on the wall was useful for a prostitute so that her clients could easily escape unseen if the need arose. Note the typical repetition common in ancient narratives.

In Joshua 2:14 Joshua 2:15 the activity is stated briefly and will be followed by an expansion in detail in the following verses. This was typical of early style. It causes some modern commentators difficulties because they overlook this difference in style,


Verse 16

And she said to them, “You get to the mountain, lest the pursuers fall in with you, and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned, and afterwards you may go your way.” ’

The pluperfect might be intended to be used, ‘she had said to them’, in order to demonstrate that this is going back to what they had discussed before being let down by the rope, with the facts being stated so that the hearers gathered the gist of the story, then the details being filled in later. This view gains support from the repetition in verse 20 of ‘telling about this our business’ in Joshua 2:14, which may be intended to indicate where the more detailed account ties in with the earlier summary account. There is no pluperfect in Hebrew because they were not so consumed with the idea of being chronological. They were more interested in what happened than when it happened. Time did not control them (they had no word for the philosophical idea of time).

Alternatively she may have spoken to them through the window once they were safely on the ground. The walls would not be very high and the window, small for security reasons, even lower, especially in a small house. It would not necessarily be more than three metres (ten feet) from the ground. Neighbours were probably used to hearing whispers from her window and would ignore it.

Her advice was sound. The mountain crag was to the west, the fords to the east. Thus they would not accidentally meet up with the search party. No one would expect them to go west. And there were plenty of caves to hide in.

“Hide yourselves three days.” That is, do not return until at least the day after tomorrow, giving a day’s breathing space for the search party to get back. Then they could safely go on their way. ‘Three days’ generally meant ‘a few days’ and when exactly calculated regularly meant a part of a day, a full day and then a part of a day. That was the way in which they thought.


Verse 17

And the men said to her, “We will be guiltless of this your oath which you have made us swear.” ’

In such a case as this constant reassurance was required, for it was a matter of life and death. Their assurance was that they would not let her down. They would fulfil their part in the oath. They were promising that when all was done they would so act that no guilt would be able to be laid at their door.


Verse 18-19

Behold, when we come into the land, you will bind this line of scarlet cord in the window which you let us down by, and you will gather into your house your father, and your mother, and your brothers, and all your father's household, and it shall be that whoever shall go out of the door of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless, and whoever shall be with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him.”

The piece of scarlet cord seems to have been a regular recognised token, possibly a love or commitment token somewhat like an engagement or eternity ring (Genesis 38:28; Genesis 38:30; Song of Solomon 4:3) worn round the neck, which was sometimes used as a guarantee and may have borne a seal so that it was recognisable (compare Genesis 38:18). One of the men handed over his token as their guarantee and commitment that the woman would be secure, along with all who were in the house.

The scarlet thread was to be placed on the window on the wall of the city. It was in some ways similar to the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12), for it would protect from YHWH’s avengers. The protection of the building itself was not the original intention for the spies did not know how God would open up the city, but it achieved this as well (Joshua 6:22-23). Note that it was placed on the window on the wall of the city, not on the door of the house, so that in any attack on the walls that area would be spared. This practical note is a sign of authenticity, even though in the event it was not necessary. The walls were not attacked.

The warning that only those who remained within the house would be safe was again similar to the Passover (Exodus 12:22). It was the only way in this case in which the people could be identified. By it they were sanctified (set apart as holy and untouchable) to YHWH under the sign of the scarlet thread.

The two spies stated that they would bear blood guilt if anyone within the house under the sign of the scarlet cord should die. On the other hand any who refused that protection and left the house would bear their own guilt.


Verse 20

And if you say anything about this our business, then we will be free from your oath which you have made us swear.”

If they later discovered that she had betrayed them, or if there were more than one scarlet cord suggesting the same, then all amnesty would be cancelled and they would be free from their oath.


Verse 21

And she said, “Let it be as you have said.” And she sent them away, and they departed, and she bound the scarlet line in the window.’

She sent the spies away to safety and ensured her own safety by fastening the scarlet cord in the window. Not necessarily immediately, but in good time for it to do its work. (It does not say when she did it. It is we, not they, who are slaves to chronology).


Verse 22

And they went, and came to the mountain, and stayed there three days until the pursuers were returned, and the pursuers sought them in every part of the way, but did not find them.’

The mountain was Jebel Quruntul, a desolate ridge to the west of the city, full of caves and ravines, an ideal hiding place. Meanwhile the searchers searched every bit of the area between the city and the river and obviously did not find them.

“Stayed there three days.” This could have been any amount of time from one and a half days to four or five days, or even six days. ‘Three days’ simply means ‘a number of days but less than seven’. The next description up would have been ‘seven days’. Possibly Rahab had given them food, but these were trained men, they would know how to find food.


Verse 23

Then the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them.’

When they felt it was safe the two men left the mountain, crossed the Jordan, probably by swimming, and reported everything back to Joshua.


Verse 24

And they said to Joshua, “Certainly YHWH has delivered all the land into our hands, and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land melt away before us.” ’

Their report was confident. It had been demonstrated quite clearly that the people were terrified of them so that it was clear that YHWH had delivered the land into their hands. We cannot, however, doubt that they also made a full report about the topography of the land and the prospects for their troops, and for the camp as a whole.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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