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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 2

 

 

Verse 1

1. Sent out — Some render had sent, as in the margin, and suppose that the spies had been sent out some days before the events of the last chapter. But the vav consecutive with which this verse begins ( וישׁלח) is properly rendered Then sent Joshua, etc., and a pluperfect rendering will not materially relieve the difficulty stated in Joshua 1:11. “Even if the spies had been despatched before the events narrated in Joshua 1:10-18, it would not be grammatically correct to render וישׁלח as a pluperfect; and much less is this allowable if such a supposition be unfounded.” — Keil.]

Shittim — The plain of acacia shrubs at the foot of the mountains on the eastern side of the Jordan, directly opposite Jericho, in which Moses had last pitched the Israelitish camp. Numbers 25:1; Numbers 33:49.

Secretly — The Masoretic conjunctive accent connects this word with saying, rather than with to spy, as is done in the English version; but the word is best understood as qualifying Joshua’s whole procedure. He communicated his orders to the two men, and also sent them out secretly in order to avoid betrayal by any evil-minded person in his own camp. All spying necessarily involves secrecy, and in this case the perilous business was a military necessity. An unexplored land was before them, and the number and spirit of the enemy, and his military preparations and plans, were utterly unknown to Joshua. Faith always uses means.

Even Jericho — The command may be better rendered. Go view the land, and particularly Jericho. This ancient town, (called also the “City of Palm Trees,”) was situated in a plain of the same name about six miles west of the Jordan, near where it enters into the Dead Sea, and about nineteen miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was a walled city, rich and populous, having commerce with Babylon and the far East. According to Stanley it was the only important town in the Jordan valley, and its situation must always have rendered its occupation necessary to any invader from the east. “It was the key of western Palestine, as standing at the entrance of the two main passes into the central mountains. From the issues of the torrent Kelt, on the south, to the copious spring, afterwards called the ‘Fountain of Elisha,’ on the north, the ancient city ran along the base of the mountains, and thus commanded the oasis of the desert valley, the garden of verdure, which clustering around these waters has, through the various stages of its long existence, secured its prosperity and grandeur.” The modern village Rihah is, by some travellers, identified with ancient Jericho, and is described by Dr. Olin as one of the meanest and foulest of Palestine, containing about forty houses, with a sickly, indolent, and vicious population.

Came into a harlot’s house — [Literally, into the house of a woman, a harlot. Their entrance into such a house would excite less suspicion, and, her house being upon the wall, (Joshua 2:15,) their escape from the city in case of necessity would be more easy. Knobel supposes that, as it was evening twilight when the spies reached Jericho, the time when harlots were wont to walk the streets, (Job 24:15; Proverbs 7:9; Isaiah xxiii, 16,) they met with Rahab at some corner and followed her to her house.] Josephus and other Jewish writers, and also some Christian commentators, unwilling to believe that these spies, intrusted with such a responsible mission, would have gone to a harlot’s house, or that Rahab, who married Salmon and became an ancestress of our Lord, and is commended by an apostle, could have been a woman of ill-fame, maintain that she was not a harlot, but a hostess or inn-keeper. But the Hebrew word זונה means always, elsewhere, a harlot, and is so rendered in the Septuagint and Vulgate. Also in the New Testament she is called emphatically the harlot, η πορνη, (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25.) And not only on philological grounds is the rendering hostess untenable, but oriental customs are against such an interpretation. In the east there are no proper inns, but as a kind of substitute there are khans or caravansaries (See note and cut at Luke 2:7.) It would have been a thing without parallel in that land for a single woman, or even a man, to be found keeping a public house. Rahab was probably unmarried; for though she had father and mother, brothers and sisters, (Joshua 2:13,) there is no hint that she had husband or child, and it is notorious that in the east rarely any but disreputable women remain single. On her falsehoods and her faith, see note on Joshua 2:5,

Lodged there —Rather, they lay down there. Joshua 2:8 shows that they ascended the house top to pass the night there.


Verses 1-24

THE ADVENTURES OF THE TWO SPIES, Joshua 2:1-24.

[Some forty years before this date Moses had sent out from the wilderness of Paran twelve spies, and among them Joshua, to search the Land of Promise. It was not a secret movement then, but the chosen twelve were prominent chiefs, “heads of the children of Israel.” Numbers 13:3. Only two of the twelve brought back an encouraging report, and it is noticeable that Joshua, one of the old spies, and now Moses’ successor, sends only two to spy out Jericho. For so dangerous a mission two were better than twelve.


Verse 2

2. It was told the king — The chief of each great city, and even of each petty clan, is in the Old Testament dignified by the appellation of king. At this time of alarm, when the invading foe was only a few miles off, a shrewd king would naturally give orders to watch closely every suspicious-looking stranger.

There came men… to search out the country — The peculiar Hebrew physiognomy of the two spies, and perhaps, also, their entering the eastern gate, were strong grounds of suspicion.


Verse 3

3. Sent unto Rahab — The spies had been traced to the harlot’s house, and possibly Rahab had also, by open avowal of her belief in the approaching triumph of the Hebrews, already drawn suspicion on herself.


Verse 4

4. Hid them — Literally, hid him. Hebrew usage shows many such sudden transitions from plural to singular. Perhaps we may see in this instance an intimation of the haste with which she concealed the men, hiding one of them herself with the flax (Joshua 2:6) and leaving the other to cover himself. Some think she had taken the precaution to conceal the men before the king’s messengers arrived, and Joshua 2:6 seems to favor the supposition.

I wist not whence they were — Better, I knew not, for the verb wist is obsolete. Rahab could not safely deny that the men had entered her house, for other eyes than hers had seen them; but it is difficult to believe that she knew not whence they were. She may not, however, have had positive knowledge that they were spies.


Verse 5

5. [

The men went out — This statement was a wilful falsehood, and cannot be justified by saying that oriental hospitality required a person to utter falsehood if necessary to defend a guest. It may, indeed, relieve the case somewhat to urge that before the Gospel strict truth, in Jew or heathen, was a virtue utterly unknown; but it is altogether superfluous to attempt either to apologize for Rahab’s previous harlotry or to justify her falsehoods. We must distinguish, however, between her vices and her virtues. The sacred writers record her vices without a word of comment or apology. Even with this alloy, however, they attest the justifying power of her faith. The epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:31) extols her faith in Israel’s God, and James (James 2:25) makes mention of her praiseworthy works of hospitality. The one declares that her faith saved her from perishing with the unbelieving inhabitants of Jericho; the other shows that her faith was not without its appropriate fruits.] {Verse 11, however, shows that Rahab had long entertained a sincere faith in Jehovah as the true God, and her conduct toward the spies was the imperfect manifestation of that faith which resulted in her true incorporation into Israel, and obtaining a place in the genealogy of the Messiah. Matthew 1:5. Her falsehood on the present occasion was far less condemning than that of Abraham on two occasions. Genesis 12:13; Genesis 20:2. It was also a stratagem of war, which even our Christian civilization has hardly attained the virtue of disusing.}

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Verse 6

6. She had brought them up to the roof of the house — This verse more fully explains Joshua 2:4, by detailing the place and manner of her concealing the spies. Eastern houses have flat roofs, surrounded with a parapet to prevent falling off. Deuteronomy 28:8. Here the family often sleep, sit, walk, and store such articles as will not be damaged by the exposure. Sometimes the roof is shaded by means of an awning supported by posts. See note on Acts 10:9.

Stalks of flax — Hebrews flax of the tree; that is, flax in the tree or stalk. Some render these words stalks or pods of cotton, but without sufficient authority. Flax is said to grow in Egypt to a great size, and its stalks attain the thickness of a cane, and so it doubtless did in the rich plain of Jericho. To dry stalks of such thickness much exposure to the sun would be necessary, and they were laid out in such abundance on Rahab’s house that the two men could be easily concealed among them.


Verse 7

7. The men pursued after them — That is, the men of Jericho pursued, as they thought, after the spies.

The way to Jordan — The most direct way to the Jordan, the way which they naturally thought the spies, in their hasty flight, would take.

Unto the fords — Hebrews, the crossing places; certain well-known places of shallow water where the Jordan might be waded. There is no intimation that the pursuers crossed the fords. As the plural is used, we infer that there were several places of this kind near Jericho, and that the pursuers took different routes to insure the capture of the fugitives.

They shut the gate — To prevent the escape of the spies should they still be in the city, and to secure the city against the ingress of foes by night.


Verse 8

8. Before they were laid down — That is, to sleep. They had been hidden where it was uncomfortable to sleep; but now that their pursuers are put upon the wrong track, they come forth from their hiding places.


Verse 9

9. I know that the Lord hath given you the land — Mark the strength of her affirmation: not 1 believe, but I know. Rahab now discloses unto them the cause of her hospitality, her firm conviction that the Hebrews were destined to overthrow her people. This belief arose from the miraculous passage of the Red Sea, and the easy conquest of Eastern Palestine. With characteristic womanly penetration she had read the secret fears of her countrymen, and had interpreted them as tokens of coming defeat to her people. Thus the very knowledge which Joshua was most desirous of attaining, namely, the state of feeling among the Canaanites, is freely communicated to the spies. To dishearten a nation is to conquer it.

Your terror — Fear of you has paralyzed us. Moses, in his last discourse, had predicted this result. Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25.

All the inhabitants of the land faint — For faint, the Hebrew reads, are melted; an expression showing the utter prostration of their confidence and resolution. This despair of the people, whether natural or supernatural, prevented them from making any combination to resist the invading host at the best place for such resistance — the passage of the Jordan.


Verse 10

10. We have heard — An event so wonderful filled the world with amazement. Traders and caravans passing from Egypt through the deserts would frequently pass through Jericho, and spread the tidings of the Hebrews’ triumphs. Of all the miracles which attended the exodus from Egypt, none was capable of producing so profound an impression upon all surrounding nations as the drying up of the Red Sea, the safe passage of the Israelites, and the destruction of the Egyptian host by the rolling back of the parted surges. Exodus 14:15-31. The lapse of forty years had not effaced that deep impression — an incidental proof of the magnitude of the miracle. Events more recent and nearer to them had increased their alarm.

The Amorites east of the Jordan, who had evinced their martial prowess by conquering the king of Moab and seizing his land, were in turn subdued by the resistless arms of the Israelites. The Amorites were the most powerful and distinguished of the Canaanitish nations, and occupied a tract on both sides of the Jordan. Those on the east side were under two kings, Sihon and Og. The former refused passage to the Hebrews through his territory, came to Jahaz, fought, and was defeated. Og also gave battle at Edrei, and was totally routed. See on Numbers 21:21-35.


Verse 11

11. For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath — This is the full profession of Rahab’s faith in the God of Israel. It was a complete renunciation of her idolatry and harlotry. It was a change in belief, feeling, will, and action, which brought her to the worship of the true God, and to a maternity of the Messiah in David’s royal line. However alloyed by one imperfection, it was a true faith working out its true results. And the wide-spread terror of these nations, as described in the last verse, and Rahab’s faith, were in accordance with God’s purpose in raising up Pharaoh and diffusing his “name.” Note on Romans 9:17.


Verse 12

12. Swear unto me — She gives still stronger proof of her confidence in the success of the Israelites by wishing to enter into covenant with the spies for the salvation of herself and her father’s family. She feels that if they swear by Israel’s mighty God they will not dare prove false. Her faith assumes a practical character, and shows itself by works. It impels her to bargain for her deliverance from the destruction which she sees impending over the city.

Since I have showed you kindness — Rahab here makes a good application of the Golden Rule.

Give me a true token — Some visible, material proof of the oath; some object which she may keep and produce as evidence that such a solemn compact has been entered into by the parties. This token was a substitute for a written covenant bearing their signatures.


Verse 13

13. And that ye will save alive my father — The English version wrongly supplies that. Read, And ye shall save alive, etc. She was by no means destitute of natural affection. That she does not stipulate for the salvation of the entire state of Jericho is no evidence of her want of patriotism. She was too deeply impressed with the belief of the coming overthrow to ask so much. Our ties of consanguinity should induce us to make extraordinary efforts for the conversion of our kindred to God. This is the highest purpose of the creation of such ties in the human soul.

All that they have — It is not necessary to limit this clause to persons only; it may include portable possessions also. Comp. Joshua 6:23, note.


Verse 14

14. Our life for yours — According to Osiander, this form of oath may be thus paraphrased: “We place our life and soul in the hand of God as a pledge for thee, in order that he may destroy us if any one injures thee or thine.”

If ye utter not this our business — This is the indispensable condition on which their oath and her deliverance depend.

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Verse 15

15. Then she let them downs by a cord — [Many interpreters are of opinion that there is a confusion in the order of verses here, and that this verse should follow the first sentence of Joshua 2:21. For it is improbable, they urge, that Rahab and the spies continued to converse after the latter were let down from the window, inasmuch as such conversation would have led to their detection and exposure. But against such an opinion are the words, Thou didst let us down, (Joshua 2:18;) and as for the confusion of verses, Keil well remarks that “the Hebrews often connect together the principal circumstances attending any particular event, and, after fully describing these, proceed to fill up the details of minor importance. This, however, is nor, a confusion in the order of events, but an anticipation of the result consequent upon a well-arranged division of the subject-matter.”] Some have thought that it was impossible that she could let them down alone, and they have furnished her with “friends or domestics” to assist her. But there is no need of this assistance. By fastening the cord to something within the room they could descend, sailor-like, even without aid from within. Paul was let down in a basket. (2 Corinthians 11:33.)

Her house was upon the town wall בקיר החומה, in the depth of the wall. Her house was so constructed that the city wall formed also the back wall of the house.

She dwelt upon the wall — For her house was built on the wall, and projected beyond its outer edge, so that from one of its outer windows the men could be let down beyond the walls of the city. (See note on Acts 9:25.)


Verse 16

16. Get you to the mountain — Hebrews Mountainwards go ye. By the device of going westward to the mountains behind the city, instead of eastward toward the Jordan, they would avoid pursuit, and secure a hiding place in some of their caverns till the pursuers had returned.


Verse 17

17. We will be blameless of this thine oath — That is, released from the oath which we have taken, provided you do not fulfil the following conditions.


Verse 18

18. Thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window — A small rope or cord composed of crimson threads. The English version conveys the idea that this cord was used in letting down the spies. But the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Vulgate make the window the antecedent of which, thus — the window through which thou didst let us down. The scarlet cord was probably the token (Joshua 2:12) given to Rahab in proof of their oath. But the scarlet of the thread by which she and her house were to be saved, though a suggestive emblem of the blood of the atonement, (as advanced by St. Clement,) can hardly be considered, like the blood of the paschal lamb on the door post, an appointed type.

And thou shall bring thy father — The persons to whom deliverance is pledged must be separated front the mass of the people and gathered within the house of Rahab, otherwise they must perish in the impending universal destruction. So must those who hope to escape the general doom of this sinful world be gathered into the house of God, the Church of Jesus Christ.


Verse 19

19. [

His blood shall be upon his head — A technical formula of retribution indicating the punishment of death when justly brought upon one’s self, and equivalent to, Let the guilt of his death fall back upon himself. See note on Acts 18:6.]

If any hand be upon him — That is, to injure or to slay.


Verse 20

20. Quit of thine oath — Released from its obligation. The condition mentioned in Joshua 2:14 is here repeated as if to give it emphasis.


Verse 21

21. And she bound the scarlet line in the window — This statement is here made to complete the account, not to indicate that she bound the line in the window as soon as the spies were gone. She did this on the approach of the Hebrew host, in season to secure the deliverance of which this was the token. To have displayed it immediately would have been unnecessary, and would have incurred the suspicions of her watchful countrymen.


Verse 22

22. Abode there three days — In reckoning time, the Jews count as whole days the parts of days which may be included in a given period. Hence the body of Jesus was said to be in the tomb three days, though it was laid there on Friday evening and he came forth on Sunday morning — a space of thirty-six hours. See note on Matthew 12:40. [So these spies may have remained in the caverns of the mountains only parts of three days, and the entire time of their absence from the camp at Shittim fell within the three days at the end of which, if not before, Joshua intended to be on his march across the Jordan. See note on Joshua 1:11.] 23. Passed over — That is, Jordan. These scouts were probably expert in swimming, for the Jordan was then at its flood.

Came to Joshua — It is not necessary to suppose that they returned to the camp at Shittim. But the history most naturally implies this.


Verse 24

24. Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land — A nation palsied with despair is already conquered. The result of the mission of the spies was very encouraging to Joshua. The principal thing they reported, and probably that which it had been their chief object to ascertain, was the fear and trembling which prevailed among the idolatrous inhabitants of the land.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/joshua-2.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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