Joshua Sends Two Spies to Jericho (v. 1)
Situated across the Jordan River in a wide plain, Jericho was a strategic foothold for the conquest and occupation of the promised land. The city itself was politically organized with a king (2:2). It had high walls, was fortified against attack (2:5,15), and enjoyed the protection of an army (7:2). The city was connected by trade to the immediate region and beyond (7:15). Joshua needed accurate intelligence, so he sent two spies secretly to survey Jericho and the surrounding area. Unlike his spy mission forty years earlier, these spies would report only to him, not to the people as a whole. Joshua did not send the spies due to unbelief. The Lord commanded him to “arise and go” (1:2). When the Lord makes a promise or gives us a command, we should use all the means at our disposal to do his will promptly, wisely, and to our utmost ability. Faith in his promise inspires diligent obedience.
Rahab Hides and Saves the Spies (vv. 2-7)
The two men entered Jericho and came to the house of Rahab the harlot. Some have suggested that her house was also a public inn, and there the spies hoped to hear information without arousing suspicion. Jericho, however, was on high alert, and the entrance of the two men was observed. The king of Jericho sent men to Rahab’s house – you are housing Israelite spies, the officials said. Bring them out, for we know they came here. Rahab had hidden the men already. She admitted that the men had been in her house, but she denied knowledge of their origin. She then sent the officials on a wild goose chase. She said that the two men left the city at nightfall – I do not know where they are going. Quick! Follow them, and you will surely catch them. She had hidden the spies on the roof, under stalks of flax. The king’s men left the house and pursued Rahab’s ghosts as far as the nearest fords of the Jordan River.
Her False Report to the King of Jericho (vv. 4-5)
The Holy Spirit gives two judgments upon Rahab’s actions. First, she hid the spies and sent them away safely “by faith” (Heb. 11:31). This means that she trusted the Lord and acted upon his promises and works. Both the hiding and the sending away safely were acts of faith. Second, James uses her actions to prove that “we are justified by works” (James 2:25-26). James is not speaking of our righteous standing before God but of our claim to know God and be accepted by him. Such a claim is justified or vindicated by our works. Our works do not secure a right standing before God – only the works and blood of Jesus Christ do this (Rom. 3:25,28; 5:9,19). That Rahab’s faith was living and effectual was proven by her works of hiding the spies and sending them away safely. “Faith without works is dead.”
Rahab deceived the king’s men. The consensus has been that the Lord recommended the good in Rahab’s actions, for they were prompted by faith, without justifying the lie she told. In a time of war, however, there is a legitimate use of subterfuge that is not allowable in times of peace. You do not have to tell your enemies your battle plans and may deceive your enemy by direct, false intelligence. We must remember that Joshua sent out “spies,” which was itself an act of deception as part of his war preparation. Israel had already subdued the Amorite nations on the eastern side of Jordan, so the Canaanites were in war mode. Rahab would not have been commended had she said, “The men are on the roof.” There would be nothing to commend. The spies would have been summarily executed. Her deception was part of her protection. It was also very courageous on her part, for she thereby put her life on the line. Had a search commenced and the men been found, she and her household would have been executed.
It is possible that Rahab’s lie is passed over without condemnation, as are many recorded sins of God’s people, because the Lord views us mercifully through his covenant of grace and forgives all our sins. By faith in Jesus Christ and because of his merit and intercession, our good works, which are really his, are accepted, and the sins that stain even our best works are forgiven. Many actions of the righteous are sinful, and they are not an example for us. God can use the sinful actions of his people, such as Jacob’s lie to Isaac to steal his brother’s blessing, to accomplish his purposes. This does not justify Jacob but certainly magnifies the Lord’s grace! What is emphasized with Rahab is not her lie but her faith. The Bible never commends her for lying; it never condemns her for leading enemy soldiers in a different direction that saved the spies’ lives. It presents her actions as motivated by faith and proof of her living faith in the Lord.
If one accepts that subterfuge is permissible in a time of war and that Rahab was doing her part in God’s war against the Canaanites, this does not commit us to affirming that lying is a legitimate course to escape our personal scrapes, deny our Lord when accosted for our faith, or that truth is determined by the situation. Nor does it diminish our utter passion for the God of truth, our commitment to defend his word with our lives, or our duty to tell the truth. In a time of war, the duty of protecting life, our own and our neighbor’s, is a higher moral duty than telling the truth to an enemy who will use the truth to destroy you. This does not hold in “normal” life. We must “put away lying, and speak every man truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25). Every child of God confesses and desires to practice: “I hate and abhor lying, but thy law do I love” (Ps. 119:163). When the Lord Jesus saves us, he works such a renewal in us that we “lie not to one another, seeing you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Col. 3:9). This division or hierarchy of duty is applicable to the actions of the Hebrew midwives and Elisha’s deception of the king of Syria and his army. In these war settings, to tell the truth or the whole truth would place the sword in the hands of God’s enemies.
Rahab’s Confession of Faith (vv. 8-13)
8 Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, 9 and said to the men: "I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. 10 "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 "And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. 12 "Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and give me a true token, 13 "and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death."
The Lord Has Given You This Land (vv. 9-11)
The reports Rahab heard of Israel’s exploits were like a gospel sermon to her soul, and the Lord opened her heart to know him. She confesses her belief that the Lord has given Israel the land (v. 9). The inhabitants of Jericho sense this and are terrified, just as the Lord promised to spread terror among the enemies of his people (Deut. 11:25). Jericho was connected to other cities in the region, and the Lord’s exploits at the Red Sea, deliverance from Egypt, and victories over Sihon and Og were widely known. The Spirit opened Rahab’s heart (Acts 16:14) to see in these events a warning of Jericho’s doom. God’s mighty works had taught her to fear the Lord – none of the other gods had protected those who served them. Israel was steamrolling its enemies because of Yahweh. She names him. With what little knowledge she had, her loyalty, following her heart, had changed.
Yahweh Is the True and Only God (v. 11)
She confesses this clearly to the spies. “The Lord your God:” she believes the first and second commandments – He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. Some have said that Rahab means nothing more than that she is ready to add Yahweh to the other gods she worships. This insults her and ignores Scripture’s testimony about her. It was faith in God that led her to hide the spies and send them away safely. She believed that Yahweh is the Creator of heaven and earth. She does not say “only,” but her words clearly imply this. She confesses that no one but the true God can do these mighty works. And it is compelling that the only one in Jericho whose heart the Lord opened to this light was a harlot. “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called, but the Lord has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (1 Cor. 1:26).
Save Me, as I Have Saved You (vv. 12-13)
To swear by the Lord is to hold his name in such esteem that he is called to bear witness to the truth of our words. This oath Rahab asks of the spies is another indication of her faith – nothing less than the name of Yahweh will satisfy her that the men will do as she asks. She has shown the two men kindness and saved them, and she asks them to show her family like kindness. I saved your life; swear to save ours. Rahab knew Jericho was doomed. She believed that only the Lord could save her and her family. If we believe the same in our times, we would not trust the promises of unprincipled politicians but trust the Lord of hosts alone. And he would save us, for “none who wait upon him will ever be put to shame” (Ps. 25:3). The wise man builds the house of his life upon the rock of God’s word, and he endures the storms of life (Matt. 7:23-25). Young men and women, do not trust the love promises of unsettled suitors who have no more preparation for life than that they can breathe – trust the Lord’s name that is upon you from baptism and the path he has laid out for you in his word. To obtain blessing from the Lord, we must revere his matchless name, trust his name, and believe upon it for salvation.
The Plan to Save Rahab’s Family (vv. 14-21)
14 So the men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you." 15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall. 16 And she said to them, "Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way." 17 So the men said to her: "We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, 18 "unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father's household to your own home. 19 "So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 "And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear." 21 Then she said, "According to your words, so be it." And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window. 22 They departed and went to the mountain, and stayed there three days until the pursuers returned. The pursuers sought them all along the way, but did not find them. 23 So the two men returned, descended from the mountain, and crossed over; and they came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all that had befallen them. 24 And they said to Joshua, "Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us."
Oath of Mutual Protection
The spies bind Rahab to secrecy – which is additional proof that all parties knew themselves to be part of God’s war against the Canaanites. If you will keep our mission secret – which from the perspective of Jericho was a treasonous withholding of truth and therefore an implicit lie – we will do as you have asked. Rahab let them down from a window outside the walls. Rahab and the men swore mutual oaths to secrecy. The spies pledge to save her and her household, provided she hangs in her window the scarlet thread she used to let them down. They must remain in the house during the siege. If any of your family is in the street, your blood is upon your own head. They took their oaths seriously. There was no fast and lose playing with truth and fidelity between these three. They clearly set forth the terms of the oath and bound themselves to it (v. 21). This is the way to avoid confusion and failure – clearly explain what is required in relationships, business contacts, church membership, marriage, and parenting, bind yourself to do as God requires, and then keep your word. All of life is an application of God’s covenant way with us – promise, duty, blessings, and sanctions. We have this covenant secured to us in the Lord Jesus. He is bound to us, and we to him. In binding herself to Israel and Israel’s God, Rahab showed herself a worthy ancestress of the Savior of the world, who is the truth of God.
The Scarlet Chord and the Spies’ Report to Joshua
Israel had been delivered from the death angel by blood applied on the doorpost, so it is possible that the red chord had a similar significance. Given what the spies said to Rahab – “his blood be upon his head, and we shall be guiltless” – I have no doubt that this sign was not chosen at random. Because of the person and work of Jesus Christ we backlight these little things with more clarity than they had at the time – or see more in them than the original participants did. Rahab immediately hung out the scarlet chord, which was an act of faith. It could have drawn unwanted attention and questions, but she trusted the name of Yahweh, and marked her house out as belonging to him, not to Jericho. The spies returned after hiding three days and reported the affair to Joshua. The whole land was “fainting” because of what the Lord had done. Unlike forty years earlier, the spies have no doubt that the Lord has delivered the land of promise to them. All because of the faith of Rahab, for she responded to God’s mighty works by believing in the name of Yahweh, hiding the spies when they came to her, and then sending them away in peace. May the Lord fill his kingdom with former harlots and publicans, washed, cleansed, justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the power of God (Matt. 21:31)!
Imitating Rahab’s Faith
Faith without Works Is Dead (James 2:25-26)
Rahab proved her faith by her works. We have far more light than she did. The Savior of the world has come through Rahab, because of her faith in the mighty works of God and her acting upon what light she had. We can profess to believe in God, but as James said, even the devils believe, and tremble (James 2:19). True faith is a gift of God, and it lays hold of God’s promises in Jesus Christ. From him, faith draws strength to walk in newness of life – telling the truth, keeping one’s promises, laying one’s life on the line for Jesus Christ and his word, loving one’s wife, obeying your husband, obeying your parents, worshipping God with his people. Faith is proven by its works. Faith without works is dead. Faith can be very enthusiastic or intellectual, but faith is not demonstrated by emotionalism and many words. It is proven by works of love and obedience. This is the way we do our part in God’s continuing battle against Satan and his seed. Believe God’s promises in his Son, love the Lord Jesus, and obey him. We have been redeemed unto good works (Eph. 2:10). Without works of love and righteousness, faith is dead, or we have lost our first love, or the cares of the world have choked out God’s word.
Faith the Motivation for Good Works (Heb. 11:31)
As much as the Lord emphasizes the reality of his grace in our lives by the evidence of good works, he equally emphasizes that a good work is motivated by faith. Faith is not self-atonement. Faith is not trying to measure up, make yourself feel better, or make amends for past wrongs. Rahab did not protect the spies to make up for having been immoral. She believed. She believed God. She believed that God would deliver her and her family. Her works were prompted by faith. She was accepted by God already, despite her past, and then her works were accepted. Our works do not make us acceptable with God. Our persons must first be accepted, then he accepts our works and purifies them from the taint of our corruption. By believing God, Rahab was already forgiven her past. She would come to understand better the basis of that forgiveness, but it is clear her good works came from the well of grace and mercy the Lord had already given to her. And it is the same with our works. They are always motivated and empowered by God’s grace to us in Christ. Because of his amazing grace, we love him and devote ourselves to pleasing him. The more we understand how freely he accepts us as righteous in Christ, forgives all our sins, and adopts us as his children, the more joy we shall have. His love understood and believed fuels the fire of our love for him. From the furnace of his love comes the pure motivation for obedience (Col. 1:11) – not measuring up, realizing personal potential, or seeking a reward – but pleasing him who so loved us that he made us his children when we were his enemies.
Faith Requires Separation from the World (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1)
Rahab’s faith led her to separate from the world, from her own people, as Ruth did later, and embrace the Lord for her God. Faith overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). This is not just any faith but specifically faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and as the Son of God (1 John 5:5). And faith, therefore, must turn its back on the world. If we are to have God as our Father, we cannot have the world for our mother, our friend, or our babysitter – we must “come out from among them,” “touch not the unclean thing,” and “perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:16-7:1). Because faith is unto God, seeks God in Christ, and rests solely upon Christ, it will tolerate no rivals for its affection – not sexual lusts, fame, fortune, self, fantasy, football. True faith turns its back on the world. If you try to have Christ but keep the world, you are Lot’s wife – a pillar of salt – fossilized in sin.
To come to Jesus Christ, he said, “Let a man deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” This begins early in life, my young friends. Rahab is a good mother to you if you see her turning her back upon loyalty to Jericho and coming after the Lord. You must do the same, young and old – no nursing of private sins and hurts and grudges against others; no loving the world and looking back with longing upon your old sinful way of life – except with shame and firmer resolve to follow Jesus Christ in righteousness (Heb. 11:15; Rom. 6:15). Faith turns its back on the world and keeps returning to its Father’s house. Do so now. Forsake your sins. Hang the scarlet thread of Christ’s blood on the door of your heart and home – “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Let Satan roar and men mock, we must seek a better country, a heavenly one. The Father will receive you and be God to you and dwell with you. He is worthy of your complete and undivided allegiance.