A Prostitute’s Plea for Preservation – 2:1-24

The previous entry can be found here.

The Ancient Church Father, Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived around 350, said,

Pass now, pray, to the others who were saved by repentance. Perhaps even among the women someone will say, “I have committed fornication and adultery. I have defiled my body with every excess. Can there be salvation for me?” Fix your eyes, woman, upon Rahab, and look for salvation for yourself too. For if she who openly and publicly practiced fornication was saved through repentance, will not she whose fornication preceded the gift of grace be saved by repentance and fasting? For observe how she was saved. She said only this: “Since the Lord, your God, is God in heaven above and on earth below.” “Your God,” she said, for she did not dare call him her God, because of her wantonness. If you want scriptural testimony of her salvation, you have it recorded in the Psalms: “I will think of Rahab and Babylon among those who know me.” The salvation procured by repentance is open to men and women alike.[1]

And that right there is exactly the point of this passage. Deuteronomy 7:1-6 says,

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess, and He drives out many nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you and you defeat them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.  Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your sons away from Me to worship other gods. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you.  Instead, this is what you are to do to them: tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, cut down their Asherah poles, and burn up their carved images.  For you are a holy people belonging to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be His own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.

Because of that, it should be very surprising what we instantly read in Joshua 2. And our historian intends for that to be the case.

Our historian writes, “Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two men as spies from the Acacia Grove, saying, ‘Go and scout the land, especially Jericho.’ So they left, and they came to the house of a woman, a prostitute named Rahab, and stayed there.  The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelite men have come here tonight to investigate the land.’  Then the king of Jericho sent ⌊word⌋ to Rahab and said, ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, for they came to investigate the entire land.’  But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. So she said, ‘Yes, the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from.  At nightfall, when the gate was about to close, the men went out, and I don’t know where they were going. Chase after them quickly, and you can catch up with them!’  But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them among the stalks of flax that she had arranged on the roof.  The men pursued them along the road to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as they left to pursue them, the gate was shut.  Before the men fell asleep, she went up on the roof  and said to them, ‘I know that the LORD has given you this land and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and everyone who lives in the land is panicking because of you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings you completely destroyed across the Jordan.  When we heard this, we lost heart, and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.  Now please swear to me by the LORD that you will also show kindness to my family, because I showed kindness to you. Give me a sure sign  that you will spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.’  The men answered her, ‘⌊We will give⌋ our lives for yours. If you don’t report our mission, we will show kindness and faithfulness to you when the LORD gives us the land.’  Then she let them down by a rope through the window, since she lived in a house that was ⌊built⌋ into the wall of the city.  ‘Go to the hill country so that the men pursuing you won’t find you,’ she said to them. ‘Hide yourselves there for three days until they return; afterward, go on your way.’  The men said to her, ‘We will be free from this oath you made us swear,  unless, when we enter the land, you tie this scarlet cord to the window through which you let us down. Bring your father, mother, brothers, and all your father’s family into your house.  If anyone goes out the doors of your house, his blood will be on his own head, and we will be innocent. But if anyone with you in the house should be harmed, his blood will be on our heads.  And if you report our mission, we are free from the oath you made us swear.’  ‘Let it be as you say,’ she replied, and she sent them away. After they had gone, she tied the scarlet cord to the window.  So the two men went into the hill country and stayed there three days until the pursuers had returned. They searched all along the way, but did not find them.  Then the men returned, came down from the hill country, and crossed ⌊the Jordan⌋. They went to Joshua son of Nun and reported everything that had happened to them.  They told Joshua, ‘The LORD has handed over the entire land to us. Everyone who lives in the land is also panicking because of us.’”

So we have quite the story presented to us here today (in addition to this being the largest chunk of text I’ve ever tried to tackle in one setting before). I pray that I can do it justice and be accurate and Christ-exalting in my explanation of it. But so far in the book we have not exactly gotten to any action; that changes today. We began by looking at the fact that God put Joshua in charge of His people after the death of Moses. Then we saw God speak comfort and reassurance to Joshua and charge Joshua with the priority of God’s Word for success in everything he was to do. Then Joshua spoke publicly to the people and told them to prepare for the journey across the Jordan which would happen in three days. This brings us right up to speed with Joshua 2:1, the first part of which reads, “Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two men as spies from the Acacia Grove, saying, ‘Go and scout the land, especially Jericho.’” This secret sending out occurs in the midst of Joshua’s speeches in 1:10-18. There he told them they’d march in three days; here he sends guys out who return three days later (2:22-23).

There is a lot going on in this very first sentence of the chapter. The suspense should already be mounting, because the last time spies were sent out from Israel Joshua was one of them and ten of the twelve said, “We can’t do it!” and it caused a rebellion—the consequences of which lasted forty years. So right off the bat we should be wondering, “Will it be different this time? What if they all fail again?”

In addition, Acacia Grove is an interpretation of the place called Shittim. “This place was where the Israelites had rejected their God earlier and prostituted themselves by consorting with Moabite women and gods at Balaam’s instigation (Numbers 25:1–3; 31:16).”[2] The fact that verse 1 ends by saying, “So they left, and they came to the house of a woman, a prostitute named Rahab, and stayed there,” instantly raises the question, “Is Israel going to prostitute itself again?”

So before we read any farther the writer wants us to wonder just what is going to happen, and ask, “Are they going to trust God this time, or fail miserably, yet again?” The following 23 verses expand and clarify on this concern and give a sure sign of just how big the grace of God really is.

First we see Rahab’s faith shown through her actions at the time. Joshua 2:2-7 says, “The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelite men have come here tonight to investigate the land.’  Then the king of Jericho sent ⌊word⌋ to Rahab and said, ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, for they came to investigate the entire land.’  But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. So she said, ‘Yes, the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from.  At nightfall, when the gate was about to close, the men went out, and I don’t know where they were going. Chase after them quickly, and you can catch up with them!’  But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them among the stalks of flax that she had arranged on the roof.  The men pursued them along the road to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as they left to pursue them, the gate was shut.”

Already our historian wants us in suspense at the state of their mission. The spies had hardly gotten there when the king sent word to Rahab about the spies who had come to her house. Rahab had already hidden them though. This gives more suspense: she hid the spies; the king knows they are there; what should she do? She lies. However, we must look closely at her lie. She does not say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about; I never saw anyone.” She doesn’t say, “Spies, here? You joking?” She says, in effect, “They were here, but they already left.” Her lie—we will find out in the next section—continues when she says, “I don’t know where they’re from, and I don’t know where they’re going. Chase them and you might catch them.” Our narrator reminds us of the truth before telling us that the soldiers of the king believed her, and went out the city gate. John Calvin adds, on the last phrase in verse 7, “the gates being shut, the city like a prison excluded the hope of escape. They were therefore again aroused by a serious trial to call upon God.”[3]

So at this point, what do we know about Rahab? First, we know she’s a prostitute. Second, we know she lies. But I introduced this first section of text as, “Rahab’s faith shown through her actions,” so how can that be true if she’s a liar? Let’s look at what she was lying about. We see very clearly that her lie was not to harm someone. Her lie was not to discredit someone. The soldiers and the king would both assume her as telling the truth, and thus, when they proved unable to find the spies, would be forced to return home admitting, “They must have just been too fast for us,” and no one would lose their head for it. In addition, her lie was in order to protect—and thus show love to—God’s people. The Law states, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Rahab’s faith is demonstrated in that she showed faith by lying to the king of Jericho. If she’d been found out as a liar, she could have been killed; she put her life on the line so God’s people could go free. Calvin helps us keep a balanced perspective by saying,

As to the falsehood, we must admit that though it was done for a good purpose, it was not free from fault. For those who hold what is called a dutiful lie to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God. Therefore, although our purpose, be to assist our brethren, to consult for their safety and relieve them, it never can be lawful to lie, because that cannot be right which is contrary to the nature of God. And God is truth. And still the act of Rahab is not devoid of the praise of virtue, although it was not spotlessly pure.[4]

God is a God of truth, and truth is extremely important to God, but He is also a God of love, and He expects those who call themselves His to be loving as He is. Sometimes this might mean bending the truth—when in a life-threatening situation like this one. At this point in the story Rahab is most certainly not thinking about herself.

Second we hear Rahab’s faith through her words. Joshua 2:8-13 says, “Before the men fell asleep, she went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the LORD has given you this land and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and everyone who lives in the land is panicking because of you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings you completely destroyed across the Jordan.  When we heard this, we lost heart, and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.  Now please swear to me by the LORD that you will also show kindness to my family, because I showed kindness to you. Give me a sure sign  that you will spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.’”

After the soldiers rush out the gate, Rahab goes up to the roof to check on her fugitives. Her words evidence clearly that she has heard much of Israel in the recent weeks—even as much as forty years earlier. Perhaps the fact that Israel had wandered in the wilderness for forty years only exaggerated Canaan’s fear at their arrival? She says flat out, “the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below,” and she uses that as a way to say, “We know this is true, and it’s scary.” While the rest of her town sought to flee from that reality, Rahab sought it out, as the conversation shows. She didn’t want to flee the terror to come; she wanted to adjust her allegiances so she didn’t have to be afraid. She asked for a sign that she would be saved from the wrath to come. And her selflessness is shown again in that she didn’t seek just for her own salvation but the salvation of her family also. Since her salvation—in its truest sense—wouldn’t come until the future, the spies’ response is in the next section.

Third we look forward to her faith being proved through actions to come in the future. Joshua 2:14-21 says, “The men answered her, ‘⌊We will give⌋ our lives for yours. If you don’t report our mission, we will show kindness and faithfulness to you when the LORD gives us the land.’  Then she let them down by a rope through the window, since she lived in a house that was ⌊built⌋ into the wall of the city.  ‘Go to the hill country so that the men pursuing you won’t find you,’ she said to them. ‘Hide yourselves there for three days until they return; afterward, go on your way.’  The men said to her, ‘We will be free from this oath you made us swear,  unless, when we enter the land, you tie this scarlet cord to the window through which you let us down. Bring your father, mother, brothers, and all your father’s family into your house.  If anyone goes out the doors of your house, his blood will be on his own head, and we will be innocent. But if anyone with you in the house should be harmed, his blood will be on our heads.  And if you report our mission, we are free from the oath you made us swear.’  ‘Let it be as you say,’ she replied, and she sent them away. After they had gone, she tied the scarlet cord to the window.”

John Calvin explains about her house,

Her house was contiguous to the wall of the city, nay, its outer side was actually situated in the wall. From this we may infer that it was some obscure corner remote from the public thoroughfare; just as persons of her description usually live in narrow lanes and secret places. It cannot be supposed with any consistency to have been a common inn which was open to all indiscriminately, because they could not have felt at liberty to indulge in familiar intercourse, and it must have been difficult in such circumstances to obtain concealment.[5]

I share that first, because it is relatively clear that the verses here are presented out of order. Given that soldiers were looking for the spies, it is clear that the spies couldn’t have been either on the rope or at the bottom of the rope when she speaks in verses 16-21. The description of her house is given in verse 15 to help us understand how the spies were afforded an exit from the city even though the gate was closed and people were searching for them.

But the most important thing in these verses is the content of the discussion that I believe occurred before they were let down. The spies say that if she doesn’t report them they will treat her family well when Yahweh gives them the land. They repeat the same general thing in verse 20. The interesting part about verse 14 is that it says, “when the Lord gives,” and not “if the Lord gives.” The spies totally trusted God that He would deliver the land into their hands. Perhaps this faith was due to Rahab’s words in the prior section; they now knew the land was terrified of them and it encouraged them to press on.

Rahab then continued to give them guidance on how to get back to their camp. She told them to hide out in the mountains for three days and then to go home. She wanted to make sure that they were absolutely safe, and thus told them to hide in the exact opposite direction from the way they had originally come,[6] since the soldiers wouldn’t be looking there.

The spies speak at this point and specify the conditions of their protecting Rahab when they take the land. These provisions conclude in verse 20 with the same condition as verse 14. The fact that the narrator repeats it again after she tells them where to go from there is because the narrator wants us to see that she is who she is claiming to be. The narrator wants us to trust her. The other conditions that the spies lay out are as follows: she was to tie a scarlet cord in the window and bring her entire family inside her house, if someone inside died, the spies would assume the blame, but if someone went outside and died, that would be on them.

After the spies are let down the rope, out the window, and on their way to hide in the mountains, Rahab ties the scarlet cord in her window, which again shows us that she is genuine.

The passage concludes in Joshua 2:22-24, “So the two men went into the hill country and stayed there three days until the pursuers had returned. They searched all along the way, but did not find them.  Then the men returned, came down from the hill country, and crossed ⌊the Jordan⌋. They went to Joshua son of Nun and reported everything that had happened to them.  They told Joshua, ‘The LORD has handed over the entire land to us. Everyone who lives in the land is also panicking because of us.’” What we see here is that God protected the spies and brought them back to Joshua safely. The fact that the spies were outside of Jericho for three days is good proof that no sexual business happened while the spies were with Rahab—and is also more proof that her faith was genuine—since their trip only lasted for three days. The other thing we see here is the fact that their report was positive: the land would be theirs and it propved that God was faithful. So this spy trip had been better in every way than the previous—forty years earlier.

So we’ve come to the end of the text, and we’ve seen a woman show all the signs of being a believer. She claims Israel’s God as her God; she protects and cares for God’s people; she wants her family to be saved; she’s turned her back on her old lifestyle. What is clear throughout the text is “that God uses not only his own prophets and leaders to bring faith and courage to disconsolate Israel. God uses the most unexpected and immoral persons to further his purposes in the world. . . . People of God must be open to learn from all sources which God would use.”[7]

And perhaps you stumbled upon this blogpost today and you feel totally unworthy. Perhaps you’ve lived a wretched life of sin and it’s not fulfilling you. Perhaps you feel as used and abused as Rahab probably felt. Man or woman, I’m talking to anybody right now: God doesn’t make junk, and no one is too far gone for His grace. God has used many “total screw-ups” to further His plan, and He is calling you today as well. Turn from your sin as Rahab did, and know that Rahab was one of Jesus’ ancestors. And just as the spies said that anyone hiding in Rahab’s house would be saved when the city fell, so also if you are hiding in Christ when the sky rolls back and He appears, you will be saved. Place your faith in Him and seek Him daily. He is your only hope and sign for salvation. Please believe today.

And with that, we have seen—in a book of conquest and war—the most complete and thorough conquest explained in the book of Joshua. Rahab, a former prostitute turned woman of God. This is the type of conquest the whole book previews by shadows and types, boldly displayed in 1080p high definition as early as chapter 2. Just as the Israelites were to take the land of Canaan, so also Christ said, “The Kingdom of God is near.” When He rose from the dead it came, and now it spreads through the preaching of the gospel. This is much bigger than what nation a person belongs to—as referenced at the beginning of this post.

Turn to Him and be saved—all the ends of the earth!

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus

The next entry can be found here.

 

[1] John R. Franke, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2005), 12.
[2] David M. Howard, New American Commentary – Volume 5: Joshua, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 97.
[3] John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua.
[4] John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua.
[5] John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua.
[6] David M. Howard, New American Commentary – Volume 5: Joshua, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 113. “She shrewdly sent them in the opposite direction from where the pursuers had gone: they had headed east, toward the Jordan River and its fords (see v. 7 and comment there), whereas the hills near Jericho were to the west of it, as it lay in the Jordan valley.”
[7] Trent C. Butler, Joshua, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 35.

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