Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut. – Joshua 2:1-7
As Joshua sends spies into the land of Canaan, we naturally think back to nearly four decades earlier when Joshua, Caleb, and ten other men were sent as spies by Moses into the Promised Land. That mission ended in complete disaster, as ten of the men brought back a bad report – that there were Giants in the land, and that there was no way that the Israelites could conquer them. Only Joshua and Caleb were strong in faith. They didn’t deny that the occupants of the land seemed far too formidable for Israel to conquer, but their faith wasn’t in Israel but in Israel’s God. Now only Joshua and Caleb of those 12 spies gets to enter the Promised Land. Joshua must have been thinking back to that critical turning point in Israel’s history as he now sends out spies under his own authority. It is interesting to note the differences between the two missions. Adolph Harstad writes:
- Joshua sends just two spies, not one from each of the twelve tribes, as Moses did earlier. Their number may correspond to the number of spies in the earlier mission who were faithful, that is, the duo of Joshua himself and Caleb. While representation from all twelve tribes will be called for later to illustrate the unity of the covenant nation (e.g., Josh 4:4-7), Joshua does not follow that procedure here.
- Joshua speaks secretly to the two agents [This isn’t completely clear in the NIV, but the Hebrew accent marks make clear that “secretly” is connected with “saying” and not with “sent.” That is, Joshua sent the spies on a secret mission that the rest of Israel didn’t know about. – Pastor Booth]. If the two return with a report of massive city walls, a surging river, harrowing experiences, and – from a human point of view – slim chances for success, the whole nation will not hear. The spies will report to Joshua himself, as 2:24 will show.
- While the spies are to gather information on the land as a whole, they will center their efforts on one part of Canaan: “Jericho.” Joshua would know from meditating on the Torah (as God directs him to do “day and night” in Joshua 1:8) that the LORD is not expecting him to take the whole land in a few months or even a single year. … The LORD through Joshua will drive out the Canaanites “little by little” over some years so that the land will not become desolate and the wild animals proliferate from too few Israelites in a “spacious land” (Ex 3:8).
It shouldn’t surprise us that the spies would find their way to a prostitute’s house. This was a matter of significant wisdom. The home of a harlot, with her bad reputation, probably wouldn’t attract too much attention because some traveling men choose to visit there. The fact that her home was in the city wall offered them easy access – and hopefully an easy escape if things went badly.
LORD willing, we will say more about Rahab’s faith tomorrow, but it is important to see that the lie she tells the king’s men is born of faith. She has switched sides. She is now showing loyalty to Yahweh. Therefore, in a war, hiding Yahweh’s soldiers from the enemy’s forces is both an act of courage and an act of loyalty. Normally, everyone we speak with is owed the plain truth. This is one of those very rare occasions when loyalty to the LORD was consistent with, and even required by faith. We all understand that when soldiers spread false information to the enemy, or simply camouflage themselves to appear different than they are, that they are not violating the Ten Commandments. This is the very thing that is going on in Joshua. A holy war is about to begin in Jericho – and Rahab the former harlot … is on the LORD’s side! Both the letter to the Hebrews (see 11:31) and James (see 2:25) celebrate Rahab’s faith.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 8
Q. How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.