Joshua 2 is filled with exegetical, ethical, and biblical theological challenges. Here are ten things that begin to wade into the richness of Joshua 2.
1. Joshua 2 appears to be an “unnecessary” story in the framework of the book.
Nothing is unnecessary in Scripture. Every jot and tittle is inspired by God and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). However, there are facts and even chapters that may appear to be unnecessary, as in the case of Joshua 2.
In the flow of Joshua, the second chapter interrupts Israel’s entry into the land. Chapter 1 speaks of the preparation for entry; chapter 3 records the entry itself. Chapter 2 stands in the middle of this continuous story, and thus it stands out. For the sensitive reader, the placement of the story does not mean Rahab and the spies are out of place. On the contrary, they are exactly where they need to be. And they demonstrate the great importance of this chapter.
As Dale Ralph Davis observes, this “non-essential” story is necessary for showing how God saved a Gentile harlot (Joshua, 28–29). The story is not necessary for demonstrating God’s power or justice in overthrowing the wickedness of Jericho. His faithfulness would stand upon the giving the land to Israel, as he had promised. But his mercy is highlighted by this inclusion of Rahab’s redemption, and hence the main point of this whole chapter will center on God’s unexpected grace and undeserved mercy.
2. Discerning the literary structure of Joshua 2 helps ascertain the main point(s).
As we have observed in a previous blog, Joshua has a discernible macro-structure. It also demonstrates literary arrangement in individual chapters, including the story of the spies and Rahab. That being said, I still haven’t settled on structure for text. So here are two options.
In his Literary Structure of the Old Testament, David Dorsey provides this outline (p. 93):
A Spies depart from Joshua (2:1) – Cross the Jordan to enter the land
B Spies arrive at Rahab’s house (2:1b–6) – Rahab sends king’s soldiers toward Jordan while hiding spies on the roof
C Rahab asks for a sign (2:7–13) – Asks spies for salvation
D Agreement: Rahab helps the spies escape (using rope that will be sign); they promise to spare her (2:14–16)
C’ Spies designate rope as sign before they leave (2:17–21a) – Spies grant her protection
B’ Spies leave Rahab’s house (2:21b–22) – Rahab sends spies away from the Jordan, to hide in the hills
A’ Spies return to Joshua (2:23–24) – Cross the Jordan to return to Joshua
With less detail, Dale Ralph Davis (Joshua, 25) offers a similar outline:
A Commission by Joshua (v. 1a)
B Arrival/concern: protection of the spies (vv. 2–7)
C Confession of faith (vv. 8–14)
B’ Escape/concern: protection of Rahab and Co. (vv. 15–21)
A’ Return to Joshua (vv. 22–24)
Notice, both of these outlines begin and end with Joshua, and they move towards the center where the spies and Rahab speak together. The first outline focuses on the agreement and the plan of salvation (vv. 14–16); the second outline focuses on Rahab’s confession (vv. 8–14). If I had to pick one, I would be inclined towards the outline that places the covenantal agreement at the center, for it is balanced by the confession on one side (vv. 8–13) and the details of the salvation on the other (vv. 17–21). What do you think?
Either way, it is evident that this chapter is following the rising of tension to the middle of this story, where God in his mercy is bringing salvation to this Gentile prostitute who has become a woman of faith!
3. In the face of judgment coming upon Jericho, God offers mercy.
Verse 1 begins by introducing Joshua and two spies. Perhaps recalling the two faithful spies that went into the Promised Land before (Num. 13–14), Joshua sends these two into the land to prepare the way for Israel. Yet, the mission does not seem to be one of exploration, but evangelism. As Richard Hess observes,
On the one hand, Joshua instructs them to look over the land and Jericho. While this can be understood in terms of spying out the land, there is no indication from the narrative or from their final report to Joshua that they performed this function. The account of the conquest of Jericho makes no use of any information which might have been gained from this expedition. Further, the parallel account in Numbers 13 — 14 does not use the term look over for the twelve spies who spied out the land at that time. The verb look over appears in Moses’ recollection of this event in Deuteronomy 1:24. It also occurs in the command to spy out places before they are attacked, in Joshua 7:2, and before they are robbed, in Judges 18:2, 14 and 17. On the other hand, the usage of the noun form in 2 Samuel 15:10, where it describes the private passing of information, favours the description of what actually happens in Joshua 2. The spies pass along information to Rahab as to how she and her family (and any others) might escape the imminent destruction of Jericho. (Joshua, 89–90)
If we accept this reading that the spies functioned as emissaries and carriers of news, then it makes sense of their purpose in the chapter. It also stresses the point of Joshua 2, that in judgment God was bringing salvation to Rahab and her family. As with Noah and the ark, Lot in Sodom, and the firstborn sons in the Passover, God was providing a way of salvation to those who would go through judgment.
This pattern has been well established prior to Joshua 2, and now it repeats. God’s mercy is on display in his actions towards Rahab, and this declares good news to all people. To those who take refuge in God (and in his Joshua), they will find salvation from God’s righteous judgment.
4. Irony and tension fill the story of Rahab and the spies.
As with many Old Testament narratives, Joshua 2 is filled with irony and literary devices that heighten the tension of the story. To get the “feel” of Joshua 2, we should pay careful attention to these, especially in first 7 verses. While I’m not going to tease out every detail, a few are worth pondering.
In verse 1, the spies leave from Shittim and lodge in a prostitute’s home. To the Hebrew reader this verse might produce the ultimate “Surrender Cobra“—“Spies, what are you doing?!? You’ve been sent to prepare the land for Israel’s conquest, and you “lay down” in a prostitutes house?”
Remember, the place in verse 1 (Shittim) is the place where Israel’s sons prostituted themselves with the daughters of Baal-Peor. Likewise, the word “lodge” (škb) is more commonly translated “lay (down),” and in every instance prior to Joshua 2:1, where the word is used in the context of men and women, it is used with a sexual connotation (see bottom).
Next, verse 2 heightens the stakes again. The presence of the spies is known and the king issues an edict to find them, and presumably to kill them. Combined with the apparent sexual immorality of verse 1, this verse adds a second line of judgment on the spies.
Third, verse 3 brings the king’s guards to Rahab’s house, where they demand her to bring them out. With no knowledge of this woman, other than the fact that she is a Gentile prostitute in a wicked city, the next verse is astounding. “But the woman had taken the men and hidden them” (v. 4). This is the first of many unexpected events in the story and it begins to build the tension.
Verses 5–6 recount Rahab’s words to the Jericho police. Instead of handing them over, she crafts a story that guards their whereabouts. Importantly, the author does not condemn, nor condone, this story. Verses 5–6 simply report her words, with the reader wondering what will happen next? Will her words be found out? Will her words send the police away?
Verse 6 inserts another fact in the story—Rahab hid the men on the roof, under the flax drying in the sun. By the time we get to verse 7, the tension is about to break. As Richard Hess notes,
The critical point is the beginning of verse seven. The Hebrew narrative can be translated ‘As for the men, they pursue them.’ At this point it is not certain if this means a search of Rahab’s house. Only with the fifth and six words of the Hebrew verse does the reader learn that the royal agents had departed and launched their search in the direction where it might be expected that the spies would go, i.e. back across the Jordan River. (94)
Finally, verse 7 closes with the city gate shut. Together, these steps in the story create an amazing effect on the reader. How will theses spies escape—how will they escape Jericho? And how will survive God’s judgment? Already they have lied down in a prostitute’s home, the king is after them, and the city gate is closed. This is how how the story begins, and the rest of the chapter will resolve all the issues, proving their holy service, providing God’s compassion to Rahab, and finding escape from the city with Rahab’s faithful assistance.
5. The focus on Rahab should reflect the faith she confessed, not the truth she concealed.
When the gate shuts in verse 7, all eyes are turned to Rahab and the spies. The king is no longer in the picture and neither are his henchman. Instead, the rest of the chapter focuses on the words of Rahab and the spies—two of the longest speeches in the book.
Critically, the main point of the chapter focuses on Rahab’s confession of faith (vv. 8–14) and the spies (conditional) promise of salvation (vv. 15–21). In this dialogue, the focus should be on Rahab’s knowledge of Yahweh, her plea for mercy, and the establishment of a covenant mediated by the spies. Interestingly, Joshua 2 sets a contrast between what she doesn’t know, namely the spies whereabouts, and what she does know, the power of Israel’s God and the gift of the land to Israel. Notice the use of the word “know” (ydh):
Speaking to the Jericho police, she said: “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” (vv. 4–5)
But to the spies, she said: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. (vv. 9–10)
While much can be made about Rahab’s deception, more should be made of her confession of the true God. This is where the author trains us to look, and this is what the Bible remembers (see James 2; Hebrews 11).
It is astounding that Rahab knew of this God, his works of redemption for Israel and his promises of the land to Israel. And it is equally astounding that she would turn her back on her people to join him. Certainly, she could have plied her trade to (attempt to) thwart Israel’s efforts. That is how Balaam led Israel into sin in Numbers 25. But instead, she confesses Israel’s God as true and seeks refuge from the spies. As a result, she will be saved, even as her city is destroyed. This is the main point of the chapter and we should focus here.
6. Rahab’s Words Reveal and Conceal
Still, the question remains. Did Rahab lie? What follows are a few ways to think about her words, what they reveal and what they conceal.
The first possible answer is that Rahab boldly lied in order to show her newfound allegiance to Israel’s God. If this is the case, then she did so as a newfound “believer.” She used an illicit method to achieve a noble end. The rest of the Bible does not highlight this fact, but stresses her faith in action. This could be because she did not lie (see below), or because as a new believer, she sought to honor God in a way accustomed to her old way of life. If this is the case, the motivation that impelled her to action was faith that pleased God. And her lie was forgiven because of her faith.
Alternatively (and I believe this is a better option than the first), she rightly saw the conflict between her people and Israel’s God. When she acknowledged Israel’s right to this land, she sided with Yahweh. In keeping with the warfare about to break out, she did not release the position of Jericho’s enemy—i.e., her newfound compatriots. In this way, she did not divulge information demanded of her in a hostile situation.
More angles could be explored here, but the military nature of Joshua encourages us to see her act of faith as fighting with Israel and turning against Jericho. This may have required lying, but in warfare, giving away military information is treason. Moreover, in receiving spies, she was following the directions of Joshua, who had previously entered the land as a spy and now was sending two spies to do the same. In this way, lying followed the lead of those who she was seeking rescue. She was not lying in order to exalt herself, as in the case of Satan’s first lie, she used her words to save the life of the spies.
And this leads to a third option, one in which Rahab did not lie, but spoke true words that concealed the truth. Indeed, Jesus himself spoke in parables in order to reveal and conceal, and thus it is not necessarily immoral to withhold information or speak so as to hide information.
For instance, when push comes to shove, when Nazis come demanding the Jews you are hiding in your attic, it is (in my estimation) permissible to use words to protect those endangered. If that means lying, so be it. Again, the context of warfare applies. Yet, in such instances, lying is often the result of insufficient wisdom.
For instance, in one episode with Jesus, our Lord hid his identity from the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Was this deceitful? Not at all; it was part of the way he instructed them at the right time. Similarly, in the instances where Jesus was silent in the face of hostile enemies, is he being deceitful? I think not.
In Jesus case, we know he did everything correctly, but we also know that he often did not fully disclose all he knew. John 7 has Jesus refusing to go to the Passover publicly, but immediately he goes in private. All of this factors into the way in which we use words. Everything Jesus said was true, yet he did not disclose all truth—especially, in front of his enemies.
Might something be true of Rahab as well?
Scripture only affirms her faithfulness and commends her actions for protecting the spies. Again, she might have done a noble deed with deceitful words, or she may have used true words to direct the Jericho police in the wrong direction. Certainly, this is the kind of activity the faithful mothers and midwives performed when they were asked to hand over baby boys to Pharaoh.
In Rahab’s case, we find something similar. Notice a few key words.
- The words for hidden (v. 4) and hide (v. 6) are not the same. Instead, the first word is the word used in Exodus to describe the way Moses’s mother hid him (Exod. 2:2, 3),; the second word is used of Moses to describe the way Moses hid, or buried, the Egyptian he killed (Exod. 2:12). Maybe this ordered usage is coincidental, or maybe these two words suggest a parallel with Moses and his mother. The context of hiding the innocent from a murderous king is in view with respect to Moses’s mother, and in some ways Rahab is being portrayed like one of the faithful Israelite women who stood against an edict to hand over Israelite males.
- The word for know in verses 4–5 is a word that is often used in sexual relations. Given the location of this discussion (in a prostitute’s house), we cannot eliminate off hand the possibility that when Rahab said, “She did not know where [the spies] were from,” she was honestly saying she did not know the men in the way that prostitutes usually know men.
- If she had slept with the men, she would have known them, known their money, and seen their circumcision, hence she would have had such knowledge. Though it might have been odd that a prostitute did not know these men, since it was in her business to know these things, it also reflects the location of her home. Located in the side of the wall, this inn was likely a place where strangers congregated. Moreover, her family apparently lived there too. So the denial of her services would not be implausible, especially if these men had already come and gone.
- Confirming this subtle reading are the sexual connotations that flood the first 6 verses of Joshua 2. As Kenneth Mathews reminds us (Joshua, 20), “The terms ‘entered’ (bo’) and ‘slept’ (shakab, ‘to lie down,’ NIV: ‘stayed’) can be describe sexual relationship (e.g., Gen. 30:15–16). What is more, the sexually charged expression ‘the men came to me’ is spoken by Rahab (2:4), which can be idiom for sexual relations (e.g., Gen. 6:4). However, when ‘stayed’ means sexual contact, it includes the preposition ‘with,’ . . .. and the contact is usually explicit.”
Put all this together, and it is conceivable that Rahab’s speech is doing two things at once—(1) she is revealing the purity of the spies; she had not known them or had sexual intercourse (resolving the concern of v. 1), and (2) she is concealing the whereabouts of the spies, through her denial of having sexual relations with them.
Perhaps, this is reading is too subtle. But if it is subtle, its subtlety fits the “secret” mission (2:1) of the spies and the announcement that Israel would conquer the city in three days. In this context, the author of Joshua is showing how a prostitute turned from her wicked ways and found mercy and salvation in the God of Israel. And thus, her sexual innuendos in her words are actually part fo her confession, not just double entendres for the sake of being racy.
As the rest of the story goes, we know Rahab became a member of Jesus family (Matthew 1:5), and this would only happen through faith in God and a turning away from sexual sin. Do we find that in the pages of Joshua 2? Perhaps. And certainly, we see how her kind actions, which are the thing remembered in Hebrews 11:31, protected the spies and led to the salvation of her own family. Her turning to God and his mercy stands at the center of Joshua 2, and it magnifies a pattern of salvation that runs throughout the Bible. For all these reasons, I am persuaded that Rahab did not lie, but used her words to reveal her newfound allegiance to God, even as she concealed the whereabouts of the spies.
7. Symbolism also fills the story of Rahab and the spies.
Space does not permit a full argument for each of the following suggestions, but here is list of symbols present in Joshua 2. Remember, symbols in the Bible are not invented by the reader but written by the divinely inspired author. As Paul says of Genesis in Galatians 4:24, Moses wrote typologically, meaning the biblical author wrote biblical narratives to highlight various patterns. The same is true in Joshua, especially Joshua 2.
- The two spies—not one, not twelve—but two spies serve as witnesses to the people of Jericho (2:1). As is the case throughout the Bible, God sends forth witnesses before judgment comes. This was truth with Noah and this was true of the two angels who went to Sodom. Even Joshua and Caleb functioned as witnesses to Israel, before that generation died for their unbelief. Again, these two witnesses serve as messengers of salvation (Joshua 2). In the New Testament, Jesus will send out his witnesses two-by-two to tell of the kingdom and the coming judgment. Likewise, the church is described in Revelation 11 at two witnesses. There is arguably a theme that holds these together.
- Three days repeats four times in the first three chapters of Joshua (1:11; 2:16, 22: 3:2). As Paul observes in 1 Corinthians 15, “three days” is a key number for symbolizing the resurrection. It is also number associated with redemption, deliverance, and the changing of the guard—to name but a few ways three days works in the Old Testament.
- To be laid under the flax is suggestive that the spies are buried under material often made into funeral linens. The word “hide” is also used of Moses to describe the man he buried in the sand (Exod. 2:12). Read together with three days the men spend in the hills, this might picture a death and resurrection for them—a theme connected with crossing the baptism.
- The scarlet cord in the window harkens back to the blood painted on the door frame on the night of Passover. In both instances, salvation came through judgment, as God’s people took refuge behind sign on the door or window. Logically, it makes sense that the spies, when asked about salvation, would point back to the Passover. Rahab and her family find salvation in the same way that Israel did, and hence by a similar experience they are brought into God’s family.
- Finally, Rahab the Prostitute follows in the line of Tamar, who dressed herself as a prostitute in order to carry the line of Judah forward (Genesis 38). As we will see, every mother listed in Jesus’s genealogy can be identified as a prostitute in one way or another. Incredibly, the pattern of a prostitute finding salvation through her association with Joshua is found in the first chapter of the New Testament. And it repeats throughout the Gospels, as Jesus often displays pure and saving affection for prostitutes.
8. Matthew includes Rahab in the family of Christ.
In Jesus’s genealogy, Rahab is mentioned. Incredibly, four women are mentioned between Abraham and David:
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, . . . and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah (Matthew 1:2–7)
In these four women, we find an incredible pattern—God rescues prostitutes and brings them into Jesus’s family. Consider how this works.
- Tamar dresses like a prostitute when Judah sleeps with her. She becomes pregnant with twins, one of whom will become the descendent of Jesus.
- Rahab is a prostitute. She is saved when Jericho is destroyed. She marries a son of Judah, they have a son named Boaz and she becomes a descendent of Jesus.
- Ruth the Moabitess comes to Boaz at night like a prostitute. Though this encounter looks questionable (cf. Joshua 2:1), both act in total righteousness and their family carries the line towards Jesus.
- Bathsheba is treated by David like a prostitute. Even Matthew identifies her by her first husband, the Hittite Uriah. Nevertheless, in David’s sin, God redeems the situation and brings Solomon and then Jesus from her offspring.
In all of these women, we see how God works to save. He does not discard unchaste women, he invites them to salvation. This pattern is also seen in Gomer, the wife of Hosea. And in the Gospels, Jesus is found in inns (like that of Rahab’s), where sinners abound. He also is compelled to go into Samaria to save a woman with five husbands (John 4). And finally, in Revelation 18, there is an invitation for God’s people to come out of the harlot Babylon and find salvation: “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (v. 4)
Incredibly, the story of the Bible can be summarized in this way—God sends his Son to save a woman enslaved by the world in prostitution. Jesus is this bridegroom who lays down his life for his bride. Through his death and resurrection he has and is purifying her and bringing her to himself. We find this pattern on display in Joshua 2 and it fits with the rest of Scripture.
9. The New Testament presents Rahab as a model of faith.
In James 2 and Hebrews 11, we find Rahab mentioned. In the former, she is mentioned as a model of faith. In the latter, she is commended for giving a friendly welcome to the spies. In both, she is an example of how one responds to the offer of salvation.
Incredibly, in Hebrews 11 Rahab is mentioned and not Joshua. There are many reasons why this might be, but I am most persuaded by the argument of Richard Ounsworth (Joshua Typology in the New Testament), who defends the view that Joshua is intentionally left off in Hebrews 11, in order to show how the greater Joshua (Jesus) fulfills the expectations first given to Joshua.
The explanation of this is found in Hebrews 3–4, where it says Joshua son of Nun did not secure rest for God’s people. Yet, that promise of rest remained and now Jesus Christ has brought that rest. Hebrews 11 proves this point all the more, because it shrinks the historical details between entry into the land and the arrival of Christ. Notice after Rahab (Heb. 11:31), the chronological story shuts down (vv. 32–40), until Hebrews 12:1–2 introduces Jesus.
In this context, Rahab is added to the group of believers who trusted in God. And in this way, she is the only besides Sarah mentioned in this list. Significantly, she is the only Gentile too (unless you include Abraham). In this way, she serves a critical type in the story of the Bible—namely, the Gentile prostitute who has been brought by grace into the family of faith.
Significantly, she is also placed alongside Abraham in this role in James 2. And throughout Church History, Rahab has been seen as a type of the Church—one of the redeemed from the nations, who has trusted in the God of Israel and been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
10. Many in Church History have seen Rahab as a type of the church.
Confirming this reading of Rahab as a type of believer and even a type of the Church, many generations in the early church appealed to Rahab as a person by whom God promised the nations a place in his kingdom, if they would believe his Word and trust in his Son (see Jean Danielou, From Shadows to Reality). While some of these typological connections have flirted with fanciful interpretation, there is in the storyline of redemption an incredible place for Rahab and her offspring.
God’s mercy to her holds out hope to all of us, and accordingly we should see how her life and the pattern of her salvation repeat throughout the Bible. For indeed, the movement from unbelieving prostitute to redeemed bride is the story of the Bible. And it is one we cannot miss when we encounter Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Gomer, Mary Magdalene, the Woman at the Well, or ourselves.
For indeed, this is how God grafts in unnatural branches—through the saving work of Jesus and faith granted to sinners like Rahab.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
The Use of škb in Genesis–Deuteronomy
In Genesis, six episodes speak of a man laying with a woman, and in all of them there is a measure of sexual immorality. Even Jacob sleeping with his wife Leah is complicated by his polygamy.
- Genesis 19:32, 33, 34, 35 – Lot’s daughters “lie down” with their Father
- Genesis 26:10 – Abimelech reproaches Isaac because he could have lied down with Rebecca
- Genesis 30:15–16 – Jacob is permitted by Rachel to lay with Leah
- Genesis 34:27 – Shechem seized Dinah to forcibly lie with her
- Genesis 35:22 – Reuben lay with his father’s concubine, Bilhah
- Genesis 39:7, 10, 12, 14 – Potipher’s wife sought to lie with Joseph
In the Laws of Moses, we find plentiful instructions against sexual immorality, i.e., men laying down illicitly with a woman, men, or animals.
- Exodus 22:16, 19
- Leviticus 15:18, 24, 33
- Leviticus 18:22
- Leviticus 19:20
- Leviticus 20:11, 12, 13, 18, 20
- Numbers 5:13, 19
- Deuteronomy 22:22, 23, 25, 28, 29
- Deuteronomy 27:20, 21, 22, 23
Throughout Genesis–Deuteronomy the word is used to describe men going to sleep, as in the case of Genesis 28:13 when God promises Jacob the land on which he lies. But in every case where men and women are in view, the word is used with a sexual connotation. With this background, it seems unmistakable that when the word škb is used in the context of Rahab’s house, the use appears to be sexual—but importantly it is not!