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Chapter two continues the account of Joshua’s preparation to conquer the land of Canaan and sets the scene for one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament. Jericho was the first major city in the path of Israel’s entrance to the land, so they had to conquer it. Joshua sent two spies to find out everything they could about Jericho’s defenses (Joshua 2:1-7). Arriving in the city, they spent the night at the home of a prostitute named Rahab. In his Notes on Joshua, Constable quotes at least three other sources who note that “a prostitute’s or innkeeper’s house was the accustomed place for meeting with spies, conspirators, and the like” and “strange men at a harlot’s place of business would hardly raise suspicion.” Further, he points out that the Jewish historian, Josephus, called Rahab an innkeeper. 1 Somehow the king of Jericho heard that Israelite spies were at her home, and he commanded her to turn them over to the police, but she refused, saying that they had already left. Because she had hidden them on her rooftop, this was a lie. We should note that, while her intentions were good, lying was still a sin and a reflection that she did not fully trust God to take care of the spies.
Unbelievers and skeptics often use the conquest of Canaan as proof of God’s malevolence and bloodthirstiness in the Old Testament. How could God command all these people to be killed, even the women and children? That doesn’t sound like a God of love! However, it is important to notice something Rahab said. In Joshua 2:8-14, Rahab told the spies that everyone in the region was “absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you.” One might assume that was because Israel’s 600,000+ member army was standing at their doors, but that was not so. The reason for their terror was that they “heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea and how you annihilated the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan.” This is significant because the Red Sea had happened 40 years earlier and the Amorite kings about a year earlier! The Canaanites had been quaking in their boots for four decades knowing that the Israelites were coming for them, and they chose to remain and fight instead of evacuating. They died because they chose to, not because they had to. Later on we discover that Joshua and Israel took approximately five years to clear Canaan (it had been 45 years since they began their 40-year desert wandering, Joshua 14:10), which means that the other cities had time to save themselves as well.
Because of her devotion to the true God, Rahab asked that she and her family would be spared in Jericho’s certain downfall, but the spies required three proofs of loyalty (Joshua 2:15-24). First, she must hang a scarlet cord from her window, so that the Israelites would know to avoid that home. Second, her family must be inside her home during the invasion. Only those inside would be saved. Third, she must not give them away or let anyone know their plans. When she agreed to all of these conditions, they swore an oath confirming her safety then returned to Joshua, praising God that victory was sure.
- Thomas Constable, Notes on Joshua, 2015 edition (http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm), 15-16. ↩