Joshua: Chapter 2 - Spies and Conversion

Bible Study @ Hurst Gospel Hall

Author: John Whitmarsh
Added: 2007-09-03

Perhaps there is no need to break up the chapter into sections as this part of the story of Rahab (the other part is to be found in chapter 6) is complete in itself. Also there are interesting NT references to Rahab, firstly in Matthew 1 (though for some reason she is called Rachab there), secondly in Hebrews 11 and finally in James 2. We will, of necessity, have to consider these NT references in our studies relating to Rahab.

But in addition to these NT references the Psalmist says, 'I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.' Psalm 87.4 and, 'Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.' Psalm 89.10. We also get mention of Rahab in Isaiah 51.9, 'Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?' It will be observed that the Hebrew word that is used in these three scriptures is different from the word used in both Joshua chapter 2 and chapter 6. The only difference is the letter 'c'. The word that is used in the Psalms and in Isaiah is Rahab and the word used in Joshua is Rachab (so Matthew 1 may be the correct version!!!). The name Rahab means blusterer, proud, strength, boaster and is an epithet for Egypt considered by God to be proud. The name Rachab means proud and is the name of a Canaanitish woman.

Darby in his synopsis of this chapter and, no doubt having in mind that James 2 talks of both Abraham and Rahab, said, 'If Abraham believed God when there was not a people, Rahab identified herself with this people when they had nothing but God.'

2:1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house *, named Rahab, and lodged there.

Chapter 1 has spoken of three days before the children of Israel were to go over the river Jordan. This chapter speaks of the men hiding for three days so that it must be assumed that the events of this chapter occur before the powerful words of chapter 1. Some margins have, 'And Joshua the son of Nun had sent out of Shittim...' Why should the chronology of the two chapters be mixed up? Why not tell this part of the story before the part about the words of encouragement? This message of being strong and courageous is paramount to the understanding of the whole book and so is presented first of all as an introduction.

The last time that spies were sent into the land there were twelve of them and only two came back with a good report. This time Joshua sends but two spies into the land. They were sent to spy secretly. Whether this means that their departure over the river and into the land was not told to the children of Israel (probable) or whether their mission was to spy with skill, to spy silently (i.e. to listen to what was going on around them rather than speak which could betray their origin) when they were in the land is not clear but whatever the case they ended up in the house that Rahab lived in and 'lodged' there. The translation of that word should be slept or lay there. Why did these two men go to this house to stay there? Could there not have been another house to choose? Why climb up to the top of the wall to find lodgings? Some have speculated all sorts of things here but we can only go by what we are told. Maybe this was part of the secret, unnoticed spying. For two men to come from outside the town, from afar even, and visit this house (by the way it is not described as an inn - it is Rahab's prostitution that makes us assume that this was at best a hotel and at worst a house of ill repute) may not have seemed out of place and may have been calculated to have made them inconspicuous as spies but all of this is speculation. We can only say from the words of Joshua 2 that they were in the same house as a woman who the scripture describes as a harlot.

Shittim was on the east side of the Jordan and means 'acacias'. There is the thought of piercing in the word. Jericho was opposite Shittim on the west bank and this name means variously 'moon, month, fragrant.'

2:2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country.

The king of Jericho was told that the men were in the house. Someone sneaked on the spies. We are not told whether the men spoke out of turn or whether it was that it was obvious that these were Israelites (Rahab certainly knew where they had come from according to verses 9-11). Surely as spies they would have not made it obvious that they were from the camp beyond the river. Surely they were to spy silently. They were to listen rather than speak. But perhaps it was that their speech, their accent, whenever it was that they spoke, gave them away. It was known as early as verse two that these men were Israelites as the informants told the king that the men were at Rahab's house. The informants were also clear about the purpose of the visit. Again they may well have surmised the men's intentions but they were clear that the men had not just come to the city but to search, to 'dig out' the country. It was not merely Jericho that they had come to see but the informants' understanding of the situation was that these men were not interested in a good time in the city but were there for far more sinister (to their way of thinking) reasons. How they came to this conclusion we are not told.

2:3 And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country.

Working on the information that the king of Jericho received he sent to Rahab (immediately?) saying, 'Bring out the men'. His understanding of the situation was that the men were inside the house and so they were. He also had the message passed onto Rahab that the men had come to search out all the country. Whether the informants of verse two are the messengers of verse three we are not told.

2:4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:

JN Darby translates this verse, 'But the woman had taken and concealed the two men.' It appears that the men were hidden by the time the messengers came from the king (see verse 6). The AV makes it sound as though Rahab dashed back into the house, hid the men quickly and quietly and had enough time to come back down from the roof to say her words to the person/s at the door. Surely they were on the roof and under the flax by the time there was the knock on the door.

Rahab admitted to the men being at her house at some stage but did not confess to them being there at the time of asking. Moreover she did not admit to knowing from where they had come. This may or may not have been true at the time but the next statement was definitely wrong.

2:5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.

Rahab stated that the men had come for a while and then had left. She said that they had left in the dark at about the time the gate was shut for the night and that she did not know where they had gone. There was no passing through the gate. There was no departure from the house. The men had gone nowhere near the gate. They were with her. Everything that she said was a pack of lies. She knew exactly where they had gone. She may not have known at this stage where they had come from but she certainly knew where they were for she had put them there. They had gone to the roof of her house. And so the messengers (the personal pronoun is 'ye' and the next verse says 'men') were sent on a wild goose chase. It did not matter how fast they set off and with what they pace they pursued they were never going to overtake them.

2:6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

She had brought them up to the roof of the house. Her house must have been on the wall itself and not some way down and within the wall (see verse 15) for this verse and verse 8 tells us that the house had a roof. There was flax on the roof as well. Perhaps this was being dried out and that it was used to make linen. The word for flax is used some sixteen times in the OT and is translated either flax or linen.

2:7 And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.

We are told which way the men went in their pursuit of the spies. They went towards Jordan. Rahab had never sent them that way but they knew which direction to go. The fact that they had been given false information meant that they wasted both time and energy. Presumably they opened the gate for them (although we are not told). There appears to be urgency about the men's errand. Presumably they left that same night. If it was the next night then there would have been no sense Rahab pretending that the men could have been followed and overtaken. This brings an end to the bare facts of the narrative. What comes next is not only narrative but some very clear statements made by both Rahab and the men that indicate the principles and rewards of faith.

2:8 And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof;

Presumably the men thought that they were going to stay overnight on the roof and were preparing to sleep (the word translated '(laid) down' is the same as that translated 'lodged' in verse 1) as best they could on the roof top and amidst the flax stalks. Rahab came up to see them in their hiding place. It may be best at this point to describe some features of Rahab to show that the principles of the gospel may be drawn from the story in Joshua 2:

1. She was a sinner - she was a prostitute and had no compunction about lying. Although it is appreciated that there are degrees to sin it did not matter whether her sin was sordid (prostitution) or simple (lying), sin is sin. If the gospel is to be preached from Joshua 2 then it must be pointed out that there was no recognition or acknowledgement of her personal sin as far as we read. For the individual to be assured of a home in heaven there must be acknowledgement of personal sin.

2. She believed in the God of heaven (see verses 9-11). Hebrews 11.6 says, 'For without faith it is impossible to please him (God): for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.'

3. She knew that a catastrophe was about to take place (verse 9). For the sinner to be saved he/she must believe that they face certain and impending judgment.

4. She saw the need to be saved from the physical danger in which she was found (verses 12-13). Hebrews 11.31 says, 'By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them which believed not, when she received the spies with peace.' It says 'when' and not because. She did not want to perish with the people of Jericho. She knew that they would all perish and she did not want to die. There is no need for any who face eternal danger (and that is the whole world) to perish for 'whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.'

5. She asked to be saved. There were no demands made although she cites the fact that she had shown kindness to the spies. We can make no demands on God's forgiveness. We must come asking.

6. She followed the simple instructions that she was given. The scarlet cord (thread) was in place. 'This line of scarlet thread'. Provision had been made and we are not told who had supplied the thread on purpose. It is not presented as being made by someone but just as being made. It just had to applied in the window by simple faith. God has provided for us. We have to believe in that which God has provided for us as our means of salvation in the same way as Rahab had to believe in that thread of scarlet.

7. A promise was made. If this is done then this will happen.

2:9 And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.

Verse 9 is of great importance to the understanding of the whole chapter. Rahab had an understanding of the true God. She was heathen and yet she had a grasp of God's existence. We live in once-called Christian England with all its heritage and privilege and yet there is little to no fear of God among us. We have spiralled down to a cess pit of our own making. How wonderful to think that this woman from a heathen country with a multiplicity of false gods was able to discern the true God and also what He was about to do. She knew that there was not going to be another 38 years' wandering in the wilderness. Something was about to happen and it involved the land and the city of Jericho.

We must ever remember that God gave the children of Israel the land. This word 'given' is the operative word and it occurs time and time again in Joshua (1.2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14, 15; 2.12, 14; 5.6; 6.2, 16; 7.19; 8.1, 18; 9.24; 11.23; 12.6, 7; 13.8, 14, 15, 24, 29, 33, 14.3, 4, 12, 13; 15.13,16, 17,19; 17.4,14; 18.3, 4, 7; 19.49, 50; 20.4; 21.2, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 21, 27, 43, 44; 22.4, 7; 23.1, 13, 15, 16; 14.13, 33; 24.3, 4, 8 - some of these are different words in the Hebrew text and some verses have more than one mention).

The dread that accompanied the children of Israel fell on the occupants of the land of Canaan. It was not just a personal realisation of impending trouble. The dread had resulted in all the land melting (better word than faint - see verses 11 (a different Hebrew word is used here) and verse 24) before them. Not that all did what Rahab did. Some who saw the spies were prepared to sneak on them such was the fear that they were in. God wants to bring people to a point of fear but he also wants to bring those same people to the point of faith as in the case of Rahab. Rahab's reaction was not the same as the informants in verse 2. She could have reacted the same way but she was ready to receive these two men. She had believed in the God of heaven and earth. As soon as she met the spies she was wanting to ask them how she could be delivered from the coming a catastrophe.

2:10 For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.

Once again the statement is a general recognition. She had not been alone in hearing what God had done. There was the matter of deliverance of about 2,000,000 people from out of the land of Egypt. There was the matter of Sihon (his name means warrior and he was the king of the Amorites at the time of the conquest and defeated by Moses in Transjordan) and Og (his name means long necked and he was the Amorite king of Bashan and one of the last representatives of the giants of Rephaim).

2:11 And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.

Again this was not a mere personal reaction to the events of the Red Sea and in the wilderness. They heard and believed what they heard to the extent that their courage was gone. Rahab, at least, recognised that the Lord their God was the God in heaven and earth. It may well be that others recognised this fact but it is true to say that it was only Rahab and her family who were spared in the events of chapter 6. Rahab was prepared to do something about the situation that she was knew was about to happen. The king was not prepared. The informants were not either. Neither were the messengers.

2:12 Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father's house, and give me a true token:

Verse 12 is intensely personal. On a general note, the matter of salvation is intensely personal but we must remember that our eternal salvation is not as a result of bargaining with God. The picture here is not absolutely perfect. We cannot say, 'Since I have showed kindness unto you'. We must also remember that in the matter of eternal salvation we cannot obtain that salvation for our family as well as ourselves.

She may well have pleaded for the whole city but the plea is for herself and her own. The language has changed from we and ours to I, my and me. It is interesting to note that the word for kindness that is used twice in the verse is translated as 'mercy' some 149 times in the AV of the scriptures. As with this physical deliverance so with salvation from eternal danger. It is based on mercy. We cannot bring anything to God. We cannot lay anything upon a table and bargain with Him for His salvation. We cannot exchange anything for salvation. We are cast upon God for His mercy. We cannot demand justice as that would be eternally fatal. Our only plea is for God's mercy.

Not only did she ask for deliverance for herself and her own, she asked for a true sign that the deliverance would take place. Surely that token is given in verse 18.

2:13 And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.

Rahab was very specific. Father, mother, brothers, sisters and all that they had. She also included herself in the last statement - and deliver our lives from death.

2:14 And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.

The men acknowledged that it was not only Rahab who wanted to be delivered. Our life (it is interesting that it is in the singular) for yours. They ('ye') were all instructed not to speak about the men's business. The word for kindly has been used already in verse 12. The word for truly has been used in verse 12 as well. The last part of the promise, for it was a promise, was Rahab specific though it meant that her wish in relation to her family was granted. It should be pointed out that God has made a promise that He will not break to all those who obey the gospel. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (man's responsibility) and thou shalt be saved (God's promise).'

2:15 Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.

The word for 'cord', chebel, is different from that found in verse 18 where 'line', tiqvah, and 'thread', chuwt, are mentioned. The idea is a rope. It was something that had to be firmly secured and that could bear the weight of the men as they were lowered from the top of the wall for this woman's house was on the wall (it had a roof). In verse 18 there is no need to tie some thing to the window that was to support the weight of a person for that was not its purpose. Verse 11 makes it clear that it was a token. The rope through the window in verse 15 was the woman's means of deliverance for the men. The scarlet line of thread in the window was the men's means of deliverance for the woman and all in her household who were prepared to stay within the confines of the house while the mayhem went on around them.

2:16 And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way.

The mountain was in the opposite direction from where they had come. James 2.25 says, 'Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way.' It could be argued that she received messengers from the king in Joshua 2 and that she sent them away in a different direction. But we have already seen that she does not direct the visitors from the king in any direction as she said that she knew not from where they had come. The pursuers knew that these two men were Israelites and that they camped beyond the river. They had gone in that direction for they had been told to overtake them. Rahab had never divulged that she knew that they were Israelites. She just said that they went out at the shutting of the gate when it was dark but that she did not know where they went (she knew exactly their whereabouts). She knew in which direction the men had gone to follow the spies. She pointed the two spies in the opposite direction (so that the passage in James 2 speaks of the spies) and told them to lie low there for three days. Surely what she was doing amounted to treason. She could have died for this action and the words that had been spoken.

2:17 And the men said unto her, We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear.

Blameless and guiltless (in verse 19) are the same word in the Hebrew. Oath is the same as that used in verse 20. Whatever took place the men were to be guiltless as far as the oath that Rahab had made them swear. If Rahab's family spoke of the spies' business they would be free from the promise that they had made. If the family were to leave the house (verse 19) then they would be not be guaranteed safety. If the sign was not in the window (verse 18) then the promise was negated. If all the conditions were observed then Rahab and her family were safe.

2:18 Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father's household, home unto thee.

This has already been mentioned but the line, the cord (there is an aspect of this word which suggests 'hope' as it is translated thus 23 times in the AV out of the 34 times that it is used in the scriptures and also translated 'expected' another eight times) was in place - 'this line'. It was provided. Hope was in place. The only other time that the word used here is translated 'line' is in verse 21.

The instruction was to bind the cord in the same window by which the spies were let down. This was to be done when the children of Israel were come into the land. It was the same window and not the same rope. The implication of verse 21 is that Rahab did so straightaway. She was not going to forget and so lose out on the blessing of deliverance.

It was a simple instruction and by no means outrageous. The demand that was made was not something to which any could make a meaningful objection. There was no need to say, 'That is an impossible request. I simply cannot do that and retain my dignity.' God never asks us to do anything that means that we forego our dignity. That our pride is dismantled is not the same thing for this has to take place for faith to be seen. God's salvation does not involve a loss of dignity.

It was a simple instruction and by no means onerous. To tie a piece of thread that was given to Rahab - a child could have done that. What was required more than the ability to tie a thread was a belief in the power of God to save. What God asks of us is to apply the work that has been done by another ('this line') by simple faith to these souls of ours for full and free salvation.

It was a simple instruction and by no means ostentatious. It was a line or a thread. It was not a flag. It did not need to go up until the children of Israel came into the land but, by definition, it would have had to be there for seven days.

Scarlet or crimson - properly, the insect 'coccus ilicis', the dried body of the female yielding colouring matter from which is made the dye used for cloth to colour it scarlet or crimson. Presumably the insect has to die to yield the colouring. How it reminds us of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus. From early days we have been taught of the scarlet thread of blood sacrifice that is to be traced through the scriptures. There is so much that points to the death of the Lord Jesus in the OT and so much that looks back to that same death in the NT that needs to be the subject of a separate study.

2:19 And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him.

Each person that desired to be kept safe throughout the destruction of Jericho had to remain within the house. Presumably this was not as easy a command to obey as it sounds. The house was on the wall (verse 15) which was 50, 60, 70 feet in the air. When the walls fell this house must have been isolated on the only bit of wall that remained upright. The temptation would have been to run outside for safety when the walls started to tumble. They were not to run into the street (was there a street that ran around the top of the wall as well? Were these walls thick? or does the word just mean outside as it is translated on 70 other occasions in the scriptures?). The reason they were not to run outside was that there would be no outside but just fresh air once the walls had tumbled. The person who did that would certainly have his blood upon his own head (though we realise that this means that the person who died in those circumstances would have done so as a result of their own disbelief and disobedience - it would not have been the spies' fault that the person died; we will be guiltless or innocent) for it was a long way to fall!!!

Conversely, any who died within the house that had the thread in the window were the responsibility of the spies. It is interesting to note that the phrase used is 'blood on the head' and not 'blood on the hands' which is the modern phrase for bearing the responsibility for someone's death.

2:20 And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear.

This is the converse of verse 14. Remaining quiet about their business and following the other instructions (the main one being the simple instruction of tying the thread in the window) would mean safety. Speaking out of turn about their business would negate the oath. The word for 'quit' is the same word used in verses 17 and 19 and translated as blameless and guiltless. The word for 'oath' is linked to the word translated 'swear' (it is the feminine passive participle if we need to be technical) and means 'that which is sworn'.

2:21 And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window.

It is almost a casual and dismissive expression of Rahab's obedience in this verse. She had no trouble in accepting what the men said. There was no debate. There was no back chat. 'So be it'. 'Amen'. I agree. I consent. I believe. And the proof of the faith that she had was that she took the line (straightaway?) and tied it in the window. She laid hold upon hope for the line was her hope. Against hope, for Jericho was to be utterly destroyed, she believed in hope.

2:22 And they went, and came unto the mountain, and abode there three days, until the pursuers were returned: and the pursuers sought them throughout all the way, but found them not.

'Departed' in verse 21 and 'went' in verse 22 are the same word in the Hebrew text. For the three days see the comments on verse 1. It is true that Rahab obeyed the instructions that were given to her but it is also true that the men obeyed the instructions that were given to them (see verse 16).

2:23 So the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all things that befell them:

The two spies turned back, descended the mountain (so they must have climbed it to a certain height), passed over (that is the Jordan) and came to Joshua to tell him that had happened to them. .

2:24 And they said unto Joshua, Truly the LORD hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us.

The men quoted the words of Rahab of verse 9 to Joshua.


'By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them which believed not, when she received the spies with peace.' She didn't perish with them because she did not want to perish with them. Neither do we need to perish eternally because salvation has been provided and it is for us to believe in the one who God has provided even the Lord Jesus.