Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Joshua 2

This chapter centers on Rahab (Hebrew Rachav, meaning wide), variously called a prostitute or an innkeeper (Hebrew zonah). Two spies are sent about eight miles across the Jordan into the walled city of Jericho. They go to Rahab's home. Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews says that the two spies were Caleb and Phinehas. ( but there is no biblical support for this.

The king of Jericho, made aware of the spies' presence, demands Rahab render them to him, but she instead hides them. Her house was on the city wall, so she let them down from a rope through her window and advised them to hide for three days until the pursuit died down. In return, they agree to spare the lives of anyone in her household if she displays a scarlet cord through the same window. One anomaly in the story is that the walls of Jericho are later brought down, including presumably the wall from which the cord hangs.
Rahab is central to the story. A strong and independent woman whose heart apparently is not "melting with fear" as she describes her countrymen, she makes a shrewd, highly self-interested calculation and a sound bargain in throwing in with the Lord. Notice that she, not a male relative, makes the bargain, meaning that she was the ruler of her family. Unlike her countrymen, she recognizes God as supreme. A good question is why other residents of Jericho, who evidently also understand that God is supreme, do not surrender to the Israelites and convert to Judaism. Evidently they prefer fear to action.

There are a number of other questions one might ask. The spies presumably had to enter the city through the gate. Why were they not challenged there? How did Rahab (and the king) know they were spies? Why did the spies need to spy out the land-- and especially to enter Jericho-- if the battle plan was to raze the city walls? Wouldn't the intelligence from Joshua's early foray sufficed? If Rahab had betrayed the spies, would it have in any way affected Joshua's mission?

Rahab appears as the husband of Salmon and the mother of Boaz in the genealogy of Jesus presented in Matt. 1: 5

Leithart points out the parallel between the scarlet cord that Rahab hangs from her window to signal to the Israelites to spare her house and the blood daubed on the lintel at Passover to signal to the Angel of Death to spare the household. (

Jamieson ( says that the reason the king's messengers did not enter Rahab's house was that Oriental men had "an almost superstitious regard for a woman's apartment." More likely, Rahab was a force to be reckoned with.

Matthew Henry ( points out that Rahab is celebrated in the New Testament for proving her faith with deeds (James 2:25) and for being a strong believer (Heb. 11:31).

A number of commentators discuss the issue of Rahab's lie to the king's messenger. Some attempt to justify it (Matthew Henry is especially ingenious in this regard). Others dismiss it as not sinful since Rahab had not converted. Others say the law of the Old Testament does not absolutely forbid lying, particularly when it comes to saving life. But a simpler answer would be that the lie led as it must to another wrong, the destruction of Jericho and the murder of many innocents. It is a wrong that God in His complex works will eventually turn to good, but for the people of Jericho, it was bloody betrayal.


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