Chapter 2


Rahab and the Spies

    • Joshua secretly sent two men as spies from their camp at Shittim and told them to scout out the land, especially Jericho. The two men set out, came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab, and stayed there.

      • Some Bible translations say that the spies left from “Acacia Grove.” The ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “The name [Hebrew, shittim], meaning ‘acacias,’ suggests that it was located in the once-forested Moab hills. The site has not been located, although many scholars suggest Tell el-Hammam. A second possibility is that it should be identified with Abel-shittim located at the modern site of Tell el-Kefrein, about 12 miles east of Jericho.”

      • Was Rahab an innkeeper or a prostitute? Why would the Israelite spies go stay with a prostitute?

      • According to sources I’ll cite below, she was an innkeeper who was also a prostitute. Realizing that she ran an inn helps to answer why the spies would have chosen to stay in her home.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible cites ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, in his Antiquities 5.1.2: “Rahab was an innkeeper as well as a prostitute.”

        • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible continues, “In the house of a prostitute strangers could avoid unwanted attention.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “In the second millennium BC, the West Semitic world and that of its Hittite neighbors to the north associated innkeepers, whom Rahab is assumed to be in this story, with prostitutes. In the first millennium BC, this seems to have changed, perhaps due to sociological changes brought about by developments in the brewing of alcohol. The role of the prostitute as innkeeper is attested in the eighteenth-century BC Code of Hammurapi.”

      • What about the claim that this passage alludes to the spies as “customers” of Rahab?

        • HCSB writes, “Some commentators read sexual innuendo into the text. The narrative, however, is careful to avoid any suggestion of a sexual encounter between the spies and Rahab by using terminology applicable to lodging rather than sex. The phrase ‘came to the house’ indicates that the spies entered her house, not that they ‘went to bed with her,’ the description of sexual relations (eg Judges 16:1).”

        • It’s also relevant to note that the Bible certainly doesn’t seem to be in the habit of editing out immoral acts on the part of the “good guys” anywhere else. So, there’s really no reason to assume convenient editing in this instance either.

    • Someone told the king of Jericho that some Israelite men had come that night to investigate the land. So, the king sent orders to Rahab saying, “Bring out the men who went into your house because they came to investigate the whole land.”

    • Rahab had hidden the two men so she replied, “Yes, two men did come here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. They left at dusk just before the gate closed and I don’t know where they were going. Hurry and you can catch up with them!” But, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them in stalks of flax she had laid out there. The king’s men went after them along the road leading to the fords (shallow crossing) of the Jordan River. As soon as the king’s men passed the gate of Jericho, it was closed.

      • HCSB writes, “She admitted the spies had entered her house but then sent the king’s search party on a false pursuit outside the city. In so doing, Rahab assumed great personal risk to herself and her family; if they had discovered her deception the consequences would have been severe.”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Medium-sized towns such as Jericho had one main gate made of two very large wooden doors reinforced with bronze. The gate was barred for the night and opened again in the morning. By shutting the gate immediately after the pursuers departed, the authorities took a sensible precaution: If the spies had not left the town as Rahab implied, they might still be found in Jericho during the night.”

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “At this point in the Jordan River there is a wide valley- the city sits not by the river but over 5 miles away…Between the Sea of Galilee in the north and the Dead Sea in the south, there were few places where the Jordan could be crossed; one such site was across from Jericho. The men of Jericho assumed that the spies were headed across the valley to this crossing point.”

      • What about Rahab’s lie? A lot of ink has been spilled attempting to argue that the Bible doesn’t condone Rahab’s lie. HCSB’s commentary is one example: “Scripture does not condone Rahab’s lie; the Bible makes it clear that deception is wrong…”

        • However, I find myself in agreement with Dr. Michael Heiser’s comments in his article, Lying and Deception. Here are a few excerpts:

        • We like to bring up Rahab and say things like ‘she’s in Hebrews 11 for her faith, not for her lie’ and ‘James commends her only for her faith, not the lie.’ This is hollow.” (emphasis mine)

      • Look at James 2:25. James is looking for biblical illustrations of genuine faith and the works that show faith is genuine. Of all the people in the Old Testament he could have chosen, he picks Abraham and RAHAB! Not Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Hannah, etc., etc. (see Hebrews 11). He uses RAHAB. James specifically commends her (James 2:25) for TWO things: (1) receiving the spies; and (2) sending them out ‘by another way.’ The second item is directly contingent upon her act of deception and her outright lie. James knew the story, too.”

      • Frankly, I believe that real life gives us situations sometimes in which black and white rules are revealed to actually have some fuzzy, gray edges. Heiser does a great job of providing a sampling to ponder. Here are a couple:

        • Is it ok to lie in these instances: (During the Holocaust) “Are you hiding Jews in your attic?”; (The drunken Dad asks the little boy whose mom is hiding) Where’s your mom? I want to kick her a**!”

        • What about these very real life scenarios: “A Christian really could be in the witness protection program.”; “A Christian really could be an undercover cop.”

      • What’s my point in drawing attention to this particular tendency of some people and sources to overstate the “the Bible NEVER condones deception in absolutely any situation” claim? First, is just to note the fact above that even some rules that seem pretty black and white may have exceptions or nuances at times; and second, I believe making these sweeping theological claims while ignoring Biblical evidence to the contrary can be damaging.

The Promise to Rahab

    • Before the spies fell asleep, Rahab went up on the roof and told them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a fear of you has fallen on us all. Everyone is terrified of you because we have heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea so you could cross when you left Egypt, and what you did to the two Amorite kings across the Jordan- Sihon and Og- whom you completely destroyed. When we heard this, we lost our heart and courage, because the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now, please swear to me by the Lord that you will deal kindly with me and my family as I have dealt kindly with you. Give me a sign of guarantee that you will spare the lives of my family- my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all their families.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Rahab’s arrangement with the scouts was a stirring declaration of faith in Yahweh, Israel’s God (Joshua 2:8-21). As a Canaanite woman, Rahab would have practiced the fertility cult of Baal, god of the storm and life-giving rain, and of his consort Asherah, the mother earth goddess. Yet, based on reports of Israel’s progress toward her land, Rahab recognized that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is ‘the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below’ (2:11).”

      • The same source continues, “After Joshua’s conquest of Jericho, Rahab married Salmon of the tribe of Judah; she gave birth to a son, whom they named Boaz (Ruth 4:21; Matthew 1:5). Thus, Rahab was the mother-in-law of Ruth, another foreign woman adopted into Israel. Rahab was King David’s great-great-grandmother. She is listed with Moses, David, Samson, and Samuel as examples of faith demonstrated by good deeds (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). She is one of the five women (including Mary) mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, the human family tree of God’s Son (Matthew 1:5). Along with these outsiders and their stories, Rahab bears especially poignant witness to the breathtaking scope of God’s grace.”

    • The spies answered, “We will give our lives for yours. If you don’t report our mission, we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the Lord gives us the land.” Rahab lived in a house that was built into the city wall, so she lowered them down out of the window with a rope. She told them, “Go into the hills so the men who went after you won’t find you. Hide there for three days until they have returned to the city; after that you can go on your way.”

      • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes this interesting bit of information regarding Rahab’s instruction for the spies to hide for three days, “…the Late Bronze Age Hittite ‘Instructions to the Commander of the Border Fortress’ specifies this length of time for the pursuit of the enemy, followed by the demand that any officer who does not kill his enemy must be turned over to the king for punishment. This provides a precedent for Rahab’s advice to Jericho’s enemies and a measure of her personal risk in not surrendering the spies to Jericho’s leadership.”

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The hill country of central Canaan began its steep rise just west of Jericho. Thinking that the two spies would head directly to Israel’s camp across the Jordan, the pursuers from Jericho would naturally head eastward. When the pursuers gave up, the spies could slip across the Jordan unhindered.”

    • The spies said, “We will only be bound by the oath we have sworn to you if you obey these instructions: When we come into the land, tie this scarlet cord to the window you lowered us down from. Also, you must bring your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives into your house. If any of them leave your house and get killed, their blood is on their own head and we will not be responsible. However, if anyone lays their hands on someone inside your house, we accept responsibility for their death. Additionally, if you report our mission, we will no longer be bound by this oath.” Rahab agreed to these terms and sent them on their way. After they left, she tied the scarlet cord to the window.

      • Guzik writes, “Joshua would be a savior for Rahab, but a judge of the rest of Jericho. In the same way Jesus is a savior for those who trust Him, but a judge for those who reject Him.”

    • The two spies went into the hill country and stayed for three days until the king’s men had returned to the city. The king’s men searched all along the way, but didn’t find them. After this, the two spies came down from the hills, crossed the Jordan River, and reported everything that had happened to them to Joshua. They said, “The Lord has handed the whole land over to us. Everyone who lives there is terrified because of us.”