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Spies and Promises: Joshua 2

In Summary:
After an interlude when Joshua is commissioned to take command, the narrative story of Israel continues with Joshua 2. Joshua sends two spies into Jericho to check out the situation. Then, things get exciting.

Overall, this chapter is worthy of a good action movie. You have a secret mission into foreign territory. Your spies make it as far as an inn at the edge of town, where they are found out. The king (keep in mind, kings ruled over cities in that era) sends word to the innkeeper to hand over the spies. She doesn’t. Instead, she hides them, deceives the king, and helps the enemies of her nation escape. There’s enough intrigue for a thriller.

And then you have the potential scandal, as shown in the labeling of Rahab as a harlot or prostitute (see NASB and ESV in Joshua 2:1). The word and grammar here are vague enough to suggest that Rahab was, at times, engaged in such a profession but that she was also an innkeeper. Without getting too nerdy here, I have seen some commentary that suggests Rahab is possibly a war widow who did not remarry and instead held her own business and property. The ancient world was not flooded with high morals, and inns were commonly involved in both above-board and below-sheet businesses.

So, there is no certainty that the spies stop specifically for a rendezvous. Just as you can stay at the Holiday Inn without joining the karaoke kookiness, even being unaware of it, our spies may be innocent. They stopped at a well-traveled location.

Which is probably why they got found out. Rahab hides them, misdirects the king, and then helps them escape. Basic spy-movie plot, with a few lovely ladies involved and the real solution coming from an outsider.

In Focus:
We should not leave this passage without putting the promise to Rahab by the spies in focus. First, we see her plea in Joshua 2:9-14. She recognizes the God of Israel, called here by His covenant name, as greater than any other god. She confesses that the people of Jericho know they will be defeated, and here she chooses to side with God.

And, therefore, she sides with Israel. Her fear of God exceeds her fear of her king—even though the king could have had her killed. Her fear of God drives her.

Then, we need to consider the behavior of the spies. They promise Rahab that they will deliver her when the Israelites come and destroy everyone else. That sounds great. After she has gotten them out of the jam, they note that their promise came with strings attached. Well, one string, literally: if she did not tie a scarlet thread in her window, their promise would be nullified.

In Practice:
We can find some easy application here. First of all, let your fear of God be greater than your fear of man. That will drive many changes in your actions, won’t it? Did you vote because you feared what your neighbor would do? Or what a “foreigner” might do? Or did you vote because of your belief in God-honoring right and wrong?

What about work? Do you work like your boss depends on you or like you are a servant of God? As you plan your future, who do you seek to serve most? Yourself, or God?

A second application is unfortunate: be wary of people who make promises under stress. Like the spies did to Rahab, they may attach an escape clause to their word. That does not line up with Jesus’ commands to us (Matthew 5:37). So, believers in Jesus should not do such a thing. But be aware of others, and keep in mind that not all “stress” is immediate death. If he “promises” he’ll go to church after you marry him…if someone “promises” they’ll change if you only do this, realize that the stress is promising. Not the person’s character.

In Nerdiness: 
1. Innkeeper/harlot: that’s a big discussion for history. It should be noted that Rahab is someone pushed to the margins of her society. She lives in the wall, for cryin’ out loud. The king wants to use her, apparently men in town use her, and even the spies use her. But if you trace her heritage, she becomes a part of the people of God. God uses those that society pushes aside.

2. The lying. That’s a problem, for Jesus is the truth, right? What do we do with this? I think it was Kissinger or Nixon who observed that a “lie is an abomination to the Lord, and a very present help in time of trouble.” We are to be people of the truth, but what about in dealing with life and death? God uses Rahab’s lie. That does not mean we should actively deceive, but can the affairs of nations take place completely openly?

3. Sending the spies. Joshua said in Joshua 1:11 that the people would go in 3 days….then he sends the spies and that takes 3 days. Plus, things didn’t go so well the last time Israel spied out the land. (See Numbers 13 and here). Does he delay? Or does the narrative retelling deal with overlapping time? Either way, it was risky but, in the long run, it worked out this time.

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