Joshua 2:1-24

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.” [1]

Playwright George Bernard Shaw once commented that the United States and Great Britain are two countries divided by a common language. Cultural differences usually run deeper than mere language and presuppositions. They dictate what we think we are hearing as much as what we think we are saying.

But when two cultures are diametrically different, when not only the vocabulary but the very mindset of the other side is strangely opaque to us, we need firsthand testimony of what is actually going on and careful interpretation of what is being assumed. So, in chapter 2:1, Joshua sends out two spies. Israel remains encamped at Shittim where it had succumbed to idolatry and immorality with the Baal of Peor through its Moabite followers (Numbers 25:1ff.).

Joshua knows that across the swelling Jordan river, the Canaanite city of Jericho stands securely defended, like a sentinel to stop Israel’s progress into the promised land. Joshua has no strategy to conquer the land, nor has he received any specific instructions from God about how to accomplish this task. He has divine assurance that God will certainly give them every place that the soul of their feet will walk upon just as he promised Moses (Joshua 1:3). But God has given him no battle plan.

So, like the good general he is, he does as Moses did and sends out spies. He sends out only two spies, not twelve. They are to go on a reconnaissance mission to the land, especially Jericho, which is the first great challenge. This is not faithlessness, of which some preachers accuse Joshua, this is wisdom. The spies are sent out in obedience to the command of God to move across the river and conquer the land.

Joshua knows that once Israel crosses the Jordan, they will have a flooding river behind them and an impenetrable fortress in front of them. He is doing the responsible thing in sending out scouts. He’s using the means at his disposal. That is not an unspiritual course of action. To pray without using the means that God has given us is almost as foolish as to use those means without praying. The two must be combined together in all of our battles.[2]


Those who criticize Joshua for sending in spies instead of simply trusting God miss the greater point of this story. Whether Joshua got vital information about Jericho is irrelevant to this story. Joshua did not really need information about Jericho. What was needed were the arrangements by which Rahab and her family would be saved when Jericho fell.

It is a similar situation to one we find in John 4:4, where we read that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” The Samaritan road was not the only road to Galilee. Usually, Jews travelled by another route that went around the country. Jesus had to go because God had one of his elect children resigning in that country, and, as Jesus said, not one of his elect sheep shall ever perish.

In the same way that Jesus entered Samaria to save the Samaritan woman, the two spies were sent to Jericho to save Rahab. Of course, they didn’t know this anymore than we know the outcome when we are sent on some errand for God. But from the divine perspective, this was the reason. God had been working in Rahab’s heart, leading her toward true faith, and now he was sending his messengers to confirm her faith and bring her both physical and spiritual salvation.

Isn’t it interesting that the first character in this book, other than Joshua himself, is this woman and the first real story is her story? The first story in the book of Joshua is a story of God’s mercy rather than of his wrath. This is a book of harsh conquest, and the premise for the particularly destructive nature of this conquest is that “the sin of the Amorites” had reached its full measure (cf. Genesis 15:16). These pagans we’re now ripe for judgment.

All through this book we see God commanding Israel to utterly destroy the nations occupying the land, a judgment that has its closest parallel in the destruction of the earth by flood. But in this book of harsh judgment, the very first story is about the salvation of the harlot of Jericho. This is a story of amazing mercy because Rahab had nothing going for her, humanly speaking. It’s worth listing a number of her liabilities.

First, she was a gentile. It’s true throughout the long history of Israel, God demonstrated a wonderful tendency to reach out and save certain representative gentiles. You could think of the story of Ruth or that of Naaman the Syrian. As Jesus would say, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Only Judaism represented God’s self-revelation. As Paul wrote to the Roman congregations:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.[3]

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. [4]

Rahab had none of these advantages. She was a gentile, a foreigner “to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Rehab’s second disadvantage was that she was an Amorite. The Amorites were only one of the tribes of pagans occupying Palestine. But the Amorites were singled out for particular condemnation for their practices. They were a corrupt, vile people, who sacrificed their own children in their depraved religious practices.

Her third disadvantage was that she was a prostitute. In the past, there have been scholarly attempts to excuse Rahab from this title. It was because of her business that the spies encountered her establishment, not because they were there for immoral purposes. Her home was the one place two strangers could go without being asked any embarrassing questions. It was a stroke of genius spy craft for them to go there. Also, it seemed credible to the king when Rahab replied to his inquiries that the men had left almost as quickly as they had gone in.

I am sure there are those with very stunted views of God’s grace who might ask whether it is fitting that God should save such a person. It is most fitting! Rahab was no worse than we are, and yet God in his mercy saves us. It is not the righteous but the sinners whom Christ has come to redeem.


In spite of her grim list of liabilities (a gentile, an Amorite, and a prostitute) this pagan woman had at least one advantage. She had heard about the God of Israel. As a result, she believed in the true God, for “faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). We know this from what she tells the spies in verses 8 through 11:

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.[5]

No doubt there was quite a bit about the faith and history of Israel that Rahab did not know. She had heard only of God’s acts in delivering the Jews from Egypt and of the victory he had given them over the two Amorite nations east of the Jordan. But that was all she needed. She did not have adoption, the covenants, the law, the worship, or the promises. But she had ears, she heard what God did, and believed on him.

If we were to ask from whom had Rahab heard these stories of the God of Israel, the answer is likely from the travelers who frequented her establishment. Her home would have been a place of great gossip as strangers from near and far reported their tails about the Jews and their God. Although the Bible certainly does not excuse Rahab’s prostitution, it was to some extent because she was a prostitute that she received first-hand accounts of the work of the God of Israel.

As time went on, all of the pagan tribes in Palestine came to hear of God’s deeds and came to be gripped with demoralizing fear. And yet, only one person (a notorious prostitute at that!) sought salvation from Israel and their God. She and her entire family were not only rescued and brought into the covenant community but were given an honored place. Rehab is one of the great salvation stories of the Old Testament.

Her fellow countryman heard about the acts of God only with their ears. But Rahab heard about God not only with her ears but with her heart. Here was an immoral, pagan sex trade worker who heard about the God of Israel and believed that the God she heard about was the true God. As long as that can happen, we can never despair about anybody and need never despair about ourselves.


Rahab is held up as a model of faith two times in the New Testament. First, her portrait is hung in the great Gallery of Faith in Hebrews 11. Saint Author writes, in 11:31: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Next, her story appears in the book of James. In James 2:24-25 we read, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” Rahab is a picture of true faith, trust that acts based upon those beliefs.

We must marvel at the kind of faith that God chose to give to Rahab. It is true that she demonstrated her faith in God by welcoming and hiding the spies who were god’s representatives. This is what the text in Hebrews and James tell us. But Rahab did even more.

First, she put her own life on the line. She risked not only her life but the lives of her family for the spies and the salvation they promised. Jericho was not a friendly, happy place. It was a military outpost and trade center. Rahab’s life would have truly been worth little if her deception had been discovered. If the messengers of the king had failed to accept her word that the spies had left, or if they had entered their house and discovered the spies on her roof, she would have been dragged before the king and likely horribly tortured before being killed. Her family would have met that fate with her. Rahab risked everything on the basis of her spiritual discovery and her desire for salvation from the coming wrath of God.

Second, Rahab separated from her past and her people. This was a military situation. Rehab and the other residents of the city knew that when the Jews attacked no quarter would be given. If the Jews overran Jericho, everyone would be killed, just as the inhabitants of Canaan would have killed the Jews if they had the opportunity. Rahab was a resident of Jericho. From a mere human standpoint, she should have been loyal to her own city and people. Yet she gave up her past for the sake of her trust in the God of Israel.

Third, Rahab identified with the Jewish people. She was not a Jew. But since she believed in the Jewish God, she knew her place was with his people rather than with her own. In passing out of the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of light, she also left behind the natural citizenship of Jericho to join the children of God. That’s amazing when we consider that not even all the Jews believed as genuinely as she did. Spiritually speaking, she actually became more Jewish than much of the grumbling complaining Israelite population.

God granted her a new allegiance. Our human flesh naturally tempts us to think she was merely allowed to dwell in the midst of the favored people, but on a lower level of status. That would make her like the Gibeonites who were allowed to live among the Jews as woodcutters and water carriers (Joshua 9:27). Though she was a gentile, an Amorite, and a prostitute, she was immediately accepted as a full member of the favored nation.

She married a man of the tribe of Judah named Salman. Their son was Boaz, who married Ruth the Moabite. Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David (Matt. 1:5-6). Rahab was not a second-class citizen of Israel. She was not given a second-class salvation. Right from the start, she received the whole thing. Her position was equal to that of any citizen of Israel, and in proof of that fact, she was brought into a noble line of the tribe of Judah and became a human ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Rehab’s experience is similar to that of everyone who comes to God by trust into the person and work of Jesus Christ. After Rahab had helped the spies and they had agreed to spare her and her family when the city was taken, they told her, “17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household.”

Rehab agreed and tied the scarlet cord to her window. There’s a tradition in the church, going all the way back to the early church fathers, that the scarlet cord represents the blood of Christ, and teachers have talked about the cord running all throughout the Bible, from Able’s sacrifice to Calvary.

I don’t believe it’s possible that Rahab’s scarlet cord specifically represented this, but there is a remarkable parallel between the cord that marked her house and the blood of the lambs spread on the doorposts and lentils of Jewish homes in Egypt that forestalled the Angel of death. But we can say that the way of salvation has always been the same and the experience of those whom God saves is parallel.

To understand Rahab’s story is to understand our own. None of us were at all part of the family of God or within the scope of God’s saving work in human history. Worse still, we were part of a corrupt, degenerate society in which we each had our own reprehensible sins. But God set his hand on us. He made known to us his great saving acts in history and brought us into contact with his messengers and representatives.

He created trust in our hearts, faith by which through his grace we also laid our lives on the line. Spiritually speaking, we were called to break from our own people and identify with God’s people. As a sign of that, the blood of Christ, like the scarlet cord, was spread over the doorpost of our homes and lives or hung in our windows. Now we live in an alien land between the moment of our belief and the moment of the final judgment, which will be the time of our final deliverance. We are God’s people in opposition to the surrounding godless culture.

What if you have not done this? What if you have not thrown your life upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus? Then your state is the same as that of the citizens of Jericho. You look at the surrounding walls of your great secular city and say to yourself, “I am safe in here. The walls are strong. This city has stood for thousands of years.

But inside, your heart has given way to fear, and you know that a day of certain reckoning and judgment is approaching. Why should you not be like Rahab? She had nothing but stories of the mighty acts of the covenant God of Israel, and even that was a selective, limited report. You have the entire law and the gospel, the law that condemns you for your sin and the gospel that offers you the solution and bids you to trust into the sacrificial death and outpoured blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and to receive this, your free gift of his perfect life that provides the holiness without which no one will see God.

Why should you live any longer under God’s just wrath and condemnation? Why shouldn’t you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, turn from your sinful past, and take your place with God’s people? Hear the words of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians:

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. [6]







[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 2:9–14.

[2] Jackman, David. Joshua (Preaching the Word) (p. 44). Crossway. Kindle Edition.



[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 3:1–2.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 9:4–5.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 2:8–11.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:11–22.