4-12 Rahab And The Fall Of Jericho
The spies were sent out "secretly" (Josh. 2:1). I'd argue
that the sending out of the 12 spies about 40 years earlier was
essentially a lack of faith- in the fact that God's Angel had gone
ahead of them anyway to spy out the land, and Yahweh Himself had
told Israel how good the land was. Perhaps the secrecy involved
a sense that this was in fact not really a very spiritual decision
and Joshua was somehow furtive about it. Israel had never known
urban life nor perhaps even seen walled cities like Jericho. The
spies entered the city at evening time, and the gate was shut. Strangers
always attract attention in such places- let alone when the city
was in the direct line of attack of the Hebrews. The language /
accent of the two spies would've given them away. According to the
record in Joshua 2, it seems they entered the city gates at dusk,
the gates were shut, and they'd have perceived that they were being
watched and had been noticed as suspicious strangers. And so they
used some desperate initiative, and dived into a whorehouse nearby
to the gate. This was the sort of place strangers would go to, as
it would be today. We imagine them entering the house, and meeting
the madame of the house. "What do you want?" was as dumb
a question as the doctor asking the patient "How are you feeling
today?". Rahab was a smart woman, accustomed to strangers,
and knew what was going on. Within the first couple of sentences,
she'd have figured who they were. And it seems they spoke for a
short time, maybe an hour or so, realized they were busted, understood
they were in a death trap within that walled city, and threw themselves
on her mercy.
And there, providence kicked in. James 2:25 calls those men "messengers",
with a message Rahab believed. They hardly had an hour to tell her
the message, before men were knocking on the door enquiring what
Rahab knew about the spies. In that brief time, she believed a very
sketchy and incomplete Gospel of the Kingdom. And her works reflected
that faith, in telling the men [whom local culture would've barred
from entering the house of a single woman] that the spies had come
and gone. "That was quick!", we can imagine the
King's men joking.
There was weakness and dysfunction all around this story. The men
"lodged" with Rahab (Josh. 2:1)- but the Hebrew term is
often translated "slept with..." in a sexual context.
In fact, whenever the term is used in relation to a woman, let alone
a prostitute, it implies intercourse. As a word it does mean simply
to sleep... but it is strange that no other term for 'lodging the
night' is used, and that the term in the context of a female or
prostitute does usually carry a sexual meaning. Whilst I don't believe
the spies did sleep with Rahab, it's strange that no other word
for 'lodging' is used. The ambiguity is, I suggest, purposeful.
But they and their message were 'welcomed in peace' by Rahab (Heb.
11:31), she 'received' their message and justified herself by works
by protecting them (James 2:25).
This would contribute to an overall theme in the book of Joshua
of Israel's weakness- the land wasn't fully possessed, Joshua appears
himself as weak in many ways, he didn't fully follow the admittedly
hard-to-follow act of Moses, Rahab believed the very words of promise
which Israel didn't believe, the spies were sent out secretly by
Joshua with no command from God to do this, when God had promised
to go before Israel and give them victory... and yet God worked
through all this. Even to the extent of using the weakness of the
spies in going in to a brothel and "sleeping" with the
madame... in order to save that woman and her family, and the lives
of the spies, all in a manner which through human weakness glorified
the God of Israel. We'll comment later on how Rahab had an extensive
knowledge of parts of Moses' words and law, and this was the basis
for her faith. Yet where did she, a whore in Jericho, get that knowledge
from? Presumably from her clients, who would've been travellers
who had heard these things and passed them on to her. All this is
wonderful encouragement for all sinners- that God has a way of working
through sin to His glory, and He doesn't give up so easily with
Heb. 11:31 comments that "By faith Rahab the harlot did not
perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed
the spies in peace". Rahab's faith was faith in God's grace.
For Rahab was an Amoritess and according to the law of Moses there
was to be no pity or covenant with them- only death (cp. Dt. 7:2).Rahab
had the spiritual ambition to ask that they make a covenant with
her- she requests hesed, the common term for covenant relationship
("deal kindly with me", Josh. 2:12 cp. 1 Sam. 20:8). And
the spies made a covenant with her. Grace, like love, finds a way.
Remember that she was also aware of what Israel had done to their
enemies on their way to Jericho- and she appears to allude to Moses'
commands to destroy utterly and not make covenant with
the peoples of the land (Dt. 2:32-37; 7:1-5; 20:16-18). When she
says that she was aware that God had "given you the land"
(Josh. 2:9), she uses the same two Hebrew words used repeatedly
in Deuteronomy regarding God's promise to give Israel the land of
the Canaanites. "Your terror is fallen upon us" is likewise
an allusion to Ex. 15:16; 23:27 [the same Hebrew word for "terror"
is used by Rahab]. Rahab speaks of how her people are "fainting"
in fear- quoting Ex. 15:15 about how the inhabitants of Canaan would
"faint" (AV "melt away") because of Israel.
Knowing all this, she has the ambition to request the impossible-
that she would be the exception, that with her
a covenant would be made. When she says that "we have
heard" about the Exodus (Josh. 2:10), she may be referring
to the prophecy of Ex. 15:14: "The people shall hear
and be afraid". In this case, her emphasis would have been
upon the word "have"- 'yes, we have heard indeed,
as Moses sung, and yes, we are afraid'. Seeking God's face
is actually to strive for the unachievable in this life; but it's
what we are to do. Spiritual ambition of the type Rahab had lifts
us far above the mire of mediocrity which there is in all human
life under the sun.
Rahab was told to bind the scarlet cord in her window "when
we come into the land" (Josh. 2:18). But Rahab bound it there
immediately when they left- as if she recognized that her land was
already in Israel's hands (Josh. 2:21). Considering the whole town
was wondering how the spies had escaped, and she was under suspicion,
to leave the escape rope dangling there, indeed to take it up and
then place it there again immediately (so 2:21 implies), was really
stupid. She didn't need to do that at that stage. But the joy of
the Gospel should make us fools for Christ's sake. But does it,
in our postmodern age? When was the last time the joy of the good
news we know, lead you to do something humanly foolish? It could
be gathered from Heb. 11:31 that Rahab preached to others the message
she had received from the spies- for the inspired commentary there
notes that Rahab did not perish with those "that believed not"-
apeitheo suggesting disbelief, a wilful refusal to believe.
What message did Jericho not believe? There was no particular message
for them from the words of Moses or Joshua. The message was presumably
an appeal from Rahab, to repent and accept the God of Israel as
she had done- to cast themselves upon His mercy. And in any case,
as a prostitute estranged from her family, either due to her profession
or because estrangement from them had led her to it, she must have
gone to her estranged family and preached to them, bringing them
within her despised house.
The question, of course, is: 'Why then was not Rahab killed by
the people of Jericho if she openly preached to them about the God
of Israel?'. The ancient law code of Hammurabi contains the following
statute: “If felons are banded together in an ale-wife’s [prostitute’s
or innkeeper’s] house and she has not haled [them] to the palace,
that ale-wife shall be put to death” (S.R. Driver and J.C. Miles,
The Babylonian Laws [Oxford: Clarendon, 1956], 2:45). Perhaps
she was so despised that she was untouchable, or treated as mad.
Perhaps former clients of hers in the city's leadership decided
it would be better to let her 'get religion' rather than spill any
beans about them. But it could be said that it was a miracle she
wasn't murdered for her witness. She certainly ran the risk of it.
If men and women with a far less complete understanding of the Gospel
could risk their lives for it... what does our understanding and
faith convict us to do for the sake of witnessing to it?
Give money towards it? Risk our lives, health, convenience in travelling
for it? Risk our embarrassment and loss of standing in the workplace
or family by preaching it...?
Our knowledge of the Gospel of the Kingdom is far more detailed
than that of Rahab, who picked up snatches of it from her clients,
and had at most an hour's pressured conversation with the spies
before she had to show whether or not she believed it. If it motivated
her to do all she did- what about us?
Following The Angel
As Israel were called to follow the Angel after their Red Sea baptism,
so we too follow where the Angel leads. The conquest of Jericho
is a classic example of following the Angel. Josh. 5:13 speaks of
the Angel who was the commander of Yahweh's army appearing
to Joshua, the commander of God's human army on earth, and standing
"over against him", i.e. dead opposite him. Clearly enough,
Joshua was being shown that he had an opposite number in Heaven,
a representative there before the throne of God- just as each of
us do. Note in passing how the Angel answers Joshua's question-
'Are you for me, or against me?'. God has no interest in taking
sides in human arguments, demonizing the one side and glorifying
the other. The response was simply that the Angel stood for God
and was His representative (Josh. 5:14). Religious people so easily
fall into this trap of demonizing their enemies, on the basis that
"God is with me, and therefore, not with you my opponent, in
fact, He hates you because I hate you". The true God and His
Angelic servants are far above this kind of primitive, binary dichotomy.
Following the Angel is the theme that lies behind God's statement
that because He had already given Jericho to Israel, therefore they
should arise and take it. So many victories have been prepared for
us in prospect- against addictions, engrained weaknesses of character,
habits, impossible situations. Israel had to follow the ark, where
the Angelic presence of God was (Josh. 6:2 cp. 6:8). The people
were to go up into Jericho "straight before them" (Josh.
6:5,20), just as the Cherubim-Angels have "straight feet"
(Ez. 1:7,9,12). They were to follow in the Angel's steps.
The command to "shout" was a reflection of the belief
Israel were to have in the fact that God had already given
them the city- for the Hebrew for "shout" usually refers
to a shout of victory. The word is translated "... will I triumph"
in Ps. 60:8; 108:9. The same idea of shouting in victory over a
city which has been given to God's people recurs in Jer. 50:15-
"Shout against her round about [cp. compassing the walls of
Jericho]... her foundations are [present tense] fallen,
her walls [cp. Jericho's] are thrown down". And this
speaks of our latter day victory against Babylon- thus making the
whole account of earnest relevance to us who live in the last days,
and who will see Babylon fall by faith. Notice how literal Babylon
fell by the water of the river being dried up, and the walls being
opened- just the same sequence of events that occurred at Jericho.
Likewise 1 Cor. 3:12-15 likens all the faithful to material which
can pass through the fire of judgment- and this surely is a reference
to the way that Jericho was burnt with fire, and only the metals
along with Rahab and her family came through that fire to salvation.
Thus according to the allusion, Rahab and her family represent all
God's Battle Plan
Everything about the battle plan was somehow humanly foolish- to
yet again attempt to teach Israel, old and new, that victory comes
from following God's way, and His way is humanly foolish. The warriors
were circumcised before the battle (Josh. 5:2)- and we know from
the Biblical record of Shechem how this would've weakened the men-
for this was only a week or so before the battle. The manna wasn't
phased out- it stopped abruptly just before the battle of Jericho
(Josh. 5:12). The people would likely have been short of food, and
would've been dealing with the problems associated with a new diet-
after 40 years! Walking around the city seven times, starting at
dawn, would've made the people tired. There was no advantage of
shock or surprise by doing this. Planning the final assault for
late afternoon was hardly smart either- humanly speaking! But all
this was- and is- to teach God's people that victory His
way involves shedding our human strength, just as Gideon was likewise
taught so dramatically.
Josh. 6:10, “You shall not shout nor let your voice be heard, nor
let a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I tell
you, ‘Shout!’”, implies that the people maybe didn't know the battle
plan- each day they would've walked around the city in silence,
and nothing happened. The command to "Shout!" didn't come-
for six days. The whole exercise was surely to develop their faith.
Again, this was the most crazy of battle plans, in human terms.
Heb. 11:30 associates the circling of the walls with faith: “by
faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been circled
2 Cor. 10:3-4 is perhaps an allusion to the way that Jericho was
taken with such a humanly weak battle plan: “for the weapons of
our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the
destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every
lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking
every thought captive to the obedience of Christ". The point
of the allusion is for us to see ourselves as those nervous Israelites
desperately clinging on to their faith in God's victory rather than
human strength. And we each have our Jerichos- habits, life-dominating
patterns of thinking, that seem so impossible to shift.
Of course, the deliverance at the Red Sea had been intended to
teach Israel these very lessons. And the account of the fall of
Jericho is recorded in similar language, in order to teach the same
lesson. Rahab's house had to be identified by a scarlet cord- like
the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled on the two doorposts and
lintel of the Israelites' homes in Egypt. The silence demanded of
the people was surely to recall Ex. 14:14, there the people standing
before the Red Sea were assured: “The Lord will fight for you while
you keep silent". Compare the command to keep silent whilst
Yahweh fought, with the common practice of yelling war
cries as an ancient army approached their enemy. All human convention,
wisdom and strength, was placed in purposeful opposition to what
seemed quite counter-instinctive- to be utterly silent whilst God
did the fighting.
There's a distinct theme in the record that actually, God's people
didn't do according to His ideal plan, and yet still He gave them
the victory. One wonders whether the comment that "So the ark
of the Lord compassed the city" (Josh. 6:11) could imply that
the entire fighting force of Israel didn't bother doing as commanded
on the first circuit of the city- possibly they just sent the ark
around it. The people were to shout when the trumpets sounded (Josh.
6:10). But in reality, like a Sunday School play gone wrong, the
people shouted, the trumpets sounded, and then the people again
shouted (Josh. 6:20).
Likewise, compare the above evidence for Rahab's preaching the
message of the spies, with the terms of the covenant thrashed out
with her- if she were to "utter" (Heb. to preach, advertise
openly] the "business" of the spies, then the covenant
would be null and void (Josh. 2:20). She did indeed do this, and
yet the covenant still stood. Perhaps the agreement insisted upon
by the spies was somewhat self-protective, without the ambition
which Rahab had to bring others to throw themselves upon God's grace.
This would only make her spiritual perception and ambition stand
out the more. All this fits in with the overall theme of the book
of Joshua- that Israel were given the land, Ephraim and Manasseh
were allowed to return to their lot East of Jordan, despite the
fact that they were disobedient and didn't drive out all the Canaanites
as required by God. Taking the crossing of the Red Sea as a type
of baptism, the wilderness walk as symbolic of our probationary
lives now (1 Cor. 10:1-3), the entrance of the promised land speaks
of our entrance to God's Kingdom- and this will likewise be by grace,
in the face of all the mess ups, disobedience, failure to obey...
which we're all so guilty of.
Yet according to Heb. 11:30, “by faith the walls of Jericho fell
down …”. Whose faith? What faith? Was Joshua-Jesus' faith counted
to the people? Or was their very weak, hope-for-the-best faith all
the same accepted as faith by God's grace?