And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying,
Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there.
The children of Israel, the church of the old dispensation, completed a forty-year-long journey through the wilderness. Three generations (all those above twenty years of age) had died in the wilderness, including Moses, their faithful, patient, and meek leader. Joshua was chosen by God to replace Moses (Num. 27:18-23; Deut. 1:38). Moses encouraged him (Deut. 31:7, 8) and God commissioned him (Josh. 1:1-9).
Israel was camped at a place called Shittim, located approximately seven miles east of the Jordan River. It is from here that Joshua sends out two spies. The two spies walked to the Jordan River, crossed at a ford, and then had approximately another seven miles to travel to reach Jericho. It was late in the day when they arrived at Jericho, for the gates of the city were soon to be shut for the night.
There, near the gate, the two spies met the woman named Rahab. Was she there looking for business? Or was she there because she had experienced a great change of heart and therefore was anticipating the possibility of Israelite spies?
The intent of the two spies was to learn the attitude of the king and people of Jericho concerning the near presence of the nation of Israel. They were seeking to know the military preparedness of Jericho to fight. And they wanted to know of the plans to resist Israel. Joshua and Israel had not yet been told by God how they would conquer the city of Jericho. Joshua, as a good military leader, wanted to be prepared for the first battle he would have to lead when Israel entered Canaan.
God used the information learned by the spies to encourage Joshua. The spies would learn of the terror that filled the whole of Canaan. The spies were not looking for a harlot when they went with Rahab. Their only intent was to gain military information. That is why they wanted to be on the wall of the city. From the height of the wall they could see deep into the city to learn its defenses. It is also likely that they wanted to be on the wall of the city in case they needed to escape quickly and easily.
Rahab was a harlot. She sinfully sold her body for the pleasure of men. As a harlot, she was obviously tolerated in this wicked city. As such, she represented the sinful moral condition of the city and of the land of Canaan. One of the reasons God took Abraham’s descendants out of the land of Canaan and brought them into the land of Egypt for 400 years was that the presence of the church in Canaan would not be an external restraint in the development of sin by the Canaanites. Their moral depravity advanced. They were filling the measure or cup of iniquity. When this cup was filled by the immorality of the nations in Canaan, then, in God’s judgment, they would be ripe for divine punishment!
The residents of Jericho and of Canaan had peaked in their ability to violate every one of God’s commandments. Their moral situation was now judged by God to be irreversible. They were so defiled with moral sins that they were ripe to be cast out and destroyed (just as it had been with Sodom and Gomorrah):
“The land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you and the land is defiled;) that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations which were before you” (Lev. 18:25-28).
As a harlot, Rahab was a willing participant in all the debaucheries that characterized Canaan and the city of Jericho where her harlotry was openly accepted. She profited financially from all the evil of that society. She had a house on the wall, where the wealthy dwelt, but she was at the bottom of the moral ladder. Scripture condemns her for her harlotry (cf. Gal. 5:19-21). The divine destruction of Canaan was rightly due; the cup of iniquity was full.
But Rahab was a believer. She was gifted with faith by the God of Israel. And God gave her the desire and ability to exercise her faith. Scripture identifies the exercise of her faith as receiving the spies with peace (Heb. 11:31).
When the spies arrived at Jericho, it is likely that Rahab was able to identify who they were and where they were from, not only from the way in which they dressed and spoke, but also because they communicated to her their mission. We may believe they told her why they were there. And in their communication to her, she knew them to be fellow believers in Jehovah.
Rahab was not the only one who identified them. Other residents of Jericho identified them and saw them make their way to the house of Rahab. Their presence was quickly reported to the king of Jericho, and he immediately sent soldiers to the house of Rahab.
She, who made her money by immoral means, gave up an opportunity for a great reward from the king by hiding and lying about the spies. Scripture says that she received the spies with peace. By hiding the Israelite spies Rahab was a traitor. By doing this it became evident that she chose for the God of Israel over against her former gods. She chose for the people of Israel over against her fellow residents of Jericho. She chose for the right way of Jehovah against her former sinful way.
Rahab had faith—the evidence of things not seen. Even though she and the residents of Jericho knew that Israel did not have the military equipment to destroy the high and thick walls of Jericho, she believed that Israel would take the city. She had heard about the God of Israel and His ten plagues to deliver Israel out of Egypt. She believed that their God, who had brought His people through the Red Sea on dry ground, was able to give Jericho and all the land of Canaan to His people. Her faith enabled her to believe that the walls of Jericho would somehow be breached and the city would be taken. She believed in that which was not seen.
Israel was still on the other side of the Jordan River and Jericho’s walls were still standing strong. But she believed the power of God and His promise that He would bring His people into the land of Canaan. Her faith said, “I know that Jehovah hath given you the land” (Josh. 2:9). She continued, “our hearts did melt” when we heard what happened forty years before in Egypt and just recently to the two kings of the Amorites on the other side of Jordan. “Neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you, for Jehovah, your God, He is the God above in heaven above and in earth beneath.” Rahab’s faith was in the sovereign Jehovah. She knew that He who dried up the Red Sea could easily make the Jordan river passable. The little knowledge that she had of God was sufficient for her to identify Jehovah as the God of heaven and of earth.
She reported to the spies that the inhabitants of the land of Canaan as a whole were deathly afraid of Israel and of their God. This fear did not lead them to repentance, but it did lead her to repentance. She knew God in a different way. She knew Him as the one, true, living God. That is what gave her an assured confidence. Her confidence was: Jehovah has given you the land. Note that she said it as if Canaan were already Israel’s.
The strength of the faith that God gave to Rahab was that she believed the unbelievable. She believed that with God all things are possible.
Not only did Rahab know that the city would fall, but here is another remarkable thing about her faith. She was convinced that the God of heaven and earth would have mercy on her. She believed that the mercy that He showed to the Israelites would be a mercy that He would show to her. That is even more remarkable. She believed that when she came to Him in repentance, He would receive her. Thus, she received the spies with peace, hid them under some flax, and then lied about their presence.
Such faith is that which God, the God of grace, works within His elect people. God made a remarkable difference between her and all the other inhabitants of Jericho. God’s sovereign grace changed her heart from being dedicated to pleasing self into a repentant heart that trusted and loved Jehovah.
God works mysteriously and wondrously. Is there any limit to His grace? Is there limit to His mercy? No! When we fall into sin, we might ask, “Is there mercy even for me?” And God declares, “I am the God of heaven and earth and I am the God of mercy and grace.” She knew what it was to say “a wretch like me.” And she knew God would save her by amazing grace. Powerful is the greatness of grace that bestows the gift of faith.
Rahab did not experience the deliverance through the Red Sea and she did not see the destruction of Pharaoh’s army. She only heard of it. A Gentile, brought up in false religion, walking openly in sin, was given the faith to believe that Israel’s God would keep His promise to her through these two Israelite men. “Swear unto me by the Lord since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house: and that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have and deliver our lives from death.” The spies answered, “We swear, our lives for yours.”
In Hebrews 11, it is said of Moses that he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. “For he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” That was not only true of Moses, that was also true of Rahab. By faith she believed that God would reward her when she hid the spies.
What Rahab received was that she did not die. And all those in her house with her did not die with all of the rest of the inhabitants of Jericho. Everyone else in the city died as a result either of the falling of Jericho’s walls or at the swords of the Israelites. But she and her family did not die. Rahab’s cup of iniquity was empty— emptied by the blood of Christ who bore all of her sins. That is forgiveness. That is grace.
Secondly, Rahab was received into the nation of Israel. God brought about her reception into Israel, when she was taken by marriage into the tribe of Judah. She was received into the nation of Israel and she became the grandmother of Boaz and David, and a mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
First, we learn that God’s way is not our way. In I Corinthians 1:26-28 we read: “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” He chose a harlot, and He made her a mother of Christ. God’s purpose in doing that is that no flesh would glory in themselves. Therefore, he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.
That God gives to you and to me the ability to believe and the grace of forgiveness is not because of our parentage. It is not because we were baptized in a church. It is not because we have our membership in a specific congregation or denomination. It is not because of us, or anything we do.
Rahab is an example of God’s grace. God, in His grace, gave her faith and God maintained faith within her. The result is that no one can say, “I’m better than Rahab.” To the contrary, we all are of a mind to say that we are the chief of sinners.
Rahab demonstrates every sinner’s natural proneness to sin. But God is able to turn us spiritually, and when He turns us, we are turned. Jericho’s destruction portrays the certain and utter destruction of this world in which we live, but there is hope for the vilest repentant sinner. This is because nothing is impossible with God.
What a God! What grace! What forgiveness! What faith! Glory in the Lord!