Joshua 2:1-24: "God Upholds His End"
Last week, by the end of chapter 1, we had a pretty good feel for the questions we are supposed to bring to the book of Joshua as we read. Yahweh, Joshua, and Israel are going to work together to conquer the land of Canaan. All three-- Yahweh, Joshua, and Israel-- have pledged their commitment to this task. But there are three conditions-- three "onlys" attached to all of this. And most of them, in the end, revolve around Joshua. Joshua needs to be strong, and brave, and obedient. If he isn't, Yahweh won't be with him. And if Yahweh isn't with him, and/or if Joshua isn't brave, the tribes won't follow him. So we find ourselves nervous. We know how easy it is to let fear rule us. We know how easy it is to choose to disobey God. Will Joshua do better than us? Chapter two begins like this, in verse 1: (1) And Joshua son of Nun sent from Shittim two men, explorers/spies, secretly, saying, "Walk! See the land and Jericho," In chapter 1, Joshua had responded to Yahweh's command to be strong and brave by telling the people to pack up. In three days, they would cross the Jordan and take the land Yahweh is giving them. In the meantime, Joshua decides he will use this time to his advantage, by sending two spies into the land. Now, Joshua is not the first of God's leaders to send spies into the promised land. Yahweh had commanded Moses to do the same thing in Numbers 13. There, the people saw the Nephilim-- the descendants of the sons of God (Gen. 6), and they were terrified (Num. 13:33). They didn't trust in Yahweh's ability to bring them victory, and that entire generation ended up dying in the wilderness because of their lack of faith. So when we hear that Joshua is sending two spies, we cringe. I'm not sure that Joshua is doing something wrong. I'm not sure he's sinning. But the point is, I'm not sure. We can't be sure what he's doing, or thinking. And we know what happened last time spies were sent-- the end result was fear, and disobedience. We read this, and we get a sinking feeling in our stomach. It brings back lots of bad memories. Verse 1 continues: and they walked and they went to the house of a woman-- a prostitute, and her name [was] Rahab. And they lied down there, Why? Of all the places to end up, it's at the house of a prostitute? Really? We find ourselves thinking, maybe they are trying to maintain a low profile, and the best way to do that is in the seedy part of town, paying cash. I don't know. But I'm not sure they needed to explore a prostitute's house. And that nervous feeling in my stomach? It's turning into an ulcer. Verse 2: (2) And it was said to the king of Jericho, saying, "LOOK! Men have come here tonight from the sons of Israel to search out the land!," So. Joshua send in two explorers, secretly. And it's not bad enough that they end up at a prostitute's house. The king also learns, on the very first day, that Israelite men have come-- tonight-- to search out the land. Unbelievable. Verse 3: (3) And the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring out the men--the ones going to you-- who came to your house-- because to search out all the land they have come. And then, on top of all of this, the king knows exactly where the men are staying. He knows everything. And the king's men are at the door, saying, bring them out. We know they are there; we know what they came to do. The situation is hopeless. Verse 4: (4) And (then) the woman took the two men and (then) she hid them and (then) she said, "True, the men came to me, and I didn't know from where they [were]. (5) And then, the gate was shut for the night, while the men went out. I don't know where the men walked. ` Pursue quickly after them because you will overtake them," If you compare English translations on Joshua 2:4, you're going to be very confused. The NIV, RSV, and ESV make it sound like Rahab had already hidden the spies on the roof, before the king's men come. But let me read the KJV here: 4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them. The KJV, and NRSV, make it sound like Rahab hid them after the king's men came knocking on her door. This is a huge difference. Right? The KJV and NRSV correctly translate the verb here. The NIV, RSV, and ESV look at this situation, and they say, "There is absolutely no way that Rahab could've taken the men, brought them upstairs, hidden them, and then come down and been like, 'Nope. Not here anymore.'" I taught a children's church lesson on this, where I had them act this out. This takes time. And if you're the police at the door, and it takes 4 minutes to answer the door, what do you think is going on? Something bad, right? I think the reason the NIV, ESV, and RSV translate it this way is NOT because Hebrew grammar tells them to. They translate it this way because they can't imagine that Rahab took this big of a risk. It would take too much time to do this. The king's men would never believe her. It's impossible. So they bend the verb forms to make the story easier. But this is wrong. The NRSV and KJV are right. So imagine you're Rahab, and the king's men show up at the door. You're busted. They know you have Israelite men in your house. They know everything. What do you do? What Rahab does is takes them up to the roof and hides them. She then (a couple minutes later, when she finally makes it to the door) baldly lies to the king's men. "It's true, absolutely, that the men were here. I didn't know where they were from. But they left. And I don't know where they went. But if you chase them quickly, you'll overtake them." As far as improvisation lying goes, Rahab, honestly, doesn't do very well. There is nothing here that's particularly believable. But her lie "somehow" works-- the king's men decide that the spies somehow made it out of the city, despite the gate being closed, and head back to the low spot in the river they must've crossed out. Why did she lie? Why is she protecting them? We don't know yet. But she took an enormous risk. And you have to read the KJV or NRSV to really appreciate this. With this, we come to verses 6-8. The best way to understand these verses, is to read them as background information to kind of summarize our story so far, and prepare us for Rahab's speech to the spies: (6) (So) she (had) brought them up to the roof, and she (had) hidden them in the stalks of flax being arranged for her on the roof, (7) while, the men pursued after them on the road of the Jordan at the fords, while the gate they shut after, as soon as they went out-- the ones pursuing after them-- (8) and they hadn't yet gone to sleep, and she went up to them on the roof, So do you have this picture in your head? The king's men are out pursuing the spies, and they shut the gate behind them. The spies are upstairs, hiding, not yet asleep. And she, having tricked the king's men, goes up on to the roof. What happens next? And why did she take this enormous risk? We begin to get our answer, starting in verse 9: (9) and she said to the men, "I know that Yahweh has given to you the land, and that terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the earth have melted before you, (10) because we have heard that Yahweh dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds from before you when you came out from Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who are on the other side of the Jordan-- to Sikhon and to Og, that you kheremed/devoted/dedicated-to-destruction them. (11) And we heard and our heart melted and the spirit in a man didn't yet/still stand before you because Yahweh your God-- He is God in the heaven above and on the earth below. Rahab had told the king's men that she didn't know who they were, or where they were from, or where they went. But she lied. She actually knows lots about Yahweh and Israel. And here, she's honest. What does she know? She knows that Yahweh has given their land to Israel. She knows that everyone is terrified. She knows that everyone's hearts have melted, because they heard about what Yahweh had done. Specifically, it's two pieces of information that really scare people: (1) The first is that Yahweh dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds. Why is this so scary? There's two ways to explain this. I'm going to take the safer, easier explanation, because I don't know how to explain the second. The safe, easy explanation is that what Yahweh showed, when he dried the waters, is that he has power over all of creation. The sea is pictured in the OT as the place of chaos. It's dangerous. It's uncontrollable. And for Yahweh to show he has power over the sea, is incredible. Anyone who can control the sea, can do whatever he wants. We are maybe so used to watching superhero movies that we've lost our sense of wonder when we get to stuff like this. Parting the sea? We think, there's lots of superheroes that can do that. But that's dumb. No one can part water. No one can control the sea, right? That'd be ridiculous. If Moses can part the waters, Yahweh must be with him. And that terrifies Rahab. (2) The second thing that really scares people in Jericho, is the report about what happened to King Sikhon and King Og. They got kheremed-- completely destroyed. Now, why would this be such a concern to Jericho? The short answer is that Sikhon and Og are descendants of the Nephilim, the tainted bloodline that rose when the sons of God joined to human women in Genesis 6 to create a new class of creature. Now, I'm pretty sure I have to explain that in more detail (although that was amusing), so let's try to unpack this. I'm going to work my way backward, from Joshua to Genesis 6. We learn more about Og in Deuteronomy 3:11: 11 For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? 13 1/2 feet was its length, and 6 feet its breadth. Who has a bed 13 1/2 feet long, by 6 feet wide? How big do you have to be, for that size bed to make sense for you? And, more importantly, who are the Rephaim? We learn a little about them in Deut. 2:10-11: 10 (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. 11 Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. (Deut. 2:10-11). Rephaim are another name for Anakim. There are extremely tall-- which explains why they'd have a 13 1/2 foot bed. But who are the Anakim? Numbers 13:33: 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” And who are the Nephilim? Genesis 6:1-4: 6 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in[a] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim[b] were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. So if we trace this back forward, what do we learn about Og and Sikhon? They were Nephilim. They were the offspring of the union of the sons of God and human wives. They were, at a minimum, superhumans. And when Og and Sikhon get killed, that shows Yahweh's great power. Yahweh is not just defeating humans at this point. He's killing Nephilim, and showing his power over the sons of God. The sons of God can't protect their own children. And why does this matter to Jericho? Well, she doesn't explain this here. This is something that becomes clearer as we get farther into Joshua. But the short answer is the Jericho is also ruled by a Nephilim king. And since Yahweh wants to kill all these Nephilim, and since He's apparently able to kill even Sikhon and Og, everyone in Jericho is terrified. So Rahab is legitimately, and truly, frightened. She knows what Yahweh has done. She knows what Yahweh is doing to Nephilim. And she knows that none of their elohim can protect them. None of their Nephilim can protect them. They are doomed. She knows, verse 11, "Yahweh your God-- He is God in the heaven above and the earth below." So why does Rahab rescue the spies? Rahab understands Yahweh is the true, highest God in the heaven above and the earth below. She understands Yahweh's power, and she makes the choice to submit to Yahweh, and to Israel. When she does this for them, she is showing loyalty to them. She is showing covenant faithfulness to them. Verse 12 will explain this: (12) And so then, swear, please to me by Yahweh that I made with you covenant faithfulness, and you must make-- also you-- with the house of my father covenant faithfulness and you must give to me a sign of trustworthiness/faithfulness, and you must keep alive my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters and all who are with them, and you must deliver our lives from death." Rahab took a huge risk in protecting the spies. And now, she pleads with them for mercy. In Hebrew, there are polite ways to ask for something, and that's what Rahab does. She throws herself on their mercy, asking them please, to swear by Yahweh. She asks, nicely, for them to acknowledge what she has done for them. She has made covenant faithfulness with them. The Hebrew word is khesed, and scholars have spent more time on this word than probably any other in the OT. Usually, it's used to describe someone who is in a covenant relationship with someone, and is faithful or loyal toward the other person in that relationship. So Yahweh gives khesed-- covenant faithfulness-- to Israel (Ex. 34:6-7). And Israel, sometimes, gives khesed to Yahweh (Jer. 2:2; Hosea 6:4, 6). Here, Rahab says she has shown covenant faithfulness to the spies. Her theology is unbelievably good. She has acknowledged Yahweh as the God of the heavens and earth; she views her actions as creating a covenant with the spies. And now she wants them to acknowledge her khesed. And respond to her khesed by showing khesed to her, and to everyone she loves-- which is quite the list. Her dad, mom, sisters, brothers, and everyone else who happens to be in the house. She wants them to promise to let all of them live, to rescue them from death. She's not shy here in what she asks for. In all of this, Rahab shows remarkable faith. All she would have to do, seemingly, is raise her voice, and the spies are dead. She would seem to have the upper hand. But at no point here does she do anything except plead. She doesn't act like she has the upper hand. She doesn't. Yahweh has the upper hand. Israel does. In verse 14, we get the spies' response: (14) And the men said to her, "Our life in place of yours to death, if you report this word of ours, and then, when Yahweh gives us the land, we will make with you covenant faithfulness and trustworthiness/faithfulness." The men agree. Was it wrong for them to make covenant faithfulness with her? I don't think so. She has become, in effect, an Israelite. Once the spies agree, she lets them go, and she tells them what to do. Throughout this whole story, Rahab has been very much in charge. And that doesn't change. Verse 15: (15) And she lowered them by a rope through the window, because her house [was] in the city wall, and it was in the city wall that she was living. (16) And she said to them, "To the mountains walk, lest the ones pursuing you meet you, so that you can/will hide there three days until the ones pursuing you return and after [that], walk to your road." So she lowers them through the window, tells them what to do to stay safe, and then-- NOW-- the spies find their courage. Verse 17: (17) And the men said to her, " Released we are from this oath of yours, that you made us swear. LOOK! We are going into the land. This crimson cord you must tie on your window that you lowered us on it, while your father and your mother and your brothers and all the house of your father you must gather to yourself to the house, (19) and then, anyone who goes out from the doors of your house toward outside, his blood shall be on his head, while we [shall be] innocent, while anyone who shall be with you in the house, his blood [shall be] on our head if a hand is against him, (20) while if you report these words of ours, we shall be released from your oath that you made us swear." The spies get all brave once they are outside of the city walls, and they do everything in their power to minimize the oath they made to her. If she doesn't tie the cord on her window, she will die. If anyone isn't in the house, that they had sworn they'd rescue-- they will die. If this happens, they are innocent. If she tells anyone and breaks her word, they are innocent. And they twice say that she made them swear it. So they do promise to keep the oath they made by Yahweh. But here they are wiggling, and squirming, and emphasizing the conditional nature of their oath. And in verse 22, she agrees with them: (21) And she said, "According to your words, thus they [shall be]." And she sent them, and they walked and she tied the scarlet cord on the window, (22) And they walked and they went to the mountains, and they stayed there three days until the ones pursuing them returned, and the ones pursuing them sought along all the road, and they didn't find them. (23) And the two men returned, and they went down from the mountain and they crossed over and they went to Joshua son of Nun and they told him all that happened to them. (24) And they said to Joshua, that Yahweh has given into our hand all the land, and, what is more, all the inhabitants of the land have melted before us. The story ends happily for the spies. They make it back safely to Joshua, and tell him all that happened to them. They keep their oath; they tell Joshua about Rahab and the oath they made toward her and her family. And then, in verse 24, we get the main point of the story. What have the spies learned? What's the result of their exploring? The spies now know what Yahweh has already told Joshua. Yahweh has given all the land into their hand. And, even more important (from their perspective), everyone is terrified of them. When we look at chapter 2 as a whole, nothing here should've worked out okay: The spies were total bumblers. How do you end up at a prostitute's house? How does the king know everything there is to know about you, on your very first day in Jericho? And the woman? What were the odds that she'd risk her life to protect them? What were the odds that her lie would be successful? Why did the king's men, who knew everything, not search her house before running off? Our story should've ended with the spies dead. With Rahab dead. And with a demoralized Joshua. But, "somehow", everything worked out in a way that encouraged everyone. I think you have to read this story as evidence that Yahweh is keeping his promises to Joshua. Yahweh's hand is barely hidden throughout this story. He protects the bumbling spies. He protects the prostitute who took an enormous risk for them. And who lied poorly for them, because she had committed herself to Yahweh, and to his people. And God uses all of this to encourage Joshua to be strong and brave. What we see here, is Yahweh is serious about keeping his promises to Joshua. Yahweh is faithful. Yahweh is good. Yahweh can be trusted. We find ourselves feeling hope after this chapter. Maybe this will somehow turn out okay, because God is faithful.