Bible Commentaries
Joshua 2

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Verses 1-7


Before the crossing takes place, we meet Rahab in this chapter. The New Testament speaks about the “faith” of “Rahab the harlot” and about the “works” of “Rahab the harlot”:

“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (Hebrews 11:31).

“In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:25).

Rahab connects herself with the people of God even before Israel has achieved a victory. By her attitude she gives up her connection with Jericho. She believes that the judgment comes on the city. But she also believes in the mercy of God. Her request to save her whole family from judgment was met.

We need this kind of faith to enjoy the blessings God has given us. On the one hand we belong to the church of God and on the other hand we separate from the world which is under judgment. To make this true, it must be a reality for us what Rahab says in Joshua 2:11: “For the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”

Besides the practical application for us, in the history of Rahab there is also an application for the future for the people of Israel. The same can be done with the book of Acts, in which the origin and the first years of the church are described. Before the people enter the land, God shows us in Rahab that He thinks also of the Gentiles to enter into His people.

When God’s people are about to take possession of the blessing, this history shows that God also opens up this blessing to the Gentiles. Rahab belongs to “the nations in the flesh” who have no right to or share in anything (Ephesians 2:11-2 Kings :), but to whom the blessing of God comes as well as to His earthly people. And among these nations it takes a place that is too abhorrent: that of a harlot. In its incorporation into the people of God, God’s grace shines in a great way.

In the passage through the Red Sea we don’t see a figure like Rahab, because after that journey the people enter the wilderness. The wilderness is not part of God’s counsels. When God speaks to Moses from the bush about His plan to lead the people out of Egypt and bring them to the promised land, He does not speak about the wilderness either (Exodus 3:8).

The land is the land of blessing. The people are on the verge of entering into the counsels of God, which contain only blessings. And when it comes to blessing, God involves the nations and they may participate in it. It is as with the law and grace. The law is given to one people: Israel. Grace is not limited to one people, but goes further: to all people. Thus, all people can participate in God’s blessing if they have a faith like that of Rahab.

When Israel will be in the land in the future, after it has been converted, there will also be a great mass of nations sharing in blessing. The nations will be given a share in these blessings through the messengers which the Lord will send out (Matthew 25:31-:). The beginning of the church also shows that the nations are given access to the blessing (Acts 8:26-Malachi :; Acts 10:44-Galatians :).

The first application is that God in the present Christian time gathers His people from all nations to connect them with the glorified Head, Christ, in heaven. The church, the body of Christ, is not only connected with Him, but made one with Him in heaven. That is why we have our place there.

In Acts the first Gentiles of whom we read that they come to faith are those with a high social place. We read about a eunuch who is the treasurer, or minister of finance, of the queen of Ethiopia (Acts 8:27) and about a Roman centurion (Acts 10:1). But here a harlot is presented to us. So she is mentioned twice in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). That she is taken up in God’s people shows God’s special grace. That grace shines all the more when we notice that she even becomes the ancestor of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

The Spies with Rahab

Joshua send two spies. The sending is not necessary to decide on a possible entry into the land. That decision has already been made (Joshua 1:11). So why is it necessary? And does not the LORD himself go out before them? Sending to spy is not like it happened in the wilderness before. There it was because of the unbelief of the people. Here it is because God wants to show us that He wants to engage His own as His instruments and that our responsibility remains fully intact. We have to look at the situation we have to face in order to act with understanding and dependence on Him.

By spying out, it is revealed that the hearts of the inhabitants of the land have melted (Joshua 2:11). To know this will encourage Israel. It is also God’s intention to save Rahab and her family. He has started a work in her heart. The spies are used by Him to complete that work.

The land and Jericho must be spied out. Jericho is the door to the land and must be conquered before the land can be taken. Jericho is a picture of the world. She presents the world as the system through which Satan wants to hinder us to take possession of our spiritual inheritance. The world exerts great attraction on us. As long as that is the case, we are weak. We must therefore first condemn it in our hearts, so that we are free from any bondage to the world.

The spies have to spy out the land. Does that mean that we also have to examine the world first, because only then do we know what to turn away from? No. In the way God sends the spies, we see how these two men are doing. In this way we learn the lesson of spying the world.

The two men enter the land to spy out the power of the enemy. But they don’t get to see that power. Instead they met the power of God in Jericho in Rahab. God leads the spies straight to Rahab’s house. They did not go far into town. Maybe they entered the first house they can enter. And that’s all. They have been only in the house of Rahab. There they saw the work of God in the heart and life of Rahab. God is able to do such a powerful work in that city and in the heart of such a woman. In this way they come into contact with God’s work in power and testimony.

This action of God teaches us that, to see the real character of the world, we must look at the cross. In rejecting the Son of God when He is in goodness on earth, we see the true nature of the world. There we also see God’s judgment of the world. There is no longer any connection between Him and the world. Whoever sees this, gives up the world (Galatians 6:14). This can only be realized by people in whom God has worked the new life. A huge change can be seen in them. First there is love for the world and God’s people are hated. Now there is love for God’s people and the world is hated. That is the power of the gospel. That power the spies in Rahab. That is why they do not have to go further into the land.

Forty years earlier, twelve other Israelites have spied out the whole land. Ten of them returned in unbelief and “gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out” (Numbers 13:32-Micah :). So we have to spy out in the right way and that is: see what God does in lives. That convinces. A God Who is so powerful that He can change people so completely, is also powerful to give the whole land.

It is mentioned of Rahab that “she had welcomed the spies in peace” (Hebrews 11:31). That is diametrically opposed to the intentions of the king of Jericho. He is looking for the spies to kill them. The kings of Canaan, including those of Jericho, are a picture of the demons. They hate God and His ambassadors.

Rahab lies about the spies. That is her old nature. We should not put this in a good light. God does not bring anyone in circumstances to sin (James 1:13). But we should not condemn her too harshly either. What would we do in a situation that involves life or death for others and ourselves? And have men of God like Abraham and David not lied in threatening situations (Genesis 12:11-1 Chronicles :; 1 Samuel 21:2) for more selfish motives than Rahab?

With all understanding for the behavior of Rahab it must be clear to us that lying does not belong to the new man, but to the old man (Ephesians 4:20-Lamentations :). We are still in danger of showing the works of the old man. What Rahab does is part of the works of Canaan. If she had spoken the truth, God could have somehow prevented her and the spies from being harmed (Genesis 19:11; Jeremiah 36:26).

God allows Rahab to lie. He doesn’t depend on her lie to save the spies. For the men it is clear which side Rahab is on. At the risk of her own life, she has taken them in. When the soldiers come to catch them, she warns them and hides them. This act is her creed.

Rahab hides the spies because she knows these men are her only hope for salvation to escape the upcoming judgment. Her liberation depends on their hiding. She not only believes in the God of Israel, but here she makes herself one with the Israel of God. She makes herself one with them, while the people still own nothing but God.

Rahab hides the spies under stalks of flax. This has a beautiful spiritual meaning. Flax is the raw material for linen. Linen speaks of the righteous deeds of the believers (Revelation 19:8). The fact that Rahab has flax at her disposal and does a good job with it, indicates in the spiritual sense that in her debauched life a reversal has already taken place earlier. She has been diligent in the good (Proverbs 31:13). By doing so, she has in her house means with which she can protect the spies against the murderousness of the enemy.

Verses 8-11

Testimony of Rahab

By confessing “I know”, she gives testimony of her personal faith. It shows a greater faith than the ten aforementioned spies. Furthermore, she confesses in the name of all the inhabitants of the land (Joshua 2:9-1 Kings :). She confesses that terror has fallen on all and that they all have melted away. This is what Moses predicted when the people were passed through the Red Sea: “No man will be able to stand before you; the LORD your God will lay the dread of you and the fear of you on all the land on which you set foot, as He has spoken to you” (Deuteronomy 11:25; cf. Exodus 15:14-Nehemiah :).

The mere observation that their hearts have melted away because of what God has done is not a profession of faith that frees them from judgment. We also know from the demons that they believe “that God is one … and shudder” (James 2:19). This faith is not the saving faith as it is personally present in Rahab. Demons are represented in the kings of Canaan. Their faith, like that of the demons, is a belief in the power of God, while they at the same time hate this God. The king of Jericho shows this because he wants to kill the spies. He can only hate God.

Not all people who live in Canaan are a picture of the demons. Many are only slaves of demonic powers. Such a person is also Rahab. For her is hope, not for the demons. Rahab speaks in faith that the LORD has given the land to His people. That brings no hatred in her heart, but trust. She also believes in the LORD Himself and not as the God of any particular people only, but as the God of heaven and earth (Joshua 2:11). This confession is strongly reminiscent of what Moses told the Israelites and what he wants them to take to heart: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39).

Verses 12-13

Rahab Pleads for Her Family

Rahab doesn’t only ask for salvation for herself. Although she is not the head of a family, she still asks for salvation for all of her family. That is her wish. She makes this known. She trusts in the goodness of God. It is God’s thought to save families. That does not take away our responsibility to tell them about it. Rahab must also go to her relatives to tell them what is needed to be saved. We must go out to announce the means of salvation.

Caring for her family is proof that she has already broken with her harlotry. For a harlot, family relationships established by God mean nothing, no matter how much she herself may sometimes claim the opposite. When there is a real conversion, we also notice a desire for broken family relationships to be restored.

There is no valid motive for God we could imagine why someone goes or stays in prostitution. Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of harlotry with any respect or even understanding. It is always strongly condemned. All sins are very bad, but God describes fornication as a special sin (1 Corinthians 6:18). But also for a harlot there is grace. We see that in Rahab.

Verses 14-21

The Rescue Plan

When Rahab has expressed her wish, she needs words of salvation. Those words are spoken by the spies. She doesn’t have to perish along with the people of Jericho. The means is offered to her. If she really wants to benefit from it, then it is necessary that she believes the testimony of both spies and does what they have said.

Rahab believes the testimony of the men. She also has the faith that her testimony will be accepted by her family. When she tells her family that there is salvation in her house, her family believes her. They come to her house and are saved (Joshua 6:22-Isaiah :). Because they believe her words, they are saved. How are we known; do they believe our testimony?

Long ago, two men, angels, also gave testimony of the judgment that would come upon Sodom to a man who lived there: Lot. They warned him of that judgment and asked him who else he had in his house. When it came down to it, his sons-in-law would not come along. They did not believe the testimony of Lot (Genesis 19:14). The testimony of Lot is in stark contrast to that of Rahab. This is because Lot is a believer, but does not live according to that at all, while Rahab has radically broken with her old life and puts herself on the side of God and the side of God’s people.

In the two spies who bear witness to salvation, we can see a picture of the two Witnesses God has given us in our time: the Word and the Spirit. God’s Word gives us the certainty of judgment and salvation. Rahab has believed what the spies, the witnesses, have said. That is how she was saved. Thus the faith in what God has said gives the certainty of salvation.

The second Witness is the Holy Spirit. The Word and the Spirit bear witness to a Man in heaven. That speaks of a finished work. The Lord Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to testify of Him: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose [it] to you” (John 16:13-2 Chronicles :). If the enemy wants to attack us, we may look on Him.

Rahab shows two works of faith, both mentioned in the New Testament. The first work of faith is that she had “welcomed the spies in peace” (Hebrews 11:31). The second work of faith is that she “sent them out by another way” (James 2:25). In Hebrews 11:31 there is talk of her faith. In James 2:25 there is talk of her works in welcoming the messengers, who she sends out by another way. Both testimonies complement each other. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Rahab proves her faith through her actions.

She lets the spies go in relying on their promise. James speaks of “messengers”, although they are spies. But for Rahab they are men who have come to her with a message from God. They speak words of salvation she needs. She is convinced of the coming judgment, but does not yet know how she can escape it. They told her that.

The spies entered through the door, but to leave, Rahab sends them outside through another way, the window. She lets them go, but in the confidence that they will come back. Rahab stays behind with a happy and hopeful heart. She no longer lives by the door, but by the window: she is looking forward to salvation. The window of Rahab is not directed to Jericho, but outward, to the people of God.

The name of Rahab appears in two remarkable lists of names in the New Testament. First in Matthew 1, in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:5). She is one of the four women mentioned in that genealogy. The second list of names is that of the witnesses of faith in Hebrews 11: Sarah and she (Hebrews 11:11; Hebrews 11:31). In this way she is connected in a special way with the wife of Abraham.

Her mention in James 2 links her to Abraham whose work of faith is quoted in the preceding verses (James 2:21-Lamentations :). Both Abraham and she are quoted by James to show how the present but invisible faith becomes visible through one’s works. Saying you believe is not enough. The confession of faith is only justified if there are works that come from your faith and therefore provide proof that there is real faith present (James 2:26).

By the way, the acts of faith of either Rahab or Abraham are not directly acts that are admired by the world. In the eyes of the world, Rahab is a land traitor and Abraham a child murderer. That is why it is not the world that determines what works of faith are, but God.

As soon as the spies have left, she hangs the cord out of the window (Joshua 2:21). She does not wait, as the spies have told her, until the people of God enter the land (Joshua 2:18). She immediately bears witness to her faith. The cord means her salvation. In this way she is in contact with the people of God. Her house is on the wall, on the outside. There she lets the spies leave her house. The scarlet cord symbolizes the work of the Lord Jesus. Scarlet is a red dye obtained from a specific type of worm. This is in connection with a statement prophetically referring to the Lord Jesus on the cross: “But I am a worm and not a man” (Psalms 22:6).

Scarlet speaks not only of the suffering of the Lord Jesus, but also of His kingdom. Kings go dressed in scarlet. He obtains His kingship through suffering. It is remarkable that the Gospel that presents the Lord Jesus as King, the Gospel according to Matthew, as the only one of the four Gospels speaks of “a scarlet robe” that is mockingly put on Him (Matthew 27:28).

The red color speaks of the blood. Not only the words of the spies, but also the foundation of the shed blood gives the certainty of salvation. Rahab and her family hide, as it were, behind the blood (cf. Exodus 12:7; Exodus 12:12-1 Chronicles :).

Verses 22-24

Return of the Spies

The spies have been in the land for three days. The number three, which occurs more often in the first chapters of Joshua, refers to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He rose from the dead on the third day after his death (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:23Matthew 20:19; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:3-Numbers :). To know the blessing of the land, it is always important to remember the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

The testimony that the spies give to Joshua about the situation in the land is the testimony that they have heard from Rahab’s mouth and seen in her actions. In her they have seen what God does.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Joshua 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.