Bible Commentaries
Joshua 2

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-24

Reconnaissance Operations (2:1-24)

Numbers 13 reports spying operations conducted in southern Canaan from the wilderness to the south. As a result of these operations, the hope of invasion from the south was given up and, after long wanderings, an attempt from the east was decided upon. Again espionage was resorted to.

The story told here is dramatic and full of human interest. Israel was camped at Shittim, the Abel-shittim (meaning "brook of the acacias") of the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:49) located at the foot of the mountains across the Jordan Valley from Jericho. The presence of a large invading force encamped there was obviously known to the Canaanite inhabitants of Jericho, who are represented as terror-stricken (vss. 9-11). The king of Jericho (actually a kinglet who ruled over a tiny city-state, of which there were many in Canaan at this time) and his soldiers were on the alert for any signs of aggressive activity on the part of the invaders. How the presence of the spies in the house of Rahab the harlot became known is not reported. But anyone who has lived in a tight little oriental village knows how hard it is for strangers to enter undetected and to remain concealed. In choosing a harlot’s house they entered the only dwelling where strangers would be reasonably certain of a welcome.

Rahab’s decision to protect the spies by hiding them under the drying flax on the roof is attributed to her desire for self-preservation. Certain that the invaders would be victorious in the coming attack on Jericho, she saw a way to ensure her safety and that of her relatives. She is represented as confessing the supremacy of Israel’s God (vs. 11), a confession which probably owes something to the faith of the Deuteronomic writer (see Deuteronomy 4:39). The panic which will seize Israel’s enemies is also a Deuteronomic theme (see Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 7:23; Deuteronomy 11:25).

To seal the agreement that in exchange for the protection of the spies Rahab and her relatives will be spared in the coming invasion, an oath is extracted from the spies in the name of the Lord. Oaths in the name of a deity or deities were common in the ancient world. Amos, for example, condemns those who swear by the god Ashimah of Samaria and the gods of the shrines of Dan and Beer-sheba (Amos 8:14). The oath was accompanied by symbolic acts: the raising of the hand toward heaven (Genesis 14:22, which is literally: "I have raised my hand unto the Loan . . ."; see also Daniel 12:7); the laying hold of some sacred or potent object (Genesis 24:2; Genesis 47:29); and sometimes the cutting asunder of sacrificial animals, between the halves of which the contracting parties passed (Genesis 15:10; Genesis 15:17; Jeremiah 34:18). The oath formula in the Old Testament is commonly, "God do so to me and more also, if . . ." I do or do not thus and so (2 Samuel 3:35; see also 1 Samuel 3:17; 1 Samuel 14:44). The swearer thus makes himself liable to the most severe punishments by the Deity if the oath is violated. In the oath sworn by the spies they agree to "deal kindly" (the Hebrew word means "loyally," in conformity to the terms of the agreement) with Rahab and her household, if she keeps her part of the compact.

Sir John Garstang thought some years ago that he had found in his excavations at Jericho part of the city walls (an outer and an inner wall, some twelve feet apart) astride which Rahab’s house was built. Recent excavations have shown, however, that these walls come from a period some three hundred years earlier than Joshua’s conquest and that the city in his time was small and relatively weak defensively. Very little of Rahab’s city has been recovered. Wind, rain, and the diggings of archaeological explorers in the infancy of the science have obliterated most of the remains of the city of Joshua’s time.

The story of Rahab was a favorite one in Judaism and Christianity. According to Jewish tradition Rahab was the ancestress of eight prophets and priests, including Jeremiah. It was even asserted that Joshua married her after she became a proselyte! In Hebrews 11:31 she is regarded as a heroine of faith and in James 2:25 of works. The Christian scholar Origen in the third century allegorized the story in a most interesting way. According to him, the spies represent the forerunners of Jesus, particularly John the Baptist; Rahab stands for the publicans and sinners who responded to the Baptist’s message; the scarlet thread hung out the window was a type of the saving blood of Christ; the fact that Rahab’s relatives were promised safety only if they remained in her house suggests that it is only in the Church that salvation through the blood of Christ is to be found. In view of Rahab’s help in a time critical for the future of the people of God, it is small wonder that her act has been thus immortalized.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Joshua 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/joshua-2.html.