August 29 (Year 2)
Joshua has the promise of God that the Israelites will succeed, and the people have taken to his leadership with enthusiasm. They have begun well, and their faith will keep them strong. But in the conquest story they cannot expect God to do everything. A prayer from the Christian and Jewish traditions reminds us: Pray as if everything depends upon God; work as if everything depends upon us. Throughout the story of God’s people, the partnership between human beings’ faith and God’s power leads to God’s purposes being fulfilled in human lives.
Then Joshua, the son of Nun, secretly sent two spies from Shittim to the western side of the Jordan.
Joshua: Go in, and see what you can find out about the people in that area. Pay special attention to the city of Jericho.
The men crossed the river, and when they entered Jericho, they stayed at the home of a prostitute named Rahab.
Somehow word reached the king of Jericho that Israelite spies had slipped into the area and might be visiting Rahab. That night the king sent soldiers to Rahab’s house with a message.
Messengers: The king commands you to turn over the Israelite men who are staying with you because they are here to spy on all the land and its defenses.
But Rahab had already hidden the two spies before she received the king’s messengers.
Rahab: It’s true that two men have been to see me. But I didn’t take the time to ask them where they came from. All I know is that when it was getting dark outside and the gate was about to close, they got up and left. I don’t know where they went from here. If you hurry, you might still catch up to them.
She was lying, because the two men lay where she had hidden them beneath the stalks of flax laid out on her roof.
The soldiers ordered the gate opened long enough for them to pass through; then the gate was closed. They took the road that went straight toward the narrowest parts of the Jordan, which would be the easiest place for the spies to cross.
But the two spies were still on Rahab’s roof. She came up and found them awake.
Rahab: I know the Eternal has given your people this land. Your coming has paralyzed us all with fear. We have heard how the Eternal held back the Red Sea so you could escape from Egypt on dry land and how you completely destroyed the Amorite kings, Sihon and Og—and their kingdoms—on the far side of the Jordan. As soon as this news reached us, our hearts melted like wax and none of us had an ounce of courage left. The Eternal One, your God, is truly God of the heavens above and the earth below.
Because I know all these things, this is my request: Since I have treated you kindly and have protected you, please promise me by the Eternal that you will do the same for my family. Give me some sign of good faith that when you destroy this city you will spare my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and their families from death.
Spies: You had the power to turn us in, but you saved us. Now we will do the same for you. If you will promise not to tell anyone what we were doing here, then you have our word: we will treat you with kindness and faithfulness when the Eternal One gives us the land.
Since the rear wall of her house was actually part of the great city wall, she helped the men escape by simply lowering a rope for them from her window. Before they climbed down, she advised them to go into the mountains.
Rahab: That way you won’t be where the soldiers expect you to be. If you’ll hide there for three days, the pursuers should have returned here by then and you can go back safely.
Spies: We will keep the oath we have sworn to you, but only if you will follow these instructions: Gather all of your family here in this house, and tie this scarlet cord in the window where you let us down. If anyone goes out of the house and into the streets, then we can’t be responsible for what happens to them. They will be killed, and their blood will be on their hands, not on ours. We will be responsible if anything should happen to anyone you gather in here. But remember—all of this depends on you keeping your word. If you tell anyone our business, you will free us from our oath.
The men climbed down and escaped into the night, and she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
The story of Rahab reminds us that throughout the history of Israel, unexpected people have stepped to the foreground to be used by God. Rahab is a woman in a male-centered world; and she is a prostitute, the kind of person we typically vilify. But if she doesn’t rescue these men—and help them escape with the information they have gained—this first campaign in the land of Canaan will fail, and the larger outcome may be complicated—or worse. Her reward is life for herself and those she loves, which tells us that even in a war story like this one, God can be merciful.
The spies climbed into the mountains, just as Rahab had advised them, and they stayed for three days. During that time Jericho’s soldiers combed the countryside and watched the road heading east looking for them. Finally they went back to the city. So the two spies came down from their hiding place, crossed over the Jordan, and returned to Joshua (son of Nun), where they told him what had happened.
Spies: There is no doubt that the Eternal One has delivered all the land and its citizens into our hands. Everyone there is scared to death about our coming.