Rahab and the spies (Josh 2:1-21)

Today we begin a new six week series in the book of Joshua. I think its fair to say that if Joshua was ever made into a film, it would be a Hollywood blockbuster. Joshua has all the ingredients of an Oscar-winning storyline. It’s a story of faith, hope, courage and conquest. A story of God giving the Promised Land to his people.

But before we begin this great story, let me briefly set the scene. The year is about 1200 BC and the events of Exodus have taken place. The people of Israel have been rescued from slavery in Egypt, have been miraculously taken through the Red Sea, and have received God’s law at Mount Sinai.

But for the past 40 years the Israelites had been wandering around the desert, waiting to inherit the land of Canaan that God had promised them. Sin and grumbling against God meant they had not yet been given the land he had promised them. And to make matters worse, the Israelite’s famous leader Moses had just died – the man who had led the exodus from Egypt was now dead and buried.

Thankfully, although Moses had gone God had not abandoned his people. Because as we begin the book of Joshua, the people of Israel have just arrived on the east bank of the river Jordan. God had at last brought them to the edge of Canaan, they were on the cusp of entering the Promised Land. God has just appointed Joshua as the new leader of the Israelites, and has assured him that he will help the Israelites conquer Canaan. Battle is about to begin, and God is going to give them victory over their enemies.

But like any good general, Joshua wanted to survey the scene and spy out the enemy before engaging in battle. So as we join Joshua in chapter 2 today, he is about to send spies across the river Jordan to ‘check out’ the other side, including the city of Jericho. Joshua wanted to know what opposition Israel’s army could expect to face when they entered the land. So let’s listen to what happened next…

Rahab saved the spies!

Today’s Bible reading is a history lesson and a great story of salvation. But I’ve also heard it referred to (less flatteringly) as a “shady lady story”!

Because verse 1 of our reading told us that when they went to Jericho, the spies stayed in the house of a prostitute called Rahab. This “shady lady’s” home was a base from which they could spy on the city and assess its defences.

But it seems that their arrival did not go unnoticed, and the king of Jericho was notified. As we read in verse 3, the king wasted no time in telling Rahab to hand over the spies sheltering in her house.

But with great bravery, Rahab hides the spies rather than handing them over to the king. She sends the king’s soldiers out on a ‘wild goose chase’ out into the country, and hides the Israelite spies “under the stalks of flax she had laid out on her roof” (v.6).

In verses 8 to 11 she tells the spies why she was being so brave. She had come to realise that the Israelites were on the winning side. She had heard all that the LORD had done for them – including the exodus from Egypt – and knew that he had the power to give the Israelites their Promised Land. Rahab had come to realise that the ‘pagans of Canaan’ had no chance against the Lord of heaven and earth (v.11).

Rahab was saved by faith!

Imagine if you saw me enter a tennis match against Roger Federer, or a begin a snooker game against Ronnie O’Sullivan – you’d know there would only be one winner, and it wouldn’t be me! In the coming contest between God’s people and the godless citizens of Jericho, Rahab also knew there could only be one winner.

Faced with these facts, Rahab put her faith in the God of Israel. She decided to switch loyalties and side with him, rather than the king of Jericho. She wisely chose to turn to God for safety, mercy and salvation. That’s why in verses 12 and 13 she asks the Israelite spies to spare her and her family when they return to conquer the city. She says to them “please swear by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family…and save us from death”.

The spies willingly agree to her request. When the Israelites conquer her city they will spare her household and welcome them into God’s people. To identify her house in the coming conflict, they ask her to hang a scarlet cord from her window. That scarlet cord would be a sign that she and her family were to be rescued and kept safe.

With the deal done, Rahab lowered the spies out of her window in the city wall and enabled them escape in safety. They could return to the Israelite camp and tell Joshua all that they’d done in Jericho. The spies were able to tell Joshua about Rahab’s remarkable faith, and the deal they had done to save her and her household.

If you like a good novel, especially a detective story, it can sometimes be tempting to flick forward to the end of the book to find out how the story ends – to discover ‘whodunit’.

Well if today we were to flick forward a few pages to Joshua chapter 6 verse 25, we would see that Joshua and the Israelites were true to their word. When they did conquer the city of Jericho they spared Rahab and her family, and gave her a place among their own people. Rahab’s faith in God’s mercy was vindicated, and the scarlet cord in her window secured her rescue.

What we can learn from Rahab

But what can Rahab’s rescue, this “shady lady story”, teach us today? Here are four applications for us before I finish:

• Firstly, Rahab was a woman of great faith, and her faith was hugely valuable. Rahab heard about everything that the LORD had done, and believed in his power to save. Rahab heard of God’s promises to his people, and trusted they would come true. Christians today are people who have faith in the same God as Rahab and the Israelites. Christians are people who have heard about the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and believe God’s power was at work through him. We should be people who trust God’s great promises of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus – people to cling to Christ for assurance of God’s mercy and grace.

• Secondly, our faith should involve loyalty to the Lord. In Joshua chapter 2 we see Rahab’s loyalities transfer from the king of Jericho to the Lord God. Today, a Christian is someone who makes the Lord Jesus the king of their life, someone who has given Christ their ultimate loyalty, their complete allegiance – above any worldly authority and even above their own selfish desires.

• Thirdly, we also learn from Rahab that faith can be costly. She took a great personal risk sheltering the spies on her roof. If they had been found, she would almost certainly have been imprisoned and punished by the king of Jericho. Christian faith continues to be costly today. It may well involve resisting temptation, enduring persecution, and sacrificing worldly pleasures. In this fallen world, following Jesus comes at a cost. We should not be surprised when we face crosses to bear.

• Fourthly and finally, the lesson of Rahab is that faith is for anyone! Anyone can become a Christian believer and receive God’s salvation – whatever our background. Rahab was a pagan prostitute, but her past did not exclude her from God’s grace and mercy. Her nationality did not prevent her becoming one of God’s people. Repentance and faith in Christ is all that is asked of anyone – even shady ladies!

So whoever we are, whatever our past, we can experience God’s salvation and a new start in life – just like Rahab did.

I wonder, who do you know who would benefit from hearing about God’s amazing grace this week?

Phil Weston