B. SPIES SENT TO JERICHO; CANAAN DISMAYED AT THE POWER OF ISRAEL’S GOD (2:1–24)
1 Joshua, son of Nun, secretly sent two men from Shittim on a mission to gather information, with the following charge: “Go, reconnoitre the country and especially Jericho.” They went and came to the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and there they went to sleep.
2 The king of Jericho was told: “Look, men from the Israelites have come here this night to gather intelligence about the country.”
3 Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab to tell her: “Bring out those men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to gather intelligence about the whole country.”
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. So she answered: “True, these men did come to me, but I did not know where they were from;
5 and when the gate was about to be shut, at the onset of darkness, these men went off. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly; you will surely overtake them.”
6 But she had brought them upstairs on the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax which she had lying piled up on the roof.
7 As to the men, they chased after them in the direction of the Jordan, near the fords, and the gate was shut, right after those had left who pursued them.
8 The others had not yet lain down when she came up to them on the roof.
9 She said to the men: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have lost heart because of you.
10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you went out of Egypt, and what you have done to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, to whom you applied the curse.
11 When we heard that, our heart dissolved and because of you there was no courage left with anyone, for the Lord your God is a God in heaven above and on the earth beneath.
12 Now then, do swear to me by the Lord! As I have shown faithfulness to you, you on your part will show faithfulness to my family, and give me a sure sign,
13 and save alive my father and mother, my brothers and my sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.”
14 Then the men answered her: “Our life for yours! Unless you tell of this agreement of ours! When the Lord will have given us the land then we will show you faithfulness and loyalty.”
15 She let them down through a window by a rope, for her house was on the outside of the wall and in that wall she lived.
16 She said to them: “To the mountain country you must go, in order that those who pursue you do not reach you, and hide yourselves for three days till the pursuers have gone back; then you can go on your way.”
17 The men said to her: “We will be free from this oath of yours which you have made us swear—
18 look, when we enter the country, you must tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you have let us down, and you must gather your father and your mother, your brothers and your entire family with you into the house.
19 This means that whoever will go outside through the doors of your house, his blood will be on his own head and we will go free. But as concerns anyone who will be with you in the house, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him.
20 If you should report this matter of ours then we will be free of your oath which you have made us swear.”
21 She replied: “As you have spoken, so will it be.” She let them go and they left. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
22 They went, and came to the mountain country and stayed there three days, till the pursuers had gone back. The pursuers looked everywhere and did not find them.
23 So the two men came down again out of the mountain country; they crossed over and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had befallen them.
24 They said to Joshua: “The Lord has given the whole country into our power and all the inhabitants have lost heart because of us.”
Chapter 2 illustrates vividly one of the truths set forth in the previous chapter: God will “give” the land of Canaan to Israel. Rahab’s confession and the spies’ report (2:9–11, 24) demonstrate that even the mightiest cities will not be able to resist the power of the God of Israel. Another connection between the two chapters may be found in the note of encouragement to Joshua struck in both (cf. 1:7, 9, 18b).
There is no reason to regard ch. 2 as originally embodying a version of the Conquest different from that presented in ch. 6. 1 It is true that Joshua sends out spies as if the city and the land must be conquered by force, whereas in actual fact Jericho’s wall will fall miraculously (but cf. 24:11). However, at no point thus far has the account indicated that such a miracle will take place. Joshua’s sending of the spies, therefore, is simply evidence of his foresight as a general. It does not conflict with the miracle that is to follow; neither is it a sign of lack of faith in God’s promises. The story of the spies must be seen in this light. The spies act and speak as if the city will be taken by force. This is why the “sign” of the red cord is agreed upon. Whatever other secret agreements and inside information may have been carried back to Joshua’s camp, the later developments of the actual events have made superfluous their report. This accounts for some of the unanswered questions which the story of the spies leaves. As to the chronological question of the “three days” (1:11), see the commentary at that point. 2
1 Joshua sends two men 3 from Shittim 4 on a mission to gather information concerning the country and especially 5 concerning Jericho. 6 The two men take up lodging in the house of a certain Rahab, 7 who is called a harlot (Heb. zônâ) both here and in Heb. 11:31; Jas. 2:25 (Gk. pornē). A house like that could be expected to be frequented by men. This probably was the reason why the spies turned in there in order to escape detection. 8 The word šāḵaḇ, “sleep,” does indeed have an ambiguous meaning and may be used of sexual intercourse, but in v. 8 it seems to be used without such connotation. There is no reason to understand it otherwise in v. 1. Some read v. 3, “who have come to you,” as having sexual overtones (cf. Gen. 38:16; Judg. 16:1). This is indeed a possible meaning of the phrase, but the addition “who have entered your house” would seem to be against that understanding here. 9
2–3 Jericho’s king 10 is apprised of the arrival of the two Israelite men. Although this arrival took place before nightfall (see v. 5), it was apparently toward the evening (“this night”; cf. Gen. 19:1, 5). The king demands, by means of messengers, the surrender of the two spies. On the phrase who have entered your house (lacking in the Syriac translation) see the commentary on the previous verse. 11
4–7 In this section the customary Hebrew word order (and-verb form-subject) is frequently changed to a more vivid style of narration with the subject preceding the verb.
The woman has taken 12 the two men to a hiding place 13 on the roof (see v. 6). She admits that strangers have come to her, that she does not know their identity, and that they have already left the city before nightfall and the shutting of the city gate. With the advice to the messengers of the king that a hot pursuit be organized, she concludes her remarks with a recommendation for immediate pursuit. 14
Verse 6 supplements the reference of v. 4. The woman had hidden the men on the flat roof under the stalks of flax 15 she kept there. The narrative does not state explicitly that the spies were the recipients of special divine care. Yet it is strange that the king’s messengers were so quickly persuaded of the accuracy of this woman’s words and that no search of her house was instituted. The Bible is often sparing with indications of divine guidance over against human intrigue (cf. Gen. 50:20; 2 Sam. 17:14). Yet this guidance may well be implied by the narrator of this account.
Hebrew narrative often proceeds episodically. V. 7 reports the pursuit of the men in the direction of the Jordan, near the fords 16 and of the shutting of the city gate. The topic of the pursuit is not resumed, however, until v. 22. The reader is first invited to concentrate on what goes on inside Rahab’s house. In the meantime the narrative conjures up the fruitless chase by the king’s men.
8–11 After Rahab has rid herself of the king’s men she ascends to the roof where the men had not yet lain down; they had not yet gone to sleep (Gen. 19:4). 17 The woman expresses her conviction that the Lord has given you the land. Thus she confirms what ch. 1 had stated repeatedly (1:2–3, 11, 15). She also speaks of the dread that has fallen upon Canaan’s inhabitants. Her words bear out the truth of Exod. 15:14–16; 23:27. The Canaanites are portrayed as having lost heart (lit. “been seized with anxiety”). 18 Dread accompanies God’s march through the world on behalf of his people (cf. 4:24; 5:1). The prophets link the Lord’s acts in time with his eschatological acts of redemption and judgment (compare Isa. 9:4 [Eng. 5] with Judg. 7; Isa. 28:21 with 2 Sam. 5:20, 25). Rahab’s words thus form a link in a real chain of events which will some day usher in the end time (see also Deut. 2:25; 11:25). What was promised there is now being fulfilled. Even the memory of the crossing of the Red Sea 19 has not faded. It has become vivid again due to Israel’s proximity, opposite Jericho. A more recent event is Israel’s defeat of Sihon and Og, here called kings of the Amorites. 20 To them Israel had applied the curse 21 (Num. 21:21–35). Again Rahab speaks of the dismay which has befallen her people in Canaan. Their heart dissolved, and there was no courage left with anyone. All this leads her to confess that the Lord, Israel’s God, is a God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. At this point Rahab’s words resemble those of Moses in Deut. 4:39. Are these words of Rahab’s “confession,” so strongly resembling various thoughts expressed in the Pentateuch, simply a fabrication of the author of this account? 22 We believe the substance of these words to be truly that of Rahab. However, her conversation with the spies may well have been longer than actually reported. If so, a summary by the Israelite writer had to be supplied. In such an outline various thoughts of the Pentateuchal books may have influenced the report, but not to such an extent as to cast doubt on the basic veracity of the words and on the sentiments expressed. A closer comparison with Exod. 15:15–16; Deut. 2:25; 11:25 shows that Rahab’s words are not verbatim quotes.
In some ways her words reflect clearly that she is just beginning to emerge from her pagan environment. Calling God the Lord your God who is a God in heaven above and on the earth beneath, Rahab expresses a thought which is also biblical; but similar utterances may be found also in pagan literature. 23
12–13 Rahab now demands that the spies take a solemn oath that they will return her faithfulness 24 with similar faithfulness toward her and her family. This oath, once taken, will serve as a sure sign 25 that she and her entire family—father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all who belong to them—will be saved alive at the time of the attack upon Jericho which both she and the spies assume will be made (see introduction to this chapter). Rahab thinks in terms of family and clan. This is in keeping with the thought patterns of the ancient Near East. It is also an indication of her unselfishness.
14–15 The men respond with a strong assurance that they will guarantee with their very lives (Our life for yours! 26 ) the safety of Rahab and her kin. See also vv. 17, 20; 6:22. But they insist that utter secrecy must be observed, and that this agreement of ours 27 should not be told to others. But faithfulness and loyalty will surely be shown when the Lord will have given the land to Israel. “Faithfulness and loyalty” is the standard expression for acts done and kindness shown in connection with covental agreements (Gen. 24:27, 49; 32:10). The spies as well as Rahab previously (v. 9) express their conviction that the Lord will “give” the land to Israel, thus confirming a repeated emphasis of ch. 1; see 1:2–3, 11, 13.
It seems best to regard the information of v. 15, of how Rahab let them down through a window by a rope, as a proleptic summary of the final action whereby the spies are permitted to leave the city. 28 This is better than to assume the ensuing conversation (vv. 16–21a) to have taken place at the moment when the men were being let down from the house in the wall.
The narrator is concerned to bring one part of the narrative to a conclusion, and already at this point reports the mode of escape employed. Rahab’s house is on the outside of the wall, but it may also be said to be in that wall 29 Those familiar with houses built on (against) the massive dikes protecting the Netherlands lowlands from the sea may see a parallel here.
16 In her advice to the men (To the mountain country you must go), the woman may have thought of Jebel Qarantal, a prominent moun-taintop northwest of Jericho, identified by the Crusaders as the scene of Jesus’ temptation. This area is full of crevices and caves, and would thus provide a likely hiding place.
17–20 Before taking leave, the two spies state more precisely than they had previously the conditions under which the oath of v. 14 will be binding on them. The declaration beginning we will be free of this oath is not brought to its grammatical conclusion, 30 but is followed by the conditions the men now impose on Rahab and her family. She is to tie this scarlet cord in the window, 31 and to make sure that those whom she hopes to include in this agreement will be with her in the house. The whole conversation reflects the expectation that the city will be taken by force, that breaches will be made and houses destroyed and taken in combat (see introduction to this chapter).
Some of the Church Fathers considered the red cord that Rahab used as a sign whereby she and her family would be spared from death to be a symbol of the blood of Christ. Rahab herself was considered a symbol of the Church, since she by her faith and kindness secured the safety of her family. 32 Typological connections of this sort must be handled with great care. Indeed, a real typological connection between the Testaments should be recognized in the light of the Bible’s own consciousness. But due care should be taken to detect whether there is in fact a real line of continuity running from the “type” to that which it is supposed to typify. No mere coincidence such as the sameness of the color or other externalities will suffice. 33 The men state precisely what will be the case. He who is not in Rahab’s house at the time of the capture of Jericho, his blood will be on his own head, 34 i.e., he will be responsible for his death, whereas the men themselves will assume responsibility for the death of any who will be with Rahab in the house. Rahab, as they have stated before, is sworn to complete secrecy. 35
21 Rahab agrees to these conditions. She then lets them go in the manner stated in v. 15 (see commentary). The narrator, again in the fashion more often observed in Hebrew narrative, completes the story of the scarlet cord, reporting that Rahab tied it in the window. Thus the narrative is brought to a conclusion so far as this sign is concerned, although the actual event probably took place later. 36 Note a similar prolepsis in the first part of v. 22.
22–24 The men heed Rahab’s advice. They stay three days in the mountain country, and though one may assume a careful search on the part of Jericho’s men there is no detection. This constitutes another tacit admission that divine guidance is favoring the mission of Joshua’s men; see also vv. 3–7.
The men then come down and ford the Jordan, a perilous undertaking under the prevailing circumstances (cf. 3:15), and tell Joshua, their chief, everything that had befallen them. The message carried back to Joshua contains that which thematically is the most important element of this chapter. It reiterates that the Lord has given the whole country into our power (cf. 1:3, 6, 11; 2:9) and stresses at the same time the panic-stricken condition 37 of Canaan’s inhabitants.
After these somewhat introductory chapters, the narrative is now ready to pick up the main thread of the story.
2 Those who hold to the tenets of the documentary analysis as applied to the Pentateuch are not agreed as to the basic unity of this account. Steuernagel, Das Buch Josua, p. 212, views the chapter as basically “einheitlich,” with the exception of vv. 17–21. H. Holzinger, Das Buch Josua, p. 4, thinks he can detect JE in this chapter (Steuernagel sees E only). M. Noth, Das Buch Josua, p. 29, does not doubt the “literary unity” of the account.
3 The LXX calls them “young men,” as does the MT in 6:23. Does the LXX mean to lessen the moral problem of the spies’ going to the house of a harlot?
4 Shittim, probably the same as Abel-shittim (Num. 33:49), was the place where Israel had sinned with Baal-peor (Num. 25:1). It has been identified with Tell el-Kefrein, a cone-shaped hill guarding the Wâdı̄ Kefrein. Others think of Tell el-Hammâm as the possible site (see E. G. Kraeling, The Rand McNally Bible Atlas, 124; and Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, p. 32). The word Shittim means “acacia trees.”
5 The addition “and especially Jericho” (lit. “and Jericho”) is deemed suspect by Noth and others. Several translations (RSV, Moffatt, Gelin, Hertzberg) treat the “and” (Heb. waw) as signifying “especially,” “also.” The fact that Jericho would have been an obvious goal of the fact-finding mission does not make the mention of it by Joshua superfluous.
6 Jericho (“moon city?” from Heb. yārēaḥ, “moon”) has frequently been identified with Tell eṣ-ṣultan. Excavations took place at that site in 1907–09, 1930–36, and 1952–53. See K. M. Kenyon, “Jericho,” in AOTS, pp. 264–275. But the question of identification must be left open. There are still various unexplored tells in the vicinity. See also the article on Jericho in W. H. Gispen et al., eds., Bijbelse Encyclopaedie (Kampen: 31979), pp. 395f.
7 Rahab’s name is not to be confused with the name of the sea monster mentioned in Job 9:13. It may have a connection with the root rāḥaḇ, “to be broad,” and be an abbreviation of a theophoric name, Rehabiah in 1 Chr. 23:17; 24:21. Josephus maintained Rahab was an innkeeper. It is possible to hold that she was both that and a harlot. The Targums call her a pundeqita, which means innkeeper. But, as Kroeze indicates (Jozua, p. 36), this word in the Targums always receives an unfavorable sense.
9 Some commentators, e.g., Noth (op. cit., p. 24), believe that the words “who have entered your house” are an addition designed to prevent a misunderstanding of the previous words. But why add these words here, in the speech of the king’s messengers? Would there be a need for such “attenuation” (see F.-M. Abel, Le Livre de Josué, p. 20) precisely on that point?
10 From the so-called Amarna tablets, 14th century correspondence between Canaanite kinglets and Egyptian pharaohs, it is known that Canaan at this time consisted of city states each with its own king (cf. also 12:9; Judg. 1:7).
12 The pluperfect is a possible reading of the Hebrew. It is employed in the translations of C. J. Goslinga and the DNV. This explains more easily why the king’s messengers did not show suspicion. The woman may have sensed possible danger, and she took measures accordingly. See note 17.
13 The Hebrew form for “she had hidden them” is unusual (wattiṣpenô for wattiṣpenēm). Some (e.g. J. de Groot, Het Boek Jozua. Tekst en Uitleg [Groningen: 1931], p. 75) suggest that this is an old dual form. It may also be that the suffix must be treated distributively: she had hidden each of them. Cf. also GKC § 60d.
14 Several commentators call Rahab’s words a lie. Others point out that the account does not contain a value judgment, which it is left to the reader to supply from the wider biblical context. B. Holwerda (Jozua, p. 8) argues that “truth” in Israel is something different from “agreement with fact.” It means “loyalty toward the neighbor and the Lord.” Thus viewed, Rahab’s words need not be called a lie.
15 Flax is seldom mentioned in the OT. It is referred to in the Gezer calendar, dating from_between the 11th and 9th centuries BC (see DOTT, p. 201). H. Donner and W. VRoDig, eds., Kanaanäische und aramaische Inschriften II (Wiesbaden: 1964), p. 181, date it “with some degree of certainty” to the second half of the 10th century.
16 Heb. ‘al hamma‘berôṯ- Other translations: “as far as the fords” (Soggin, with appeal to Ugaritic); “auf die Furten zu” (Hertzberg); “vers les gués” (Abel). KD, p. 36) list a number of fords where the Jordan could be crossed. However, the conditions described in 3:15 would still make crossing hazardous at this time.
17 This bit of information would seem strange if the hiding of the men had taken place just as the king’s messengers were at the door. It is more natural if this hiding had taken place earlier; see our translation of v. 4.
18 For a treatment of this word (Heb. môg̱) and other words in this chapter as evidence of “holy war” terminology see D. J. McCarthy, “Some Holy War Vocabulary in Joshua 2,” CBQ 33 (1971), pp. 228–230. On the “holy war” motif in general and on the “dread” this entails on the part of Yahweh’s enemies see G. von Rad, OT Theology I, p. 205. This motif may be recognized, provided it is not used to cast doubt upon the reality of the phenomena which occurred during Israel’s wars. The motif derives its raison d’être from the historical facts it describes. It is more than just a “theological” schematization. This opinion differs from the current critical view. See, e.g., G. H. Jones, “ ‘Holy War’ or ‘Yahweh War’?” VT 25 (1975), who states that “there is no proof that the Holy War scheme in its entirety was ever put into action historically.” The Holy War formula “does not represent what actually happened historically” (p. 657). The last three words constitute the real problem. Is Jones still working with the methodology of Leopold von Ranke?
19 In spite of the modern trend toward “Reed Sea” as the translation of Heb. yām sûp̱, we believe a good case can be made for “Red Sea.” According to L. Koehler-W. Baumgartner (Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros [Leiden: 21958], p. 652), sûp̱ means “rushes,” “waterplants,” such as were also wrapped around the face of Jonah who was thrown into the Mediterranean Sea (Jon. 2:5). Kraeling, The Rand McNally Bible Atlas, p. 103, states that yām sûp̱ “is most definitely identifiable” when it refers to the Gulf of Aqabah (1 K. 9:26). This gulf was an arm of the Red Sea, not of some body of water called Reed Sea. The point is not essential to the thought expressed here and will not be pursued further.
20 This term is used in a variety of ways in the OT. Amorites occur in the Table of Nations (Gen. 10:16). The term also stands for all the inhabitants of Canaan (Gen. 15:16). Sometimes it “is the most generic name for the populations here envisioned” (R. North, Bibl 54 (1973), p. 48. However, in this case and elsewhere, it is reserved for dwellers on the east side of the Jordan (9:10; 24:8).
21 For this expression see commentary on 6:17.
22 C. Steuernagel, op. cit., p. 213, sees 9b–11 as “Zusatz des Rd [Redaktors, MHW], durch den er die erbauliche Wirkung der Erzählung steigern will.”
23 Cf. the Egyptian “Hymn to Aten” and the “Hymn to Amun”; see DOTT, pp. 147, 149. These hymns contain expressions such as “Thou sole god, there is no other like thee!” and “The only sole one, who has no peer.” For a pagan reaction to the Lord’s acts on behalf of Israel see also 1 Sam. 4:8. The thought that Israel’s God acts “in the sight of the nations” is frequently expressed in Ezekiel, e.g. 20:22. The Alalaḫ inscriptions contain an invocation of “the gods above and the gods beneath,” language similar to that used by Rahab; see D. J. Wiseman, “Alalakh,” in AOTS, pp. 131, 135.
24 Heb. ḥeseḏ, a word hard to translate by one English equivalent. Koehler-Baumgartner, Lexicon, translates it with: “Gemeinschaftspflicht, Verbundenheit, Solidarität.” The word means principally that one is loyal to a covenant relationship, but it also contains the notions of mercy and of kindness. Many translations use the notion of “kindness” at this point: ASV, RSV, American Translation, Moffatt, Jerusalem Bible; Abel “bonté”; Zürcher Bibel “Barmherzigkeit”; Noth “Treue”; Holwerda similar, DNV “Weldaad.”
25 Some commentators wish to omit these words, which do not occur in the LXX, e.g., Noth. Gelin puts them in brackets. Perhaps the LXX, thinking that these words must be understood in terms of the scarlet cord, considered them out of place here. We prefer to take them as referring to the oath which Rahab requested (with Keil and Delitzsch, B. Alfrink, and Kroeze). A solemn oath in oriental context might well be referred to as a “sign.” For the LXX text at this point, cf. also Holzinger, op. cit., p. 5, who thinks he can detect more than one point where the LXX has smoothed out (“Glättungen”) the text.
29 The Hebrew for these two expressions is beqîr haḥômâ and baḥômâ respectively. Cf. 1 K. 6:5, where the preposition is ’al, “against.”
31 If, as we suggest, the conversation takes places before the actual letting down through the window, then “this” cord must refer to one which the men, who probably came prepared for various eventualities, had brought with them.
33 The question of what constitutes a correct typology is too vast to be treated here. In recent decades higher-critical studies have attempted to salvage typology for Biblical Theology, but the end product of these attempts is not to be equated with the traditional typology of the Church. While the latter’s excesses should be granted (cf., e.g., G. Vos, Biblical Theology , p. 162), the newer substitute is not to be welcomed. Cf. also W. Eichrodt, “Is Typological Exegesis an Appropriate Method?” in C. Westermann, ed., Essays on OT Hermeneutics (E. T. 1979), pp. 224–245. Perhaps some connection between the cord and the blood on the doorpost at the Exodus passover exists, but due care is called for in seeing such connection.
35 These verses contain some unusual Hebrew constructions, such as the use of the masc. hazzeh with the feminine word for “oath.” BH suggests this be read hazzōṯ, a rare feminine form; but see GKC § 34a (note 2). Another irregularity is the verb forms in vv. 17–18, 20, where Rahab is addressed. In recent decades Hebrew linguists have shown some reluctance to streamline unusual-looking forms. Wider knowledge of comparative Semitics has urged caution; cf. W. L. Moran, “The Hebrew Language in Its North Semitic Background” in G. E. Wright, ed., The Bible and the Ancient Near East, p. 65.
36 This solution appears preferable to that of the LXX, where the phrase is omitted entirely. The MT at this point is clearly the “more difficult” reading and should for that reason be given due consideration.