The story of Rahab and the spies, along with the story of the fall of Jericho, are arguably the stories in Joshua most familiar to the average Christian layperson. The account of Rahab and the spies, which probably had its origin in a folktale (complete with humor and sexual innuendo), became in the hands of the Deuteronomist an oracle of God's intention to give the land of Canaan to Israel. Indeed, Rahab seems to echo the book of Deuteronomy in her speech to the spies. She knows that God has given Israel the land of Canaan, and she acknowledges the Lord as the God of heaven and earth (2:9-11).
In the context of the book of Joshua, a work concerned with maintaining purity of Israelite faith and practice (see 23:6-13), the story of Rahab is remarkable. She is a foreigner and a prostitute, presumably a potential "snare" for the Israelite spies--that is, someone who might entice them to worship other gods (23:12-13). Yet, it is Rahab, not the spies, who confesses faith in the Lord, the God of Israel. It is Rahab who saves them through her wisdom, and it is Rahab who tells them that God has given them the land of Canaan, a fact they later report to Joshua, using Rahab's own words (2:9, 24).
Rahab's name appears three times in the New Testament. In Matthew 1, Rahab is one of only four women listed in the genealogy of Jesus; in Hebrews 11:31, she is one of the examples of faith lifted up for Christians to emulate; and in James 2:25, she is praised as one who was justified by works, not just by faith. It seems to be the case, then, that the story of Rahab enjoyed some prominence in the early Christian community, as an example both of great faith and of good works.
2Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, Go, view the land, especially Jericho. So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there. 2The king of Jericho was told, Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land. 3Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land. 4But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. 5And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them. 6She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof. 7So the men pursued them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. As soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
8 Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof 9and said to the men: I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. 10For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea* before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11As soon as we heard it, our hearts failed, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below. 12Now then, since I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal kindly with my family. Give me a sign of good faith 13that you will spare my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death. 14The men said to her, Our life for yours! If you do not tell this business of ours, then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the Lord gives us the land.
15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the outer side of the city wall and she resided within the wall itself. 16She said to them, Go towards the hill country, so that the pursuers may not come upon you. Hide yourselves there for three days, until the pursuers have returned; then afterwards you may go on your way. 17The men said to her, We will be released from this oath that you have made us swear to you 18if we invade the land and you do not tie this crimson cord in the window through which you let us down, and you do not gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family. 19If any of you go out of the doors of your house into the street, they shall be responsible for their own death, and we shall be innocent; but if a hand is laid upon any who are with you in the house, we shall bear the responsibility for their death. 20But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be released from this oath that you made us swear to you. 21She said, According to your words, so be it. She sent them away and they departed. Then she tied the crimson cord in the window.
22 They departed and went into the hill country and stayed there for three days, until the pursuers returned. The pursuers had searched all along the way and found nothing. 23Then the two men came down again from the hill country. They crossed over, came to Joshua son of Nun, and told him all that had happened to them. 24They said to Joshua, Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011