Joshua 2:1-24 – The Spies and Rahab
SummaryTwo Israelite spies sent by Joshua enter the city of Jericho and stay with Rahab, a prostitute. She hides them from the king of Jericho in return for their promise of protection for her and her family during the Israelite invasion.
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.