Many of us learned about the defeat of Jericho as children in Sunday school. Joshua’s army fought the battle by marching around the city for seven days. At the end of the march, they gave a mighty shout, and, as the song goes, “the walls came tumbling down!” God won the battle while Joshua and his army stood by and watched in amazement.
Considering the extraordinary means by which the Lord defeated Jericho—with no military strategy required from Joshua and his army—why were spies sent into the city? Certainly, as the leader of the Israelite army, Joshua was required to do his part in securing the victory—indeed, the life of faith is a call to action. But why did he need to send the spies?
Commentators disagree over whether God told Joshua to send the spies. But simply because it isn’t recorded in Scripture doesn’t mean he never directed Joshua to send them. According to James Boice, God probably did command the espionage, and not only because God expressly told Moses to send 12 spies 40 years prior (Num. 13:2). Boice writes, “[I]t is reasonable to think that the spies are sent to save Rahab and not merely to bring information. Joshua did not need information about Jericho; what he needed were the arrangements for saving Rahab and her family.”
Joshua didn’t need a strategy for Jericho—God would give him an extraordinary plan for the taking of the city. God orchestrated the sending of the spies to save Rahab and her family.
When the spies enter Jericho and meet Rahab, she tells them what she’s heard—the great miracles of deliverance and the battles the Israelites have won:
And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death. (Josh. 2:11–13)
The miracles—which convinced Rahab that Israel’s God was “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath”—were to her an aroma of life unto life, but to her neighbors they were a fragrance of death unto death (2 Cor. 2:15–16). There are no neutral responses to God. The fear of God either hardens sinners further in their unbelief, or graciously calls them to believe. Everyone in the city was afraid, but Rahab’s fear caused her to cast herself on the Lord.
Joshua didn’t need a strategy for Jericho—God would give him an extraordinary plan for the taking of the city. God sent the spies to save Rahab and her family.
Rahab was convinced that destruction was imminent, and that her only escape was to flee from Jericho to the people of God. She risked her life to protect the Israelite spies.
This wasn’t just a pragmatic decision. Rahab not only escaped Jericho, but she joined the Israelites, eventually marrying into the tribe of Judah. She left behind all she knew in order to inherit eternal life (Matt. 19:29). God blessed her by including her in the family line not only of Israel’s kings, but of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5).
Rahab’s legacy of faith doesn’t end with Joshua 2. As surprising as it may seem, Scripture repeatedly directs our attention back to her.
Hebrews 11 details the faith of such heroes as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. It also includes Rahab the prostitute. These all hold the faith which is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, [by which] the people of old received their commendation” (Heb. 11:1–2). In verse 16 we’re told that “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
Right in the middle of this “Hall of Faith,” we read: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb. 11:31).
In almost every mention of her in Scripture, Rahab is still called “the prostitute,” which only serves to magnify the grace of her salvation. For though she was a prostitute, God wiped her shame away with his lavishly glorious grace. He wasn’t ashamed to be called her God.
In almost every mention of her in Scripture, Rahab is still called ‘the prostitute,’ which only serves to magnify the grace of her salvation.
We also find Rahab displayed as an example of true faith in the book of James: “And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way” (James 2:25). This mention of Rahab is part of an argument James builds for the necessity of good works in a believer’s life—works that prove faith to be genuine.
Trophies of Grace
Christian, do you bear the weight of a dark and shameful past? Do your former sins taunt you with the lie that surely you must be a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God? Are you hesitant to share your testimony or use your gifts for the encouragement and upbuilding of the church?
The magnificence of the gospel is that we were all wretched sinners and are saved by God’s amazing grace! In sending Christ, he sent a rescue party to redeem you from sin and judgment. He’s not ashamed to be called your God. You, dear one, because of the great love with which he loved you, are a trophy of his glorious grace.
In sending Christ, he sent a rescue party to redeem you from sin and judgment.
God has been working out his purposes in and through his chosen people throughout history. He chooses unlikely heroes, miserable failures, and those lost in the depths of their sin. God called a nation of hardhearted slaves out of Egypt and winnowed out the unbelievers through 40 years of wilderness wandering. In Joshua 2 they stand at the brink of entering the promised land.
But first, in his great mercy he will save Rahab the prostitute, a God-fearing woman.
The Gospel Coalition