Commentary on Joshua 1-2 (Rahab and the Spies)

Joshua is the first book following the Pentateuch and it begins the series of books in the OT that are called the Historical Books (Joshua – Esther). The author of Joshua is unknown, although large portions of the book appear to have been written by a person who experienced the events recorded in the book. Early Jewish tradition indicates that Joshua himself was the primary author of the book, although some sections were likely added by later editors. If we accept Joshua as the primary author, then the book was likely completed near the end of Joshua’s life, around 1375 BC.

The events of Joshua start where Deuteronomy ended, with the Israelites across the Jordan River from the city of Jericho. The book describes the conquest of the Promised Land by Israel, a fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hundreds of years prior. The original audience of the book would have been Israelites who lived after the conquest (which lasted about 7 years). The events in the book span the years from approximately 1406 – 1375 BC (about 30 years).

For a map of the conquest of Canaan, please go to this link.

Verses 1-5 in chapter 1 of Joshua give incredible encouragement to Joshua and the entire nation of Israel. God tells Joshua, his appointed leader, to get the people ready to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the land that God promised to them. God again delineates the borders of the Promised Land, giving the northern, southern, eastern, and western borders.

To Joshua specifically, God promises, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Although this reaffirms a promise God had already made to Joshua (Deut 31:8, 23), I’m sure Joshua needed all the assurance he could get, given the mission he was about to undertake. The words “I will be with you” repeat identical promises made by God to Isaac (Gen 26:3), Jacob (31:3), and Moses (Exod 3:12). Joshua is, therefore, to be compared to the former great servants of God.

In verses 6-9, God tells Joshua how he will successfully take the Promised Land. Joshua must obey the Law given by God through Moses. It is only by obeying the Law that Joshua will be successful in his mission of possessing the Promised Land of Canaan. In verse 8, God tells Joshua to “meditate on it day and night.” What does this mean? David M. Howard, Jr., in Joshua: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), explains:

The idea of meditating here is not the one commonly familiar in the late twentieth century, namely, of emptying the mind and concentrating on nothing or on self or on visualizations of various types; much of this type of meditation is indebted to Eastern mystic religions. Rather, the Old Testament concept of meditation involves two things: First, a focus upon God himself (Ps 63:6 [Hb.7]), his works (Pss 77:12 [Hb. 13]; 143:5), or his law (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2), and second, an activity that was done aloud. This is why God told Joshua that this lawbook should not leave his mouth (as opposed to, e.g., his heart or his mind).

In the ancient world, reading silently was mostly unknown. Almost everyone read aloud. Interestingly, modern science has shown that reading aloud aids in the memorization of a text over and above reading silently.

Joshua tells the officials among the people to get them ready to cross the Jordan River in a few days, and then he turns his attention to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. Recall that Moses already gave them their land east of the Jordan River. Joshua reminds them that they must provide soldiers for the conquest of the land west of the Jordan River. Only after all the land west of the Jordan is conquered can their soldiers return home.

In verses 16-18, all of Israel promises to obey Joshua as the rightful successor of Moses. All twelve tribes are committed to the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.

In chapter 2, Joshua sends two spies across the Jordan River to the city of Jericho to look over the land. The spies enter Jericho and stay in the house of a woman named Rahab. There is some scholarly dispute as to whether Rahab is an innkeeper or a prostitute. In any case, the king of Jericho hears about the two men and sends a message to Rahab to turn them over.

Rahab hides the men on her roof and lies to the king’s messengers, telling them that the Israelites have left the city and that they can catch them on their way back across the Jordan.

In verses 8-13, we read some of the most remarkable verses in the Bible. A pagan woman, possibly a prostitute, makes a confession of faith! Rahab acknowledges that God has given the land to the Israelites, then she recounts the stories she’s heard about God parting the Red Sea and God defeating the kings Sihon and Og. Dale Ralph Davis, in Joshua: No Falling Words (Focus on the Bible), writes about Rahab’s confession of faith thus far:

This was the basis of her faith; she had heard about the mighty acts of God. This is the normal way of coming to faith. Biblical faith is based on at least some knowledge, data, and evidence. Even couples who ‘fall’ in love don’t come to love each other merely by sighing or groaning or oohing and ahhing; rather they talk, communicate, find out about each other—their past, their likes, their dislikes, their character, and so on. Even romance has some basis in knowledge. So is the case with faith. Faith is not just a warm, cozy feeling about God. Faith grows, if at all, out of hearing what God has done for his people.

Rahab then clearly states that the God of Israel is sovereign over all the heavens and earth. Her response to the God of Israel is to plead for mercy for herself and her family. She knows that Jericho will fall and that her family will be trapped inside.

Davis writes,

Here is the evidence of faith. Genuine faith never rests content with being convinced of the reality of God but presses on to take refuge in God. Rahab not only must know the clear truth about God but also must escape the coming wrath of God. It isn’t just a matter of correct belief but of desperate need. Saving faith is always like this. It never stops with brooding over the nature or activity of God but always runs to take refuge under his wings. Amazingly, Rahab not only trembles before the terror of the Lord but also senses that there might be mercy in this fearful God.

The spies agree to save the lives of all in her house when the city is attacked. Since her house is built into the city wall, she is to gather everyone inside and hang a scarlet cord in the window so that the Israelite army can identify her house from outside the city.

The spies slide down a rope hung from Rahab’s window, wait 3 days for the Jericho search party to return, and then go back across the Jordan River to tell Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” What a difference is the report from these spies versus the spies from Numbers 13-14!