A Pagan Prostitute and a Protecting Lord
So it’s been approximately one year since I started my internship here at EBC, and throughout the year with all the COVID regulations, I realized that I haven’t really gotten to know the people of EBC as much as I’d like. Lately, I’ve been thankful to be able to visit or go for coffee with different people more consistently, and I so appreciate getting to know more about them than just their names and saying “hey how’s it going?”
More often than not, I’m even hit with things I wouldn’t have known or expected—like “wow I did not expect you to be so fun!” When masks were gone for a bit, I could see people’s faces and for some, I was like: “Wow I didn’t know you could grow a majestic beard!” (And of course, they would say the same thing back to me from one man to another—I too can grow a majestic beard)...You ever have those moments?
As I read Joshua 2 this week, I had the exact same moment. I knew Rahab and the spies by name and I knew about the story, but I didn’t realize how truly mind-blowing this account was until I took the time to stare at the text (literally) and asked more questions about it. If you know about this story, I would suggest that you temporarily put aside what you know about the story and pretend that you didn’t know this account, in order to avoid missing the important details that we’ll unpack here. I’d love for you to encounter how great Joshua 2 really is, but I’d love all the more for us to encounter how glorious God is through this passage.
In chapter 1, Joshua is appointed as the new leader who would take Israel to the promised land after Moses died. Then, Joshua steps up to the plate and gives his commands to the
officers and the tribes, who then respond in full submission to him. So here in chapter 2, we see his next move:
“And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went...” (2:1a).
What we need to notice here is that these details are mightily important, and it invites us to recall past events when Moses was at the helm. In Numbers 13-14, we read about Moses sending out twelve men publicly to scout out the land of Canaan. Guess who was part of that mission? Joshua the son of Nun.
Now Joshua sends out two men secretly from Shittim. Here’s another important detail that we tend to gloss over. This is where they were camped currently, which was “by the Jordan in the plains of Moab” (Numbers 33:49). What do we know about this place? In Numbers 25, we read about Israel living “in Shittim [where] the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1) and God’s wrath was kindled against Israel.
So after the two spies went and viewed the land, especially Jericho, the first person we see is a pagan prostitute:
A Pagan Prostitute (2:1-3)
“And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1).
So the spies come from Shittim where Israel whored with the daughters of Moab, and now they’re at Jericho in the house of a pagan prostitute. Not a coincidence, which we’ll realize later on. But right now, we quickly find out in verses 2-3 that this secret mission was not all that secretive:
“And it was told to the king of Jericho, “‘Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.’ Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab [likely soldiers], saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land’” (2:2-3).
Somewhere along the way, the spies going into the house of a prostitute was deemed suspicious enough to get told to the king—and this mission now seemingly appears to be a failure. Yet, Rahab being a pagan prostitute is an important detail as to why this mission succeeds.
In verse 4, we see more than a pagan prostitute in the author’s description of Rahab—we see a protecting prostitute:
A Protecting Prostitute (2:4-7)
“But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them” (2:4).
One commentator I consulted this week suggested that the next few verses are like scenes in a movie where the audience sees two scenes at once. Think of it like quick, dramatic flashback scenes that explain the background of the current scene. Verse 3 is the current scene with Rahab and the soldiers, then verse 4 switches to a flashback scene with Rahab and the spies. Then verse 5 switches back to Rahab and the soldiers:
“And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them” (2:4b-5).
Verse 6, back to Rahab and the spies: “But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof” (2:6). Then, verse 7 goes back to the current scene with Rahab and the soldiers one last time: “So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out” (2:7).
Now, let’s just pause for a moment here because there’s 2 big questions that pop out right away from these verses.
Question 1: Is Rahab’s lie here sinful or not? Does the end justify the means? If I lived during WW2, would I tell the Nazi soldiers about the Jews hiding under my staircase if they asked me where they were because lying is a sin? Or do I point them the other way like Rahab did? (NBC students, this is one of those controversial discussions that you fight each other about in the dorm at 3am on Monday morning)!
Jokes aside, I really struggled with this question this week—but I decided that the pulpit is not the best place to discuss this. So this week, I’m actually writing a blog on our EBC website regarding this topic, where I can appropriately share more of my thoughts on this from a biblical standpoint based on my study this last week—so I hope you take a couple minutes to read it when it comes out sometime this coming week!
Question 2, however, is worth discussing: Were the soldiers actually that gullible? Any suspecting soldier with a brain would at least check her house once (even Rahab expected this since she went over and beyond to hide the spies under her drying flax upstairs).
Or is there something else? Another commentator I consulted this week gave a more plausible explanation that I believe explains this very well. He says that Rahab would not have been suspected as an accomplice in betraying Jericho—simply because of her career —which is why she had the audacity to say “I did not know where they were from.” Moreover, she was only able to convince the soldiers that the spies left and “I do not know where they went” because most of the people who would visit her for her services would not stay for long.1Trent C. Butler, Joshua 1–12, ed. Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford, Second Edition, vol. 7a, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 7.
Yet while it’s important to the story that Rahab is a prostitute, note how the author makes sure to avoid any hint of scandalous language regarding the spies and Rahab—evidenced by the fact that the spies went to Rahab’s house and “lodged there” (2:1), coupled with Rahab’s efforts to hide them. In short, Rahab knew that the spies were there, not for her seduction, but for her salvation. And after the soldiers were gone, we see more than a protecting prostitute in verses 8-9; we see a professing prostitute:
A Professing Prostitute (2:8-9)
“Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, ‘I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you’” (2:8-9).
This is arguably the turning point of this passage because the author focuses on what Rahab professes to know rather than what she claimed to “not know” (2:4-5). In other words, the emphasis here is not on Rahab’s lie, but rather on her profession of the truth! As a result, we find out why Rahab did everything that she did—by hiding the spies and deceiving the soldiers, she committed treason against the king of Jericho and pledged allegiance to the King of Israel.
She put her trust away from the walls of Jericho and professed her faith in the God who breaks down “walls of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) between Jew and Gentile. In fact, this is what we see the rest of the way—Instead of finding more facts about Rahab, we find out multiple truths about the Lord himself! Joshua 2 is about the Lord, more than the prostitute. Rahab’s name is mentioned only twice in this chapter, but the name of the Lord is mentioned 6 times, triple the amount of Rahab. And in verse 10-11, the next truth we see is the Lord’s power:
The Lord’s Power (2:10-11a)
“For 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 who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you” (2:10-11a).
Again, this verse invites us to recall these events in history. Listen to what Israel sang as a praise to YHWH after they crossed the Red Sea in Exodus 15: “The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O Lord, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased” (Exodus 15:14-16).
When king Og in Numbers 21 wouldn’t let Israel pass through their land, “the Lord said to Moses, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’ So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land” (Numbers 21:34-35).
So during the 40 years of Israel in the wilderness, Rahab and all of Jericho (likely all of Canaan in general) heard about the Lord’s power over the Red Sea and Amorite kings in fear and trembling. Yet notice that she doesn’t stop there. Jericho and Canaan heard, but they didn’t repent unlike Rahab, when she says:
“...for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (2:11b).
Jericho was stuck in fear and rebellion, but Rahab was saved by faith. Here is the strongest evidence of Rahab’s faith in YHWH—A Canaanite prostitute making an Israelite profession, just as Moses exhorted Israel in Deuteronomy 4: “Because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:37-39).
As Frank Pina says, “It is not even a stretch to say that this woman might have been a strong applicant for a job teaching Israelite catechism...[her] confession is arguably the best one in the entire book of Joshua, even better than anything offered by the great leader himself, Joshua.”2Frank Anthony Spina, The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 61.
Not only do we see the Lord’s power over the nations and in saving Rahab, but we also see the Lord’s protection:
The Lord’s Protection (2:12-23)
“‘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.’ And the men said to her, ‘Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you’” (2:12-14).
Because Rahab knows that the “Lord has given [Israel] the land” (2:9), and that Jericho has the same fate as the Amorites who were “devoted to destruction” (2:10), she makes a plea to “save alive...and deliver [her and her family’s] lives from death” (2:13).
The spies then respond with confidence that when God’s promise to Israel is fulfilled, “when the Lord gives us the land” (2:14), Rahab and her family will not perish. Essentially, they told Rahab that she’ll be fine as long as she doesn’t let them down...
“Then she let them down (literally) by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. And she said to them, ‘Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way’” (2:15-16).
Here we see the Lord’s protection of the spies. The fact that Rahab lived in the wall and had a window on the wall for an escape rope situation comes to no surprise. Neither does Rahab’s counsel for a safe trip back to the camp at Shittim, which was obviously a wise one according to verses 22-23:
“They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them” (2:22-23).
While the spies are safe, we continue to see the Lord’s protection of Rahab in verses 17-21:
“The men said to her, ‘We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father's household. Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that
you have made us swear.’ And she said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window” (2:17-21).
In the same way Rahab instructed them, the spies gave Rahab instructions in regard to her and her family’s protection once Israel takes the land. And if you pay close attention to the spies’ instructions, you’ll find that it’s reminiscent of the Passover instructions that Moses gave Israel in Exodus 12. What’s more interesting is that the rope that was used to “let them down” was the same “scarlet cord” that would ensure Rahab’s safety. The Lord’s protection is in every corner of these verses, and it all leads up to the final verse where we see the Lord’s promise:
The Lord’s Promise (2:24)
“And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us’” (2:24).
Rahab knew that God would come through on His promises (2:9); the spies knew that God would come through on His promises (2:14). Now Joshua and the rest of Israel are reminded and encouraged by the fact that God will indeed come through on His promises (Joshua 1), which is why this series on Joshua is called “No Failing Words.”
So this is Joshua 2. Why does this matter to us today? What’s our part in this story?
Out of all the people in Jericho, God brings these spies to the house of a prostitute. I was talking about this with one of my good friends this week, and he asked a thought-provoking question: “Have you seen a prostitute before? Maybe. Have you approached one? Probably
not.” Yet God doesn’t apologize for leading these Israelite men into her house to draw Rahab to himself.
Everything in Joshua 2 looks forward to our salvation in Jesus Christ. From God drawing a lower class Canaanite prostitute to Himself and saving her from His coming wrath on sinful Jericho, to His protection of the spies as they journeyed through this mission.
This wasn’t just some routine spy mission to search and destroy the enemy; this was God’s mission to seek and save the lost.
And if God back then sought to save a pagan prostitute (who likely whored after pagan gods), then God definitely is seeking to save sinners today who whore endlessly after fleshly desires—like the people you see around you.
This includes not just your favourite people to be around, but also those annoying people you cannot stand when you get to work/school the next day. This includes not just Canaanite prostitutes, but also Canadian Prime Ministers (1 Tim 2:1-4). This includes even the seemingly respectable, middle class folks who are sitting in the chairs of this building as we speak.
Why? Because Jesus came for the sick and desperately wicked, and even the church is filled with selfish sinners that God is seeking to save, like the one who looks back at you when you look in the mirror. That, is our part in this story. So how do we respond to this? I want to suggest three takeaways from the three supporting characters of Joshua 2.
For the Citizens of Jericho
Maybe you identify with the citizens of Jericho. You have walls around you because you have a house and a steady income, life is good and you don’t seem to need Jesus—yet you have heard about the gospel call and been warned about the coming wrath of God. Romans 1:18
says “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
If you have heard the gospel and have stopped there, I beg you to repent and believe in Jesus Christ who is faithful and just to forgive you of our sins and save you from God’s coming wrath due to your sin.
For the Rahabs
Maybe you identify with Rahab. Maybe you come from a messy background or a broken home. Maybe you feel like an outcast and that no one will understand. But Jesus does. So learn from Rahab and don’t let the fear of disapproval or being ashamed of yourself stop you from coming to faith in Jesus, just because you weren’t “raised in a good Christian home.”
In fact, many people from good Christian homes/families have “fallen away from the faith” because all they had was the outward appearance. Meanwhile, many people from messed up backgrounds end up becoming mature, stable pillars in the church because their faith was genuine. “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31).
In fact, what’s mind blowing about Joshua 2 is that a Canaanite prostitute became an Israelite mother in David’s line, where our Saviour named Jesus Christ descended from (Matthew 1:5). Where you came from doesn’t matter as much as where you are now— present faith is more important than your past life.
For The Spies
Maybe you identify with the spies. You come from a good Christian background and as a disciple of Jesus, you’re given a mission to seek and save the lost.
Would you be willing to sacrifice your comfortable North American life, even if that meant going somewhere unfamiliar or doing something uncomfortable for the sake of the mission? Do you desire for Rahabs to be saved? One renowned atheist once challenged Christians by saying: “if you believe that Jesus is the answer in this life and the next, then how much do you have to hate me to not tell me about Him?
What’s stopping us from starting where we are right now? One wise person asked: Have we ever thought of ourselves as missionaries in NE Saskatchewan? As we go out those doors, we enter the mission field. I hope that as disciples of Jesus, we embrace our mission to go and make disciples of all nations, starting with where we are right now.