Joshua 2: Lessons on Faith from Rahab and the Jewish Spies

Rahab saves the Jewish spies1

Introduction: This chapter of Joshua recounts the memorable encounter of two Jewish spies with a harlot from Jericho named Rahab. In addition to being entertaining to read, the account illustrates several important principles of faith for every believer in Christ today.

First, from Joshua’s decision to secretly send two trusted spies into the Promised Land, God reveals that He wants you to walk by faith without testing Him to help you. Likewise, by sending two spies in secret, Joshua learned from the failed spy endeavor 38 years earlier not to place God’s people in a place where they might become filled with fear if the spies had encountered danger. Second, from the faith of the harlot Rahab in protecting the Jews, He reveals that true faith is evidenced by more than idol beliefs. True faith motivates a believer to act out their faith, even if it places the believer at risk of scorn, ridicule, or harm. Third, from Rahab’s revelation that the fear of God had overcome the people of Jericho, He reveals that He will cause your enemies to fear or respect you when you walk with Him. Fourth, through Rahab’s request for mercy when the Jews invaded, He reveals that every person should seek out His mercy from the judgment of sin. Fifth, from the scarlet thread that the spies told Rahab to tie to her home to save her family (a symbol of Christ’s blood), He reveals that each person must turn to the blood of Christ to find mercy from His judgment of sin. Sixth, from the public vow of Rahab, He reveals that He wants you to confess your faith before others. If you publicly confess your faith in Jesus, He promises to confess your name before God the Father. Finally, from the spies’ confession of faith in God to deliver the Promised Land to His people, He reveals that He wants you to have faith in His promises to deliver you to the eternal Promised Land.

1. Walking by Faith Does Not Include Testing God’s Help. Josh. 2:1(a).

  • Joshua’s decision to send spies into the Promised Land. Before they invaded the Promised Land, the Jews camped at “Shittim” on the east side of the Jordan River (Nu. 25:1). Also before the invasion, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho, the first city that the Jews would attack: “1 Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’” (Josh. 2:1(a)). Some might wonder why Joshua would send spies if he really trusted God. God later used His miraculous power to cause the walls of Jericho to tumble down (Josh. 6:20). But Joshua did not know that He would miraculously intervene at the time. Joshua’s actions highlight an important principle regarding the daily exercise of your faith. You should always trust God (Prov. 3:5). Indeed, He promises to bless you when you trust Him (Jer. 17:7). But you should never test Him by expecting Him to miraculously intervene in your daily affairs (Mt. 4:7; Lk. 4:21; Dt. 6:16). He might intervene. Or, if it is not part of His plan, He might not. His thoughts and ways are not our own (Is. 55:9). If He directs you to act in a certain way, He wants you to obey His Holy Spirit. Yet, if He does not direct you, He wants you to take precautions against your enemies. Here, God had not yet provided Joshua specific details regarding the invasion. As a good general, Joshua took precautions by sending spies to plot the best invasion route. He trusted God. But he did not rely upon His supernatural intervention. Going to a doctor in the face of an illness is one example of this principle. God might miraculously heal you. But He does not want you to test Him by trying to force Him to heal you if that is not part of His plan. Are you testing God by failing to take care of your health or your family?

Joshua sent two spies to examine Jericho’s defenses2

  • Joshua’s lessons from the failed spy mission 38 years earlier. Joshua learned the hard way about how a spying mission can go wrong. The last time the Jews reached the Promised Land, 10 fearful spies caused a panic amongst the population: ‘“The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.’” (Nu. 13:32(b)-33). The Jews then rebelled and conspired to appoint a leader who would bring them back to Egypt (Nu. 14:1-4). As a result of their rebellion, the Jews had to wander in the wilderness for another 38 years. While Moses allowed each of the 12 tribes to publicly select a spy, Joshua kept the process a secret and only selected two that he knew to be faithful. While Moses stepped back and allowed the 12 spies to publicly debate whether to invade Israel, Joshua never let the people know what the spies observed. Their mission was limited to studying the enemy. The spies had no role in deciding whether to invade. If they had become filled with fear, Joshua would have likely ensured that the public never knew of their fear. From Joshua’s example, leaders should carefully examine their circumstances before they act (Lk. 14:28). But they should not expose others to facts that might cause them to become fearful. For example, a church leader should not publicly announce things that might cause the congregation to become fearful. Likewise, a parent should not announce things that might cause their children to become fearful. Do you filter bad facts that might cause others to become fearful?

2. Walking by Faith is Evidenced by Works and Not Faith Alone. Josh. 2:1(b)-7.

  • The harlot Rahab’s act of faith in protecting the Jewish spies. While at Jericho, a Canaanite harlot named Rahab committed an act of treason against her king by sheltering the spies who had come to prepare the way for conquest of her land: “So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there.  It was told the king of Jericho, saying, ‘Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.’  And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.’  But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from.  It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.’  But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof.  So the men pursued them on the road to the Jordan to the fords; and as soon as those who were pursuing them had gone out, they shut the gate.” (Josh. 2:1(b)-7). If she had been caught, Rahab would have faced death for her treason. The Bible reveals that it was her faith in Yahweh that caused Rahab to ignore the risks to her life by helping the spies: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” (Heb. 11:31). Like Rahab, the fruit of a believer saved by faith is evidenced by his or her outward acts. This includes helping God’s people: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (Jam. 2:24-5). Without work, your faith is dead (Jam. 2:17). Is the fruit of your faith in Jesus visible to others?

Rahab protected the Jewish spies3

Rahab then sent the King of Jericho’s men away4

  • God can use you no matter how bad your prior sins. The faith of the spies guided them to the one true believer within the city of Jericho. They did not question God’s guidance, even when He directed them to a “harlot,” in Hebrew a “zanah” (Josh. 2:1; 6:22, 25). This term appears 94 times in the Old Testament and is frequently used for prostitution in either the physical or spiritual context. The Jewish interpretive texts further emphasize that she was a woman who captivated men with her beauty. For example, in the midrash, Rahab is named as one of the four most beautiful women the world has ever known. The others include Sarah, Abigail, and Esther. Likewise, in the Babylonian Talmud, it was said that anyone at that time who saw her and then mentioned her name would be overcome with lust (Megillah 15a). Many have struggled with the fact that Rahab was a harlot. Some believe that she really must have been innkeeper. For example, Matthew Henry argues: “Rahab appears to have been an innkeeper; and if she had formerly been one of bad life, which is doubtful, she had left her evil courses.” (Matthew Henry on Joshua Chapter 2). But in the New Testament passages quoted above, she is again referred to by the Greek word for a harlot or prostitute, “πόρνη” or “porne.” (e.g., Heb. 11:31; Jam. 2:24-5). This same Greek word forms the root of the English word “prostitution.” The New Testament authors could have used the Greek word for innkeeper (xenodóchos or ξενοδόχος) if the meaning of the word had been misunderstood. Or, the New Testament authors could have called her a “former” harlot. All of these facts emphasize one point. God used a sinner to save the spies. Indeed, He used this same sinner to create the lineage that would give birth to Christ, the Messiah: “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.” (Matt. 1:5). While it might offend your sense of propriety that God would use a prostitute to save the Jewish spies and later give rise to the birth of Jesus, His message is that He can use any sinner for His glory, no matter how bad the sins might be. John MacArthur observes, “The disturbing fact about what [Rahab] once was simply magnifies the glory of divine grace, which is what made her the extraordinary woman she became.” If you have engaged in prostitution, pornography, adultery, or fornication, He is faithful to forgive you when you repent (1 Jo. 1:9). Is there any sin of yours that is too big for Him to forgive?

Rahab professed faith in Yahweh5

  • Always have an accountability partner. By sending two spies together (Josh. 2:1), Joshua ensured that each spy would have an accountability partner. If Rahab was as attractive as claimed by the Jews, each spy would keep the other spy accountable. Jesus also sent the disciples out in pairs: “And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits;” (Mk. 6:7). Even when their numbers grew further, Jesus again sent them out in pairs: “Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.” (Lk. 10:1). In the end times, He will also send two witnesses, most likely Elijah and Enoch (Rev. 11:6). You are not to forsake the fellowship of believers (Heb. 10:25). But this is more than simply attending church. It also includes having an accountability partner in your walk. Satan attacks when you are alone. Do you have someone who knows you well enough to tell you if you are off your walk? Are you mentoring someone else to ensure that he or she is staying on their walk?

3. Walking by Faith will Cause Even Your Enemies to Fear You. Josh. 2:8-11.

  • The fear of God paved the way for the Jews’ victory. Through Rahab, the spies learned that God had already prepared the way for the Jews’ conquest. Through His prior miracles, He had sowed fear in the hearts of the people of Canaan: “8 Now before they 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 terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you.  10 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 utterly destroyed.  11 When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”’ (Josh. 2:8-11). The spies had found what they were looking for. It was not intelligence on the positions of the Canaanite soldiers. It was instead confirmation that God’s holy and powerful name would bring the Jews’ victory. He was faithful to keep His promise to send His terror ahead of the Jews: “I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” (Ex. 23:27). ‘“This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, will tremble and be in anguish because of you.’” (Dt. 2:25). “I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” (Ex. 33:2). His power defeated Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. His power also defeated the kings of Jordan. His power would also deliver the Promised Land to the Jews. He wants you to know that He is powerful enough to fulfill His promises to you as well. Yet, if you don’t know His promises, how much faith can you have in them?

  • Proclaim His holy name in faith any time you face a challenge. Rahab’s statement of faith paralleled a similar statement that Moses had made previously: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” (Dt. 4:39). Solomon also made a similar proclamation of his faith: “He said, ‘O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart,’” (1 Kgs. 8:23). Is there any challenge in your life that is beyond the power of God to conquer or deal with? Are you professing His power in faith whenever you face a challenge, enemy, or obstacle?

  • When you walk with God, He promises to cause your enemies to fear you as well. God also promises that an obedient individual or nation will receive the fear or respect from his or its enemies: “So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will be afraid of you.” (Dt. 28:10). In the Bible, there are many examples of when other nations feared the Jews because of God. For example, Pharaoh feared God’s wrath when he almost took Abraham’s wife Sarah as his wife (Gen. 12:17-20). Likewise, after defeating the Amorites, the Jews traveled back to the plains of Moab where they stayed until God gave the word for Joshua to take them into the Promised Land (Nu. 22:1). There, the Moabites feared the Jews (Nu. 22:3-4). Their fear caused the Moabite King Balak to hire the sorcerer Balaam in an unsuccessful attempt to cast a spell on Israel (Nu. 22:7). The kings of Canaan again feared the Jews and their God when they invaded. The Canaanites “heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel.” (Josh. 5:1). “Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; by the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; until Your people pass over, O LORD, until the people pass over whom You have purchased.” (Ex. 15:15-16). All who oppose Israel are subject to the curse that God promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:3). Today, the nations that surround Israel again fear it because God has blessed it. Are you walking with God to allow His Holy Spirit to cause your enemies to fear or respect you?

4. Walking by Faith Requires that You Look to God for Mercy From Sin. Josh. 2:12-14.

  • Rahab’s request for mercy. After showing her faith by protecting the spies, Rahab asked that the spies pledge that they would show mercy upon both her and her household: “12 Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, 13 and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.’  14 So the men said to her, ‘Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the Lord gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.’” (Josh. 2:12-14). Rahab knew that she was in need of God’s mercy. Possibly her past sins as a prostitute convicted her of the need for His mercy. Even after she professed her allegiance to Yahweh, she continued to sin by lying to the soldiers of Jericho about the location of the Jewish spies. Thus, she was not saved by her works. The people of Jericho were also in need of mercy. With the exception of Rahab and her family, every person in the city later died from God’s divine judgment (Josh. 6:21-25).

  • All are in need of God’s mercy from sin. Like Rahab and the people of Jericho, all are in need of God’s mercy. All have sinned against Him (Rom. 3:23; 1 Pet. 2:22; Ps. 14:3). Your acts of righteousness are but filthy rags before Him (Is. 64:6). Without Jesus, all will suffer the same fate as those who once lived in Jericho. If your righteousness can come through your good works, then Jesus’ death was unnecessary (Gal. 2:21). Are you giving thanks for the divine judgment that Christ spared you from?

  • Bring the Gospel to those who know their need for salvation. A famous second century Christian writer named “Origen” observed a parallel between this account and Jesus’ ministry: “As the first Joshua sent his spies before him and they were received into the harlot’s house, so the second Joshua sent his forerunners, whom the publicans and harlots gladly received”. (Quoted in David Guzik’s commentary on Joshua 2).6 Like Jesus, believers are commanded to bring the Good News to all, especially those who know their sins. Are you sharing the Good News of the Gospel with others? (Matt. 28:16-20).

5. Walking by Faith Requires Faith in the Power of the Blood of Jesus. Josh. 2:15-20.

  • The scarlet thread leading to Rahab’s salvation. The spies gave Rahab a symbol for the Jews to know which house to protect when they returned. She would need to tie a scarlet thread from her house as symbol of Her faith in Yahweh: “15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall.  16 She said to them, ‘Go to the hill country, so that the pursuers will not happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.’  17 The men said to her, ‘We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, 18 unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household.  19 It shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him.  20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be free from the oath which you have made us swear.” (Josh. 2:15-20). The symbol of the scarlet thread was similar to the blood of the Passover lamb that the Jews put on their doors to allow the angel of death to pass them over (Ex. 12:7). The scarlet thread foreshadowed the blood of Jesus.

Rahab helped the Jewish spies escape7

6. Walking by Faith Requires that You Confess Your Faith to Be Saved. Josh. 2:21.

  • Rahab’s vow. Rahab made a public confession of her faith and sealed it with a vow to protect her oath to God’s representatives: “21 She said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ So she sent them away, and they departed; and she tied the scarlet cord in the window.” (Josh. 2:15-20). It was again her faith in His power that caused her to make a vow of allegiance to Him: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” (Dt. 4:39). It is the name of Jesus that everyone will one day bow down to and confess as Lord. (Phil. 2:10-11). Like Rahab, every believer must confess their faith to be saved.

  • Be careful who you become yoked to in life. The Jews were prohibited from forming covenants with the people of Canaan: “You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” (Dt. 7:2). God did not want the people to be pulled off their walk with Him. Yet, as led by the Spirit, the spies were assured that they could make this covenant with Rahab. She had become a believer. The purpose of God’s rule was to prevent His people from becoming unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14). “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” (1 Cor. 15:3). Have you guarded your heart to keep yourself from becoming unequally yoked to a nonbeliever?

  • God also wants you to confess your faith. Like Rahab, God also wants you to confess your faith to others: “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Dt. 30:14). Paul later quoted this verse so that believers would not only observe the Word, but to profess the author of the Word as the source of their salvation: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ -- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (Ro. 10:8-9). If you confess Jesus to be Lord and Savior before others, He in turn will confess you in heaven: “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God;” (Lk. 12:8; Matt. 10:32). “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Rev. 3:5). Are you publicly confessing your faith to others?

7 Walking by Faith Brings a Spirit of Courage, not Fear. Josh. 2:22-24.

  • The faithful report of the two spies. Upon their return to Joshua, the spies professed their faith that the Jews would prevail in their conquest of the Promised Land: “22 They departed and came to the hill country, and remained there for three days until the pursuers returned. Now the pursuers had sought them all along the road, but had not found them.  23 Then the two men returned and came down from the hill country and crossed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they related to him all that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, ‘Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.”’ (Josh. 2:22-24). Some commentators believe that the spies never learned anything of great military value. But that assumption is incorrect. Throughout time, military commanders have understood that morale plays an important role in success on the battlefield. Thus, psychological warfare has been an important part of any battle plan. The goal is to cause the enemy to become fearful. In ancient times and even with terrorists today, the aggressor may engage in barbaric acts to cause the enemy to become fearful. But the spies learned through Rahab that none of that would be necessary. They had faith because they saw that God was faithful by preparing the way for victory.

The two spies faithfully reported God’s hand of protection and encouraged Joshua8

  • Listen for God’s direction from all sources. Some might find it odd that these two spies took direction from a harlot on where and how long to hide in the wilderness. Yet, from her faith, they must have known that God was speaking through her. God spoke through her to protect them. Like the King of Jericho, Satan is constantly trying to capture God’s people. While the Word and the Spirit will give you general guidance, sometimes He will speak through others to give you specific guidance. But you must still test the advice you receive. Are you looking for God’s guidance from all sources?

  • With faith, God will also give you the courage to face your enemies. Like the two Jewish spies, God also wants you to have faith in Him when facing your battles. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). He has given you a Spirit of strength, not fear: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7). Are you acting boldly in faith for His glory? Are you letting fear rule any portion of your life? If so, repent of your fear and trust in Jesus to deliver you.