The God Who Goes Before Us
A key foundation for success with God is understanding the principle of faith. In short, faith comes from hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17); faith is built by inhabiting God’s promises. In Joshua 1:1-9, we saw that God gave Joshua a pep talk: prior to launching him into this daunting task of leading God’s people into the promised land, God speaks to him and builds faith by affirming key promises:
He promises him that wherever he walks in this promised land, it’s his.
- God promises to be with him.
- God tells him to be strong and courageous.
In Joshua 2, God continues to speak faith to Joshua, but he does it through an unlikely source. In this chapter we see that God goes before us to prepare people and places so that his mission can move forward.
People have always used names, signs, and colours to confirm their identity; armies have always drawn strength from their colours – their flag – going before them. As soldiers look forward and see the symbols of their national identity, they are inspired (normally!) to press forward with greater zeal.
This sense of God himself being our ‘colours’ derives from an Old Testament episode in which the people of God were attacked by the Amalekites in Exodus 17. God gave his people great victory, and as response of praise and thanksgiving, Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner (Exodus 17:15). The Hebrew word translated as ‘The Lord is My Banner” is YHWH NISSI, which literally means God, the one who goes before us or God, the one who makes a way.
In Joshua 2 we see that God is the God who goes before us; we learn that as we walk forward in God’s mission, we can trust him to provide for us because He is our banner.
- Sending the Spies: v.1a
And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” Joshua 2:1
God is the God of second chances; this was a chance to get right what the Israelites had gotten wrong 38 years before. Numbers 13 and 14 describe the result of the first time spies were sent into the Promised Land; ten spies brought back an evil report – a report of doubt and unbelief. They acknowledged that the land was good, but doubted God’s ability to give Israel success over giants and walled cities. Thus, they encouraged the people to turn back.
Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, declared God’s power to do what He had promised
Numbers 13:30 - But Caleb quietened the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Numbers 14:6-9 - And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh … said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.
Joshua and Caleb had a revelation: God is able to do what He has promised to do, and He will, if we trust him.
- The Surprising Safe House
And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. Joshua 2:1
Although some Bible commentators have tried to subvert what is clear in the Hebrew: Rahab was a prostitute. Although its tempting to speculate what may have been going on in the minds of these spies, ‘What happens in Jericho stays in Jericho!’, or ‘I won’t tell Moses if you won’t’. Actually, this was God’s providential provision.
Maybe they thought a harlot’s house would prevent them from being discovered; men going in and out all the time. However, it’s complete speculation as to what kind of house this was – a personal house, an inn, or a brothel … we don’t know.
As to why they would have chosen to hide in a prostitute’s house, it may simply be that this would have raised the least suspicion. The idea that men would visit a harlot is unsurprising; most likely, men were coming in and going out of this house all the time. The spies thought they might go undetected. However, as we read the story, their presence in the city had been noted.
- The King’s Command
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, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” Joshua 2:2-3
We don’t know how these people became aware of the two spies; it may have been that Jericho was such small town that everybody knew everybody. Some archaeologists have suggested the population was only 2000-3000 people. It is also possible, or even likely, that rather than a city in the proper sense, it was more of a military outpost, a military fort. This would explain why, even with a small population, it presented a key challenge to the Israelites. But regardless, the king found out about these men, and he sent word to Rahab to have them brought out.
- The Lie
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. 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.” Joshua 2:4-5
The Bible doesn’t make moral commentary on the technique used by Rahab to hide these spies, but she saves them through a lie. Was it righteous to lie to save a Jew from Nazi arrest and being sent to Auschwitz? I would argue, emphatically, yes; there are corrupt situations in which the darkness is amplified by affirming a stipulation required by those orchestrating the evil. This is not the main point of the story; simply, Rahab did what she had to do to protect God’s people and God’s mission.
- The Testimony
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. 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, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Joshua 2:8-11
There is much packed into this text, but functionally, it serves to encourage Joshua as this report makes its way back to him. But not the faith of Rahab, and how her faith prompoted her to speak a ‘word of faith’. Whereas she could not have fully apprehended God’s truth as revealed in the law, she at least had the rudimentary awareness that
the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
This is the Word of Faith that Rahab speaks. And this report of God’s action created fear in the hearts of the people in Canaan.
our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you.
This is exactly what happened to the ten spies who had first come into Canaan 38 years before. But Rahab, like these two spies from Joshua, and like Joshua and Caleb many years before, had the faith to believe that God could do what God wanted to do. If God had determined to give his people this land, he would.
- The Request
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.” Joshua 2:12-13
Based on her faith in God, Rahab wanted to identify with the people of God. She made a deal – I helped to save your life, so now, please save mine. But more than using these spies as a means to survive, it seems there is something deeper going on. Yes, she knew her city and her people were set for destruction, but she also wanted to identify with the God who is God.
- The Promise
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.” Joshua 2:14
God keeps his word, and he expects his people to keep theirs. And so these spies promise that they will save Rahab when Israel takes Jericho.
- The Escape
Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. …Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window. Joshua 2:15, 21.
Rahab kept her end of the deal, and the scarlet cord becomes the symbol of the covenant she has with Israel. In chapter six, this agreement comes true.
- The Report
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. 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”. Joshua 2:23-24
Things have now come full circle. Rahab preached faith to the spies, they preached faith to Joshua, and the beginning of the very next chapter, Joshua takes action. The word of encouragement from Rahab through the spies prompts Joshua to move forward in God’s promises.
Here are two key lessons to learn from this story:
- God is Jehovah Nissi – our banner who goes before us. He provides places of refuge and people of peace as we follow him in mission ... even from surprising sources.
- Faith comes from hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). God had spoken his word to Joshua in chapter 1, As I was with Moses, I will be with you; wherever you walk, I’ve given you the land … so be strong and courageous. He now confirms it through Rahab. God will place people in your life to counteract the negative voices trying to deter you from the mission of God.
REMEMBER, God will provide people of peace and places of refuge as we obey hhim in his mission.