Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there.Ch. Joshua 2:1-7. The Mission of the Spies to Jericho
1. sent out] Or, had sent. Comp. ch. Joshua 1:11, Joshua 3:2. This was probably on the same day that Joshua received the Divine command to cross the Jordan.
out of Shittim] Comp. Numbers 33:49; Numbers 25:1; Joshua 3:1; Micah 6:5. The full name of the place is given in the first of these passages, “Abel Shittim” = “the Meadow” or “Moist Place of the Acacias.” It was in the “Arabah” or Jordan valley opposite Jericho, at the outlet of the Wâdy Heshbon, about 60 stadia = 3 hours from the place of crossing the river. “We were in the plain of Shittim, and on climbing a little eminence near, we could see the rich wilderness of garden, extending in unbroken verdure right into the corner at the north-east end of the Dead Sea, under the angle formed by the projection of the mountains of Moab, where the Wady Suiweimeh enters the lake. It is now called the Ghor es Seisaban.… Among the tangled wilderness, chiefly near its western edge, still grow many of the acacia trees, ‘Shittim’ (Acacia sayal), from which the district derived its appropriate name of Abel ha-Shittim, ‘the meadow or moist place of the acacias;’ ” Tristram’s Land of Israel, p. 524.
two men] “Young men” according to the LXX. and ch. Joshua 6:23. Brave, doubtless, and prudent, such as Joshua, who had himself been one of the twelve spies (Numbers 13:16), would be likely to select, knowing, as he knew, all the dangers to which they would be exposed.
Jericho] “The first stage of Joshua’s conquest was the occupation of the vast trench, so to speak, which parted the Israelites from the mass of the Promised Land,” and which was dominated by the city of Jericho, a place of great antiquity and importance. It derived its name, = “the City of Palm Trees,” from a vast grove of noble palm-trees, nearly three miles broad, and eight miles long, which must have recalled to the few survivors of the old generation of the Israelites the magnificent palm-groves of Egypt. The capture of Jericho was essential for two reasons:
(a) Standing at the entrance of the main passes from the valley into the interior of Palestine,—the one branching off S. W. towards Olivet, and commanding the approach to Jerusalem, the other, to the N. E., towards Michmash, which defends the approach to Ai and Bethel—it was the key of the country to any invader coming as Joshua did from the East.
(b) It was for that age a strongly walled town and “enjoyed the benefit of one, if not two, of those copious streams which form the chief sources of such fertility as the valley of the Jordan contains.” Its reduction, therefore, must have been the first object of the operations of Joshua on entering the land of Canaan. See Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine, p. 305. “The strategy displayed by the Israelites under Joshua—considering it only as an ordinary historical event—is worth notice. Had Israel advanced on Palestine from the South, however victorious they might have been, they would have driven before them an ever-increasing mass of enemies, who after each repulse would gain fresh reinforcements, and could fall back on new fortifications and an untouched country, more and more difficult at each step. The Canaanites, if defeated on the heights of Hebron, would have held in succession those of Jerusalem and Mount Ephraim; and it is unlikely that the invaders would ever have reached the district of Gilboa, and Tabor, or the Sea of Tiberias. In all probability Israel would have been compelled to turn off to the low country—the land of the Philistines—and with the Canaanites on the vantage ground of the mountains of Judah and Ephraim, the nation would in its infancy have been trodden down by the march of the Assyrian and Egyptian armies, whose military road this was. By crossing Jordan, destroying Jericho, occupying the heights by a night-march, and delivering the crushing blow of the battle of Beth-horon, Joshua executed the favourite manœuvre of the greatest captain by sea or land, since the days of Nelson and Napoleon; he broke through and defeated the centre of the enemies’ line, and then stood in a position to strike with his whole force successively right and left.”—Note to Lenormant’s Manual of Oriental History, 1. p. 111.
and came into a harlot’s house] The spies traversed successfully the space which separated them from Jericho, crossing the fords or swimming, and entered the city towards evening (Joshua 2:2). There was no one in the place to receive them, and it would have been perilous to have gone to a public khan or caravanserai. They, therefore, followed one of the courtesans, of whom there would be many in a Canaanitish city, to her home.
named Rahab] The name of this courtesan was Rahab. She probably, too, carried on the trade of lodging-keeper for wayfaring men. It would seem also that she was engaged in the manufacture of linen, and practised the art of dyeing, for which the Phœnicians were early famous, for we find the flat roof of the house covered with stalks of flax put there to dry, and a stock of scarlet or crimson line in her possession. Her name is mentioned in the genealogy of our Lord (Matthew 1:5). There she appears as the wife of Salmon, the son of Naasson, by whom she became the mother of Boaz, the grandfather of Jesse. See Ruth 4:20-21; 1 Chronicles 2:11; 1 Chronicles 2:51; 1 Chronicles 2:54. Her faith and works are glorified in (a) the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:31), and (b) in the Epistle of St James (James 2:25).
And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country.2. it was told the king] Jericho was the residence of a “king” or “chief,” a fenced city, enclosed by walls of considerable breadth, and not only contained sheep and oxen, but abounded in “silver and gold,” and “vessels of brass and iron” (Joshua 6:24).
And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country.3. sent unto Rahab] “In modern Europe the officers of the government would have entered the house without wasting the previous time in parley. But formerly, as now, in the East, the privacy of a woman was respected, even to a degree that might be called superstitious, and no one will enter the house in which she lives, or the part of the house she occupies, until her consent has been obtained, if, indeed, such consent be ever demanded. In this case it was not asked. Rahab was required not to let the messengers in, but to bring out the foreigners she harboured.” Kitto’s Bible Illustrations, ii. 243.
And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:4. And the woman took the two men] Instead of timidly surrendering them to the king she resolved to shield and protect them.
I wist not] For this meaning of “wist,” comp. Exodus 16:15, “And they said one to another, It is manna, for they wist not what it was;” Exodus 34:29, and in many other passages both in the Old and New Testament. See Commentary on St Mark, ch. Joshua 9:6, p. 100.
And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.5. shutting of the gate] A necessary precaution owing to the absence of all artificial light from the streets of Oriental towns.
when it was dark] In the East, night comes on soon after sundown, and the evening twilight is of very short duration.
I wot not] Strict truth was a virtue but little known or practised in ancient times, and Rahab must not be judged by the same standard of morality as we should apply to our own days. “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not” (Hebrews 11:31). “It would be a mistake, an anachronism, to apply to a dweller in one of the old Canaanite cities, amidst the worshippers of false and cruel deities, destitute of one ray either of Law or Gospel light, principles of conduct and character which we owe to the Revelation of all truth and all duty by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Epistle is content to say only this, Behold in the example of this woman the working of that faith which grasps the unseen. Behold the action of faith upon evidence presented and upon an alternative of conduct. Behold the inference of truth honestly drawn, and the preference, on the strength of it, of the future to the present. Behold, St James adds (James 2:25), how faith differs from opinion, and evidences its existence by the sign of work. The hearts of other inhabitants of Jericho were melting, she tells us, with the terror of Israel,—she alone acted upon the conviction, and added another element to the ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ ” Dr Vaughan’s Heroes of Faith, pp. 263, 264.
But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.6. the roof of the house] The roofs of Eastern houses were flat (St Mark 2:4), and were made useful for various purposes, as drying corn, hanging up linen, and preparing figs and raisins. They were also used as (a) places of recreation in the evening; (b) sleeping-places at night, when the interior apartments were too hot or sultry for refreshing repose; (c) places for devotion and even idolatrous worship. Comp. 1 Samuel 9:25-26; 2 Samuel 11:2; 2 Samuel 16:22; 2 Kings 23:12; Daniel 4:29; Acts 2:1; Acts 10:9. The Jewish Law required that they should have a battlement, in order that guilt of blood might not come upon the house through any one falling from it (Deuteronomy 22:8). “Parts of Roman houses were also furnished with such roofs called solaria, because they lay exposed on all sides to the sun, and also mœniana, as the Italians now also call them altana.” Lange’s Commentary.
the stalks of flax] “stubble of flaxe,” Wyclif. Unbroken flax is here meant, the stalks of which, about Jericho and in Egypt, reached a height of more than three feet and the thickness of a reed. It was anciently one of the most important crops in Palestine (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 2:9).
And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.
And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof;
And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.8–21. Reception of the Spies by Rahab
9. the Lord] The name is remarkable as used by Rahab. But the Israelites had long been encamped in the neighbourhood, and she might easily have become acquainted with the name of their God.
your terror] i.e. “the terror of you.” The prophetic words of triumph in Moses’ song were now fulfilled (Exodus 15:14-16; comp. also Deuteronomy 11:25).
faint] Heb. melt. “Oure hearte basshade, ne spirit bood in us at youre yncomynge,” Wyclif. See Joshua 2:24.
For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.10. dried up the water] The inhabitants of the land had heard of two important events, which filled them with alarm; (a) the drying up of the Red Sea before the Israelites (cp. Psalm 106:7; Psalm 106:9; Psalm 106:22; Psalm 136:13); (b) the defeat at Jahaz of Sihon king of the Amorites, who refused the Israelites a passage through the territory between the Arnon and the Jabbok (Numbers 21:21-31; Deuteronomy 2:30-37), and at Edrei of Og, the giant king of the district which, under the name of “Bashan,” extended from the Jabbok up to the base of Hermon (Numbers 21:33-35; Deuteronomy 3:1-7).
whom ye utterly destroyed] Or, devoted. The word here used denotes (i) to separate for God, devote to Him (Leviticus 27:21; Leviticus 27:28; Joshua 6:17-18; 1 Samuel 15:21), (ii) to devote to utter destruction, utterly destroy (Deuteronomy 4:26). The objects of such a doom might be (a) persons, as here (and comp. 1 Kings 20:42; Romans 9:3; Galatians 1:8-9; Galatians 3:13), or (b) things (Joshua 6:17-18; Joshua 7:1).
And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.11. he is God in heaven above] Rahab expressly acknowledges God as Almighty, a knowledge which is possible to the heathen, for the “invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20).
Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father's house, and give me a true token:12. a true token] “a verrey tokne,” Wyclif; i.e. a token of truth, a sign; comp. Exodus 3:12, “And this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee;” 1 Samuel 2:34; Isaiah 7:11; Luke 2:12.
And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.
And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.14. Our life for yours] Literally, Our soul instead of yours for death, or instead of yours to die, as in the margin. “Oure soule be for you into deth,” Wyclif.
Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.15. she let them down by a cord] Comp. the escape of St Paul from Damascus (Acts 9:25).
her house was upon the town wall] i.e. her chamber was in the upper story of the house, which rose above the wall, as may be seen even now in old cities along the Rhine.
And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way.16. Get you to the mountain] i.e. probably the caverns in “the jagged range of the white limestone mountains” (of Judæa) which rise to the north of the city, “the same which in later ages afforded shelter to the hermits who there took up their abode, in the belief that this was the mountain of the Forty Days’ Fast of the Temptation—the ‘Quarantania,’ from which it still derives its name.” Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 308.
And the men said unto her, We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear.17. We will be blameless] Or, “We are blameless.” We must supply “unless you do what we shall now say unto you.” Comp. Genesis 24:41, “Then shalt thou be clear from this my oath, when thou comest to my kindred; and if they give not thee one, thou shalt be clear from my oath.” Wyclif renders it “we schulen be giltles of this oath.”
Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father's household, home unto thee.18. this line of scarlet thread] The line was spun out of crimson thread, the crimson colour produced by the coccus ilicis, Linn., a cochineal insect, living on the holm oak, the larvæ of which yield the crimson dye.
And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him.19. his blood] = his “bloodguiltiness,” his “responsibility for blood.” Compare 2 Samuel 21:1, “It is for Saul, and his bloody (= “blood-thirsty”) house, because he slew the Gibeonites;” Ezekiel 22:2, “Wilt thou judge the bloody (= “bloodguilty”) city? yea thou shalt shew her all her abominations.
And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear.
And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window.
And they went, and came unto the mountain, and abode there three days, until the pursuers were returned: and the pursuers sought them throughout all the way, but found them not.22–24. Return of the Spies to Joshua
22. the mountain] See above, Joshua 2:16.
So the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all things that befell them:23. and passed over] Probably by swimming, for the water at this season was too high to allow them to ford; compare the coming to David of the eleven mighty men from the uplands of Gad, who swam the river when it had overflowed all its banks (1 Chronicles 12:15).
all things that befell them] Compare the words of the sons of Jacob to their father, Genesis 42:29; of Moses to his father-in-law, Exodus 18:8.
And they said unto Joshua, Truly the LORD hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us.24. all the inhabitants] This was the most important part of their communication, that the inhabitants of the land were utterly dispirited and cast down.