Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.II.
THE SPIES AND RAHAB.
(1) Joshua . . . sent out of Shittim.—That is, he sent the spies before the people left the place where they had been encamped for some months (Numbers 22:1; Numbers 33:49). Shittim was the last stage of the Exodus under Moses. Probably the sending of these two spies was simultaneous with the issue of the general orders to Israel to prepare for the passage of Jordan within three days. The three days of Joshua 1:11; Joshua 2:22 appear to be the same period of time.
Two men to spy.—The sending of these spies should be compared, as to the general effect and character of the measure, with other similar events. There are three instances of sending spies in reference to Canaan—viz., (1) the sending of the twelve by Moses from Kadesh-barnea; (2) the instance before us; (3) the sending of men to view Ai. The present instance is the only one in which the measure had a good effect. In the case of the twelve, Moses describes the action as a manifestation of unbelief. The spies took upon them to discover the right path for Israel to take, a thing which was God’s prerogative, not theirs (Deuteronomy 1:22; Deuteronomy 1:32-33). The men who viewed Ai (Joshua 7:2-3) came back and presumed to instruct Joshua how to proceed against it, with disastrous results. In this instance the two men brought back a report of the state of things in Jericho (exactly what they were ordered to do), which encouraged all Israel to proceed. Compare the effect of Gideon and Phurah’s visit to the camp of Midian (Judges 7:11), “Thou shalt hear what they say, and. afterwards shall thine hands be strengthened.”
Into an harlot’s house, named Rahab.—The attempts to show that Rahab was not “an harlot” are not justified by the word used in Hebrew, or in the Greek of the LXX., or in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:31), or in that of St. James (James 2:25). But there is no harm in supposing that she was also an innkeeper, which the Targum calls her in every place; indeed, it is very probable that the spies would resort to a place of public entertainment, as most suitable for ascertaining the state of the public mind. How far they were disguised, how they came to be discovered, whether the king of Jericho knew of the impending march of Israel from Shittim, are questions of detail which the narrative leaves unanswered, and which the imagination may discuss at pleasure. The point of the story is not in these.
(1) There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were.—A falsehood which evidently left no stain on Rahab’s conscience, although all falsehood is sin. The same may be said of Jael’s slaying Sisera. The Divine standard of sin and holiness never varies; but the standard of man’s conscience, even when faith is a dominant principle in the character, may vary to a very considerable degree. In Jesus Christ “all that believe are justified from all things;” but “by the deeds of the law no one. Here, as elsewhere, the application of the law only brings the discovery of sin.
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 stalks of flax.—It is remarked that flax and barley are both early crops (Exodus 9:31), and that the first month (see Joshua 4:19) was the time of barley harvest. (Comp. 2Samuel 21:9.)
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.(9-11) She said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land. . . .—The words of this confession are memorable in everyway. Note the fulfilment of the prophetic song of Moses, which is partly repeated here (Exodus 15:15-16, with Joshua 2:9-11), “All the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away; fear and dread shall fall upon them.” But especially observe the expression of Rahab’s own belief, “Jehovah, your God, He is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.” Did the faith of the men of Israel go much further than this? Did it always go so far? (Comp. Joshua 24:14; 1Kings 18:21; Jonah 1:9-10). The prophets themselves could not assert much more. The greatest of them were satisfied if they could bring the people of Israel to acknowledge this. Rahab’s confession is also one of a series. The Egyptians, Philistines, Syrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, were all in turn brought to the same acknowledgment by their contact with Israel. The reason is stated in Joshua 4:24, “That all the people of the earth may know the hand of Jehovah, that it is mighty.”
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.(13) Save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters.—Whatever Rahab may have been herself, her acknowledgment of all her family is observable. She was in no way separated or degraded from their society. When we remember what Moses describes the Canaanites to have been (in certain passages of the Pentateuch, as Leviticus 18:24-28; Leviticus 20:22-23) and compare this chapter, we may reasonably conclude Rahab to have been morally not inferior to her countrymen as they were then, but rather their superior. We are reminded that the “publicans and harlots “were not the worst members of the “evil and adulterous generation” to whom the Word of God came. They believed John the Baptist, and were among the most constant hearers of the true Joshua (Matthew 21:32; Luke 15:1).
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) Her house was upon the town wall—Happily for the two spies. Perhaps, indeed, they selected it for this reason, as it enabled them to leave the town without passing the gate.
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.—The mountains between Jerusalem and Jericho have often been a refuge for worse characters than Joshua’s two spies (Luke 10:30).
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) The window which thou didst let us down by.—It seems almost needless to observe that the scarlet line and the cord by which the men were lowered are not the same thing, but described by different words in the original. It would have been preposterous to require Rahab to display in her window the means by which the spies had escaped. It would at once have declared the tale to all beholders—the very thing Rahab was pledged not to do. The “line of scarlet thread” and the “stalks of flax” on the roof were probably parts of the same business, and thus there would be nothing unusual in what was exhibited at the window, although it would be a sufficient token to those who were in the secret, to enable them to identify the house.
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) Whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head.—Comp. Exodus 12:22 (the account of the Passover), “Ye shall. . . . strike the lintel and the two side-posts with the blood that is in the bason: and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning; for the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians.” What the blood was to the houses of Israel in Egypt, that the scarlet line in the window was to the house of Rahab. Both alike prefigured “the precious blood of Christ.”
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) Three days—i.e., probably until the completion of three days from the commencement of their mission, according to the usual inclusive reckoning of the Old Testament.
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) The Lord hath delivered.—Observe the entirely satisfactory effect of this mission, and compare what was said on Joshua 2:1.