Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP. Always and everywhere do so. Many definitions have indicated the difference between man and the lower animals. One says, man is an animal that can strike a light; another, one which has language; another, one that can form abstract ideas. A very profound thinker recently taught us, "Man is an animal that knows what's o'clock," i.e., that takes note of time. It is perhaps only an amplification of this last idea to add, man is an animal that thinks of tomorrow. The vegetable, in its vocabulary of time, knows only the word today; the animal knows yesterday and today; man alone lives in a yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He belongs to tomorrow as much as to today: is a sort of amphibious animal, living on the dry land of today and in the watery element of tomorrow. From tomorrow springs hope, fear, rest, distress. Man never is - but always to be blest. This instinct of anticipation is natural because it is necessary. We cannot get on without "sending out spies." Unless we forecast what is coming we cannot prepare for it, enjoy it, or secure it. If we advance without forecasting, we find ourselves perplexed in simplest circumstances; helpless, though possessed of abundant resources; weak, though endued with force of character; unready, though competent and resolved. There are some who never seem taken at a disadvantage; they have their wits about them; have presence of mind to do the wise thing, and presence of heart to do the right. Their difficulties kindle elation, and always end in advantage. There are others who move like a worm cut in two, their reasoning and acting powers always lagging behind themselves. An opportunity only agitates them; a duty disturbs them; a difficulty deters them from any further advance. All their wise thoughts come in the shape of resolutions which are not acted on, or regrets which are enfeebling. The difference between these two classes of men arises from this. The former send out spies, and are prepared; the latter take no trouble to forecast wisely - are always, therefore, taken by surprise. See that you look out well. Christ did not forbid thinking, but anxious thinking of tomorrow. Think what duties may come, and get ready, by prayer and self denial, the strength to do them. Think of opportunities, and get ready the clearness of view which will let you embrace them. Think of temptations, and by prayer protect yourself. Happy is the man who can so wisely anticipate that every duty, difficulty, danger, as it comes, finds him ready. Therefore, look before you leap, and send out spies.
II. DO NOT SEND FORTH TOO MANY SPIES, NOR SEND THEM FORTH TOO FAR. Here Joshua sent two men to Jericho - say ten miles away. There are some send all their forces out to spy, like a general who reconnoitres in force and does nothing else. They are always prospecting with all their powers. Their whole energies are given up to the guessing of the future. Reason, imagination, conscience, all are engaged in anticipation. So busy are they with tomorrow that they have but little strength left for today. Joshua did not reconnoitre in force, nor did he send out many to spy the land. He sends only two. Do not be always thinking on what is before you; it will become brooding, and when we brood our forecast is equally erroneous and enervating; nor let your whole soul go out into the tomorrow. Today needs the bulk of your powers. Tomorrow cannot claim so much. And doing today's work well, while not the whole, is yet nine-tenths of preparation for the morrow. A little thought, a little care, a little preparation, is the lesson of Joshua's two spies. And if we should not send forth too many, neither should we despatch them too far. Joshua limits his scrutiny to the immediate struggle before him. About to assail Jericho, he seeks all the information he can get on it So ought we to put a limit to our prospects. The distant advantage should be excluded from our dreams, and the remote danger from our apprehensions. What is immediately before him is a wise man's care. And to take each stage as it comes into sight and provide for it is safety and wisdom alike. It is the golden mean between the levity of indifference and the torture of anxiety. Not too many spies must be sent out, nor too far afield.
III. SEE THAT YOUR SPIES ARE FIT FOR THEIR TASK. It is not every soldier who will make a scout; for his task there is needed endurance, resource, coolness, daring, quickness of perception and of purpose, in their highest form. I assume that Joshua chose two fit men; partly because he had seen the invasion of Canaan postponed for forty years through the unfitness of the spies then sent, and also because the few glimpses we have of them show them to have been the right sort of men. We can see that they had the agility of youth (Joshua 6:23) and the daring of faith (Joshua 2:24), and doubtless they had other qualities beside. See that the spies you send out are fit for their work. Some people employ their Wishes in this work, and these return with tale more flattering than true; some their mere imagination, which takes in all that may, can, or will happen; some send forth their fears, which return telling of countless lions in the way, and some their superstitions, which read auspices of good or omens of evil fortune in the simplest and most meaningless experiences. They choose unfit spies. If you are to send two, who shall they be? Of the first one there can be no doubt - it must be faith, for faith has clearer eyesight than anything else. It sees the invisible. It beholds God as well as man; sees His moral as well as material laws at work; sees the elements of hope which He brings with Him into every scene; is the attribute of daring; can always find or make a way out of difficulties. Let faith have the forecasting as its charge. And if faith should be invariably one of the two spies, consecration should be the other. Spy out the future, not simply to know it, but with desire to use it. And to that end scrutinise the future with the eye of consecration, with the desire to see the opportunities of doing good, of growing in grace, of honouring God, of blessing man. Happy the man who chooses his spies well, and sees with trustful eye the help, and with loving purpose the opportunities, which lie before him. Lastly -
IV. SEND YOUR SPIES ACROSS JORDAN BEFORE YOU YOURSELF MAKE THE PASSAGE. It is not by accident of poetic fancy merely that the Jordan, dividing the land of sojourn from the land of rest, has been taken as an image of that "river without a bridge," across which is the better land. Of course like all analogies it is imperfect, for while God's Israel finds rest in the heavenly Canaan, it finds no Canaanite to dispute the enjoyment of it. Still it is a suggestive emblem of the rugged, forbidding boundary beyond which is our land of milk and honey. And if our wisdom exercises itself in surveying every stage in advance and preparing for it, it certainly will find a special reason for surveying, and preparing for what is on the other side of the great dividing line between him and eternity. Have you sent out your spies there? Do you know exactly the sort of experience which is before you? Could you confidently pass over Jordan? Through your Saviour is it the abundant entrance that is waiting you? Do not confine your thoughts to Shittim, however sweet its shade of acacias may be; but prepare for what is beyond, and face the passage of the Jordan with the full knowledge and firm faith which would make your rest in Canaan sure. - G.
know, she alone in all that dark, guilty land of Canaan was disposed to recognise the divinity that guided the onward march of the Israelites, and to welcome them to their destined inheritance. Certain moral difficulties have been felt by many in reference to the honour given to her name in Scripture. Her character and mode of life has been felt to be a difficulty; attempts have been made to show that "harlot" may simply mean "innkeeper." But this interpretation will not hold good. Much of the point and worth of the narrative depends on our regarding her as one of a class on whom Christ bestowed His pity; "a woman that was a sinner." Her treachery to her own people is condemned; but this, despicable as under ordinary circumstances it may be, is to be justified on the ground of loyalty to the God of Israel. It is a Christian principle that the claims of God are supreme over all other claims, even those that spring out of the ties of nature and of nationality. Her falsehood is a difficulty. No need to attempt to justify this. A low moral standard and the pressure of circumstances may palliate it, but cannot excuse. A lie must always be offensive to a God of truth. No skilful casuistry can make this aspect of her conduct right. But she is commended in Scripture, not for her treachery or falsehood, but for her faith (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25) - for the fact that, hearing of the wonders wrought by Jehovah, she believed Him to be the only true and living God, and so was moved to escape from the corruption of her own doomed city and cast in her lot with His people. The following lessons seem to be suggested:
I. THE SIGNALS OF GOD'S GRACE MAY BE FOUND UNDER VERY UNLIKELY CONDITIONS. Here is a gleam of light in the midst of gross heathen darkness; a susceptibility to Divine impressions where it might least have been expected. The report of Israel's successes could scarcely of itself have produced it. In her that report awakened faith and the desire for a purer life, but in her neighbours it only roused the recklessness of despair. It moved her to seek deliverance: it made them only the riper for their doom. Why this difference? We trace here the secret working of that Spirit from the Lord who prepares the souls of men for higher revelations of truth. God directed the spies to her house because He had first put it into her heart to receive them kindly. Thus within the vilest and the most degraded there may be latent possibilities of good that only need the outward incentive to call them forth. God is often nearer to men, and they are nearer to "the kingdom," than we suppose. He who came "to seek and to save that which was lost" made Himself the "friend of publicans and sinners," not only because they most needed Him, but because He saw that they were most ready to welcome Him. His word awakened an echo in their hearts, when proud Pharisaic hearts were hopelessly closed against it. It discovered and quickened germs of better life in the midst of corruption and death. It kindled hope in the region of despair. To the self-satisfied rulers of the people He said, "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
II. REPENTANCE MAY TRANSFORM A LIFE OF SIN AND SHAME INTO ONE OF HONOUR AND RENOWN. Rahab's sin was forgiven as soon as her heart turned to the Lord. There is a place for her in the commonwealth of Israel. Her faith saved not only herself, but her whole household (vers. 12, 18). She became the wife of Salmon, mother of Boaz, and thus ancestress of David and of Christ (Matthew 1:5, 6). A suggestive hint of the way in which the grace of God can "graft the wild olive tree m among the natural branches," and make it abundantly fruitful to His praise. It not only wipes out the reproach of the past, but developes from it a rich and glorious future. Faculties that have been wasted in the service of sin become effective instruments of righteousness. The history of the Church is full of examples. As in the case of Saul of Tarsus, so in less conspicuous instances, God has often entered the ranks of the enemy and brought forth from them living trophies of His power, who have henceforth served nobly the cause that once they destroyed.
III. THE REWARD OF GENEROUS TRUSTFULNESS. It is remarkable that this Canaanite woman should have had such confidence in the sanctity of a promise and oath (ver. 12). It is significant of eternal principles enshrined in the heart of man, which the most degrading conditions cannot wholly obliterate. Note here, not only a Divine Providence, but a law of human nature. There is trust on both sides. The woman meets the spies with generous kindness, takes their life under her protection, and they in return keep sacred watch and guard over hers. It is a valuable lesson for all time. "With what measure ye meet," etc.; "Blessed are the merciful," etc. The trustful soul is trusted. Love begets love. "For a good man some would even dare to die." Whatever noble quality you cherish and practically exemplify has power to awaken something similar to it in others. It propagates and multiplies itself, and that is its reward.
IV. IN THE DELIVERANCE OF THIS CANAANITE FAMILY FROM THE DESTRUCTION OF THE DOOMED CITY WE SEE A TYPE OF GOSPEL SALVATION. The Fathers, as usual, have carried the principle to a fanciful extreme in their use of these incidents. But the general features of the analogy are too plain to be overlooked. The rescue of Rahab and her kindred is certainly dimly prophetic of the gathering of a redeemed Church out of the Gentile world; and in the "scarlet cord," the sign of the covenant and the means of deliverance, we can scarcely help seeing a hint both of the blood of the passover and the "blood of the cross." How blessed the security of those who are under the protection of that sacred sign, that "true token!" In the "day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God," with what joy will they lift up their heads, knowing that their "redemption draweth nigh." - W.
I. IT WAS A FAITH THAT REASONED. It based itself on facts. She mentioned two striking events, the passage of the "sea of weeds," and the overthrow of the two kings of the Amorites by the Israelitish nation. From these she argued that the God of Israel must be mightier than the gods whom her country worshipped, that He was "Lord in heaven and earth," and that He would procure for His people the land of Canaan. Thus she took to heart the lessons of the past. Prejudice is strong. It could not have been an easy matter to renounce belief in her own deities, and to acknowledge the supremacy of an enemy's God. If men consult history they find therein ample evidence of a "power that maketh for righteousness." And further, the hand of God can be seen as the power that upholdeth righteousness. The history of the Jews is itself a witness to the truth and might of God. The spread of Christianity cannot be accounted for except on the supposition that it was "the work of God." What the keenest shafts of philosophical ridicule and reasoning rafted to accomplish, that the "religion of the fishermen" soon achieved. It released men from the bondage of grossest idolatry and foulest sin. We may reasonably demand that men should pay to the "God of the Christians" that homage which is His due. We only ask that they will allow facts of religion to press upon them with their proper weight. The wicked may well feel downcast, for the chaff shall be blown away before the wind of judgment. "Who is on the Lord's side?'
II. IT WAS A FAITH THAT LED TO THE ADOPTION OF PRACTICAL MEASURES.
(a) She hid the messengers. With the proverbial ingenuity of woman, she concealed them behind the stalks of flax piled upon the roof. Possibly the Eastern law of hospitality had some influence upon her conduct, but the narrative shows that Rahab was willing to undergo present risk for the sake of future preservation. Had the spies been detected in her house, death was sure. We do not excuse the falsehoods she told, nor are they commended in Scripture. They were an outcome of her degraded state, and an infirmity which was graciously overlooked by reason of her faith. To have respect to a future good is the duty of every man. The obstacle in the path of many is that they cannot forego present enjoyment. Religion requires us to endure "as seeing Him who is invisible," to "look at the things unseen."
(b) She bound the scarlet line in the window. Before letting the men down by a cord, she demanded "a true token" that should assure her of security in the day of assault. The spies gave her an oath pledging their life for her safety, but Coupling with the oath certain conditions to be fulfilled on her part. Here again is Rahab a model of appropriate action. God binds Himself by a covenant to forgive men if they respect the terms thereof. He confirmed His declaration by an oath (Hebrews 6:17). But only those can be said to "believe" who actually "flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them." The Israelites were required to sprinkle the blood upon the lintel of the door post, and similarly must the blood of Christ be sprinkled upon our consciences if we would be unharmed when the destroying angel passes by. Our foreheads must be sealed (Revelation 7:8), but not with the mark of the beast (Revelation 20:4). If the promises of God are to have effect, we must observe the conditions. Herein many are found wanting. They listen, hesitate, think, but there is no practical faith, no actual recognition of God's love by accepting His gracious offers. Let the "scarlet line" be visible forthwith! then in the sifting day our interests will be secure. Though the elements crash all around, for us there will be "perfect peace."
III. A FAITH THAT CARED FOR THE WELFARE OF FRIENDS. Natural affection had not been extinguished by her wretched life. Her trust in the God of Israel brought into clearer light her love for her relations, and she desired their safety. And how can Christians enjoy their salvation without being deeply concerned for the state of those dear to them? As Rahab implored protection for her kinsfolk, so will the followers of Christ commend to their Saviour's care those whom they love. Rahab's was intercessory prayer. It is related of a dumb son of Croesus that when he saw a soldier about to kill his father, he burst forth into the utterance, "What! will you kill Croesus?" Moreover, it was required of Rahab that when the siege commenced she should gather her friends within the shelter of her own domicile, otherwise they could not be recognised and saved. It is not sufficient merely to plead with God on behalf of those we love; He expects us to use all possible efforts for their moral safety. It was impossible for Rahab to preserve the whole city. Love dictated the enlargement of her sphere, prudence set reasonable bounds to it. The inhabitants would doubtless have resented her action and advice, and death would have ensued. There is no need for us to seek to justify all that Rahab did. We are only concerned to imitate her in so far as she is presented to us as a model of faith. - A.
Joshua 11:31). We must be careful, moreover, not to exaggerate what she did. She did not betray the secret of her people, she simply preserved the lives of the representatives of the nation which she knows to be enrolled under the banner of the true God. This act of faith saved her, and even won for her the honour of a place in the genealogy of Messiah (Matthew 1:5). We occupy a very different position from that of Rahab. No such conflict can arise in our case between duty to the earthly and to the heavenly fatherland, because the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual. Let it be ours to have the faith of Rahab in the victory of our Divine Head; and let us hold fast this confidence, especially in view of the great conflicts that are before us, between the Captain of our salvation and an unbelieving world. Have we not as much to rest our faith upon - nay, far more than Rahab had - in the great victories of the past? We are the soldiers of a General who said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). To be confident of victory is to have already conquered. - E. DE P.