I shared the following devotional message with my church’s Israel tour group this past summer. I was able to preach this from within the walls of ancient Jericho. It was a very special experience and opportunity.
God is creator of the whole world, not just Jews and not just Christians. So when he chose one man, Abraham, to be the father of His special possession, the Jews, He didn’t forget us redheaded Gentiles. He said to Abraham, “Through you all families of the earth will be blessed.”
And when God constituted the nation of Israel as He gave them His law, He told them they were supposed to be “a kingdom of priests.” That is, they were supposed to do for other nations what the levitical priests did for them: they were supposed to mediate God; they were supposed to show to the Gentiles what God is like.
And when God ended the wilderness wanderings, He had Moses tell the people this: “I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deut 4:5-6)
So Moses dies, and as Joshua takes over and the conquest of Canaan begins Israel gets its first opportunity to be a blessing to the nations, to mediate God to them. They may have forgotten God’s words about this as they sharpened their swords and spears and prepared to do battle in Hazor and other places. But God didn’t forget.
He prepared one heart, and for all we know only this one among all the Canaanites. It was the heart of a prostitute who lived in a wall.
Joshua 2:1–24 (Incidentally, my friend and fellow church member Kevin Oberlin wrote a section of his dissertation on this passage, and I got some significant help from it.)
Rahab Hides the Spies
1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. 2 And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 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.” 4 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. 5 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.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. 7 So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.
8 Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof 9 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. 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 devoted to destruction. 11 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. 12 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 13 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.”
I just think, as our dear pastor would say, that this is remarkable. Rahab says what Joshua 5 later doubly confirms: she was not the only one who feared the Israelites. Great kings behind massive stone walls lost all heart.
But Rahab appears to be the only one who was led to conclude that she ought to shift her allegiance. This confession of hers would really sound ridiculous if it weren’t true. How did a prostitute living in a Canaanite wall and, more than likely, worshiping an assortment of local deities, conclude from the gossip she heard about the Israelites that, really, monotheism was the way to go and Yahweh was “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath”!? And it wasn’t just that she added Yahweh to her pantheon of many gods. She said, “The Lord your God, He is God.” This whole confession almost sounds like the kind of story someone might invent after the fact to make their side look good.
But it’s not. It’s God at work using the Israelites to mediate His presence to the world and to be a blessing to the world. This is what God said He wanted done, and now He’s doing it! He shows mercy before He brings judgment. It’s like He kept the door open till the last second. Does anyone have any question that this is a perfect example of the kind of thing God does? He picks the weak things of this world to confound the mighty; He draws certain people to Himself. Yahweh, Lord of heaven and earth, made every other Jericho prostitute die for her many sins. He made this one the great grandmother of the Messiah.
14 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.” 15 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.
Now a little aside: Is this trip to Israel worth it? Yes! It certainly helped me picture what I was reading in the OT. I was a little surprised myself that it happened so fast! As I studied up for this little devotional I could see a tell in my mind with its many buildings—and what kind of walls? What kind of walls have we learned about which make sense of the fact that Rahab lived inside the wall? Casemate walls! Remember? These are a double set of walls with open space in between which can be used for living or storage space and filled with dirt or stones when a threat of attack arises. I don’t know that this was the case in Jericho, but it certainly makes better sense than the non-descript picture I used to have. If it was the case, the later fall of the walls is perhaps all the more remarkable. It defied gravity.
I don’t have time to talk about it, but I wanted to point out that at least one other person made it into the kingdom from Jericho, Bartimaeus. And he got in much the same way Rahab did: he was desperate, so He begged for mercy from the God of Israel in the human form of the Son of David.
I want to make one application of this passage, but it might be a little odd for you. I want to back up a bit and just say that in your Bible interpretation, perhaps especially your OT interpretation, you must always keep in mind that you are reading one small part of a big story: what God is doing to redeem His fallen world. You will have some framework in mind whether you mean to or not, so you might as well adopt the Bible’s framework, something summarized well in Jonah 2:9, “Salvation is of the Lord.”
God cares for unfortunates. He has mercy on those who don’t deserve it. And He wants members of all peoples to praise Him in His kingdom. His kingdom will restore the world to the way that it is supposed to be. And He will mercifully bring people like Rahab—and you—inside the safety of walls that will never fall.