It’s in the precursor to one of the most famous Biblical battle stories of all time, the conquest of Jericho, that we find today’s passage. In Joshua 2:1–7 we read that Joshua is getting ready for the Israelites to finally enter into the Promised Land, after they spent 40 years wandering the desert due to their disobedience and lack of trust in God. In preparation, he sends out two spies to observe the land, “especially Jericho” (vv. 1).
To the surprise of the reader, perhaps, in the second half of the verse, the spies end up staying in the home of a prostitute named Rahab. While there might be some shock and confusion here, history tells us that at the time, many prostitutes were also innkeepers; and even for those who weren’t, their homes were often the place to stay if you wanted to go unnoticed. The perfect place for secret spies!
Rahab hides the spies and sends the kings men on a wild goose chase, keeping the young Israelite lads safe—details that are confusing enough and interesting in their own right. But as we get to the next part of the story in verse 8, some of the details start to become clear.
Now before the spies 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 terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have despaired because of 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 utterly destroyed. When we heard these reports, our hearts melted and no courage remained in anyone any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below.”Joshua 2:8–11 NASB
Now, there is of course more to the story than that (and I highly encourage you to give it a read if you haven’t, or a re-read if it’s been a while. It’s thrilling!) But today we’re going to focus on this little piece, not only because it’s interesting, but because it houses some incredibly important truths and reminders for us. Specifically we’re going to look at three of the statements Rahab makes:
- “I know that the Lord has given you the land” (vv. 9).
- We have heard what the Lord has done for you, and we’re terrified (vv. 9–11)
- “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below” (vv. 11).
When I read that Rahab knew the Lord had given the land to the Israelites, I immediately notice the contrast. That is to say, my mind goes to all of the times in the books preceding that the Israelites themselves somehow missed that memo. Think with me about the story that nearly mirrors this one, from Numbers 13. Moses sends 12 spies into Canaan, and they discover that it is indeed everything they’ve ever dreamed of! Flowing with milk and honey! Filled with prospering fruit! But the spies also see something that is less-than-savoury.
“The people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large . . . The land through which we have gone to spy out is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are people of great stature.”Numbers 13:28, 32 NASB
All but two of the spies (Joshua and Caleb) lose hope and give a bad report. As a result, the people rebel and lose faith in that which God had promised to them for generations. Now, I know the story with Rahab took place a few decades later, but isn’t it incredible that the Israelite spies in Numbers 13 gave up on the promises of God because they were so scared of what they saw? Whereas Rahab believed in God’s promises because the Canaanite’s were so scared of what they saw. The contrast and the confidence is dramatic! She doesn’t say “I know you want the land” or even “I know you’re going to try to take the land”. But “I know that the Lord has given you the land” (emphasis mine). Her pronouncement even sounds similar to response of one of the faithful spies, Caleb.
“We should by all means go up and take possession of [the land], for we will certainly prevail over it.”Numbers 13:30 NASB
#2: Fear of God
Again in the next section, verses 9–11, we see incredible contrast, as Rahab details how scared the people of Canaan are of the Israelites. “The terror of you has fallen on us” she says in verse 9, and “all the inhabitants of the land have despaired because of you.” Her reasoning? They have heard of the miraculous works that God has done to protect, strengthen, and go before his people. They heard of the way God parted the Red Sea to protect them from the Egyptians (and they no-doubt heard about what happened to the Egyptians that followed them!) They heard about the Israelite’s successful conquest against the Amorite kings Sihon and Og, who were “utterly destroyed.”
The irony, if you want to call it that, is that these same events should have been what emboldened and gave confidence to Israel. The near constant demonstration of God’s power on their behalf in Exodus through Deuteronomy should have affirmed their trust and faith in his promises. And yet, as we see with the spies in Numbers 13; as we see with the food situation in Exodus 16 or the golden calf in Exodus 32 or again with the food in Numbers 11, or any of the other numerous stories of complaints and mistrust—the people had lost hope.
What an interesting statement that the people in the land about to be conquered were rightfully terrified of the power of God, whereas the very people being protected and strengthened by that power so often seemed to forget it.
#3: The Lord is God
The last point we’re looking at comes from verse 11 where, in perhaps the most surprising statement yet, Rahab makes a confession of faith. Her words actually match exactly the declaration Moses commands to the people in Deuteronomy 4.
Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.Deuteronomy 4:39
We don’t know the exact extent of her faith at this point, but as we read on we learn that she and her family were spared when Jericho was conquered (Joshua 6:22–23). Rahab is then mentioned again as being a person of faith in Hebrews 11:31, and she is specifically noted as being a part of the lineage of David (and thus Jesus) in the genealogy of Matthew 1. Again, what an interesting thought, that this prostitute in Canaan would verbally declare and visibly demonstrate faith in the Almighty God—faith that many of God’s own people had often failed to declare or demonstrate.
Why Does it Matter?
The application today is short and sweet: remember what God has done and believe what he has promised to do. What we see demonstrated by Rahab in this small section of the book of Joshua is something that, like the Israelites, we can often fail at or forget to do.
Remembering what God has done involves looking back at the greatness we have seen from him and allowing it to remind us of his care and love, his power and strength, his promises made and kept, his grace and mercy. Like the Israelites setting up stones as a reminder of God’s faithfulness, we too can look to the proverbial stones in our life. This can be reminding ourselves of the ways we have felt his comfort in our life, or the ways he has provided. It could be looking at his word, and remembering all he has done, even thousands of years before we were born. And beyond even all of that, we can remember that even in the midst of everything we stand against, the sin and brokenness of this world, he sent his son Jesus, who died for us so that we can be saved!
When we remember what God has done, we are encouraged and affirmed, and we can trust with true hope and assurance that he will do what he has said he will do. Our God is a God who cannot lie, and as such, his promises are unbreakable. The world might get us down, but not out, because as Rahab knew, “the Lord [our] God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below.” In the times when we are struggling, or afraid, or doubtful, he is still good and he is still God. Let us never forget it!