Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Two Spies Sent Over to Jericho. - Jos 2:1. Although Joshua had received a promise from the Lord of His almighty help in the conquest of Canaan, he still thought it necessary to do what was requisite on his part to secure the success of the work committed to him, as the help of God does not preclude human action, but rather presupposes it. He therefore sent two men out secretly as spies from Shittim the place of encampment at that time (see at Num 25:1), to view, i.e., explore, the land, especially Jericho, the strongly fortified frontier town of Canaan (Jos 6:1). The word "secretly" is connected by the accents with "saying," giving them their instructions secretly; but this implies that they were also sent out secretly. This was done partly in order that the Canaanites might not hear of it, and partly in order that, if the report should prove unfavourable, the people might not be thrown into despair, as they had been before in the time of Moses. The spies proceeded to Jericho, and towards evening they entered the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there, lit. laid themselves down, intended to remain or sleep there. Jericho was two hours' journey to the west of the Jordan, situated in a plain that was formerly very fertile, and celebrated for its palm trees and balsam shrubs, but which is now quite desolate and barren. This plain is encircled on the western side by a naked and barren range of mountains, which stretches as far as Beisan towards the north and to the Dead Sea on the south. Every trace of the town has long since passed away, though it evidently stood somewhere near, and probably on the northern side of, the miserable and dirty village of Rha, by the Wady Kelt (see Robinson, Pal. ii. pp. 279ff., 289ff.; v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 206ff.). Rahab is called a zonah, i.e., a harlot, not an innkeeper, as Josephus, the Chaldee version, and the Rabbins render the word. Their entering the house of such a person would not excite so much suspicion. Moreover, the situation of her house against or upon the town wall was one which facilitated escape. But the Lord so guided the course of the spies, that they found in this sinner the very person who was the most suitable for their purpose, and upon whose heart the tidings of the miracles wrought by the living God on behalf of Israel had made such an impression, that she not only informed the spies of the despondency of the Canaanites, but, with believing trust in the power of the God of Israel, concealed the spies from all the inquiries of her countrymen, though at the greatest risk to herself.
When the king of Jericho was informed of the fact that these strange men had entered the house of Rahab, and suspecting their reason for coming, summoned Rahab to give them up, she hid them (lit., hid him, i.e., each one of the spies: for this change from the plural to the singular see Ewald, 219), and said to the king's messengers: כּן, recte, "It is quite correct, the men came to me, but I do not know where they were from; and when in the darkness the gate was at the shutting (i.e., ought to be shut: for this construction, see Gen 15:12), they went out again, I know not whither. Pursue them quickly, you will certainly overtake them." The writer then adds this explanation in Jos 2:6 : she had hidden them upon the roof of her house among stalks of flax. The expression "to-night" (lit., the night) in Jos 2:2 is more precisely defined in Jos 2:5, viz., as night was coming on, before the town-gate was shut, after which it would have been in vain for them to attempt to leave the town. "Stalks of flax," not "cotton pods" (Arab., J. D. Mich. ), or "tree-flax, i.e., cotton," as Thenius explains it, but flax stalks or stalk-flax, as distinguished from carded flax, in which there is no wood left, λινοκαλάμη, stipula lini (lxx, Vulg.). Flax stalks, which grow to the height of three or four feet in Egypt, and attain the thickness of a reed, and would probably be quite as large in the plain of Jericho, the climate of which resembles that of Egypt, would form a very good hiding-place for the spies if they were piled up upon the roof to dry in the sun. The falsehood by which Rahab sought not only to avert all suspicion from herself of any conspiracy with the Israelitish men who had entered her house, but to prevent any further search for them in her house, and to frustrate the attempt to arrest them, is not to be justified as a lie of necessity told for a good purpose, nor, as Grotius maintains, by the unfounded assertion that, "before the preaching of the gospel, a salutary lie was not regarded as a fault even by good men." Nor can it be shown that it was thought "allowable," or even "praiseworthy," simply because the writer mentions the fact without expressing any subjective opinion, or because, as we learn from what follows (Jos 2:9.), Rahab was convinced of the truth of the miracles which God had wrought for His people, and acted in firm faith that the true God would give the land of Canaan to the Israelites, and that all opposition made to them would be vain, and would be, in fact, rebellion against the Almighty God himself. For a lie is always a sin. Therefore even if Rahab was not actuated at all by the desire to save herself and her family from destruction, and the motive from which she acted had its roots in her faith in the living God (Heb 11:31), so that what she did for the spies, and thereby for the cause of the Lord, was counted to her for righteousness ("justified by works," Jam 2:25), yet the course which she adopted was a sin of weakness, which was forgiven her in mercy because of her faith.
(Note: Calvin's estimate is also a correct one: "It has often happened, that even when good men have endeavoured to keep a straight course, they have turned aside into circuitous paths. Rahab acted wrongly when she told a lie and said that the spies had gone; and the action was acceptable to God only because the evil that was mixed with the good was not imputed to her. Yet, although God wished the spies to be delivered, He did not sanction their being protected by a lie." Augustine also pronounces the same opinion concerning Rahab as that which he expressed concerning the Hebrew midwives (see the comm. on Exo 1:21).)
Upon this declaration on the part of the woman, the king's messengers ("the men") pursued the spies by the road to the Jordan which leads across the fords. Both the circumstances themselves and the usage of the language require that we should interpret the words in this way; for המּעבּרות על cannot mean "as far as the fords," and it is very improbable that the officers should have gone across the fords. If they did not succeed in overtaking the spies and apprehending them before they reached the fords, they certainly could not hope to do this on the other side of the river in the neighbourhood of the Israelitish camp. By "the fords" with the article we are to understand the ford near to Jericho which was generally used at that time (Jdg 3:22; Sa2 19:16.); but whether this was the one which is commonly used now at the mouth of Wady Shaib, almost in a straight line to the east of Jericho, or the more southerly one, el Helu, above the mouth of Wady Hesban (Rob. Pal. ii. p. 254), to the south of the bathing-place of Christian pilgrims, or el Meshra (Lynch, p. 155), or el Mocktaa (Seetzen, ii. p. 320), it is impossible to determine. (On these and other fords near Beisan, and as far up as the Sea of Galilee, see Rob. ii. p. 259, and Ritter Erdk. xv. pp. 549ff.) After the king's messengers had left the town, they shut the gate to prevent the spies from escaping, in case they should be still in the town. כּאשׁר אהרי for אשׁר אהרי is uncommon, but it is analogous to אחרי־כן אשׁר in Gen 6:4.
Notwithstanding these precautions, the men escaped. As soon as the officers had left Rahab's house, she went to the spies, who were concealed upon the roof, before they had lain down to sleep, which they were probably about to do upon the roof, - a thing of frequent occurrence in the East in summer time, - and confessed to them all that she believed and knew, namely, that God had given the land to the Israelites, and that the dread of them had fallen upon the Canaanites ("us," in contrast with "you," the Israelites, signifies the Canaanites generally, and not merely the inhabitants of Jericho), and despair had seized upon all the inhabitants of the land. The description of the despair of the Canaanites (Jos 2:9) is connected, so far as the expressions are concerned, with Exo 15:15 and Exo 15:16, to show that what Moses and the Israelites had sung after crossing the Red Sea was now fulfilled, that the Lord had fulfilled His promise (Exo 23:27 compared with Deu 2:25 and Deu 11:25), and had put fear and dread upon the Canaanites.
The report of the drying up of the Red Sea (Exo 14:15.), of the defeat of the mighty kings of the Amorites, and of the conquest of their kingdoms, had produced this effect upon the Canaanites. Even in the last of these occurrences the omnipotence of God had been visibly displayed, so that what the Lord foretold to Moses (Deu 2:25) had now taken place; it had filled all the surrounding nations with fear and dread of Israel, and the heart and courage of the Canaanites sank in consequence.
"When we heard this" - Rahab proceeded to tell them, transferring the feelings of her own heart to her countrymen - "our heart did melt" (it was thus that the Hebrew depicted utter despair; "the hearts of the people melted, and became as water," Jos 7:5), "and there did not remain any more spirit in any one:" i.e., they lost all strength of mind for acting, in consequence of their fear and dread (vid., Jos 5:1, though in Kg1 10:5 this phrase is used to signify being out of one's-self from mere astonishment). "For Jehovah your God is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath." To this confession of faith, to which the Israelites were to be brought through the miraculous help of the Lord (Deu 4:39), Rahab also attained; although her confession of faith remained so far behind the faith which Moses at that time demanded of Israel, that she only discerned in Jehovah a Deity (Elohim) in heaven and upon earth, and therefore had not yet got rid of her polytheism altogether, however close she had come to a true and full confession of the Lord. But these miracles of divine omnipotence which led the heart of this sinner with its susceptibility for religious truth to true faith, and thus became to her a savour of life unto life, produced nothing but hardness in the unbelieving hearts of the rest of the Canaanites, so that they could not escape the judgment of death.
After this confession Rahab entreated the spies to spare her family (father's house), and made them promise her on oath as a sign of their fidelity, that on the capture of Jericho, which is tacitly assumed as self-evident after what had gone before, they would save alive her parents, and brothers and sisters, and all that belonged to them (i.e., according to Jos 6:23, the children and families of her brothers and sisters), and not put them to death; all of which they promised her on oath. "A true token," lit. a sign of truth, i.e., a sign by which they guaranteed the truth of the kindness for which she asked. This sign consisted in nothing but the solemn oath with which they were to confirm their assurance, and, according to Jos 2:14, actually did confirm it. The oath itself was taken in these words, "our soul shall die for you," by which they pledged their life for the life of Rahab and her family in this sense: God shall punish us with death if we are faithless, and do not spare thy life and the lives of thy relations. Though the name of God is not really expressed, it was implied in the fact that the words are described as swearing by Jehovah. But the spies couple their assurance with this condition, "if ye utter not this our business," do not betray us, sc., so that we should be pursued, and our life endangered; "then will we show thee mercy and truth" (cf. Gen 24:27).
Rahab then let them down by a rope through the window, namely, into the open country; for her house stood against or upon the town wall, so that she lived upon the wall, and advised them to get to the mountains, that they might not meet the men who had been sent out in pursuit of them, and to hide themselves there for three days, when the pursuers would have returned.
In conclusion, the spies guarded against any arbitrary interpretation and application of their oath, by imposing three conditions, on the non-fulfilment of which they would be released from their oath. הזּה for הזּאת is to be explained in Jos 2:17 from the fact that the gender is often disregarded in the use of the pronoun (see Ewald, 183, a.), and in Jos 2:18 from the fact that there the gender is determined by the nomen rectum (see Ewald, 317, d.).
The first condition was, that when the town was taken Rahab should make her house known to the Israelites, by binding "the cord of this crimson thread," i.e., this cord made of crimson thread, in the window from which she had let them down. The demonstrative "this" leads to the conclusion adopted by Luther and others, that "this cord" is the rope (חבל) mentioned in Jos 2:15, as no other word had been mentioned to which they could refer; and the fact that nothing has been said about the sign in question being either given or received, precludes the idea that the spies gave the cord to Rahab for a sign. The crimson or scarlet colour of the cord (שׁני = שׁני תּולעת; see at Exo 25:4), as the colour of vigorous life, made this cord an expressive sign of the preservation of Rahab's life and the lives of her relations. The second condition was, that when the town was taken, Rahab should collect together her parents, and her brothers and her sisters, into her own house.
Whoever went outside the door, his blood should be upon his own head; i.e., if he was slain outside by the Israelitish soldiers, he should bear his death as his own fault. But every one who was with her in the house, his blood should fall upon their (the spies') head, if any hand was against them, i.e., touched them or did them harm (vid., Exo 9:3). The formula, "his blood be upon his head," is synonymous with the legal formula, "his blood be upon him" (Lev 20:9). The third condition (Jos 2:20) is simply a repetition of the principal condition laid down at the very outset (Jos 2:14).
When Rahab had accepted all these conditions, she let the men go, and bound the red cord in the window. It is not to be supposed that she did this at once, but merely as soon as it was necessary. It is mentioned here for the purpose of bringing the subject to a close.
The spies remained three days in the mountains, till the officers returned to the town, after searching for them the whole way in vain. The mountains referred to are probably the range on the northern side of Jericho, which afterwards received the name of Quarantana (Arab. Kuruntul), a wall of rock rising almost precipitously from the plain to the height of 1200 or 1500 feet, and full of grottoes and caves on the eastern side. These mountains were well adapted for a place of concealment; moreover, they were the nearest to Jericho, as the western range recedes considerably to the south of Wady Kelt (vid., Rob. ii. p. 289).
After this they returned to the camp across the Jordan, and informed Joshua of all that had befallen them, and all that they had heard. On Jos 2:24, see Jos 2:9.