“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled for seven consecutive days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the unbelievers, for she graciously welcomed the Israelite scouts.” (paraphrased)
After the Red Sea passage, the writer recounts no further acts of faith until Jericho is breached. The reason for this is clear: Israel’s forty year pilgrimage was a period marked by unbelief (Heb. 3:19).
The writer mentions the fall of Jericho, but this conquest cannot be segregated from the man who led this effort. Joshua was a warrior. In preparation for their first engagement against an enemy, Moses showed great confidence in Joshua by asking him to select men to defeat the Amalekites (Ex. 17:9-10). When they reached the borders of Canaan, Moses sent a dozen men to spy out the land. When these twelve returned, no one but Joshua and Caleb urged the people to advance (Num. 14:6-10). Of the original generation that escaped Egyptian bondage, only these two men were privileged to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:30).
Joshua faithfully assisted Moses throughout their desert sojourn. His loyalty to Moses was unwavering and free from any trace of rivalry. He was quick to defend Moses’ honor (Num. 11:28). At Mount Sinai he sided with Moses and took no part in the golden calf worship (Ex. 24:9). When the Lord informed Moses of his impending death, he asked Him about his replacement. Jehovah ordained Joshua as their new leader (Num. 27:18-20). God did not tell Joshua all that he would encounter in Canaan, but promised to be with him as He had been with Moses (Josh. 1:5). The Lord used Moses to bring the people to the borders of the Promised Land – but He needed a man like Joshua to conquer it.
Joshua took command when he was about eighty years of age. He was wise, Spirit-filled, worshiped God, and was obedient to His will (Num. 2:12; Deut. 34:9 & Josh. 5:14). His confidence in God was unshakable. He loved and taught God’s Word (Josh. 1:8 & 8:35). A healthy distrust in his own abilities caused him to habitually seek the Lord. His attributes included justice, bravery, consistency, gentleness, patience, submissiveness, and humility. Under his leadership, the people were taught to fear the Lord, serve Him, and forsake idolatry (Josh. 24:14). Joshua’s life is unique because no sin or character flaw is recorded concerning him. It is no wonder he enjoyed a career of almost unbroken success.
Joshua was an enthusiastic military leader who proved himself courageous under fire. He led military campaigns against a number of enemy armies in order to gain possession of the Promised Land. His primary battle tactics included surprise attacks, night marches, and fighting in open fields. When they came to the border of Canaan, Joshua sent two men to spy out the land.
The City of Jericho
The name Jericho means “fragrance.” It is also called “the city of palm trees” (Judges 3:13). Jericho and the surrounding oasis is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited areas in the world. It was situated at the foot of the Judean Mountains, about eight miles northwest of the place where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. After the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River, the Israelites encamped at Gilgal near its banks (Josh. 4:19). This city was of strategic military importance, for it was located at the eastern entrance into Palestine. Its conquest was the key which would unlock the door to the rest of the Jordan Valley. The city’s circumference was estimated at less than half a mile, but its walls were thick and almost impervious to attack (Josh. 6:5). The destruction of this seemingly impregnable fortress was imperative if the Israelites were to progress inland.
The children of Israel were as ill-equipped to engage the Canaanites as they were to fight the Egyptians forty years earlier. They had no siege artillery, battering rams, or heavy weaponry. No attempt was made to dig under the walls or starve the inhabitants into submission. However, the Lord gave Joshua specific instructions for the conquest of Jericho (Josh. 6:2-5). Seven Levitical priests bearing trumpets would march around the city in front of the Ark of the Covenant, followed by the Israeli army. They must do this once each day for six days. But on the seventh day, they were to circle the city seven times. After the final circuit, the priests were to blow their trumpets and the people would shout. Because such battle strategy seemed ludicrous, great faith was necessary in order to follow these tactics. Ever true to His Word, the Lord collapsed the walls and Israel took the city (6:20). Perhaps Paul had Jericho in mind when he reminded the Corinthians that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to pull down strongholds” (II Cor. 10:4).
The destruction of Jericho’s walls is referenced before the writer reminds his readers of Rahab’s faith. This follows the logical chronological order, for she was rewarded after the city was captured (Josh. 6:17).
Her name means “fierceness” or “insolence.” She was adamantly determined to protect the spies, defying even the king of Jericho. Jewish tradition lists her as one of four women of unsurpassed beauty, alongside Esther, Abigail, and Sarah. Rahab was a harlot, not an innkeeper as some have alleged. The Hebrew term for “harlot” (zoonah) in the book of Joshua, as well as the Greek word (porne) makes this conclusive. Porne means “a prostitute; a whore; a woman who practices sexual immorality for payment.” It is from this word the word pornography is derived. Her story proves God does not hold our former lifestyles against us.
Rahab bravely risked her life in order to hide the spies. Although she had concealed them on her rooftop, she told the city officials she did not know their whereabouts. She threw their pursuers off track by sending them in the wrong direction (Josh. 2:4-6). Rahab was aware of recent events such as the Exodus, the Red Sea miracle, and the defeat of the kings Sihon and Og (v. 10). She was convinced it was God’s will for Israel to capture Jericho (v. 9). Knowing her city was doomed, she made an agreement that would guarantee her family’s safety (vv. 12-13).
Ancient fortified cities often had walls wide enough for people to reside there. This was probably the case with Rahab’s home, for there was a window on the outside wall. She was instructed to hang a scarlet rope from her window in order to mark her home as the one to be spared (Josh. 2:18). The red color was not chosen by chance, for the typology of blood as a protection was already well-established in Israel (Ex. 12:13). Rahab let them down from the outside wall by means of the scarlet rope. She then directed the spies westward to safety in the plains of Jordan (Josh. 2:15-16). All her efforts were based on faith.
Unlike Rahab, the people of Jericho refused to believe they must surrender their city. The writer of Hebrews states Rahab perished not with “the unbelievers” (apeithesasin). The word is better translated “the disobedient,” for faithlessness is the source of rebellion. Apeithesasin is used regarding the former generation of Israelites who perished in the wilderness (Heb. 3:18). Peter also employs this term when referring to Noah’s contemporaries who died in the flood (I Pet. 3:20).
The specific reason for Rahab’s salvation is recorded twice for the sake of emphasis. She was spared because she hid the messengers Joshua had sent (Josh. 6:17 & 25). James verified that her actions were evidence of her salvation (Jas. 2:25). Rahab married Salmon, who Jewish tradition maintains was one of the two spies. She became the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth. Their son, Obed was the father of David (Mt. 1:5-6). Although she was the daughter of heathen parents, Christ was born into the world through her descendants.
Rahab and Sarah are the only women mentioned in the Hall of Faith, but they rank alongside Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. Like the woman at the well, God saw Rahab as a soul worth saving (Jn. 4:29). Nothing seemed more unlikely than a Canaanite prostitute could become an honored ancestress of the world’s Messiah. Jesus promised that redeemed prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of Heaven – but not religious hypocrites (Mt. 21:31).
The story of Rahab is a fitting illustration of the grace of God, who protects and delivers His Church from the heathen world. This fearless heroine also proves the Lord grafts people of all backgrounds and ethnicities into His family tree (Rom. 11:17). Women and men of great faith and courage, like Rahab and Joshua, encourage Believers today to press on and appropriate the promises of God.
QUESTIONS: THE FAITH OF JOSHUA AND RAHAB
1. When Joshua and Caleb told the Israelites not to fear the Canaanites, what did the people almost do? (Numbers 14:9-10)
2. What is Joshua called in Exodus 24:13?
3. Who was the first man to meet Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai? (Exodus 32:17)
4. In their attempts to conquer Jericho, the Israelites tried:
B. battering rams
D. tunneling under the walls
E. none of the above
5. Jericho was located near the western entrance to Palestine. True or False?
6. What stopped happening after the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River? (Joshua 5:12)
7. Rahab became the mother of:
8. According to Joshua 6:11, what did the priests take with them as they marched around Jericho?
9. In the closing hours of Joshua’s life, what did the Israelites promise to do? (Joshua 24:24)
10. List the outstanding characteristics of Joshua and Rahab that impress you the most.