Message: Recreation, Human Folly, and Divine Humor| Scripture: Joshua 2:1-7 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
What happens to God’s plans when you don’t do as you’re supposed to do? Absolutely nothing. God still does as God has always intended to do. This is what we learn in the story of Rahab and the spies. We, as humans, will make mistakes, but God has not forsaken us, and we know this because God cannot forsake himself. He is not dependent on us; we are dependent on him, and he is always faithful. What’s more is that he is faithful to us in the most unexpected ways. When we think all hope is lost, and when things look impossible for us to resolve, we are called to remember that we are not supposed to be the solution. No, God has provided the solution. He did it for these spies in Rahab, and he has done it, in an even greater way, for us in Jesus. Place your hope in this Jesus for he has hidden us not under wispy stalks of flax as the enemy approachs but in himself and in his decisive act of dying for the guilt and punishment of our sins upon the cross.
- Pastor Stephen listed three divine actions that begin with the prefix “re,” all of which take place in the first half of verse 1. What are these three divine actions, describe them/their historical contexts, and answer the question, in light of them, why is it that we can say Joshua is not being disobedient to God by sending in spies to scope out the land?
- What does the first half of verse 1 teach us theologically? Why is this theological principle important not only to our salvation but to our entire lives? How has this theological principle changed/affected your life (in more ways than your salvation)?
- What makes verses 1b-4a so hilarious? What is it that the spies do/don’t do that shows that they’re terrible at their assigned task?
- Draw out, a little, the qualities of the spies. What do we know about them? What don’t we know about them? Why are these facts about what we know/don’t know so important for our understanding of the story? Who are these spies to remind us of, and do they actually remind of us these people? Why/why not?
- Who is Rahab? How do we see ourselves in Rahab? How do we not see ourselves in Rahab?
- How do the soldiers view and take advantage of Rahab?
- Now, the question we’re all probably asking, it’s not the main point of the text, but it’s one we should probably talk a little about: was Rahab’s response to the guards honourable or dishonourable? Explain your answer.
- What is the significance of our reception of Rahab’s name in this story?
- What Redemptive Solution/Event in History does Rahab help us look forward to in Scripture? Why/How?
- Has God failed us? Has God’s plan been successful in history? Why/why not; how can we be sure of this?
- What have you learned from this sermon (or from previous sermons) in application to your own life? How has the gospel (in your meditations and devotions) been stirring you to greater affection for God, his loveliness, and holiness in your day-to-day pursuits?
- How can we be praying for you this week in struggles, trials, hopes, desires–areas in which you find difficulty with trusting in God’s plans for you? (Take some time to pray for one another as you end your night).
Have you ever failed really badly at something only to have everything work out even better than you expected? For me, it was a fourth-year undergraduate course on the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and his book, Theodicy. If you asked me, I can’t really tell you exactly what he says in it, but what I do remember is the day when I had to write an exam on its contents. I remember going into that exam having studied a few hours only to finish my studies more confused than when I had started. The exam itself consisted of 20 possible essay questions from which I was to choose seven of them to answer. I remember looking at that list and not knowing how to answer almost all of them. Suffice it to say, I came out of that exam dejected and defeated. I remember going to my university fellowship that night utterly depressed. I remember telling my friends that I was fairly certain that I failed.
A week later, our overly zealous professor came back saying he’d marked all of our exams, and how disappointed he was in our grasp of the material. I was sure he was looking at me while he said those words. And as he proceeded to pass out the exams, I remember thinking, I’m about to lose my scholarship, I’m going to be kicked out of my program, I’m not going to be able to graduate, my family is going to disown me, my friends are going to think I’m stupid—this was the end. Bear with me—I wasn’t only sinfully concerned about my marks; I was also an overly dramatic 21-year-old. I remember my professor handing me my exam, and I refused to look at it out of fear that my classmates would see the utter embarrassment on my face. So, I shoved into my bag immediately, finished out the class, and ran back to my room at home. I remember sitting there thinking, how am I going to recover from this? If I got a 20%, that would mean I’d need at least a certain percentage on the final essay to at least pass the course. What if I failed the course? These unanswerable questions swirled in my mind. Realizing it was too late to do anything about it, I decided to bite the bullet and look at the results. Now, I can tell you with utter certainty, that I had no idea what I was talking about when I wrote my answers, so when I looked at my exam booklet and saw a 97% written at the top of the page, I was so utterly dazed that I thought my professor had written 9.7%. Then, as I flipped through the pages, I realized that nothing had been marked wrong except for one line at the end of one of my paragraphs, and that was it. To this day, I do not know what happened. I know, in my heart, I failed that exam. I know, in my heart, that if you have any questions about the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, you should not come to me seeking their answers. And yet, by the grace of God, even in my failure and without any boast in my own abilities, things turned out far better than I could have expected.
We come now to the second chapter of Joshua, and here, we read of a situation where things turn out far better than anyone in this situation could have ever expected. Things, in this story, go really wrong—hilariously so. The author of Joshua, as he wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, ought to have been beside himself as he put this story onto the page because these events are incredible. And yet, I also believe that this was his intention as he wrote. The unbelievable nature of this story is meant to point us back to an almost unbelievable and deeply faithful God, and we would be wise to pay attention to what he has to tell us in these events. So, let us pay attention to what he says to us now in Joshua 2:1-7. TWoL.
And Joshua the son of Nun xsent1 two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of ya prostitute whose name was zRahab 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 aas far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.
The thing that we come back to over and over again in this book is God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. There’s this constant tension in the text between what God’s people have to do—what their responsibilities are, and what God is doing on behalf of those who belong to him. God’s promise isn’t just fortune-telling or prediction, it’s active participation in bringing about the very thing that he’s said will take place. God’s promises are sure because God himself is the one who assures it by his own power, wisdom, authority, and control. So, what we will see in not only the coming week’s passages, but in nearly all the passages of this book is that Israel’s responsibility to act never trumps God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises. The people are never required to do something to fulfill God’s words that God has not told them to do or empowered them to do in the first place. In fact, it’s not up to the people at all whether God’s promises come to fruition, and we see this in our text today. When God has set his mind to do something, it doesn’t matter how badly we mess up. Our failures do not subvert God’s plan to succeed. In actuality, our failures are often the precise means by which God does two things: 1) they teach us that we must depend upon him, and 2) they show us that he is in control of every circumstance. In both our failing and succeeding, God is working to accomplish his purposes, and there is a deep, unsurpassing hope in this. It’s my desire that we might rediscover this hope together. So, let’s look, now, to see if we can do that in our first point:
1) A Command Conveyed
The first half of verse 1 tells us a lot of information in a very short space. The first thing it tells us is that this is a new section by restating Israel’s leader’s name and lineage: Joshua, son of Nun. This patronym, because it refers to Joshua’s father, begins our narrative section in verse 1, and it shows up again in verse 23 to bring us to a close. I’ve read that this patroynm “is used ten times in the book, usually at key points of transition, and its function here provides an indication that this chapter is to be read in conjunction with chapter 1.” What this means is that both Joshua 1 and Joshua 2 are meant to be read as two sides of the same story. On the one hand, in Joshua 1, we find the broader picture of God’s promise, command, and subsequent sending of Joshua and Israel into the land to possess it. But Joshua 2 offers us a zoomed-in episode of what it looks like for this people to begin preparing to take the land.
Let me draw this out a little more. Remember two weeks ago, I talked about how the plan of God wasn’t only to provide his people with land, it was to bring them into rest as he has always intended to do since creation. Well, when we look at the book of Genesis—our original story of creation. We might say that Genesis 1 provides the broader picture of what God speaks into existence to bring it to rest, and Genesis 2 provides the zoomed-in episode of what man is doing to prepare himself to enter into that rest. But what we find in Genesis 3 is that man acts in such a way so as not only to avoid what God has intended for man, but also to bring humanity into chaos and exile away from the presence of their Creator.
Here’s how the whole mystery of the Bible unlocks. Genesis 1, 2, and 3 are the blueprint for everything that takes place from that point. These three chapters are the big picture events that set the stage for every act that comes after. More specifically, Joshua 1 and 2 mimic with great intensity the events of Genesis 1 and 2. Just as Genesis 1 and 2 are two sides of the same creation story, Joshua 1 and 2 are two sides of the same recreation story. Just as God, in Genesis 1 and 2 meant to lead his people into rest with himself, so too are Joshua 1 and 2 meant to preface Israel’s coming into rest with God and set off a course of events where man has an opportunity to dwell with their Creator until they mess it all up again in the book of Judges—the book that parallels Genesis 3 . So, what we’re seeing here in Joshua 2:1a is that this is a continuing tale of God’s recreation of a new humanity in which he might finally rest and dwell among them for their good and his glory.
The second thing we learn is that Joshua sends in two men as spies secretly to discover the land with a particular focus on Jericho. This, of course, is meant to contrast with the story of Numbers 13-14 where Moses sent twelve spies into the land of Canaan. Here, in Joshua 2, however, Israel’s leader sends in only two spies, perhaps because the last time they did this, only two spies, Joshua and Caleb, returned with favourable reports. Additionally, we learn that Joshua sent them in secretly, that is, without telling the rest of the camp of Israel. Again, this is likely due to the fact that the last time spies were sent into the land, the majority of the spies’ unfavourable report sent Israel into panic, weeping, and grumbling, and, more importantly, Israel’s reaction brought about God’s disfavour and anger. So, we’re told that this is not only a story of recreation, but it is also a story of redemption wherein Joshua and Israel are reliving and reversing the mistakes of their past.
The third and final thing that we learn from verse 1a is that these spies are sent out from Shittim. This may not mean much to us, but for Israel, this was a terrifying thing because the last time they were here in Numbers 25, they were tricked and allured by their lusts to worship the Moabite Baals and sleep with the daughters of this foreign nation. It was due to Israel’s sinfulness and rebellion against God on this very land that resulted in the death of twenty-four thousand Israelites by plague. Thus, not only does verse 1a teach us that recreation and redemption are taking place, we’re also supposed to see that God is reminding Israel that he is not to be trifled with. They are not to repeat their mistakes. They are to obey as he commands them. Disobedience brings destruction, whereas obedience brings life and flourishing. They’re to be reminded that any act of recreation or redemption is an act of God’s mercy and grace in continuing to be his people.
This is what we see in verse 1a. Joshua’s command to these spies to, “go, view the land, especially Jericho” is a command of recreation, redemption, and reminder. Joshua is not being disobedient. He is not doubting that God will do as he’s said regardless of whether or not they scope out the land—no scoping out the land serves a theological purpose of teaching us that God controls the narrative, and that we are fully dependent on his deliverance. On our own, we constantly show that we cannot get it right. On our own, we always choose sin—we are wholly inept to receive grace freely offered. Praise the Lord, then, that recreation, redemption, and reminders are not things that man does. They are things that God does for us again and again and again. Praise the Lord, then, that our failures do not subvert God’s plan to succeed and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
2) A Plot Discovered
Look with me at verses 1b-4a: And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. 2And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3Then 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.” 4But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.
So, as the story goes, the spies make their way from Shittim into Jericho, and the only place that we’re told that they go to—the only part of Jericho that we’re told that these spies see—is the inside of the house of a prostitute named Rahab. I’ll have more to say about Rahab in a bit but notice with me that none of Joshua’s command is fulfilled.
This exact story reminds me of every time that Candace has asked me to clear the table only for me to walk over to the table, get distracted with something near the table, and completely forget, in the process, to do anything that she’s asked me to do. Just as incompetent as I am at clearing the table after dinner, these men are incompetent at being spies.
It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes have gone by, and not only have they failed to scope out any part of the land or of Jericho, but their presence and motives are found out almost immediately. This is what I mean by what I said earlier when the author must have been beside himself as he recorded the story because these men are absolute failures of their craft. Remember, Joshua is no dim-witted leader. He’s a masterful planner. He’s shown his ability and military prowess time and again to Moses. But, for some reason, something goes extremely wrong with these two men he’s chosen. The text doesn’t tell us exactly what goes wrong, or how they’re discovered, but one has to wonder because what the text does say is that only three people know about this plan. Joshua and the two spies—so secretive is this plan that we, the readers, are not even given the names of the spies.
So, for the king of Jericho to have found out that these men were not only spies, but that they were the type of spies who’ve come specifically to search out all the land with the implication to overtake it means one of two things: either Joshua, who is in Shittim, sent another party to thwart his own plans and tell the king of Jericho that he had commissioned spies to come into the land, or one of the spies (perhaps both) made it so obvious that the king was able to discover not only basic information about these men but he was able to ascertain their entire plot with precise accuracy.
To make a bad situation worse, and to highlight the story’s irony, so good were these informants of the king that these spies, once they had reached Rahab’s house, had nowhere to go by the time the king’s men were on their way to capture them. These soldiers were literally on Rahab’s doorstep by the time the spies knew they had been discovered. We know this because verse 4a provides us with a flashback, right before the king’s men reach her house, Rahab decides to help her visitors and hide them on her roof. These spies who are supposed to possess the strategic upper hand and devise a plan to defeat their enemies, they become the ones who are trapped. There is no question that these two representatives of Israel had failed on every level to do what they were supposed to do, and their capture would not only ensure the loss of their own lives, but based on the clear insider knowledge that these men had with Joshua, it could have led to the implosion of Israel’s campaign altogether.
We, as the readers, are meant, in this part of the story, to be left scratching our heads as the story in these seven verses reaches its apex. What will come of these useless spies? Will they be taken into custody, tortured for information, and then slain? Will Israel be found out? Will Rahab, the prostitute, give them up for a bribe? Will she remain loyal to her people? All of these questions, predicated on the failure of these men, lead us into our third point.
3) A Laughable Personality
Verses 4b-6 say this, “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.”
This is where I want to spend some time talking about Rahab, and we’ll get to do this more indepthly in the coming weeks, but there are very necessary things for us to point out here. The first is to recognize that God is not a monster who is uncaring for all his creatures outside of Israel, and we get a picture of his tender care for all of his creatures—Israelite and Gentile—from this particular passage. You see, the fate that is coming for the Canaanites would have been much easier if they all remained faceless. Right? Think of any movie when the side character who’s wearing a mask is killed—when the story makes no particular effort to identify the slain individual—you don’t think twice about that character. You see them as a means to an end for the protagonist. They’re killed, and we move on. But, here, the story slows down to a crawl so that we might get to know the face of our enemy. They are people. Sinful people, yes, but people, nonetheless.
And how striking is it that the person, the Canaanite, whose face we’re called to know is this prostitute woman, Rahab? Notice how it’s not the face of some noble or wise and righteous person. No, the face we’re given is the lowest of the lowly. She’s a gentile. Not only is she a gentile, but she’s a woman—someone not taken seriously in any part of the world at this time. And not only is she a woman, but she’s a whore. She sells her body for sex, and the king’s men who’ve come to her door know it. “Bring out the men who have come to you,” is what they say assuming the men have come to take advantage of her services. And not only is she a whore, but it turns out that she’s a “traitor” to her own nation and ethnic group. It’s utterly astounding that our glimpse into the humanity of these people is this person—Rahab, the pagan, Gentile, lowly, woman, prostitute. On its face, a case can hardly be made that we should have any sympathy for these Canaanites.
And yet, this is the person who God calls us to understand. This is the woman whom God wants to show us as a pause in the story between Joshua 1 and 3. You see, Joshua 2 could be an expendable part of this book. We could go from chapter 1 into chapter 3 without a hitch, but the author of Joshua takes a painstaking detour to give us this story of this harlot woman and these terrible spies. Why? Why is that?
Well, I think I’ve already given part of the answer: the Canaanites are not a faceless people—no, they are a people to be pitied, and the first thing we’re to do when we meet Rahab is to pity her. Just look at how the soldiers of the king treat her. They think nothing of her apart from what they know her for. They assume her practice. They assume that these men have fallen under her allure. They see her solely in sexual terms, and their assumption of her is the basis for which they think they can take advantage and make their demand at the end of verse 3.
In this sense, Rahab is the prostitute who is condemned in her sin, and who needs to be saved. Her sin has trapped her. She cannot escape this life, and the perception that people have of her. She is known as someone wholly to be taken advantage of. She is at the mercy of her lifestyle in order for to make a living. The men do not come offering her a reward. They do not come with the offer to bring her out of this life and into one of respectability. No, they come unapologetically to demand something of her, which likely in their minds is reasonable given what she does.
She is the prostitute who needs to be pitied and saved, and we are meant to feel the desperation of her situation: an outcast of her own society and worthless to them. It is in this vein that we are to understand the depth of mercy and grace found in our God—that he might look upon her, make her known to himself, and have compassion towards her. We are called in this very story to be confronted with our own desperation and humiliation as those who were, or maybe still are, trapped in sin, stuck in what other people think about us, and unable to escape our own vicious cycle of rebellion. And in our consideration of these things, in our pondering of Rahab’s disposition, we’re to be drawn once again to the astounding measure that is the cross of our Saviour who not only comes to offer us a way out of our pitiable state but also comes bearing the seal and inheritance of the King himself.
And this leads us right into the other part of the answer as to why God included Joshua 2 in his Bible, which is to tell us that while, in some ways, we are like Rahab—desperate for a Saviour, in other ways, we are wholly unlike Rahab. See, in verses 4b-5, Rahab who was characterized as a prostitute by the king’s men, does nothing to convince them that she is anything else. She plays into their expectations. She says they came to me, but I didn’t know where they were from. In other words, she implies that she did the prostituting thing. She didn’t ask questions. She’s the dumb, ignorant woman who they think she is. She even goes so far as to say that when they were done with her, they left without any further regard or responsibility to tell her where they were going. So good is she at playing the whore that these king’s men believe her, and when she tells them to pursue the spies outside of the gate, they make haste to do just that.
In some ways, we might be like Rahab prostituting ourselves to the lusts and deceptions of the world, but the way in which Rahab stands apart from us is that, instead of defending her honour and reclaiming part of her virtue, she chooses to disgrace and endanger herself for the sake of saving others. See, so many people make a big deal about the words of Rahab. They call her a liar, and they try to deal with the sticky ethical issues that her speech seems to create, but when we make this an issue for ourselves—an issue that the author doesn’t seem to struggle with at all, we end up missing the point of the story. The point is that Rahab, makes herself out to be someone who these soldiers can laugh at and take advantage of at the very moment that she has every option and reason not to, and she does all of this with the looming threat that it might cost her her own life. She makes herself out intentionally to be that lowly, unimportant person in order to protect the stupid, foolish actions of the spies, and she does it completely at her own expense.
She could have made demands from both the soldiers and spies. She could have bought herself some notoriety and reestablished her image in her community, but she does none of this. No, this Canaanite. This Gentile. This woman. This good-for-nothing sex worker, in God’s book, she is given a name—an honour that no other person in this story is given except for Joshua himself. And she, as we know in the New Testament, is given such prominence within Israel that it is through her direct descendants that our greater Joshua might come. It is in Rahab that we find the archetypal character of him who shall come millennia after and make himself to be someone for us to laugh at. He will lower himself. He will lay aside his opportunity to act in a way that benefits his own safety and security. He will sacrifice his own well-being in order to protect and save those who have done everything to show their hatred for him.
Rahab owes these spies nothing—in fact, knowing what she knows, she has every right to give them up or kill them herself, and yet, by faith, she offers them life at the risk of her own destruction and demise. In the same way, Christ owed us nothing, and yet became nothing by dying upon a cross, bearing the wrath and consequence of our sin, pouring out his blood as an atonement, drawing us near, and hiding us and our foolishness not just under some flax as Rahab did but in himself.
This is how the climax of our story resolves. This is how our protagonists make it out. They have bungled the scene, and by all accounts, they deserve to be handed over, tortured, and killed. But their failure and their foolishness are still not enough to subvert the plans of God because he gives these spies a deliverer in Rahab. It is through her, Israel’s unlikely hero, that God ensures his recreation, redeems them from their folly and sinful history, and reminds them that he alone is worthy of their trust. How much more then, are we to respond in greater trust and obedience now that we have received the superior Rahab and the better Joshua? No matter what your sin is, no matter how terrible your circumstance, God has not failed you. His plan to rescue is secure, and we know this is true, because he’s secured it in the blood of his own Son, and in him, we have every confidence that he has and shall succeed.
4) An Inescapable Situation
See, here, our last verse—verse 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.” This verse is our application because just as the spies are now completely at the mercy of Rahab being locked into the city, so too are we completely at the mercy of our Saviour as sojourners and exiles in this dark world.
It is with these spies whom we can identify with, even more so than Rahab, because we are often foolish, helpless, and defenceless. We are unable to clean up our own messes, and if it were up to us, we’d likely give ourselves into the hands of our enemies without even knowing it. So, as God intends, we are left on that roof, with these spies, wondering what the next moments of our life will be, and in that time, we are to ask ourselves as we look up into the heavens, “where does my help come from?” Do we derive our confidence to escape from our sin, the world, and the devil in our own abilities, or do we say with the psalmist, “My help comes from the Lord.” Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts to him—turn to him, trust his Word, obey his commands, and give him the glory as the God whose plan of salvation for you will undoubtedly succeed.