Spies in a house of prostitution
Israel’s spies discovered1Israelites were camping at Acacia Grove when Joshua, Nun’s son, sent spies on a secret mission. He told them, “Go find out what we’ll face in the land ahead and especially in Jericho.” So, they went to Jericho and stayed in the house of a prostitute named Rahab. 2Word got back to Jericho’s king. Someone told him, “Listen, Israelite men came here tonight to spy on us.”
3The king sent a message to Rahab: “Turn over the men who came to your house. They’ve come to spy on us and the land.” 4Instead, she hid the men. Then she sent word back to the king: “You’re right. Some men did come here tonight, but I didn’t know where they came from. 5They left just before it was time to close the city gate tonight. I don’t know where they went. But they haven’t been gone long. If you leave now, you might catch up with them.” 6She hid the men under stalks of flax drying on her roof. 7The king’s men left on a wild goose chase. They tried to catch up with the spies they thought were headed to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. After the king’s men left, the city gates were again closed.
Prostitute makes a deal with spies8Israel’s spies were still awake when she went up to them. 9She said, “I know the LORD has already given you this land. People here are terrified of you. They feel helpless. 10We’ve heard the stories of what the LORD has done for you. He parted the water of the Reed Sea when you fled Egypt. We also heard you annihilated the Amorite people in the kingdoms of Sihon and Og. 11When we heard these stories, our courage died. We know it’s hopeless. And it’s because of you. And it’s because your god is the LORD. He’s the God of everything from here to heaven. 12I’ve shown you compassion. Promise me that you’ll do the same for me and my family. Give me something. 13Convince me you’ll save my family—my dad and mom and my brothers and sisters.” 14The men said, “You saved us. We’ll save you. If you don’t tell anyone what we’re going to do, we’ll return your kindness when the LORD gives us this land.”
Spies head for the hills15Rahab’s house was built into the city wall. She let the men escape down a cord hanging from her window. 16She told the men, “Head for the hills, so the men hunting you at the river won’t find you there. Hide for three days. By then, the king’s men will be back. Then you can return to your camp.”
17The spies said, “There’s one thing, though. You can’t hold us to this promise 18unless you hang this crimson cord from this window when we get here. You and your family have to be here in this house—your father and mother and brothers and all your family. 19If any of them leave your house, they’ll be killed. They’ll have no one to blame but themselves. But if anyone gets killed inside your house, the responsibility and the failure will be ours. 20However, if you tell anyone what we’re going to do, the deal is off.”
21“It’s a deal,” she said. “I’ll do everything you said.” She sent them off and she kept the crimson cord tied to her window. 22The spies slipped into the hill country and hid there for three days. By then, the king’s men had searched the Jericho road all the way to the river. And they had come back without finding anything. 23The spies headed back to their camp. They went down the hills and across the river. They reported back to Joshua, Nun’s son. They told him everything that happened. 24They told Joshua, “This land is ours for the taking because of the LORD. The people are terrified of us.”
The name in Hebrew is Shittim, which church folks wouldn’t want to read out loud in a worship service. It literally means “acacia trees,” or an acacia grove. Hence, “Acacia Grove.” You’re welcome.
Why would men supposedly devoted to God decide to stay at the house of a prostitute? We can only guess. Was it because they were red-blooded men out on their own for the first time in 40 years? That’s not the first guess to speak of, though it might be the first that comes to mind. Perhaps a favorite guess among people of faith is that God led them there. Or maybe it was because Rahab ran an inn at this border town, an oasis region where travelers stopped to enjoy the springs of water and fresh food. Even in Roman times, inns were sometimes described as more than just a place to get some food and a good night’s rest. For a little extra money, travelers could get the ancient version of X-rated TV, which in Bible times was much more interactive. One other theory: perhaps they thought they could blend in better in a house that was probably visited frequently by strangers coming and going. If so, they got that wrong.
Many Jewish and Christian scholars have said Rahab turned her life around. Christian tradition says she’s the “Rahab” included in the family tree of Jesus, as the woman who gave birth to King David’s grandfather, Boaz (Matthew 1:5). Writers of Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 praised her for sheltering the spies and said she was a good example of faith. Jewish tradition says she married Joshua and that her descendants included nine prophets.
Flax grows like wheat, but it’s harvested in early spring in the region of Jericho—about the time of Passover, or Easter, in March or early April. Linseed oil comes from flax, but in Bible times people used the thin fibers in the stalks to produce linen clothing and fabric. People often lived in buildings with flat roofs. It was a good place for city folks to dry their plants or their wet clothing. They used the roof like people today use a porch, deck, or balcony. It was a place to relax or to do chores or to get away from the kids for seven perfect moments of peace.
Bridges weren’t common in this area 3,000 years ago. When people wanted to cross a river, they looked for a shallow area called a ford. The Jordan River was likely wider, deeper, and swifter than today’s river, which has been diminished by people and government agencies sapping the flow to irrigate farmland and provide water for people and animals. Also, it was springtime, and the river had flooded over the banks (Joshua 3:15).
“LORD,” usually printed in all capital letters, is a name of God that appears around 7,000 times in the Christian Bible, which makes it the most common way of referring to God. The lower-case “Lord” is a translation of the Hebrew word Adonai. It refers to God as our master, our life coach, or the boss. He’s in charge of us, and we try to obey him. “LORD” is the spelling most Bibles use when the writer refers to the name of God. Moses asked God what his name was, and God said Moses should tell the Israelite ancestors of the Jews that his name is “I AM” (3:14). In the original Hebrew language, the name is spelled with only consonants—no vowels. It’s an ancient shorthand, to save hides used to make scrolls. The name is YHWH. Without knowing which vowels, most scholars have settled on YAHWEH, pronounced YAH-way. For those freaky enough to wonder if it’s possible that God might have the name of YAHWHO, no. Hebrew linguist Dr. Joseph Coleson, Old Testament professor emeritus at Nazarene Theological Seminary, said, “No Semitic language ever would allow all three root letters [HWH] to occur in succession together, in any form of any root, without vowels to break them up.” God’s name is so sacred to many Jews that they refuse to speak it. Instead, they’ll use names that describe the character of God, such as Adonai, which means “my Lord.” They won’t even write the name. In English, they’ll spell the name G-d.
Many Bibles say “Red Sea.” But the Hebrew words are yam suph, “sea reeds.” Moses and the Hebrew refugees escaped through a path God made in this body of water. Scholars usually track Moses and the Hebrews escaping Egypt by walking southeast, out of the Nile Delta fields and toward the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. They would have passed through lake regions along what is now the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. These lakes and ponds reportedly had reeds growing along the banks, like the ones the Bible says grew along the Nile River and helped anchor Baby Moses in a basket (Exodus 2:3).
Numbers 32 reports their story.
The irony is that the spies are demanding that Rahab do what they couldn’t: keep a secret. Rookie spies, some might say
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