Joshua 2:1-6. “So the spies went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’ So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab, ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.’ (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.)
Exegesis and Application
This passage has been discussed for the last 500 years by Biblical commentators as to the biblical justification for lying. Rahab told a lie to the Jericho authorities and “righteousness” was credited to her. So this is a lie of necessity or a “dutiful lie” (Calvin), or her actions are praiseworthy but her words are not. Whatever. A bit of tortuous exegesis is needed here. Before I move to something about this report which catches my attention I want to agree with David Clyde Jones that the best explanation for her commendation in Heb. 11:31 and James 2:25 is that Rahab was under no obligation to tell the truth to the Jerichoites since they had no right to the truth. As Jones puts it, “To insist on verbal truthfulness in such circumstances is manifestly against the purposes for which God has given us speech. The radical disruption of human relationships alters the nature of the case. Not even the Lord binds himself to uniform straightforwardness irrespective of circumstances” (cf, 2 Sam. 22:26-27; 1 Thess. 2:11-12). For what it’s worth, Bonheoffer agrees with Jones. There is danger in this dynamic view of truth-telling but Jones has set the line in concrete: radical disruption of human relationships.
The more interesting issue for the Christian journalist raised in this reporting is the different obligations expressed in the two worldviews:
1) We have the Jericho view with treason and lack of national loyalty, on one hand.
2) We have the Israelite view with faith and righteousness, on the other hand.
Rushdoony puts the different worldviews in his customary stark terms: “What Rahab was, by the standard of Jericho, was a treasonous whore. The Bible regards her as an obedient saint.”
To the King of Jericho, his subject Rahab has an obligation as a citizen of Jericho and a subject of his to turn over the spies of an invading army. Jericho has not attacked the Israelites. They have done nothing to start a war. But here the invading army of the Israelites has sent spies to scope out the strength and weaknesses of Jericho in order to conquer them. The Jerichoites were fearful of the Israelites because of her past victories (Sihon and Og) and had no intention of conducting war against them (vss. 10-11, 24; 3:1; 6:1). “Here was Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, who presumably knew her own culture’s religious traditions, affirming that Israel’s God ruled over the very heaven and earth that her own religious traditions asserted belonged to Baal, Asherath, Marduk, Ishtar, etc.” (David Howard)
To Joshua, Rahab the prostitute offered to protect the two Israelite spies as they were to “look over the land” of hostile Canaan. We are not told why the spies chose her place to “enter” but we cannot assume it was for sexual favors. A more likely reason was that Rahab’s house was on the outskirts of town (“part of the city wall”) and readily accessible and anonymous to travelers. We can only imagine the surprise they had when she offered to hide them. The Israelite spies must not have been too clever because the Jerichoites knew they were at Rahab’s house.
The report we have of this incident is written from the Israelite point of view. Rahab is good, even though she is a traitor to her country and her people. Her actions lead to the death of two to three thousand Jericho citizens and the complete destruction of the city. She and her family are saved only because of her treachery. Her act of genocidal treason is commended by the Jews in the Old Testament (“because she hid the men Joshua sent as spies to Jericho,” 6:25) and the writer of Hebrews (“because she welcomed the spies,” 11:31) and James (“when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction,” 2:25) in the New Testament.
The uncomfortable conclusion we are drawn to in this passage is that what is treasonous to one is loyalty to another. There are no universal or neutral definitions of treason or loyalty, apart from the great Lawgiver. For the follower of Yahweh, loyalty is being loyal to His revealed law (Bible) and treason is being disloyal to His revealed law. The apostles Peter and John enunciated this principle before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:19.
Christian journalist, your reporting should always first be pleasing to God and then to the cultural (i.e., publishing) authorities. You may not get your version of the story published, but you should always present the Christian worldview as verifiably and as skillfully as possible. There is no neutrality between Jericho and Joshua in the eyes of either Jericho or Joshua. Clearly this is controversial in today’s social climate as it was in Rahab’s time, and it will get even more controversial in the future. But your obligation as a citizen-journalist of the Kingdom of God (Phil. 3:20) is to, as adroitly as you can, present the mind of God in your reporting. After all, a traitor to the king of Jericho is a faithful follower of the King of kings.