The Betrayal of Rahab

According to the book of Joshua God made it possible for the Israelites to conquer the city of Jericho by tearing down the city’s high walls:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus they shall do for six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him.”

Joshua 6:2 – 5, Revised Standard Version

As the following passages relate, Joshua did exactly as God directed, and indeed the walls did collapse on the seventh day when the whole army gave a shout.

On the seventh day they rose early at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times: it was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”

Joshua 6:15 – 17 RSV

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword.

Joshua 6:20 – 21, RSV

Notice that the story states that the prostitute Rahab and all of those in her company were to be spared. The reason given is that Rahab hid the “messengers” that Joshua sent to Jericho prior to their attack. But just who were these messengers? The Bible tells us in the following passage:

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”

Joshua 2:1, RSV

So! The “messengers” were spies! They weren’t sent to convey a message from the Israelites to the people of Jericho; they were sent to gather intelligence on the city!

Once the spies arrived at Jericho they quickly found out that the people of Jericho were afraid of the Israelites.

Before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

Joshua 2:8 – 10, RSV

The people of Jericho were terrified of what the God of the Israelites might do to their city. They knew what happened to the Pharaoh’s army, and to the cities of Sihon and Og. So with the entire city of Jericho on the lookout for Israelites, how did the two Israeli spies escape from Jericho without being caught?  The Bible tells us exactly how they managed it in this passage.

Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she dwelt in the wall.

Joshua 2:15, RSV

So!  Rahab’s house was part of the mighty walls of Jericho– and all that was needed to scale those walls was a simple rope thrown from the window of her house!  The book of Joshua makes it very clear that the walls of Jericho were destroyed by the power of God. As appealing as that narrative might be, a much more likely possibility is that Rahab simply threw a rope from the window of her house– and the Israelites climbed up the rope, perhaps the night before the attack, and brought a strike force into Rahab’s house. Then Rahab and the others of her family were let down the rope to safety. And the next day, when the Israelite priests blew their trumpets, the strike force fought its way to the city’s main gate, threw it open, and caught the city by surprise.

That version of the story explains how the Israelites could have brought down the walls of a great city without the use of siege engines. It accounts for the need of the spies. And it fully explains why the Israelites would have been so willing to grant safety to Rahab and the others of her household. Rahab made the conquest of Jericho easy.

Rahab betrayed her entire people– the residents of Jericho.  The two Israeli spies guaranteed her safety (and that of the members of her family) in exchange for their lives.  And all she had to do to obtain a new life as a member of Israelite society was to throw a rope out her window.

Copyright (c) 2020, David S. Moore

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