Truth, Understanding, Insight

Spies, Espionage and Faith

17th July 2005, hej


1) Why spy?

The account of the twelve spies collecting the grapes and the later incident of the two spies and Rahab can be treated as early accounts of Israeli intelligence gathering. However, the two incidents when investigated, are linked in ways that at first seem unimaginable.

The idea for this article came from two questions: If Yahweh knows everything, why did he command Moses to send twelve spies to see the land after coming out of Egypt? If Joshua knew Yahweh knows everything, why did he send in spies to see the land forty years later?

We will examine the second espionage mission first. The account is recorded in Judges chapter two.

2) Consequences Joshua's Two Spies' Actions

Joshua sends two men to view the land, and specifically the city of Jericho. The record does not name these two men. The two men go into Jericho and come to a harlot's house. This harlot happens to be the faithful Rahab. Some remarkable aspects are:

  1. Joshua feels the need to command spies to view Jericho.

  2. The spies decide to actually go into Jericho.

  3. In a whole city the two men just happen to find Rahab.

  4. Rahab happens to go to extraordinary lengths to conceal the men.

  5. She has a simple faith in Israel's God that many an Israelite lacked.

  6. She happens to know and believe that the city will be destroyed.

  7. She asks for salvation not only for herself but “her father's house”.

It could be that only a harlot would offer lodging to foreign visitors. Josephus calls her an innkeeper. The two occupations were not exclusive of course. Rahab could have been the only harlot in the city or she may have operated the only lodging house. This city was only 8.25 acres with about 200 people per acre. This small size explains why the King knew who to ask. However, Rahab happened to believe and to ask for salvation. Let us ask the question. What would have happened if the two men had not come to Rahab's house?

It is recorded in Matthew:

And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king;(Mat 1:5-6 KJV)

Rahab was David's great grandmother. The house of David would not have existed. And from the house of David comes Mary “of the house of David” to whom was said,

Behold, thou shalt ..bring forth a son, and shalt call his name YAHSHUA. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:27-33 KJV)

Both Matthew and Luke emphasise the origins of Yahshua. Matthew says Yahshua is of Rahab, and Luke says he is of David. We are told David is descended from Boaz son of Rahab (Ruth 4:21-22). There is a link of providence spanning generations. One Yahshua (Joshua) sends out spies who save the ancestor of the later Yahshua.

3) Rahab's Faith

It is certainly not beyond possibility that Yahweh guided the spies to find Rahab due to Rahab's faith. In all that city, which Yahweh wished to destroy for its wickedness only Rahab's family was to be saved. But salvation was not about surviving destruction, but rather about taking on the hope of Israel. At the time the spies arrived Rahab's faith was an acknowledgement of the power of Yahweh and that He is the Deity of heaven and earth.

"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 who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Jos 2:9-11 ESV)

The passage above reveals that Rahab knew by name Yahweh, and that He had given Israel the land. She refers to an event that occurred over forty years before as evidence of her faith and backs it up with the more recent defeat of Sihon and Og. From these two events Rahab concludes that Yahweh is to be feared. From the reaction of the King and the locking of the gates, it may be assumed that the fear was felt by all in Jericho, but that it was only Rahab, and those who came into her house, who acknowledged Yahweh's right.

For this acknowledgement Rahab was given the possibility to become associated with Israel. That she takes on the faith of Israel may be surmised if it can be assumed Rahab would have a legacy in the faith of her son Boaz.

4) Rahab's Family and Boaz

Boaz is called a “worthy man” and his first words in the record are ones of acknowledgement of Yahweh: He says in greeting to the reapers in his field

"The LORD be with you!" And they answered, "The LORD bless you." (Ruth 2:4 ESV)

This may have been a standard greeting, however, as we are shown that Boaz used it there is an indication that this greeting was significant in that the workers understood that Boaz was righteous and worthy of blessing. Boaz then says to Ruth:

"All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!" (Ruth 2:11-12 ESV)

Two things that may be noted. Boaz was very sympathetic of Ruth's having left something familiar to come to link her fate with Israel. Knowing that Boaz's mother was originally a foreigner, this sympathy is easily understood. The second point is that Boaz understood that Ruth had made a choice regarding whom she worshipped. That in fact she had given up all to serve the Mighty One of Israel. For Boaz to believe that salvation was only by being of Israel is a strong indication that Rahab had rejected her Canaanite origins and fully identified herself with Israel. The text indicates Boaz was extremely interested in the maiden of whom he had heard had left all in Moab with no prospect of earthly benefit and who had said, "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God”. (Ruth 1:16 ESV). Boaz's interest is shown by how quickly he sought to redeem her and it is in strong contrast to the other more nearly related redeemer. Boaz's interest may be explained if he placed value on her action, due to his understanding of his mother's experience.

Initially Rahab is left 'out of the camp' as unclean, however, by the time the record of Joshua was compiled Rahab was considered to dwell in Israel.

And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab,.. and all that she had;..and left them without the camp of Israel...And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. (Joshua 6:23-25)

It is clear the recorder of events understands that Rahab of her free will saved the two spies, and that her reward was to dwell in Israel as a notable woman of courageous action. She was so well regarded she was taken as a wife by no less than the son of the prince of Judah, Salmon. Salmon was the son of Nashon. Nashon was identified as his tribe's leader in Numbers 1:7 and was the first to make an offering at the dedication of the Tabernacle (Numbers 7:12) and was the leader of the entire nation when they journeyed (Numbers 10:14).

5) Joshua's faith

Think of the layering of events at this point. Yahweh did not command Joshua to send out spies. Yet it seems the spies went beyond their brief and were sent to save Rahab. If the spies were sent to save Rahab, this is only one facet, for Rahab also provides critical help and her statement is relayed to Joshua as evidence of the faithfulness of Yahweh. On the basis of Rahab's statement the spies say to Joshua

"Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us." (Jos 2:24 ESV)

Joshua is not told by the angel of the procedure for conquering Jericho until after crossing Jordan, therefore Joshua prepares for battle in the usual way. He sends spies and prepares a sizeable force of 40,000 who cross the Jordan to go to the plains of Jericho. It records they were dressed and ready for war.

About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. (Joshua 4:13 ESV)

If we think that Joshua was fearless let us rethink this and consider the implications of the fact Yahweh has to say to Joshua three times “be strong and courageous”. And the last time Yahweh says

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (Jos 1:9 ESV)

With only three days to go before the Jordan crossing the elders also say to Joshua, as they prepare for war.

Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous." (Jos 1:18 ESV)

After hearing of the words of Rahab, and of knowing of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, Joshua said to the people.

"Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. (Jos 3:10 ESV).

We must remember at this time Joshua was no longer young, being at least sixty and probably eighty. The text indicates a number of facts that indicate Joshua needed courage, including the specific encouragement by Yahweh, the sending of the spies and the preparation of a very large armed force. To Joshua, who did not yet know of the special nature of the capture of Jericho, Rahab's statement would have been for Joshua confirmation that Yahweh had prepared the minds of those in Jericho.

6) The 12 Spies and Israelite Faith

The report given by the two spies, reflecting Rahab's influence, is in marked contrast to that given by the spies forty years before, and the difference seems another aspect of the intertwined effects of those who act in faith. The ten spies opposed Caleb's statement of faith and caused the people to fear.

And Caleb said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we... The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. (Num 13:30-32 KJV)

The contrast in the assessment could not be greater. The faith of Caleb is in contrast to the lack of faith of the other ten leaders. In the next passage we a see a younger Joshua in action, who seems fearless. The effect is that he is almost stoned.

Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, ..spake saying, The land, an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us;.. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. (Num 14:6-10 KJV)

One noteworthy aspect is that the ten spies focussed on the size of the people they saw, whereas Caleb and Joshua focussed on the fact Yahweh was with Israel, so “their defence was departed.”

7) Faith and Providence

When the two spies quote Rahab's report to Joshua, it repeats the sentiments that Joshua himself had confessed when he was a spy forty years before. This would have been encouraging for Joshua. As the elders were encouraging Joshua, the positive spies' report was providential reinforcement. If Joshua sent the spies because he feared the greatness of his task, it was wonderful that the spies brought back Rahab's faith to Joshua. Joshua was a man of faith in need of encouragement for an enormous task. Yahweh through events provides it while at the same time redeeming Rahab.

This brings us to ask why Moses was instructed to send twelve spies to see the land. This is recorded in Numbers 13 and 14. First it should be remembered that Moses was indeed a meek leader. Many times before this incident his people run amuk. Even his brother and sister try to take over (Numbers 12:1). Joshua seems to send out spies without direction, whereas Moses waited meekly for direction. In this case he was directed to send rulers of the tribes as spies (v13). This is a critical facet in the unfolding events. If rulers are sent then their report will not only carry weight but they will personally have an influence over the nation. Even though the job was large in scope, twelve still seems excessive. That Moses was instructed to send one spy from each tribe, indicates that the report was to be such that it was to influence the whole nation. Yahweh had set up a situation where there was no way Moses could control the outcome. Whatever the report, the nation would follow the spies.

Unlike Joshua, Moses had no need of faith building, he was as close to Yahweh as any man had been. His people, however, Yahweh knew as rebellious, and Moses makes no apology when he says,

You have been rebellious against Yahweh from the day that I knew you. (Deu 9:24 WEB)

If Moses knew the nation was rebellious, Yahweh would have known the likely outcome. The spy mission was to bring a report to test the people. The report was good, however the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, feared the people of the land. Therefore, the people did not believe Yahweh's promise. Though Caleb and Joshua stand up to plead for Yahweh, the people disregard them.

At the time the twelve spies returned there was a lack of belief in the nation that Yahweh would give them the land. The elders first response to the spies report was,

Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. (Num 14:4)

Whereas forty years later, the elders believed Yahweh's promise, yet knew there would be a great effort needed to obtain it, which they would attempt to do even though they knew it would be difficult. In the first spy mission Yahweh commands the sending forth of spies to test the nation's faith and prove it, in the second Joshua sends out spies, and providentially faith is built up.

And if the first spy mission had been successful, Rahab would not have been born, and Israel would not have learnt the discipline of the journey in the wilderness.