Reconnaissance in Jericho
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: God goes ahead to provide for all he purposes us to do.
Goal: Identify ways God has prepared for current ministries, and step into the calling with confidence and obedient trust.
Oswald Chambers once said: “If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.” All noble things are difficult.
My father fought in the Army during World War II, and experienced horrific atrocities in helping to win victory for his country. Our military is currently engaged in a war against terror around the world, protecting our very lives from those who would take them. Freedom is difficult.
Most adults we know completed thirteen years of education; the large majority completed four years of college afterwards; and a sizeable number completed several years of advanced study still later. Educational preparation is difficult.
The 40-hour week is now a thing of the past. Fortune magazine recently reported that 75% of CEOs work 60 hours a week or more. Vocational success is difficult. It is no different in serving the Lord in building his Kingdom. William Barclay was right: we progress in life and faith in proportion to the fare we are prepared to pay.
The book of Joshua is calling you and your class this fall to a higher level of obedience to God’s purpose, to unconditional commitment to his plans for your life and church. Chapter two will encourage us to know that God precedes us—he has already provided for all he purposes us to be and to do. When we see all God has done to prepare us, we can step into our callings with confident obedience.
Take the risk to serve the Lord (v. 1)
The battle for Canaan was about to begin. Where should Joshua commence the attack?
Making a courageous choice
Jericho was a logical first option. Standing just north of the Dead Sea, five miles west of the Jordan River and about 20 miles from what would become Jerusalem, the city stood at the base of roads which climbed beyond into the mountains of Palestine. Its location made it a strategic military base. Once the city was captured and the roads beyond made defensible, it would be an easier matter to claim the mountains and use them for attacks into the valleys beyond.
However, the city was extremely well fortified. Fed by natural springs within the city walls, it was self-sufficient and could withstand years of siege. Its walls were among the tallest and thickest known to the culture of the day. Archaeologists have discovered multiple layers of populations which lived at the site, going back in time as far as 7,000 B.C. and making Jericho the oldest continuously-occupied city on earth.
Victory would encourage the children of Israel and discourage their enemies, something like the air raid on Tokyo which was accomplished early after Pearl Harbor for the same purpose. It would give Joshua’s armies a strategic base for the operations to follow.
But defeat here would be catastrophic. The Jewish army would be forced to withdraw and attempt to enter the land elsewhere. The Canaanites would be strengthened in resolve, and fortified in defense of their land. The Israelites would be discouraged, and might well despair of Joshua’s leadership. Moses had never led them to defeat; Joshua must win his first battle in the Promised Land for the sake of his future as their leader.
So, should they attack Jericho? Or should they go around this fortified city and attack later after their armies are stronger? Jericho lay in the middle of Canaan; there were other ways to enter the land. At question was not whether the Jews would begin their conquest of their Promised Land, but where.
Choosing courageous men
Joshua will prove himself a brilliant military strategist all through this book. He began his career as leader of the nation with this decision: he would send two spies into Jericho and the surrounding area. They would help him decide whether or not the Lord intended this to be the first stage in their battle strategy. He sent the two spies from the plains of “Shittim,” which means “acacia trees” (v. 1a). These trees would mark the location of the great victory to come for all the generations who would follow.
But first the spies must exercise enormous courage. They could expect their enemies to anticipate their arrival, as they did. If the king of Jericho could capture them, he could defeat Joshua’s attack before it began. The military attention of the entire city and area would be focused against them. These soldiers are two of the unnamed heroes of Scripture, models of risk-taking, courageous faith.
They slipped across the Jordan River and into the city, and “entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there” (v. 1b). Few biblical people or stories are more famous than the account which follows. Who was this woman?
Finding a courageous woman
The Hebrew word translated “prostitute” can also be rendered “inn-keeper,” as the NIV textual note shows. Josephus and some other Jewish historians attempted to defend Rahab’s honor, arguing that God would not select a woman of such immoral character for a responsibility and honor so great as this. But the New Testament describes Rahab with words which leave no question as to her occupation. Hebrews 11:31 calls her “the prostitute Rahab”; James 2:25 likewise calls her “Rahab the prostitute.” The Greek word translated “prostitute” can mean only this. She was clearly a woman who sold sexual favors as her livelihood.
Why did the men enter her house first? For several reasons. First, strangers would be less unusual entering a prostitute’s house than other homes or businesses in Jericho, as it was customary for a man to travel away from his own home and city when visiting the house of a harlot.