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3 Jericho was captured (Joshua 6:12-25) Bible text below Joshua attacked Jericho and the walls came tumbling down, but Rahab and her family were saved.
Rahab has special significance for Christians: she is among the four women listed in Matthew’s gospel as ancestors of Jesus of Nazareth. The others are Ruth, Tamar and Bathsheba.
Rahab hides the spies.
The Hebrew tribes led by Joshua came into Canaanite territory, where they encountered city states who did not welcome the intruders. Why should they welcome them? These shabby tribesmen were clearly looking for somewhere to settle, and the Canaanites were naturally reluctant to surrender.
The path taken by the two spies sent by Joshua from Shittim to Jericho.
Luckily for the Hebrews, the Canaanite city states were at a low ebb. Jericho’s glory days were over: the walls had fallen into disrepair and most of the houses were in need of repair.
The city itself was surrounded by an inner and an outer wall, as most cities were at the time. The outer wall surrounded the whole city; the inner wall enclosed a central administrative compound for palace, temples, and large-scale food storage. Well-do-do people lived in the central compound; poor and disreputable people lived in the outer compound, between the two walls.
Interior of a tavern cut into a rock wall.
Somewhere in this outer compound lived a woman called Rahab, with her extended family. They made their living by running a tavern: down- rather than up-market. It was a rowdy place, frequented by men who were not troubled by scruples. Rahab ‘comforted’ her customers from time to time. In short, she was no better than she should be.
One night two strangers came into her tavern. She was a business-woman who did not ask too many questions – but she noticed that the two men did. Before long she began to suspect they were spies from the Hebrew encampment, gathering information. She knew there were large groups of Hebrew tribesmen nearby, and guessed this was where the two men came from. Rahab was clever. She knew there would probably be an attack on Jericho, and she looked for ways to help her family survive.
Bundles of dried flax.
During the night there was a banging on the door of her inn. When she answered, two soldiers stood there. They were looking for Hebrew ‘spies’. But Rahab had already made her choice, siding with the two strangers. Earlier in the night she had hidden the two men on the flat roof of her house, under large bundles of flax that had been laid out to dry. She hid them well. The soldiers saw the sheaves but did not look under them – it was dark up on the roof.
Rahab urged the soldiers to pursue the two Hebrew men, whom she said had disappeared into the darkness after they left her inn.
Why did she risk her life?
As soon as the soldiers had gone, Rahab went up to the roof area to bargain with the men. She acknowledged that the Hebrews were a real threat to her city, and that Joshua had done an excellent PR job, putting terror into all the local inhabitants by recounting stories about the extraordinary power of his God.
But, she pointed out, she had saved their lives and they owned her a debt for this. Moreover, she had not merely risked her own life, but the lives of her whole family. She extracted a promise from them: when the time came, they and their army would not molest or harm her family in any way. They would give her safe passage, even if they slaughtered everyone else in Jericho.
Meanwhile the two men were still in mortal danger, trapped in a hostile city. The resourceful Rahab took care of that too. Her house had small rooms, enough to house a family, built into the otherwise solid mass of the city wall. One of these rooms had a window large enough for a man to pass through, and she (with presumably some help from her family) let the two men down on a rope through this window to the ground below. She told them to escape into the hills and stay there for three days, by which time the coast would be clear.
Strong red cord/rope.
Before they left, the two men told her to leave a red cord hanging down from the window through which they had escaped. This way, they and all the Hebrew soldiers would know which house/family should be spared the slaughter that the other inhabitants of Jericho would face.
Rahab agreed. She hung the red cord from her window, and the soldiers escaped.
After a few days they returned to Joshua and told him about their narrow escape, and about their agreement with Rahab. Joshua agreed to her terms.
Joshua seems to have been waiting for the spies’ information. He sprang into action, giving the command to attack Jericho.
The story of what happened next is familiar (you can read about it here, or the Bible text is here). After the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, the walls fell down, and the terrible slaughter began. No-one, human or animal, was spared – except Rahab and her family. Joshua had given specific orders regarding her. She and all her family were to be saved: ‘But Rahab the harlot, and her father’s household, and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive; and she dwelt in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.’
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