Israel was about to cross the Jordan; they were only days away from embarking on the conquest of Canaan. Just before the crossing, however, we read that Joshua sent two spies to take a look at Jericho. Jericho sat just west of the Jordan River, a few miles north of the Dead Sea; it was the first city that Israel would be encountering, and would therefore be the first city Israel would have to fight. From a military perspective, it is not wise to leave enemy fortresses in your wake, because you may find yourself surrounded the further you move into enemy territory. Therefore, Jericho would have to go.
The two spies were able to enter the city without any trouble, and they took up residence at the house of Rahab. You know the story; the king of Jericho was told that there were spies from the Israelites in his city, so he sent to Rahab and told her to bring the spies to him. Rahab hid the spies and told the king they had left. The king believed the lie and left in pursuit of the spies while Rahab let them down the wall on a scarlet rope after they promised that her house would be spared when Israel attacked the city provided that she tie the same scarlet rope in her window. The spies went back to Joshua and said “Truly the LORD hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us” (Joshua 2:24).
You recall that this is not the first time that spies went into Canaan. Note the contrast between the ten spies that gave an evil report forty years earlier and these two spies. They have confidence in the power of Jehovah to give them the land. Remember Jericho was no insignificant fortress! It had big stone walls and heavy gates which were manned by Canaanite warriors, but the spies said ‘the LORD has given it to us!’ There has been a change among the Israelites over the last forty years, they have learned to trust God. We need to trust God as well. He fights for us. If God be for us, who can be against us? When you struggle with sin, do not forget that the same God who would eventually knock down the walls of Jericho is your God today.
But what of the lie of Rahab? Does this passage provide biblical support for just lies? It is obvious that Rahab was a child of God. In the very passage we are considering it is evident that she desires to be with the people of Israel and not to be destroyed with her own people. But we also know that Rahab was in the line of Christ (Matthew 1:5 – Rahab was the mother of Boaz who married Ruth!). Furthermore, in Hebrews 11:31 we read “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” Clearly she was loved by God and is our sister in Christ, but does all this mean that it was okay for her to lie? Is it okay for us to lie if circumstances press us? John Calvin is instructive on this issue:
As to the falsehood, we must admit that though it was done for a good purpose, it was not free from fault. For those who hold what is called a dutiful lie to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God. Therefore, although our purpose be to assist our brethren, to consult for their safety and relieve them, it never can be lawful to lie, because that cannot be right which is contrary to the nature of God. And God is truth. And still the act of Rahab is not devoid of the praise of virtue, although it was not spotlessly pure. For it often happens that while the saints study to hold the right path, they deviate into circuitous courses. (From the Commentary on Joshua)
The end does not justify the means, and even our best works are as filthy rags. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that though Rahab was wrong in lying, in his sovereignty God brought about good. So it is with us! Though we want to be completely free from sin so that we can serve God perfectly, before we get discouraged we would do well to remember that even when we sin God brings about good, and so all things are ultimately working toward that great good of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.