The Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh not only to rescue His people but so that the Egyptians would know, by God’s mighty acts in the plagues, that Yahweh, the Lord of Israel, is the only true God (Ex. 7:1–5). But others besides the Egyptians learned that Yahweh is the one true God as the result of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. We learn that in today’s passage.
After being commissioned to lead Israel into the promised land, Joshua sent two spies from Israel’s camp in Shittim, east of the Jordan River, to Jericho, a Canaanite city west of the river (Josh. 2:1). Here we see the compatibility of faith and wisdom. Joshua trusted the Lord to give the land to Israel, but he also acted wisely in sending spies to see what they would be up against. Faith in God is not opposed to wise action.
The men came to the house of Rahab the prostitute, who hid them and sent away the authorities who wanted to arrest them, saying that the Israelite men had fled the city (vv. 1–7). Rahab’s house was likely less a private home than a public inn, which is why the king’s men knew the Israelite spies might be there.
Rahab’s lying to protect the spies raises the question whether she sinned in so doing. Those who argue that Rahab sinned point to the Bible’s deep concern with truth telling, saying that while the goal of saving the spies was laudable, the lie as a means to that end was wrong (Prov. 6:16–19). Those who assert that Rahab’s lie was justifiable under the circumstances note that the ninth commandment—“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”—primarily forbids lying in a legal context where testimony could harm the innocent (Ex. 20:16). To reveal the presence of the spies would have led to their harm, so Rahab did not sin in lying to the authorities. Perhaps the best we can say here is that if it is justifiable in some exceptionally rare circumstances not to tell the truth, those circumstances would entail the protection of innocent lives in contexts such as “war, murder, or criminal activities,” as Dr. R.C. Sproul writes regarding Rahab’s actions in his book Now That’s a Good Question!
What Joshua 2 does emphasize is Rahab’s remarkable conversion to faith in the God of Israel. Having heard of God’s great acts to save His people, all of Canaan was in fear of the Israelites. But only Rahab responded rightly to that fear by seeking refuge in the Lord. Leaving the pagan gods of Canaan, she bowed to the God of Israel and would be spared in the upcoming invasion (Josh. 2:8–24).