Joshua and Rahab

IT WAS Joshua, intrepid general and brilliant military strategist, who conquered the land of Canaan and made it reasonably safe for the children of Israel. At the start he had the connivance of a Canaanite harlot whom he never beheld, and before his victory was complete, by divine power, the earth itself had to be halted in its turning, and the sun and the moon to stand still for him, until his most desperate battle was won.

Joshua had to wage war against fierce barbaric little kings with stubborn armies, and the strife lasted many a year. Nor could victory ever have been accomplished without the steady counsel of the Voice which, of all the secrets of life, is the most important and the most often ignored or forgotten. That forgetfulness was one of the reasons, if not the principal cause, for the long-drawn-out campaigns; whenever the Israelites listened to their God, the one and the true, all went well; when they turned away, there was disaster.

No sooner was Moses dead and his body mysteriously buried than the same supernal, faithful Voice spoke to Joshua:

"Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, unto the land which I do give them. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be you dismayed: for the Lord your God is with you, whithersoever you go."

Those words, spoken to Joshua, have outlasted him by thousands of years: God’s encouragement, not only to the old general in a strange land, knowing that the green grasses of the fair fields below and beyond them must soon be turned to scarlet with the blood of his own followers, but to every man and woman who must face an unknown and dangerous future.

"Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be you dismayed..."

They are like the sound of a father’s voice leading a son in the dark.

It was a great moment to the grieving host when they were reassured; they would not be forsaken—their one true Lord God, unfailing source of help, would speak—and had already spoken to Joshua.

Here was a new leader to be trusted, and every tongue respected his name with satisfaction, a name of many fashions and distortions; some called him Hoshea, others Oshea, or Jehoshua, Hehoshuah, and Jeshua—all variants of the name which, in Greek form centuries later, was to form the name of Jesus.

Under Joshua’s command the first move was to march from Moab, where Moses had died, down to Sittim, the valley of Acacias, soft blooming little greens that grow beside the tumbling Jordan. Now they were not far from the vanished foundations of ruined and wicked old cities, of all that was left of Sodom and Gomorrah, while around them lay volcanic dust and desolation and deposits, pillars of salt, and the savage depth and spread of the lowlands, far under sea level; this haunted region of furnace heat and barren land, piled over with red rocks and blue boulders and yellow clay, poisonous in the nostrils –the long, blistered shore of the Dead Sea.

Yonder they must go now, to the point, seven miles off, more or less, where the rushing river entered the bitter lake, after its long descent from the Lake of Galilee, or Kinneret, as men called it then, as they say Genessereth even to this day. At this juncture of dead and living waters, drink of death and of life, they were to cross into the Promised Land.

The people were happy, now they were on the march again, for to their simple minds it already seemed as if their hardships and trouble were behind them, and forever. Some members of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the full number of Manasseh were left be-hind, for they had been given the fertile lands on the eastern side of the river. For the others there stretched away on the other side the riches of the Promised Land; all that seemed left for them to do was to cross the Jordan and claim every square mile for their new home.

But that consummation was not to be peaceably accomplished.

The land was already well populated; its cities were crowded with Canaanites, fed by their farmers tilling amiable and ever prodigal fields and meadows. The farmers were a sturdy and resolute lot, always ready, so reports ran, to march to war whenever brawn and ferocity were needed. Moreover, the city-states were walled and fortified, and governed by clever kings, warriors all, and when their defenders sallied out to battle, they rode in iron chariots, the latest and most improved weapons in their hands.

How strong were they in numbers? How ready their will to fight? Before he could plan a campaign Joshua had to know such facts as these, to match the estimates against the potentials of the children of Israel.

They were a poor, struggling people, still in the psychic throes of achieving nationhood and in vital need of all the food and manufactures to be had in the land of milk and honey. Canaan was not a large country, roughly 6,000 square miles, which is a third less than the size of the American State of Vermont. But Canaan had mountains of grandeur, gentle hills and smiling valleys, wide plains, abundant springs, and a seacoast. Furthermore, it was an enviable caravan link between the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, in whose trade there was a great profit.

Joshua had to know the facts. That necessity was why he sent out two of his most trusted men, to swim spring freshets of the foaming green of the Jordan, and to penetrate into the nearby city of Jericho. The two spies were to find out what they could, and pray to God to help them get safely back to Joshua with their report.

In those days there lived in a house on the wall around Jericho a woman of ill repute. Her name was Rahab, and her disreputable establishment was a one-room affair over an abutment, a kind of buttress at the end of the inner wall, looking on the bridge that ran down from the city gates.

It was to Rahab’s door—directed there by a leering peddler of fruit juices in a goatskin bag—that the two spies of Joshua came and asked for lodging. Lifting the spangled curtain at her window, Rahab pushed back the hinged window sash and looked the strangers down and over. Then, swaying her voluptuous body until all her bangles jingled, she opened the door and stood there, smiling, hands on hips.

Never had these innocent spies, born amid desert wandering, unacquainted with city ways, seen such a woman before. Her face was painted, her lips, and even the lobes of her ears. The hard eyes, greenish like jade, were surrounded by dark circles crayoned with intense black paste. The stuff of her flowing robes was of a silken texture unknown to her callers, and dyed in stripes of red and green and yellow; jewels were in her ears and golden bracelets and silver bands on arms and wrists; so on her ankles, the ornaments making a cling-clong sound as she walked. And by the way she smiled at them, the young spies understood the unfamiliar fact that Rahab was one who would have carnal traffic with any and all who came to her with cash in hand.

The spies had been provided with cash and with gold, but they wanted only a lodging for the night.

Rahab smiled, as one who saw more than she would tell. Enter, strangers. Here is bread and milk and honey—Israel’s first taste of that food of the new land, promised so long, long before. Rahab treated her guests as if she knew the two young men were not ordinary strangers. She guessed what they were precisely: agents of a mysterious and distrusted horde of strangers from no one seemed to know where, encamped over beyond the Jordan. Everybody in Jericho had been talking about them for days, ever since they were first discerned coming on from the direction of Moab. Out of the desert, rumors and wild yarns had come before them, tales of how the God of these wanderers performed miracles for them whenever necessary. Was this true?

Rahab’s eyes were bright with curiosity and fear. The two spies knew now that all Jericho was living in terror of coming invasion. This would be great news for Joshua.

Then suddenly there came a fierce knocking at Rahab’s front door: soldiers of the king striking the panels with their spears. Discovery! The two spies, as one, lowered their trembling voices and whispered:

"Help us quickly! Where can we hide?"

Amid the thudding blows on the door, Rahab, the first woman under-cover agent, proposed her historic bargain. Well she knew that her house was watched by the secret police of the king, full of suspicion of all outlanders. Always she had herself been loyal to the throne of Jericho, but now everything was different. There was an army on the other side of the river, ready for an attack. The God of that army was all-powerful and always to be counted on; so the spies had just told her.

"Promise me that when your soldiers come," whispered Rahab huskily, "they will spare me and my family—and I will hide you."

Under a mass of dried flax stalks piled on the roof, Rahab hid the two Israelites, while she lied to the blaspheming soldiers at the door. Yes, she admitted, two men answering the descriptions had been in her house. But now they were gone. Better hurry on into the city and find them. And she chuckled when they believed her and darted off into the narrow and coiling streets.

As soon as it was safe the young spies came down from the roof to thank her, but Rahab was still intent upon her bargain.

"Give me a token that we shall be unharmed," she urged, "since I have shown you kindness."

What token? One spy lifted from the sleeve of her dress a scarlet cord.

"Place this around your window," he told her. "Our soldiers will know to look for it. And you will be protected."

Then, and not before, between the dark and the daylight, Rahab let the men down from the wall by a rope. Their bargain was faithfully kept by the troops of Joshua. When the city of Jericho was reduced to cinders and hot ashes, only Rahab the harlot and her kinsfolk were spared.

But that rescue was to be possible only after an extraordinary act of faith by the Israelites, and the fulfillment of one of God’s most remarkable promises.

The plans for invasion were started as soon as the two elated spies returned from the house of the harlot and made their report.

"Certainly, the country is ours for the taking," they said. "We know that the people faint because of us!"

Joshua, too, felt the thrill of conviction. He gave orders for an early march in the morning. Moreover, the Voice had already given him mysterious instructions—the strangest orders ever received by a besieging commander, before or since. Only a man who placed complete trust in God could have accepted such advice. But Joshua, stout-hearted in his faith, took the Voice seriously, literally, and proceeded to carry out the orders.

The people followed him, heading westward for the riverbank. The Ark of the Covenant was borne by the Levites in advance of all the others by many rods, a fixed distance of holiness. Ahead of the men of war, went the women and the elders, and the wide-spreading flocks and herds. The impressive procession reached the brink of the flooded Jordan at nightfall.

But there the swift turbulent water, spilling over the banks, gave them pause.

"How shall we cross? Where is the ford?"

"Tomorrow the Lord will do wonders," Joshua promised. "The living God is among you, and without fail He will drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites."

At sunrise priests bearing the Ark set their feet in the Jordan. And suddenly its rushing waters seemed to cease, to flow no more, backing up its arrested mass to the north and remaining solid and unmoving, while dry land appeared for the children of Israel to cross over in safety. To commemorate this act of God, so like that of the Red Sea passage 40 years before, twice twelve stones were selected by representative men of the tribes. The dozens of holy rocks were heaped up, one pile in the river at the feet of the priests, and the other twelve set up in Gilgal, where they encamped on the other side, memorials to God’s power.

This was a strange and brooding time in the career of Joshua and all the Israelites, a time of wonder and an imminent impression of greater wonders to come. How was it that there fell from the sky no more of the manna on which they had come to depend? No more manna could mean only that they would need it no more; they were at the threshold of a land overflowing with bounty. It must be so! And who was the stranger with drawn sword?

Joshua had never heard or seen such a creature before. Yet one night, all of a sudden, there he was, undeniably, blade uplifted and glittering in the moonlight, on Joshua’s lonely stroll.

"Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" challenged Joshua.

"As captain of the host of the Lord am I now come," said the stranger, and Joshua knew by the very accent of the voice that this was a supernatural visitor whose tones were like echoes of the Voice of God. At once Joshua prostrated himself.

"What does my lord say to his servant?"

"Loose your shoe from off your foot; for the place whereon you stand is holy."

It was from this celestial apparition that Joshua received the precise instructions by which the fortified, seemingly impregnable city of Jericho was to be overthrown:

"You shall compass the city, all you men of war, and go around about the city once. Thus shall you do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the Ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day you shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up, every man straight before him."

Curious and yet redoubled assurance this was, that God was with Joshua as He had been with Moses. When Joshua promised to obey, and looked up again, the mysterious stranger was gone.

Jericho was well prepared for a siege. Powerful though its forti-fications were, the area of the city covered only about six acres, and its population little more than 1500. But it was surrounded by two high walls, the outer one six feet wide, the inner wall double that width. It had only one gate, the one near Rahab’s house, looking east.

Joshua ordered that the ark of the covenant be paraded behind seven priests with rams’ horns, all in accordance with his mysterious instructions. They persevered for an entire week in what seemed to them an inexplicable charade. Day after day a long procession marched around the walls of the beleaguered city, the Ark held high in the general silence; once around, on six days, but on the seventh day a change, exactly as specified. It must be seven times around on the seventh day, while the warriors marched to the fore and the silence ended.

First quiet, broken only by the muffled tread of priests and warriors, carrying the Ark around the city. Then suddenly the tart sound of a tantara, a quick succession of notes blown on trumpets made from the horns of beasts, and Joshua’s powerful bellow for all to hear, within the city as well as out:

"Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. And it shall be accursed. Only Rahab the harlot and all that are with her in her house shall live."

Loud blew the trumpets. The war cry of the Israelite people resounded to the skies. And then the never-to-be-forgotten miracle, as the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

They fell flat to the earth, those mighty walls of such great thickness, as if smitten by an atomic blast. Under the fronds of palm trees the Israelites marched over the ruined walls and took possession of the city, in which only one exempted woman and her disreputable household were spared.

In our day the ruins of the broken walls have been unearthed; the catastrophe proved, even to skeptics, to have been an established fact. Materialists who find no proof that God personally instructed Joshua, and who can see no sensible reason to believe that prayers and processions, blowing of rams’ horns and shouts to the sky could ever produce the destruction of a city, now examine the fragments of the tragedy and conclude that, naturally or miraculously, but certainly mysteriously, the defenders of Jericho were indeed wiped out, all of a sudden.

The enemy and his animals were destroyed; only his silver and gold and vessels of brass and iron were preserved and consecrated to the Lord. The soldiers’ loot and booty were forgone, as a thank offering.

So Jericho was no more, and the wanderers were in the Promised Land, and very set up with themselves for having won such a tremendous victory, forgetting the Promiser. They felt well able to go on, without supernatural assistance, to the full conquest of Canaan; they considered themselves powerful warriors indeed.

It was not strange, then, that suddenly they were stopped short.