“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a’tumbling’ down.” This popular children’s Bible song recounts the story of the attack on the city of Jericho and does so in a fun way for kids to remember. Although the narrative of Joshua and his trumpet-blowing army is very popular, the events leading up to the attack may not be so widely known.
Prior to the battle, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to scope out the city before the army made its move. Once inside the city’s walls, the two spies took refuge at a woman named Rahab’s house. This woman, Rahab, and her livelihood were not publicly accepted in Jericho. Joshua 2 mentions that Rahab’s occupation was being a prostitute. Why did these men of God choose to stay in a prostitute’s house? “This is related to a larger problem about how to understand women in the ancient world,” comments Aubrey McClain, Theology professor at Greenville University. In the ancient world, the family structure is built on patriarchy, where the eldest male is the decider and is in charge of the family and many generations underneath him. In this patriarchal society, the role of the woman is either daughter, wife, or mother. If a woman did not have a patriarch, her options were extremely limited. There was no professional world for a woman to get a job in, so prostitution was one of the only options for independent women. Whether the original word used to describe Rahab’s profession meant she was literally a sex-worker or she was just a woman without a patriarch, her role was not understood or accepted in her society.
Once it was brought to the king’s attention that Rahab had taken in these men who were spies, he sent word to Rahab’s house to see if this was true. At this moment, Rahab took an immense step of faith and made a life-changing decision. When asked about the spies, she lied and said they had come by, but she did not know who they were nor did she know where they went. In reality, Rahab had hidden the spies on her roof under piles of flax. Rahab knew that if these men were found on her property, she could potentially be killed for harboring spies. However, she knew that keeping these men safe was more important than her loyalty to the king.
In the next section of the text, called “Rahab’s confession,” the reason for Rahab’s lie is revealed. Rahab confronts the two spies and tells them that her city has heard of their Lord. They had heard of the miraculous works he had done and how she knew the Lord had given the country to them. She then admits that she believes that their God is the one true God “…in Heaven above and in earth beneath,” (Joshua 2:11). This was very unique for Rahab to say because, at that point, monotheism was not really a thing. Rahab then makes a deal with the spies. She makes them vow that since she has shown them kindness, they will also show her kindness and spare her and her family’s lives during the attack on Jericho. Rahab, an independent woman, saw her options and seized that opportunity to protect her family. These men agreed and told her to bring everyone she loved into her house on that day and to hang a scarlet cord out her window. When the army would see this cord, everyone in that house would be spared. Rahab proceeded to help the men climb out her window, over the city wall (Rahab’s house was built directly into/on the wall), and gave them instructions on where to hide until the king’s men ceased searching for them. Rahab and her entire family were saved on the day of the attack, all because of Rahab’s courage.
This amazing account of this strong woman who put her life on the line for her family and for God is such an incredible message of faith. Rahab, an outcast in society, proved that God loves and can use anyone for his purpose, no matter his or her position in life or social standing. When explaining her one takeaway, McClain said, “We don’t hear a lot about female characters in the Bible but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a whole lot of strong women in Israel’s history and if we read more with an eye to see them, they’re there and they are challenging our assumptions and pointing towards a better way forward. Instead of making assumptions that the traditional patriarchal society, where women didn’t have a role, was the ideal that somehow we are to continue to mimic and somehow reproduce, maybe we are supposed to pay attention to these women characters who stood out from the crowd and said maybe there’s another way. Then maybe some other women won’t be trapped.”