Friday, March 6, 2015

Becoming an Israelite Secret Agent

Read: Joshua 2
Background: When the Israelites first prepared to enter the land of Canaan, promised to them by the LORD God, Moses sent 12 spies into the land to map it out, determine the best routes for invasion, and bring back some of the fruit of the land to encourage the people (Num 13).  The men chosen to spy out the land were leaders, men of courage and cunning, some of the best in Israel, including Caleb from Judah and Joshua from Ephraim.  After forty successful days of spying out the land, the expedition of secret agents returned. 

They had gone undetected while in the land.  They had identified key cities.  They had even smuggled back an entire branch of grapes across the border.  These appeared to be good spies.  Yet, their report was grim.  The assessed the enemy stronger than the Israelite army, with many fierce warriors, already proven in battle.  "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are," was the chorus of 10 of the 12 spies (Num 13:31).  Word spread quickly throughout the Israelite camp.  The land God promised is impregnable because it is held by giants; it would devour them.  By the end of the day, the enemies had become so large in Israel's eyes, the saying went "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them," (Num 13:33).  So, the army refused to budge, and the people rebelled against God's command.  Public opinion was heard as a wailing and crying throughout the camp with a similar refrain, "Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?" (Num 14:3).

The army did not invade Canaan that day.  Instead, they rebelled and angered God because of their lack of faith.  Ultimately, by fearing men more than God, they demonstrated they did not believe God strong enough or caring enough to keep His promise.  The LORD in His anger, though He forgave their rebelliousness, promised to punish the generation of the faithless by sending them on a forty-year death march through the desert until all of that generation had died.  Thus, the spies (all but Caleb and Joshua) performed their duties without any apparent flaw, ultimately failed.  Their duties included going into the land, remaining undetected, identifying key cities and routes, assessing the threat, and bringing back some produce.  All of these duties they performed.  Yet, their purpose was to explore the land of Canaan that God was giving Israel (Num 13:2).  Their mission was to return with a report that would encourage the army to march into God's land, or at least not discourage them.  Theirs was to report, not dissuade and spread panic and cowardice and faithlessness.  These leaders led men to their doom because they lacked the faith, the courage, and the strength to trust and follow God.

Passage: Now, in Joshua 2, Moses has died, Joshua, one of the two faithful spies, has risen to take his place of leadership, and the Israelites camped again on the borders of Canaan.  This time, they were on the east side of the Jordan river, ready to invade from the east.  As before with Moses, Joshua sent spies into the land, and this time with a target city to spy out, Jericho.  Perhaps, Joshua only chose two because of the previous twelve, only two were faithful on the first mission of Israelite secret agents.  The spies made it into Jericho and thought to create a cover by going into a prostitute's house.  Yet, as spies, it appears their cover was blown.  Their identities were discovered and word returned to the king.  Moreover, they were unaware that their location and purpose had been revealed. 

While they were getting ready for bed on the roof, the king's guards were downstairs pounding on the door.  Their hearts must have stopped as they waited and listened.  They had said little to anyone, how could the king have found out so quickly?  They listened to Rahab as she opened the door and spoke to the guards.  "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from," she said, misleading the guards.  "At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left.  I don't know which way they went.  Go after them quickly.  You may catch up with them," (Josh 2:4-5).  The king's guard warned her that if she ever saw them again, she had better tell the king quickly.  If she did, she would be rewarded for her loyal service.  If she kept it to herself, no matter what threats the spies threw at her and her family, she would be punished severely.  The guards left. 

Next, they heard the door to the roof open, and steps ascending.  Rahab appeared.  "I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you," (Josh 2:9).  She told them what she had learned.  She knew they had come out of Egypt by crossing on dry ground.  She knew they had defeated Sihon and Og, two Amorite kings east of the Jordan.  She knew that the LORD fought for them and had given them the land.  Apparently, she was a far better spy than they were.  She was cunning, having dismissed the guards without raising suspicion, and her intelligence was impeccable.  They had little reason to keep up the rouse anymore.  She asked that when they returned, and Israel attacked, that she and her family be spared.  She spoke as if she believed the Israelites would indeed invade.  How had she learned all of this?  Could she be trusted?  What options did they have?  She could have handed them over to the guards already. 

"Our lives for your lives!" the men said to her.  If she let them go, and told no one else of their plans (as if all of Jericho didn't already know!), they would see that she and her family was spared during the attack.  She devised a plan to free them from the city, for the guards were looking for them, and the walls had been shut for the night.  "I will let you down the back which abuts the city wall.  The climb will be difficult, but when you are down, you should head straight for the cover of the eastern hills.  Don't go anywhere but into hiding for three days, because the guards will be watching the roads.  After the guards give up their pursuit, it will be safe for you to return to your camp." 

The spies might have felt as if they were learning from a master of cunning and secret intelligence.  Her plan appeared sound.  She had proven faithful and resourceful to this point.  They had not expected any of this from an inhabitant of Jericho, much less a prostitute.  But, how would they remember which was her house when the attack came?  They had not had time to map out the city and to truly learn the layout.  They were being forced to flee before they had successfully completed their duties.  "You will be spared, only if you identify your house with a red rope hanging from the window.  That way, we will know which house is yours.  If you forget, we will not be responsible for your death."  She thought for a brief moment, and then nodded, "Agreed."  She let them out of the window, down the wall, and into the night. 

After three days in hiding, waiting according to Rahab's plan, the men returned to Joshua.  In the Israelite camp, Joshua may have begun to worry about them, or he may have wondered why they were back so soon (the previous mission took forty days!).  Either way, he likely feared that they might return with a negative report.  He heard their misadventures, how their cover was blown, and how they narrowly escaped with the help of Rahab.  Joshua, as a successful spy, may have shook his head at their numerous blunders.  How could these men have been so careless?  Indeed, had Rahab not been there, they surely would have been hung in Jericho and the king's army would be marching toward them. 

Then, the spies smiled and brought Joshua back with words of solid faith, "The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us," (Josh 2:24).  Joshua, encouraged at these words, led Israel to cross the Jordan, God's ark of the covenant in front.  Even though the water was high, they crossed on dry ground, a repeat of crossing the Red Sea.  Soon, they would march on Jericho and fight God's way, without weapons, but in His might, and after circling the city the walls would come crashing down.  The spies would keep their word, find Rahab and her family, and get them out safely.  The spies had failed in their duties, but they succeeded in their mission.  Their report was full of faith, and God had seen to it that they found their way to a master spy who feared the LORD in Rahab's house.  Interestingly, the two young bumbling spies were never mentioned by name, but Rahab's faith and cunning became legendary.  The author of Hebrews held her up as a model for Christians to trust God under difficult circumstances, "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient," (Heb 11:31).  If she is the same as mentioned in Matthew 1, she moreover married an Israelite man named Salmon and they had a son named Boaz who married a young Moabitess named Ruth and had a son named Obed who had a grandson named David.  Jesus was born in David's lineage, which means that Rahab's faith not only became legendary, but resulted in her being part of the human lineage of Jesus Christ, the eternal Savior of the world.

Challenge:  This story challenges me to consider the true mission of an endeavor.  The twelve spies were all leaders who carried out their duties flawlessly, yet they failed in their mission.  The two spies were nobodies who carried out their duties recklessly, yet they succeeded because they believed in God and God led them to a faith-filled woman in Rahab.  Faith matters.  In the economy of the kingdom, it is God's most precious gift to us.  To be graced with faith is to be graced with the most precious righteousness, because not only is faith what pleases God, and through Christ's shed blood makes us right with Him, faith is what changes us.  Sure, the spies failed their duties, but in the end, because of their faith and the faith of Rahab, God carried them to victory.  God does this time and again, using men and women of faith to accomplish the impossible.  Talent and tactics are not useless, but faith matters most.  God, please give me the kind of faith that saves and changes me forever, and matters daily and for eternity.  Give me a new heart to be a successful secret agent for you, carrying your message of salvation to a world full of prisoners in enemy controlled lands.

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