Who Was Going to Be Saved in the Agreement That the Harlot Made with the Spies?
In the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, there is a dramatic story about two Israelite spies who went to Jericho to reconnoiter the city before the conquest of Canaan. They entered the city and stayed at the house of a harlot named Rahab, who sheltered them from the pursuit of the king of Jericho. In exchange for her help, the spies promised to spare her and her family when they attacked the city. But who exactly was included in this promise, and why?
To answer these questions, we need to look at the context of the story and the language used in it. According to Joshua 2:1, the two spies were sent by Joshua from the plains of Moab, where the Israelites were camped, across the Jordan river to Jericho, which was the first major city on their conquest list. They went secretly and hid in Rahab`s house, which was located on the city wall and had a window that faced the wilderness, where the Israelites were waiting.
However, the king of Jericho heard about the presence of the spies and sent messengers to Rahab, demanding that she bring them out. Instead, she lied to the messengers and said that the spies had already left and she didn`t know where they went. Then she went up to the roof, where she had hidden the spies under flax stalks, and told them what had happened. She also revealed that she knew about the Israelites` God, who had defeated the Egyptians and the Amorites, and that she believed that Yahweh was the true God. She asked the spies to swear by Yahweh that they would spare her and her family when they took the city, and that they would give her a sign of their faithfulness by letting her tie a scarlet cord in the window through which they escaped.
The spies agreed to her request and added a condition that she should not betray them to the people of the city, or else they would be released from their oath. Rahab agreed to this condition and lowered the spies from the window with a rope, telling them to go to the mountains for three days until the pursuers returned. Then she tied the scarlet cord in the window and sent them away.
Now, the crucial question is: who exactly was covered by the promise of salvation that the spies made to Rahab? The answer depends on the interpretation of two Hebrew words that occur in the story. The first word is machaneh, which means “camp” or “company” and is used twice in Joshua 2:13 to refer to the Israelite host that would attack the city. The second word is bayit, which means “house” or “home” and is used three times in the story to refer to Rahab`s dwelling.
Some scholars argue that the promise of salvation was limited to Rahab`s household, which consisted of her father, mother, brothers, and sisters, as mentioned in Joshua 2:13. They base this interpretation on the fact that the word bayit is used in the Hebrew Bible to denote a family unit rather than a physical structure. They also note that when the spies returned to Joshua and reported on their mission, they said that “we will be free from this oath which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down; and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father`s household to your own home” (Joshua 2:17-18). This implies that the promise was conditional on the presence and identification of Rahab`s kin.
Other scholars argue that the promise of salvation was more inclusive, covering not only Rahab`s household but also anyone who was in her house at the time of the attack. They base this interpretation on the fact that the word bayit is used in Joshua 2:18 to include “all that are with you in the house,” which could mean servants, guests, or even clients of Rahab`s business. They also note that when the spies gave their final report to Joshua, they said that “the woman whom you gave us is the one who showed us the way into the city, and who then delivered the city into our hands; and we will deal kindly and faithfully with you” (Joshua 2:22). This implies that the promise was based on the trust and loyalty that Rahab had demonstrated to the Israelites, rather than on her family ties alone.
In conclusion, the question of who was going to be saved in the agreement that the harlot made with the spies is not easy to answer with certainty. It depends on the interpretation of two Hebrew words and the context of the story. However, what is clear is that the promise of salvation was made in a difficult and perilous situation, where trust and courage were tested on both sides. It was also fulfilled when the Israelites attacked Jericho and spared Rahab and her family, who became part of the Israelite people and even of the genealogy of Jesus, according to Matthew 1:5. The story of Rahab shows that mercy and justice are not limited by social status, gender, or reputation, but can be extended to anyone who seeks refuge in the name of the Lord.