Israelite Sacred/Secret Service (2)
(Joshua 2)

 In my last article, we looked at the first recorded Israelite spying mission, sent out by Moses. Although the field operation, as spy stories say, went well, it ended in a failure to objectively analyse the raw information. The enemiesí strength was overestimated, while Godís promise that He would give victory to the Israelites was forgotten, so the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land.

Forty years later, Joshua took over from Moses the leadership of the Israelites just before the crossing of the Jordan River into the land promised by God. Joshua had been in the spy mission sent out by Moses. So, unlike Moses who was a novice in the spy business, Joshua had some spying experience under his belt. And it shows in the way he sent out a spy team.

Moses sent out 12 spies, and do you remember what happened? Yes, the spies could not agree on the significance of what they saw. Ten advised against entering the Promised Land, predicting defeat in battle. Caleb and Joshua held the minority view that the Israelites "should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it" (Numbers 13:30).

Joshua learnt from that experience, so he did not send out 12 spies. Instead he very sensibly sent out a recce team of two men only. Now Moses had named all 12 of the spies he sent out, so much for starting a secret service. It was a not-so-secret service. The real secret service was started by Joshua. Until today we do not know the identities of the two spies he sent out. Now thatís secrecy! Today, jokesters would say that the mission was so secret, even the two spies did not know their own identity.

We are only told that, "Joshua secretly sent two spies" (Joshua 2:1). He did not give them a long briefing on what to look out for, which was what Moses did. Instead, his briefing was short and sweet: "Go, look over the land, especially Jericho" (Josh 2:1). How much shorter and sweeter can it get than that?

Joshua did everything right. Well, almost everything. He left out one vital step: he did not start by praying to God for guidance, for protection of the spies, and for success of their mission. As a result the mission was "blown" almost immediately. For the king of Jericho was told, "Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the whole land!" (Josh 2:2). And the king was told exactly which house they were in. Thus, within a few hours of the spies entering Jericho, their mission was already known to the enemy. The internal security apparatus of Jericho was first class.

Mosesí spying mission met with a failure of analysis. Joshuaís spy team suffered operational failure in the field.

Did you notice that the internal security personnel did not say that the spies were spying on Jericho, but that they were sent to spy out the "whole land". How did they know this? Can you think of any way they could have known this except through an informer in the Israelite camp, or through a spy from Jericho who had penetrated the Israelite camp? Isnít all this exciting?

The two spies were in the house of Rahab, who was either a prostitute or an innkeeper, or both. Rahab "had taken the two men and hidden them" (Josh 2:4) under a great heap of flax stalks she had laid out on her roof, presumably to dry. How mysterious. What was a large amount of flax, used for making good quality cloth, doing on Rahabís roof?

When the kingís men told her, "bring out the men who came to you and entered your house", Rahab had a ready answer for them. She admitted that they had indeed come to her, but at dusk, just before the city gates were closed for the night, they had gone out. "Go after them quickly!" she urged. "You may catch up with them!" Wasnít Rahab a remarkable woman? She was a step or two ahead of the internal security personnel all the way, and she lied so convincingly that they were fooled by her. What a woman she was.

While the kingís men rushed out of the city on a wild goose chase, Rahab went to the two spies on the roof. She said, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed" (Josh 2:9, 10). What does all this tell us about Rahab? That she had an interest in current affairs, and that her knowledge of current affairs in the region was very good?

We all know that Rahab struck a bargain with the two spies: that in return for her kindness they should spare the lives of her father, mother, brothers, sisters and herself, and all who belonged to them. In return for the lives of two spies, Rahab saved the lives of many of her relatives and their children, slaves or servants. Can we say that Rahab was an excellent bargainer?

She was so persuasive that the spies readily agreed. "Our lives for your lives!" the men assured her (Josh 2:14). So Rahab did two things:

1. She told the two spies, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there for three days until they return, and then go on your way." In sending them to the hills, which were west of Jericho, was Rahab not sending them in the opposite direction to what the security personnel expected? They expected the spies to flee across the Jordan River in the east, where the Israelites were encamped. What a clever woman Rahab was! Also, her intimate knowledge of how long the kingís men would search for the spies (namely their modus operandi) must have come from personal observation, or from knowledge from what is called "reliable sources" in spy stories and in intelligence circles.
2. Rahab, under the cover of darkness, then let down the spies down from the window of her house built into the city wall, so that they were outside the city. She had the rope, the manpower and the know-how to carry out this delicate operation. Amazing, isnít it?

But did you notice one more interesting thing? The operational control of the mission at that point had passed into the hands of a woman! That is surely history-making in the annals of intelligence operations!

Rahabís knowledge of current affairs was good. But did you notice how good her knowledge was of God and what He was doing? She knew the name of the God of the Israelites, namely Yahweh, which is usually rendered as "the LORD". How frequently we hear His name on her lips:
"I know that Yahweh has given this land to you" (Josh 2:9);
"We have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea" (2:10); and most amazingly,
"For Yahweh your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below" (2:11).
It is as if Rahab had been keeping close tabs on what Yahweh was doing, and her statement in 2:11 is a declaration of belief in this great God.

On the surface of things, it would appear that it was the brilliance of Rahab that rescued the spying mission from operational failure and turned it into a success. The spies returned safely, bearing valuable intelligence. But I wonder: Did the almighty Yahweh not use Rahab, who believed in Him, to save the two spies from capture and execution, and to save the failed spy mission and turn it into a success?

Chapel Notes

Last week's (March 7) chapel speaker was Dr Augustine Pagolu. Reminding us that we are in the Lent season, Dr Pagolu focused his message on John 2: 13-25 with the theme 'Create in Me a Clean Heart'. The highlight was that Jesus was not simply against the extortionist practices in the Temple but he was questioning the very authority of the Temple system. The point is whether the structures and systems of our worship are serving their intended purpose or simply perpetuating a form of religion.

Chapel speaker on March 21 will be Dr Wong Lea Choung.


This is a new feature in BTW. We would like to draw your attention to our current journals located at the 4th floor Attic at Tanjong Pagar. BTW will highlight weekly one journal so that those interested can read the latest research or developments. The particular issue of journal reviewed by our faculty members will be found at the Library counter for one week only for ease of access, after which it will be returned to the Journals at the Attic. This week we introduce ...


This weekly paper is a mine of information enabling readers to keep tab on what is happening in Israel. Our holdings of the JP go back many years. JP contains helpful articles for those interested in Judaism from a political, economic, and religious standpoint. I am often intrigued by the weekly shabbat sermon by a rabbi who enables us to understand the sometimes esoteric manner in which Rabbinic Judaism interprets the OT. In the Jerusalem Post, No.2419, Mar 9-15. pp.16-20, there is a feature article entitled "Raiders of the Lost Tomb" which dismisses the extravagant claims by filmakers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici that they have found the ossuaries of Jesus and Mary Magdalene at Talpiot. Those who have travelled with me to Israel will remember that we often commence our visit of Jerusalem with a "Melchizedek Welcome" at the Shereover Promenade (also called Talpiot).

News Bits 

Courses commencing after this week.

  • Contextual Hermeneutics: Reading the Bible in the Asian Context (HE210, 1.5 credits), starting Fri, Mar 30 (new date), 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu.
  • The Psalms through the History of the Church (OT214/CH370, 3 credits), Guest Lecturer: Prof James Houston. This intensive course covers 8 double-lecture sessions on Apr 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16; time: 7.15-10.15pm.
  • Romans: The Gospel According to Paul (NT311, 1.5 credits, video), starting Sat, Apr 7, 4.00-5.30pm at Bishan campus. Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.
  • *Greek Homiletics (BG252, 1.5 credits), starting Sat, Apr 7, 2.00-3.30pm, at Bishan campus. Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.
  • Hosea & Amos (1.5 credits), starting Tue, Apr 17, 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.
  • Culture Research (ME257, 3 credits, video), starting Tue, Apr 17, 7.15-10.15pm. Lecturer: Dr Miriam Adeney/Dr Ng Peh Cheng.
  • *Better Speech for Leadership & Ministry (AT231, 1.5 credits), starting Wed, Apr 18 (new date), 7.30-10.00pm. Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan.
  • *Counselling Skills: Pre-Marital Counselling (CO232, 1.5 credits), starting Thu, May 3, 7.15-10.15pm. Lecturer: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

*Courses marked with an asterisk are not offered on audit basis. Visit our website for the course descriptions. Registration is open for all courses. You can register on-line or send us an e-mail at

A Blessed Birthday toÖ

Ms Lena Leong 19/3
Dr Ong Eng Keow 19/3
Mr Loo Cheng Koon 19/3
Ms Pauline Koh 19/3
Mr Edmund Koh 20/3
Ms Emily Loo 20/3
Mdm Lim Sock Kiang 20/3
Dr Lee Soo Ann 21/3
Dr Patrick Chan 21/3
Mr Freddie Ong 22/3
Mr Jacob Ang 22/3
Mr Ong Eng Khai 24/3
Mr Brian Tan 25/3

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