Joshua 2: Four lessons


Joshua 2 is an interesting study in leadership. While the rest of the Israelites prepared to cross the river, Joshua dispatches two unnamed spies to survey the promise land, focusing on the first strategic challenge the Israelites would face: Jericho.

His instructions to these two men are simple: “Go look over the land.” It was a vague mandate, and it could have been interpreted any number of ways. They could have gone out, like ten of the twelve spies forty years earlier, to assess the strategic situation. Back then, the ten had returned with grave news: the Canaanites were formidable and fortified; their strategic assessment dissuaded the people from crossing the river and resulted in forty years of exile in the wilderness. They could have gone to conduct covert operations against key targets like special operatives today. But then, that would have given the Canaanites a heads up and taken away God’s chance to do something amazing. They could have gone, looked things over, and never come back.

Fortunately, these two did none of these. Rather, they went and did only and exactly what Joshua commanded: they looked over the land. As they did, they had their eyes and ears open to the situation in Canaan. But they were not particularly concerned about looking for weaknesses in the wall, vulnerabilities in the weapons employed by the armies of Jericho, numbers and deployments of forces, or any of the other classic strategic indicators. Because they expected God to do something amazing, and they knew that, when God moved, none of that stuff mattered. And because they had that expectation, we can learn from their adventure a number of important lessons about pursuing God’s vision.

The first lesson is that intelligence is important. Joshua sent the spies because he knew that he needed to have at least an idea of what Israel was about to march into. To cross the Jordan without at least some data would have been reckless and, quite possibly, disastrous. God does not expect us to march dumbly into His vision for us. He gave us a brain with the ability to reason for a reason. He expects us to use it. This means that, in the vast majority of instances, He won’t call us to do something that is unreasonable. Rather, generally speaking, He will call us to do things that are just beyond our reach. So the formula for determining God’s vision could very well be written like this: our ability + what we’ve seen God do in the past + a margin of faith in what God can do = what God will do in and through us. Understanding what’s going on is an essential part of figuring out each of these variables. So intelligence is important. In our day and age, this means researching what’s going on around us. This can be done in any number of ways because any number of variables may be essential. Financials. Populations. Growth. Decline. Weather. You name it. Intelligence is important.

The second lesson is that intelligence is not important. I know, it seems to contradict the first lesson, but it remains true nonetheless. You see, Joshua and his spies understood that God had given them the city of Jericho and the land of Canaan. That was already determined. And no piece of information that they could find in their survey of the land would change that. So they didn’t have to focus too much on finding the chinks in Jericho’s defenses. They had only to look over the land. Simply put, while intelligence is important, it is very easy to overemphasize it. If we are constantly obsessing about gathering information about the situation we’re going into, we’ll never actually go into it. This truth is probably demonstrated by no one better than Apple, Inc., CEO Steve Jobs. In 1998, when Jobs returned to the helm of Apple, the company was on the brink of ruin. Then came the iMac, an all-in-one computer with a built-in handle that came in an assortment of bright, translucent candy colors. Jobs bet the future of his company on the notion that people would like the simplicity and decidedly non-beige style of the iMac without ever conducting a survey or focus group. And the iMac was such a success that Apple survived to bring us things like iPods and iPhones – again, without a single survey or focus group – and become perhaps the most influential tech company of the early twenty-first century. Jobs understood that intelligence wasn’t everything. And we must, too. Intelligence is not important.

A third lesson we can learn is that the right people are essential. We don’t know the names of the two spies Joshua sent. But from the account, we realize that they were resourceful enough to find a way across the Jordan River (which we learn later was at flood stage at the time), brave enough to walk into an enemy stronghold, smart enough to remain inconspicuous, open-minded enough to watch and listen far more than they did or spoke, humble enough to accept help from others and not worry about taking credit down the road, compassionate enough to show mercy to the people that helped them, and faithful enough to believe that God could do the things He promised regardless of what was going on in Jericho. As leaders, it is essential to pick the people with the right set of gifts and talents for the job at hand. In fact, as the Israelites learned here, it is far more important to have the right people than enough people. Note, though, that the right people might not be the popular people. They might not be the respected people. They might not even be the memorable people. If they were, then these spies’ names would have been recorded here for all to see. But then again, Jesus started the church with twelve fishermen, tax collectors, and political activists. So yes, the right people are essential.

The key to success often comes from unexpected quarters. When the spies entered Jericho, I suspect that they were looking for a place where they could simply blend into the background and watch, and since a couple of Israelites would stand out like a sore thumb in the streets of Jericho, they had to get off the street quickly. The house of a prostitute would have a pretty steady stream of strange men coming and going, so the home of Rahab the prostitute was a natural candidate. I doubt very much, though, that they expected their hostess to readily divulge any information about her people, much less the key insights that she did (e.g., that the people of Jericho and the surrounding country were terrified of the Israelites). The thing is, this woman was accustomed to being trampled by people. The men in her life treated her as disposable. And the rest of the people of Jericho thought of her as just another commodity. To them, she was not a person. And that attitude had had its effects on her. So she was desperate for something different, something better. And the God of the Israelites certainly sounded better than anything the people of Jericho had to offer. So she was ready immediately to commit to these foreigners and their God. When we go out to realize God’s vision, whether it be great or small, the key to success may come from something – or someone – that we never expected. Maybe it will be an air conditioner that breaks down or a fire that damages our church. Maybe it will be a prostitute that is hungry for change. The key to success often comes from unexpected quarters.

And finally, a perspective of faith is absolutely crucial. When the spies returned from the promise land, they demonstrated their faith in their report, which basically read, “Let’s go!” It was the implementation of God’s command to Joshua and the people in chapter one: that they be strong and courageous rather than terrified and discouraged. And that is really what faith is all about: belief which drives action. These guys believed that God could deliver to them the promise land. They believed that God would deliver to them the promise land (and yes, there is a difference there). And they were ready to cross the river and get started. If we’re going to see God do amazing things to realize His vision for our lives and churches, we must believe that He can and will do amazing things. And then we must move to give Him the opportunity to do exactly that. Simply put, He won’t send divine wonders until we take the first steps. So yes, a perspective of faith is absolutely crucial.

So, there you have it. Four important lessons for anyone who wants to see God do amazing things in their lives and the lives of those around them. Now, let’s go and put them to work so that God can put us to work.


  • (1) Having learned from the last time Israel dispatched spies into Canaan, Joshua did not send a whole bunch of people. He sent two. This would help keep things quieter.
  • (1) I suppose that visiting the prostitute would have been the surest way to avoid suspicion. She would have had men calling on her regularly, so a couple of foreigners would have gone virtually unnoticed.
  • (4-13) Rahab’s actions and words are interesting here. I imagine that, when she was addressing the search party, she did so with the sultry voice and body language of a prostitute. But when they had gone and the door was closed, the hurt and anger of being treated constantly as a disposable commodity. Despite the constant traffic of men in and out of her door, she had no illusions of her place in society. She lived in a hole in the wall. And she owed her people nothing. By remaining loyal to the city of Jericho, she would guarantee only that she would continue to be trampled on by others. But by embracing the Israelites, she was opening the door for a new way of life for herself and her family.
  • (14) The spies’ response clearly demonstrate that they saw Rahab as more than a lowly prostitute. She wasn’t their callgirl. She had rescued them and so provided an invaluable service to the Israelites as a whole. In their eyes, Rahab was no longer disposable.
  • (17-20) It is interesting the attitude that these two spies have. When Moses sent the twelve, I doubt that any of them except Joshua and Caleb would have used this type of language – language of certainty – regarding the imminent attack. These two spies knew that Israel was coming to Jericho, and they knew that Jericho would fall into their hands.
  • (21) It is also interesting that the cord they gave the woman was scarlet in color. Red is a highly visible color, even from a distance, so it would have been easy for the Israelite army to pick out which place belonged to Rahab. But it was also a signature of the prostitution industry, so it would have been perfectly camouflaged from the people of Jericho.
  • (24) There could not have been a clearer contrast between the final report of the two spies and the report of the twelve Moses had sent forty years earlier. Back then, ten of the twelve had reported all of the obstacles to realizing God’s promise, including the size of the people, the strength of their fortifications, etc. All of these were serious issues, and none of them were lost on these two spies, I think. But these two realized from talking to Rahab that God was up to something. And regardless of the obstacles, they knew that God was at work.

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