It was a month after Moses’ death, and the Jews prepared themselves for the invasion of Canaan. True, it was the “Promised Land,” which G‑d Himself had promised to the children of Israel as “an everlasting inheritance.” They believed this, but not so the inhabitants of Canaan, and so the Israelites knew they would have to fight for it.
Joshua, the 82-year-old leader of the Israelites, had all the fine qualities required for his heavy task. But he remembered how great was his predecessor, Moses, who had failed once in his task, and had forfeited his right to lead the Jews into the Promised Land.
Joshua now sent an ultimatum to the inhabitants, giving them a choice of the following three things: 1) to leave the land, 2) to surrender and declare peace, or 3) to stand up and fight.
Joshua sent two spies, Pinchas and Caleb, to obtain firsthand information as to how the Canaanites were viewing the coming invasion. The men came to the inn of Rahab, in the wall of the fortifications of the city of Jericho.
As soon as the news reached the ears of the king that two strangers had been seen entering the inn of Rahab, he at once sent messengers to Rahab to give up the men. However, when Rahab realized who the strangers were who had come to her inn, she quickly reassured them of her willingness to protect them. She told them that she was ten years old when the Jews left Egypt, and she had since then followed with the greatest interest and admiration all that happened to them. She had heard of all the miracles which G‑d had performed to protect them and guide them throughout the forty years of their wandering through the wilderness, and she was entirely confident that G‑d would be with them now in their attempt to take Jericho and conquer the whole country of Canaan.
So sure was Rahab of the coming victory of the Israelites that she begged the two spies to promise to save her and her household in the coming invasion.
“Come,” she urged them. “Let me hide you on my roof, where you will be safe from discovery. I shall keep your presence in my house secret; but for doing this for you, I ask you in return to spare me and mine when you come here as conquerors.”
Pinchas and Caleb readily pledged themselves to remember Rahab and her household, and as a token and sign they asked her to tie a scarlet thread in her window, so that it could be clearly seen by the Israelites when they reached the city wall. This would indicate which was the house of Rahab, and all in it would thus be spared as they had promised her.
“You know,” Rahab told Pinchas and Caleb, “I told the king’s messengers that you had left my house and that, if they hurried, they might yet catch you near the fords of the River Jordan. So I think you can rest here for the night, safely, without being disturbed. The L‑rd your G‑d will surely be with you now, as He has been with your people in the past. I can tell you that all the people in this land are terrified when they talk about all that the L‑rd has done for you, and tremble at the thought of your coming. I know that the L‑rd has given you the land, and I acknowledge and believe in Him.”
In the early dimness of the morning Rahab let the men down from a window with a rope, and urged them to hide in the mountains for three days before returning to their camp. When they returned to Joshua, they reported to him joyfully, “Truly, the L‑rd has delivered into our hands all the land, for all the inhabitants tremble before us.”
And so, when the Jews crossed the River Jordan to enter the land of Canaan, they passed over it as miraculously as had their parents through the waves of the Red Sea. This is how it happened:
On the tenth day of Nissan in the year 2488, the Jordan River was full to overflowing. The priests advanced with the holy ark, and as the soles of their feet touched the waters of the Jordan, the waters at that point halted in their course, piling up into a wall, while the rest flowed down. Thus the riverbed became dry, and the whole nation passed over.
The people gazed with awe and reverence at Joshua, and they feared him as they had feared Moses.
Twelve men, one from each tribe, then carried twelve stones from the riverbed to the shore, where they erected a monument to commemorate the historic and miraculous event.
The Jews then settled in Gilgal, on the western shore of the Jordan. There they set up the Tabernacle, which stayed there for fourteen years, until the land of Canaan was conquered and divided.
A few miles to the west of Gilgal was the city of Jericho. For seven days the Jews besieged the city. At the command of G‑d they did not storm the city, but circled it daily for a whole week, the priests carrying the holy ark and blowing rams’ horns. On the seventh day they circled the city seven times, whereupon the walls crashed and sank, and the whole city was thus miraculously laid open for the jubilant Jews, who entered the city. The city of Jericho was destroyed without taking any booty, as commanded them by Joshua.
Thus was Rahab’s prophecy fulfilled. Our sages tell us she was one of the chassidoth (pious Jewish women), for her changeover to belief in G‑d and His Torah was even more sincere than that of those two other famous people—Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, and Naaman, the brave Syrian general—who were converted to the Jewish faith. For Rahab declared that the G‑d of Israel “is G‑d in heaven above and on the earth beneath”! This was a remarkable confession of faith in the One and Only G‑d, which even many a Jew sometimes forgot during those days when the belief in idols and many gods was so common. Our rabbis in the Midrash, in fact, tell us that G‑d was very pleased with Rahab’s faith, and said: “On earth, you could see with your own eyes that there is no other G‑d beside Me. But to declare also that I am the only G‑d also in heaven—this shows real faith. I promise you therefore that one of your descendants shall be one of the greatest prophets, for whom the heavens will be opened, and he will see what no other prophet has seen.”
That was the great prophet Ezekiel, who saw the divine chariot in heaven. Rahab’s reward was more than that. She became Joshua’s wife, and was the ancestress of great priests and prophets, among them also the prophet Jeremiah and the prophetess Huldah.