The Story of the Spies
O N the banks of the river Jordan a great army was encamped; the fields were covered with tents, and there was the constant sound of the marching of feet and the clash of weapons. For this was the army of the children of Israel, led by their great general, Joshua. It was waiting there to cross the river and attack the city of Jericho, which could be seen across the plain, clear against the distant line of the horizon.
Moses was dead, but God had given His people a new leader, who was to carry on the great work of conquest and lead the people into the Promised Land. No one knew yet what sort of a leader Joshua would prove to be. The test would come in the battle which awaited them when they would march against the city across the river. They could not know how powerful and how splendidly brave he was; they had not heard the message of his commission from God: "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."
It is a great sight to see an army march out with banners flying and drums beating; but there is another part of war which always seems almost mean and contemptible, although it is most necessary. It is the part which is played by spies, men so cunning and quick and clever that they can steal the enemies' secrets, and find out many things that may save the lives of their own soldiers, and help to give them the victory.
Now Joshua knew just how useful a spy could be, and he wanted to know what was happening behind the high walls of Jericho, and what the people there were thinking about. So early one morning two figures went stealing across the plain, and crept nearer and nearer to the distant city until they came quite close to one of its gates.
It was a wonderful city, with high, thick walls and strong gates, fortified against every kind of enemy; and it was a beautiful city too, for palm trees grew all around it, and the sweet scent of spices came floating over its streets. So it was called Jericho, which means "fragrant," and some of the people called it "the city of palm trees."
As soon as the sun began to sink and the dusk crept on, the two spies slipped through the open gate, hoping that no one would notice them as they mixed with the crowd that always gathered there. They listened carefully to what the people were saying to each other, they noted everything with their quick eyes, and they soon learned all they wanted to know, and especially the fact that the people were desperately afraid of the army encamped on the river bank. It was not its strength and fighting power they feared—these men of Jericho were brave men and great fighters; but there was something strange and mysterious about that army, and they had heard wonderful tales of how that wandering people were guided and protected and helped by the unseen God whom they worshipped.
All this the spies discovered; and then, as daylight began to fade, they looked for a place where they could safely rest for the night. It was but a poor place they found, a little house built into the city wall, and the woman, Rahab, who lived there, was not at all what we would call a good woman. But, as it turned out, it was a place of real safety, and the woman proved a very good friend indeed to those two weary spies who had come to seek for a night's lodging in her house.
For so it was that scarcely had the men gone in and settled themselves to rest, than a loud knocking sounded on the door, and the voice of the king's messenger was heard ordering the woman Rahab to open and deliver up the two men who had come to spy out the city. There had been keen eyes on the look-out at the gate that evening. The men had been noticed and watched, and a message had been sent to tell the king that there were spies in the house of Rahab. "Bring forth the men which are entered into thy house," the messenger shouted.
But Rahab was quite sure that the mysterious army from the other side of the river would soon come marching on to take Jericho, as it had taken so many other cities; and so she made up her mind quickly to save the spies, and perhaps gain their friendship. Very hastily, then, she made up her plan, and taking the men on to the roof where her store of flax was laid out to dry, she told them to lie down flat, while she spread the flax over them, and hid them completely. After that she went down to open the door, and to answer the king's messenger.
"Spies!" she said; "how could I know that the two men who came here were spies? And besides, they left long ago before the city gates were shut. If you go quickly, you may overtake them."
Never doubting her word, the messenger hurried away; and in a short time a company of men rode out, the city gates clanging shut behind them, while they hurried on their way, hoping to overtake the spies before they should reach the river.
But as soon as the men were gone Rahab brought the spies down from the roof, and told them what she had done, and begged them in return to save her and all her relations when the great army should sweep on, and the city should be taken.
The two men promised at once that this should be done if she still kept their secret. "And it shall be," they said, "when the Lord hath given us the land that we will deal kindly and truly with thee."
Then she took a scarlet rope and lowered the men out of the window, which was built into the city wall, and told them to go up into the mountains and hide there for three days until the king's messengers should grow tired of looking for them.
There, in the dark shadow of the city wall, the men must have stood looking up at the face of the woman who leaned out of the window, above the scarlet thread that dangled down from her hand. And before they left they whispered up that they would surely remember their promise, but that she must bring all her kindred safely into those rooms and mark the house with the scarlet cord, and then, as a reward for her great kindness, not one of them should come to harm.
Three days later the spies managed to get back to the camp, and told the great leader what they had seen and learned, and of the promise they had made. It was exactly what Joshua had wanted to know, and so ere long the great army began its onward march.
Just as He had done at the Red Sea, so God again made a passage through the deep wide river for His army to pass through, and it soon reached the city and encamped before it. The soldiers did not begin to fight or try to climb the walls of the city, or to break down the gates. The people of Jericho would have understood that kind of warfare and would have been quite ready to defend themselves. No, the movements of the great army were very strange and difficult to understand. Very silently and in perfect order the men marched round the city in a circling ring, in front the soldiers, then the priests carrying the golden shrine of the Ark of God, then the people following. Not the whispering sound of one single voice came up from that great silent marching host, only the steady tramp of their feet, and the sound of the trumpet call which the priests blew from their horns as they carried the Ark of the Lord.
Day after day passed, and each day the same thing happened. The
mighty army marched silently round the city in the same mysterious
way. At last came the seventh day, and the uneasy people within the
city saw that the enemy was very early astir and that they began their
marching at dawn. And this day they did not stop their march. On and
on they went until, when they had been round the city seven times, and
the priests were blowing their trumpets, a word of command rang out
At that word a mighty sound went up from the whole host, a shout that rose to heaven and seemed to shake the very earth. And behold! the walls of the city fell down flat and the gates were broken, and the children of Israel were able to go up and enter in and take the city in God's name. Joshua had done exactly as God directed, and had proved that he was a great leader.
And in the day of victory the promise made by the spies was not forgotten. The cord bound in the window of the little house was a flag of safety, and there Rahab and her kindred found shelter under its scarlet sign.