This chapter tells the story of the spies who visit Jericho and stay with Rahab, perhaps the most famous prostitute in the Bible. The story is clearly meant as a foil for the disastrous mission of the spies under Moses, in Parshat Shlach, and in fact, this is the Haftorah for that parsha. Two differences stick out to me. First, the spies chosen are anonymous, and they do not appear to hold any political office – unlike their predecessors, who were tribal chiefs. Second, these spies reported privately to Joshua, not publicly. Both of these seem to be highly pragmatic adaptations that I believe are the hallmark of the difference between Moses’ Joshua’s leadership styles. Joshua believes that God is with him, but he is much more sensitive to the practicalities of leading a nation of imperfect humans.
In addition to this overt allusion, the story also goes back to the parting of the Yam Suf. Let’s compare the texts briefly. First, from the Az Yashir, the song sung after the Israelites had crossed the sea, and immediately after they acknowledged Moses’ leadership over them:
Now let’s look at what Rahab had to say to the spies:
It appears as if she’s already heard the song! In any case, the word Mog (as in NaMogU) is pretty rare, and appears in the Torah only once, in Joshua twice (both in this chapter), once in Samuel, once in Job, and a few times in the later prophets, including Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Psalms, and Nahum. Usually, when it appears it is specifically referencing the parting of the Sea of Reeds.
There’s also interesting business regarding the sign of the deal that the spies make. They agree to save Rahab and her family, so long as they remain within her home. They also have her tie a scarlet thread to to her window (referred to as Tikvat Hashani – lit. the scarlet hope). It’s reminiscent of the scarlet line that would be tied on Yom Kippur in the Temple, and which would miraculously turn white upon the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service by the High Priest. This is also the first interaction that the Israelites have with the people of Canaan – a people whom they are bound to destroy, not to treat with. This tension will rise up again, shortly.