AFTER the death of Moses, while the children of Israel were still encamped upon the east bank of the river Jordan, God spoke to Joshua, and said:
"Now that Moses my servant is dead, you are to take his place and to rule this people. Do not delay, but lead them across the river Jordan, and conquer the land which I have given to them."
Then God told Joshua how large would be the land which the Israelites were to have, if they should show themselves worthy of it. It was to reach from the great river Euphrates, far in the north, down to the border of Egypt on the south, and from the desert on the east to the Great Sea on the west. And God said to Joshua:
"Be strong and of a good courage. I will be with you as I was with Moses. Read constantly the book of the law which Moses gave you, and be careful to obey all that is written in it. Do this and you will have good success."
Then Joshua gave orders to his officers. He said, "Go through the camp, and tell the people to prepare food for a journey; for in three days we shall pass over the river Jordan, and shall go into the land which the Lord has promised us."
To say this was very bold; for at that time of the year, in the spring, the Jordan was much larger than at other times. All its banks were overflowed, and it was running as a broad, deep, swift river, down to the Dead Sea, a few miles to the south. No one could possibly walk through it; only a strong man could swim in its powerful current; and the Israelites had no boats in which they could cross it.
On the other side of the river, a few miles distant, the Israelites could see the high walls of the city of Jericho, standing at the foot of the mountains. Before the rest of the land could be won, this city must be taken, for it stood beside the road leading up to the mountain country.
Joshua chose two careful, brave, and wise men, and said to them, "Go across the river, and get into the city of Jericho; find out all you can about it, and come back in two days."
The two men swam across the river, and walked over to Jericho, and went into the city. But they had been seen, and the king of Jericho sent men to take them prisoners. They came to a house which stood on the wall of the city, where was living a woman named Rahab; and she hid the men.
But these strange men had been seen going into her house, and the king sent his officers after them. The woman hid the men on the roof of the house, and heaped over them stalks of flax, which are like long reeds, so that the officers could not find them. After the officers had gone away, thinking that the two spies had left the city, the woman Rahab came to the two men, and said to them:
"All of us in this city know that your God is mighty and terrible, and that he has given you this land. We have heard how your God dried up the Red Sea before you, and led you through the desert, and gave you victory over your enemies. And now all the people in this city are in fear of you, for they know that your God will give you this city and all this land."
"Now," said Rahab, "promise me in the name of the Lord, that you will spare my life, and the lives of my father and mother, and of my brothers and sisters, when you take this city."
And the men said, "We will pledge our life for yours, that no harm shall come to you; for you have saved our lives."
This woman's house stood on the wall of the city. From one of its windows Rahab let down outside a rope, upon which the men could slide down to the ground. It happened that this rope was of a bright scarlet color.
The two spies said to Rahab, "When our men come to take this city, you shall have this scarlet rope hanging in the window. Bring your father, and mother, and family into the house, and keep them there while we are taking the city. We will tell all our men not to harm the people who are in the house where the scarlet cord hangs from the window; and thus all your family will be safe when the city is taken."
Then the two men, at night, slid down the rope and found their way to the river, and swam over it again, and told their story to Joshua. They said, "Truly the Lord has given to us all the land; for all the people in it are in terror before us, and will not dare to oppose us."
One fact was a great help to the Israelites in their plans for taking the land of Canaan. It was not held by one people, or ruled over by one king, who could unite all his people against the Israelites. There were many small nations living in the land, and each little tribe, and even each city, was ruled by its own king. So it would be easy for the Israelites to destroy them one by one, so long as they kept apart and did not band themselves together into one army.