You may very well know the story in Joshua 2 of Rahab sheltering spies or that she is listed in Hebrews 11 for her faith in God for doing so. Yet, what is the significance of the location that the spies were sent from, called Shittim? Why is Rahab’s faith significant? What implications can we draw from the detail of the scarlet cord that is given to her as a sign she and her family will be spared? What do the commandments to be strong and courageous, repeated in Joshua 1, have to do with Joshua 2? What does this story emphasize concerning the promised land—i.e. what about Joshua’s conquest is associated with blessing and what with judgment? Through all of it, what does this true story teach us about the one Redeemer, Christ?
The Old Testament narrative genre of Scripture is, sometimes, difficult to know how to approach and interpret because it is not like the epistles of the New Testament. So we, perhaps, are not quite as used to it. So, having a method and framework as a solid start for approaching this genre helps. Today, I’d like to share one framework with you; we will look at our section of narrative in the immediate context (textual level), the larger historical era (historical level), and, finally, in relation to the principles and themes taught in all of Scripture (canonical level).
First Level of Interpretation: Textual Level
At the textual level, we pull out details of character, settings, themes, phrases, details, etc. Read through Joshua 2. We could pick many elements from the story. Let’s limit ourselves to four for our purposes today: Rahab, scarlet cord, Shittim, and the phrase “fear and melt away.” At the textual level, we take these themes and observe them strictly within Joshua 2. Note what the text says about each one.
Rahab: She lies (Josh. 2:4-5) and is a prostitute (Josh. 2:1). Yet, note additional details about her in the text. For example, she is loyal to her family, she already has knowledge of Yahweh, and she lives in the wall of Jericho.
Scarlet cord: Here, we are noting a significant detail that seems prominent because scarlet is the only color mentioned in the story (Josh. 2:18). The cord functions as a sign for Rahab and her family to be spared.
Shittim: There are a few locations in the passage. This location is the base of the Israelites’ operations.
“Fear and melt away” phrase: Pay special attention to phrases that are repeated in the text like this one. Note that those in Jericho and surrounding areas were fearful because they knew that God had given the land into the Israelites’ hands. They knew this from hearing of past battles, like the battle of Og (more on this battle later). From their fear, the inhabitants are melting away.
Second Level of Interpretation: Historical Level
On the historical level, now, we are going to take these same elements and seat them in their larger timeframe. This will give us more context for understanding the meaning of the author. Think about Old Testament narrative—sort of—as a novel, in that the author has the end in mind from the beginning; the author also has past Biblical texts in mind when writing. By noting what precedes and comes after Joshua 2, we are setting the stage for the story and determining how it resolves into this historical era.
So, let’s identify the storyline of the Bible leading up to Joshua 2. Moses, who brought the Israelites out of Egypt and first received the law from God, was introduced in Joshua 1:1-2 as someone who died (c.f. Deut. 3:27-29). However, God is still fulfilling His promise to give a home land to the Israelites (Josh. 2:3-4). This is a promise that traces way back to Gen. 12:1-2. At the time of our story, God is working through the leadership of Joshua toward fulfilling this promise; accordingly, great strength and courage can be derived by Joshua and the Israelites from the promises of God.
Now, we’ll identify the historical era specific to these elements of the story.
Rahab: Learn where else Rahab is mentioned in the book of Joshua and compare the accounts. Remember from the textual level that she lived in the wall of Jericho. Later in the book of Joshua, we see how prominent this grand wall has become. Her life and the lives of her family members depended upon remaining in the wall that would come plummeting down (Josh. 6:5). Later, we see that Rahab and all of her house were saved from destruction (Josh. 6:17). What faith!
Furthermore, how does she and her actions relate to the other characters and themes in the story? The enemies of God are said to be fearful and melting away. Yet, Rahab’s actions demonstrate her to be “strong and courageous,” as was God’s charge to Joshua in chapter 1. The outworking of faith in God is strength and courage because of His might.
Scarlet cord: Note the context of surrounding the scarlet cord. Does this detail remind you of any other details in the Bible thus far of people being spared or saved like Rahab and her family? There are similarities to note between a scarlet cord out her window and red blood on door frames at Passover (Ex. 12:7). Also, the author writes that Rahab speaks of God’s work concerning the Israelites in Egypt; the author wants us to have this background in mind (Josh. 2:10).
Shittim: Determine where else so far in Scripture this location is mentioned. Check if the instance(s) you find has any other connection to the passage. Shittim was the place where the Israelites encamped after their victories at Sihon and Og (Num. 33:49)—which are mentioned in this story as background. So, the author indicating that Joshua is launching his campaign from Shittim is like saying he is launching it from a place of victory. Yet, there is another mention of Shittim. In Num. 25:1, it is where the Israelites immorally yoked themselves to a false god, Baal, and God was righteously angry at Israel.
“Fear and melt away” phrase: How do these verses compare and contrast with the themes of the surrounding text? Also, check to see if these images are picked up later in the book. God’s enemies are characterized by fear whereas in Joshua 1, God’s people are commanded to not fear. Also, similar imagery is picked up later in the book when Joshua is said to “smote” his enemies and leave them without breath (Josh. 10:40).
Third Level of Interpretation: Canonical Level
Now, on the canonical level, we are going to take these elements again and consider them in terms of the whole of Scripture. The Bible is a unified and connected work—so it will be unified and connected concerning its principles and themes.
Rahab: What is a main principle that is being emphasized in this story concerning Rahab? Rahab did not have the benefits of being born into the nation of Israel and raised with a knowledge of God. Yet, she had faith in God. There is great significance in simply having faith in the Lord; this shows what God greatly values. She is mentioned in Hebrews 11:31 for her faith. Also, following the principle, the Roman Centurion is another example of a person only needing faith to follow God in Luke 7:9. The Ethiopian eunuch is another (Acts 8:26-40).
Scarlet cord: Previously, we connected the scarlet cord with Passover. Think about this allusion. How is the concept of Passover used in the rest of Scripture? For example, Jesus is the Passover lamb (Matt. 26:1; Heb. 9:22). What does that speak about who Jesus is to us?
Shittim: Previously, we saw that the author’s mention of Shittim would make the reader think of victory. This is a continuing theme in Scripture: God’s people are called to remember what He has done for them (Ps. 105:5; Ps. 77:11; John 16:4). Yet, this is also a place where the people incited God’s anger when they worshiped a false god, Baal. This is a location that would also recall their need for holiness; and we have a similar charge (1 Peter 1:16).
“Fear and melt away” phrase: Note how else Scripture speaks of being afraid. The enemies of God are characterized by fear while God’s people are not (1 John 4:18).
Also, are there other mentions in Scripture of melting, or fire? God’s judgment is spoken of in terms of fire throughout Scripture (2 Pet. 3:7, 10; Mk. 9).
Now that we have traced these elements through our contextual method, let’s see if we can answer a question posed in the introduction.
In the introduction, we asked: what is the significance of the location that the spies were sent from, called Shittim? Joshua began his conquest from Shittim to purify the land at God’s command (Num. 33:50-56)—through which God would also demonstrate Himself as the victorious fulfiller of His promises through the righteousness of Israel (Josh. 1:8). It was a place of cleansing from sin and a place recalling victory. When we begin a new conquest against an area of sin in our lives, we remember our motivation to do similarly. Both the holiness that God desires in us and the victory that He won on our behalf through Christ are the starting place of overcoming sin!
To finish today, go back to the introduction of this post with that list of questions. Are your answers clearer or more robust now? Keep in mind that all of Scripture is about God making His dwelling place with man and, because of sin, this plan of God centers around redemption through Christ. So, ask: how is Christ—the need for or the provision of His redemption—evident in each element? 
P.S. You can also utilize this framework for just about any passage in the Bible as a starting place for interpretation!
 My appreciation goes to Dr. Vickers at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for, generally, this framework.
 Thanks to Daniel Doriani, author of Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible, for these thoughts.