“And the watchmen saw a man leaving the city. And they said to him, ‘Please show us a way into the city and we will deal graciously with you.”
We find in the previous verse that people have been sent to scout out this region, clearly hoping to find a weak spot in this city’s defenses. Clearly the element of surprise has been lost because the nation of Israel has been moving through he Promised Land for quite some time, attacking and overthrowing cities as they encounter them.
At the same time, there is a watch that is posted who sees a man exiting the city. Many of our English translations opt to translate this as it being the spies who witnessed the man leaving the city, and that may be so, but the language that is used seems to distinguish the witness of this verse as a guard that has been placed, not as a group of scouts who are moving about the land.
So, who is this man who happens to be leaving the city? Assuming that the city officials are aware of the army of the house of Joseph coming in his direction — and it seems unreasonable to assume that he is not aware of the coming of these armies — then it can be reasonably presumed that the city is essentially on lockdown. In ancient times, when there were threats, the people of the countryside would flee into the city for protection and the city closed off. Yet, this man leaves the city — one might even suggest that this man escapes the city (a suggestion that becomes even more reasonable when we see just how quickly he betrays the city to the Israelites in the following verse).
So, let’s speculate on this for a minute. If the city was on lockdown then there would not have been lots of people moving in and out of the city for trade or other purposes. If this is the case, it helps us to understand why this one man’s leaving of the city was so conspicuous and arguably why the watchmen would engage him not fearing the possibility of giving up their position.
One might ask, how did these watchmen know that this man would not lead them into a trap? The answer seems to be that this man was trying to leave the city before an attack was made. Further, if the city were on lockdown, then it is also clear that this man did not leave by the ordinary way, but perhaps through a window in the wall or another fashion, though that is speculation. Clearly this man knew a way out that was not under heavy guard (because he escaped), and if he knew a way out, he would know a way back in that also was not under heavy guard. That is what the leaders of the house of Joseph wanted to know.
Thus here we find a case where the Israelite army is employing stealth to achieve their ends, just another reminder that sometimes tactics are more useful than brute force. It should also be noted that just because the tactics are not described in other battles, that does not mean that tactics were not employed. Indeed, they were, we just aren’t told about them lest we forget that the victory in any of these battles belongs to God who is the warrior of Israel.
Yet, let us not forget that the God we worship today is the same God who defeated his enemies by the sword all of those years ago. And he can defeat our enemies as well; we need never fear the foe that is before us. They might kill the body but they cannot kill the eternal soul. Such is the clear promise of the scriptures. It is a promise that should embolden us as believers and one that should draw us out of our timidity when it comes to engaging with and tearing down the strongholds of Satan in this world (and there are many). For indeed, the doors of the gates of hell cannot prevail against the battering ram of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.