The commander of the army is dead. The invasion is to start within three days and the younger replacement commander needs to learn the position and strength of the enemy. He sends two men to infiltrate the enemy camp and report back. After crossing the river, they reach their destination and hide in a prostitute’s house. The opposing forces learn of their mission and begin the search for the spies whom the prostitute hides on her roof. They escape detection. She and her family are promised safety when the invasion comes.
That sounds like quite a story, doesn’t it? Over three thousand years ago, these events unfolded and were recorded in the early chapters of the book of Joshua. Moses, the servant of the Lord, was dead. Joshua, his replacement, had been given the rule over God’s people. The Israelites were encamped on the east side of the Jordan River. They were ready to begin conquering the promised land! As a wise leader, Joshua determined to send spies into the land of Canaan to learn what he could before they entered it as a nation. He had been a spy himself in former days, and he knew well the value of service which brave, watchful, and tactful spies could render.
We do not know much at all regarding the specifics of what the spies did in the land. No doubt they did their best to blend in and not draw attention to themselves. The spies decided to stay the night at the home of a woman named Rahab. It appears that she was a business woman engaged in the manufacture of linen. This is a reasonable conjecture because of the stalks of flax she had arranged on the roof (presumably to dry) and also because of the scarlet cord she possessed.
Rahab suspected the danger to which the spies were exposed and immediately hid them under the flax stalks on her roof. She did this so that if the officers came to search for them, they would not be discovered. The king of Jericho had great cause to fear for the enemy was at his door. He sought to find and destroy them. Rahab misled the officials who came searching for the spies. She indicated that it was not her business to be too inquisitive regarding her visitors, but that they had left and could be caught–if pursued quickly. The officials took her at her word.
The spies, after hiding in the mountains for three days, returned to report back to Joshua. They informed Israel that the Canaanites were afraid of them. Had they wanted to discourage the people, as the evil spies did in Moses’ day, they might have told them what they had observed: (1) that Jericho’s walls were high and strong, and (2) that Jericho’s king was extraordinarily vigilant, having nearly captured them. But, these spies were of a different spirit. They, believing God’s promise, imitated Joshua and took the optimistic approach. It would put courage into the most cowardly Israelite to hear how their enemies’ hearts were full of fear (cf. Deut. 11:25). There was no need for Israel to be afraid, even of their most powerful enemies, for the Lord could make any enemy afraid of them.
Well, now that we’ve summarized this historical event, let’s dig a little deeper. What can we learn from Rahab the prostitute? In general, we can see that she is a tremendous example of faith. We know this because she was selected as one of the few from the Old Testament to be remembered for great faith (cf. Heb. 11:31). Let us now consider six specific lessons we can learn from Rahab.
1. RAHAB BELIEVED IN GOD.
Rahab believed in God’s existence, as Joshua 2:9-11 indicates. She may have been the first Canaanite whom the Israelites met across the Jordan, and she ended up being their friend. Had these spies gone to any other house, they might have been betrayed and killed. Canaanites were typically idolaters. They worshipped the sun, moon, heavens, thunder, and lightning. They practiced self-mutilation and infant sacrifice. In Jericho, particularly, they buried their dead under the floor of their homes and at times severed the head from the body to be plastered and worshipped.
It was no small thing for Rahab to confess what she did at the end of 2:11 – “…for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Her confession seems to indicate that she had set aside the religious beliefs of her people. Her faith in Jehovah was reasoned from facts. She had come to believe in the God of Israel by what she had heard. Interestingly, Jericho’s king had also heard about the great things God had done for Israel, yet he was unwilling to accept that the Lord had given them the land. Instead, he resolved to hold out against them with all his might. Some believe when faced with the facts, and others disbelieve in spite of the mounting evidence.
Rahab also believed in God’s promise (2:9; cf. Gen. 12:7). She knew that the Lord had given the Israelites Canaan. Although Rahab had only heard of the wonders God had done, she spoke with more assurance of His promise than many of the Israelites who had witnessed God’s wonders firsthand! Many Israelites perished for their unbelief. Jesus once said in John 20:29 – “Blessed are those that have not seen, and yet have believed.” We, like Rahab, must believe in God’s promises and “walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).
Rahab’s faith in God caused her to betray her country. Under normal conditions, we count the betrayers of our country as the worst of criminals. In her case, however, she knew God had given the Israelites the land of Canaan. It would have been wrong to join with those who attempted to hinder them from possessing it. The higher duty to God supercedes the lower duty to country and to family. When there is a conflict, we must always obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 5:29).
God praises Rahab in the New Testament, even though she was not exactly a role model as a prostitute and liar (Joshua 2:1-6). Some would have us question the Old Testament Hebrew word used to describe her as a harlot–in an attempt to suggest that she was just an innkeeper. The New Testament Greek is plain enough, however. She was a harlot (Heb. 11:31; James 2:25). Harlotry was often a part of pagan worship. It is possible that she had ceased from this kind of behavior, and the reproach had simply stuck to her name long after repentance and reformation of life. For example, Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6), though cleansed from leprosy, wore the reproach of it in his name as long as he lived; perhaps the same is true with Rahab the harlot. Although she is referred to as a prostitute, both her faith and good works are praised. Friends, even today when God’s grace has washed away our sins, we often still must bear the reproach of them.
But Stephen, she lied–twice! Did God approve? No, of course not. Some improperly use this passage to try to build a case for situation ethics (cf. Rom. 3:8). I believe it can be confidently affirmed that God never approves of lying (Prov. 6:17; Eph. 4:25). The Lord is all-powerful and could have protected the spies–if He had so desired–in a way that did not require sin. The point we should stress is that Rahab was accepted in spite of her lies, not because of them. Other great Bible characters are complimented in the sacred text for their good qualities, though guilty of egregious sins (e.g., David the adulterer and murderer). Being a Canaanite, Rahab may not have been taught the evil of lying, but God accepted her faith and pardoned her infirmities.
The question should be asked: On what account was Rahab commended? For her prostitution? No. For her treachery to her country? No. For her lies regarding the spies? No. For what then was she commended? She was eulogized for her faith in Hebrews and for her works in James. It must be understood that most of those who are commended in Hebrews 11 are not praised in their entirety (e.g., Abraham lied, Noah got drunk, Samson fornicated, etc.). The men and women listed therein are praised for some worthy act or as an example of heroic faith.
In spite of her sins, God allowed her to be saved from the destruction of Jericho. Remarkably, she was eventually listed in the genealogy of His Son (Matt. 1:5). She became a princess in Israel! Most expositors suppose that Salmon was one of the spies whom she befriended at a critical moment. If this is the case, then it is a beautiful love story! Matthew, in the Lord’s genealogy, mentions only four women–Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (implicitly). Three of these have tainted names (regarding sexual immorality) and the fourth was a Gentile.
God can use people who have made mistakes, and He will welcome them into His kingdom (cf. Matt. 21:31). Those who helped kill Jesus became the first Christians (Acts 2:36ff). Paul was a murderer and a blasphemer before he became a disciple of Jesus. The Corinthians had been immoral, but God forgave them (I Cor. 6:9-11). People can change and become great workers in the kingdom of God–no matter what their past!
2. RAHAB DESIRED DELIVERANCE.
Rahab pleaded with the spies in Joshua 2:12,13 – “Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.”
Rahab’s petition was very reasonable. Since she had protected them, she wanted them to protect her. It was the least they could do for one who had saved their lives by risking her own. Those who show mercy should expect to find mercy (Matt. 5:7).
Self-preservation is a strong motivator. She did not want to die. How many today desire to go to hell? Self-preservation should motivate us to do all that we can to be saved. Tragically though, most spurn the invitation (Matt. 11:28-30; Rev. 22:17). Some reject deliverance due to pride and others due to prejudice. Anyone who rejects God’s deliverance is foolish.
The spies promised to protect Rahab, and her relatives, provided three conditions were met. First, she would tie the scarlet cord (used for the spies’ escape) in the window to make her home easy to identify (Josh. 2:18).
Second, she would bring all whose safety she desired into her house with her and keep them there (2:18,19). When Israel’s army arrived to take the town, none of Rahab’s family should leave her house. This was necessary since her family could not be distinguished from any others if they were not in her house. It was reasonable, since they were saved purely for Rahab’s sake, that her house should be their place of refuge. They would have to separate themselves from the others inhabitants of Jericho if they expected to be saved. It is interesting to note that the New Testament teaches that those who are added to the church must keep close to the society of the faithful. If one escapes the corruption that is in the world through lust, he must be careful to avoid being entangled therein again (II Pet. 2:20-22).
Third, she should keep silence (Josh. 2:14,20). If she uttered their business, betrayed them while they were gone, or made the agreement public, then they would be clear of the oath. Rahab did not question the terms of her deliverance. She gladly obeyed them. Today, those who seek spiritual deliverance should also gladly accept God’s conditions and not resist them (e.g., John 8:24; Acts 2:38).
3. RAHAB DID NOT WANT TO ENJOY DELIVERANCE ALONE.
Rahab brought her family into the house of safety. The provision she made for the safety of her relatives is a commendable example of natural affection. We should do all that is within our power to save our families from physical and spiritual threats.
Rahab secured her future by seizing the opportunity of the present (cf. II Cor. 6:2). She foresaw what was coming, and secured the favor of the conquerors. Noah saw what was coming, moved with godly fear, and prepared an ark to save his household (Heb. 11:7). If we truly believe that those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel will suffer God’s eternal vengeance (II Thess. 1:7), then won’t we flee from the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7), lay hold on eternal life (I Tim. 6:12), and do everything within our power to encourage others to do likewise? Only a selfish person would seek his own deliverance and do nothing to help save others.
4. RAHAB WAS JUSTIFIED BY AN ACTIVE FAITH.
Rahab is used in the New Testament as an example of faith that saves (cf. Heb. 11:31). Her faith was practical, bringing forth fruit in works. Had she said to the spies, “I believe in God and that Canaan is yours, but I dare not show you any kindness,” her faith would have been inactive or dead. Such a faith will justify no one (Jam. 2:24-26).
Rahab was saved in the same general way that every sinner is saved–that is, through a living, active faith. It is certainly true that the specific expectations God has placed upon humanity have changed over the millennia, but God has always required a faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6).
5. RAHAB’S DELIVERANCE WAS LIMITED TO A DESIGNATED LOCATION.
She could only be saved in her house. There was no other place where she could find deliverance. This has always been God’s practice. Noah could only be saved in the ark (I Pet. 3:20,21). The firstborn of the Israelites could only be saved in the houses properly marked with blood (Exo. 12). Naaman could only be cleansed in the Jordan river (II Kings 5). Our deliverance is also limited to a designated location. We can only be saved in Christ (Eph. 1:3; II Tim. 2:10)! For Rahab or her family to depart from her house would have been to exit the realm of safety and embrace certain death. Likewise, if a Christian is going to be saved, he must faithfully remain in the church.
6. RAHAB USED THE MEANS OF HER SALVATION TO SAVE OTHERS.
The scarlet cord the spies escaped by would be critical in Rahab’s own salvation (Josh. 2:18). It would mark her house as a place of safety. Likewise, when a person today is taught the truth, develops faith in Jesus, repents of his wickedness, and is baptized into Christ’s church, he ought to go and teach others also. He ought to labor to show others the means of his salvation, and strive to persuade others to obey the gospel.
Friends, Rahab believed in God–do you? Rahab desired deliverance–do you? Rahab also desired that her family be spared–do you desire this for your family? Rahab was justified by an active faith–do you have an active faith? Rahab’s deliverance was limited to a certain area–and so is ours. Rahab used the means of her salvation to save others–do you?
This woman, Rahab, who we know was a prostitute–at least at some point in her life–has shown us some great lessons today.