Sooner or later everyone has to decide which gang they belong to.
—Pepper in Gaiman and Pratchett’s Good Omens (1990)
Rahab was a prostitute. Not a temple prostitute either, but an ordinary whore. Her house sat on the wall of ancient Jericho. Citizens and strangers alike could find it easily. They only had to look up.
One evening two strangers appeared at Rahab’s door. They asked for lodging for the night; there was no talk of other business from the text. Rahab quickly saw through their disguises though. They were Israelites. The whole eastern bank of Jordan was swarming with their armies. Invasion was imminent. And these men, no doubt, were spies. Nationalism and patriotism demanded that Rahab turn them over to the king’s soldiers. However, she did not.
Instead, Rahab hid the spies on her rooftop under some drying flax. When soldiers came to her door, she lied to them. “Yes, the men came to me. I didn’t know where they were from. About the time the city gate was being shut, they left. I don’t know where they were going. But hurry: you should be able to catch them” (Josh. 2:4-6). She was convincing—she was used to being convincing. The soldiers dashed for the gate and sped from the city toward the fords. Of course, they found nothing. They probably put it down to bad luck—or perhaps to the power of Israel’s God. Certainly, they never suspected Rahab’s duplicity.
Meanwhile, Rahab had some things to tell the spies. Her speech is one of the longest in Scripture delivered by any woman. It reveals a surprising knowledge of Yahweh’s promises and plans.
This is what she said:
I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. (Josh. 2:9-11)
Each of Rahab’s propositions echoed a promise that Yahweh had made to Israel (cf. Josh. 1:2; Ex. 23:27; 15:15; Deut. 2:25; 31:3-4; 4:39). She knew God’s Word surprisingly well. Rahab confessed the sovereignty of God, His powerful acts in history, and His inevitable victory. She then asked for mercy.
Rahab asked kindness for kindness. Rahab had shown kindness to the spies, Yahweh’s representatives. Would they now show kindness to her and her family? She used the word chesed, which means much more than a good deed. It has variously been translated mercy, loving-kindness, grace, and covenant love. It assumes some sort of relationship between the parties involved. Jericho and Israel were at war and Rahab wanted to change sides. She wanted to side with Yahweh and His armies.
Rahab asked for an oath, and the spies gave her one. They swore in Yahweh’s name. As long as Rahab and her family kept quiet, they would be safe. Then the spies did something remarkable. They told Rahab to mark her house with a scarlet cord, the same scarlet cord she would use to let them down over the wall. When the time came for Israel to destroy Jericho, God’s people would know to spare the house marked with the color of blood. What makes these instructions remarkable is the time of year. Israel was about to celebrate Passover, and on the first Passover every Israelite marked his house with blood to preserve it from destruction. The spies linked Rahab’s deliverance to Israel’s own exodus from Egypt.
Rahab was a Canaanite by blood. In Scripture, this was irrelevant since scripture deals in covenant, not genetics. The real issue was that Rahab had been a Canaanite by covenant. She had worshipped the false gods of her city. But when she heard of Israel’s God, she abandoned her gods and sought a place in Yahweh’s covenant. By hiding the spies and covenanting with them, she gave up being a Canaanite. She switched teams.
Now Israel was at war with Jericho. This war required death and destruction. It also required camouflage, espionage, and deceit. The soldier who wears camouflage is trying to deceive the enemy. It is odd that the many commentators who condemn Rahab for lying to the soldiers never mention the spies’ wholesale attempt to deceive everyone they encountered. But, of course, that’s what spies do… they deceive and lie. It’s part of the game. And if the cause is true and war is just, there’s nothing ungodly in the deception.
Rahab found herself in the middle of a war, and she was faced with an absolute choice. She could turn over the spies to the soldiers or she could hide the spies and deceive the soldiers. There was no middle ground. Anything other than a determined effort to mislead and deceive the soldiers would have amounted to surrendering the spies to death. It was in her actions that she expressed her faith in a credible way. The writer of Hebrews says this:
By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. (11:31)
In other words, Rahab’s faith moved her to protect the spies from the king’s soldiers. She did that by hiding the spies and lying to the soldiers. To Jericho’s Homeland Security Team… she became a terrorist. James in his epistle says something similar:
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (2:35)
The words “another way” are important. She told the soldiers that the spies had gone out the gate; she sent them out “another way,” over the wall. And for this Scripture commends her.
Rahab let the spies down over the city wall, another violation of city ordinances and wartime security. She cautioned the spies to hide in the hills for three days until the soldiers gave up their pursuit. Then she tied the scarlet cord to her window, gathered her family into her house, and waited.
The spies eventually reached Joshua. They brought Rahab’s good news: “Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country melt away because of us” (Josh. 2:24). God had kept His promises. He had not abandoned Israel. Everything was on schedule. God’s kingdom would come to Canaan, leaving His enemies to flee or face destruction. Jericho, the portal city, was going down.
Rahab’s New Family
Rahab and her family through faith escaped the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-25). Rahab settled down among God’s people and married a leader of the tribe of Judah, a man named Salmon (Matt. 1:5). One of their sons was Boaz, the husband of Ruth and the great-grandfather of king David (Ruth 4:21). So Rahab became an ancestress of Jesus Christ. She is one of only five women mentioned in His genealogy in Matthew 1. Her name is also recorded among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Aside from Sarah, Abraham’s wife, she is the only woman accorded that honor. As a matter of fact, in James 2 she is ranked right next to Abraham as one whose faith was alive with good works. Interesting.
In the war between darkness and light everyone must choose a side. There’s no neutrality. We covenant either with God and His people or with Satan and his. In order to stand with God’s people, Rahab committed treason against her people. She betrayed the government of Jericho. She disobeyed and deceived her former king and his minions. She risked her life to save God’s servants. She helped them escape the doomed city to carry good news and encouragement to Joshua. For this act of “terrorism,” Scripture enshrines her as one of the faith’s greatest heroines.
©2012 Off the Grid News
For Further Reading:
David Merling, “Rahab: The Woman Who Fulfilled the Word of YHWH,” Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 41, No. 1, 31-44 (2003).
Donald H. Madvig, “Joshua” in Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994).
Richard Phillips, “Why Was Rahab Praised for Lying?” Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Inc., (2009), <https://www.alliancenet.org/cc/article/0,,PTID307086_CHID559376_CIID2098416,00.html>