Rahab was a pagan prostitute used by God to help the Israelites conquer Jericho.
We’ve all heard of Rahab. She’s one of the bad girls of the Old Testament, a harlot, a prostitute in a pagan city. Many Christians find it disturbing that this woman of ill repute is included in Jesus’ genealogy. They argue that surely she was merely an innkeeper. But that’s not what the Bible tells us. The word used to describe her can only mean one thing, and it’s not an innkeeper.
So why her? Why did God not only use her to help save the Hebrews but then go on to include her in the lineage of Jesus?
Rahab in the Bible
After decades of wandering in the wilderness, the time had finally come for the Hebrew nation to enter the Promised Land. Moses had died and Joshua was the new leader. He sent two men to scout out the land and report back the situation.
Rahab and the Spies
The two men entered the city of Jericho and found lodging with a harlot named Rahab. Though they tried to enter without notice, word reached the king of Jericho that Israelite spies were in town. The king sent orders for Rahab to bring out the men who were staying with her as they were spies.
Rather than obeying the king’s orders, Rahab took the men to the roof of her house and hid them under stalks of flax. She then told the king’s men that they had been there, but she didn’t know who they were. She said they slipped out of town as the gates were closing at dark, but if they hurried, they might catch up with them.
How did two valiant men of God end up in a harlot’s house? Surely they knew what kind of woman she was. Wouldn’t they try to avoid her?
Perhaps they figured that would be the easiest place to blend in. Men were always coming and going at her place, so they wouldn’t attract undue scrutiny. Maybe they figured she wouldn’t pay much attention to them. I’m sure they never expected her to hide them or protect them.
And yet, Rahab risked her life to safeguard the lives of complete strangers.
Rahab Professes Her Faith
After Rahab hid the Israelite spies and sent the king’s men on a wild goose chase, she went up to the roof to talk with the men.
The first thing Rahab did was let them know that she knew all about them. “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:8-11 ESV)
Can you imagine being those two men fearing for their lives on the roof of a prostitute’s house, and she comes up there to them and professes her faith in their God?
Isn’t it amazing how Rahab listened to all the chatter that went on around her, observed for herself what was going on, and came to an understanding of who God was and all that He could do? And not only did God prepare her heart for the coming of those two spies, but then He used her to provide them the information they needed.
After professing her faith to the Hebrew spies, she then had a request for them.
“Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” (Joshua 2:12-13 ESV)
Rahab knew what was coming, and she wanted to make sure that she was on the winning side of the battle. Not only did she ask for safety for herself, but for her entire family.
The men agreed, saying that if she kept their confidence, when the time came to conquer Jericho, they would spare Rahab and her family.
She then let them down by a rope through the window of her house to the other side of the city wall, giving them instruction to hide in the mountains for three days until their pursuers came back. Then they would be safe to go on their way back to the Israelite camp.
As the two Israelite spies escaped through Rahab’s window, they gave her a final instruction.
“We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” (Joshua 2:17-20 ESV)
Rahab agreed to their conditions, and bound the scarlet cord in her window to await the time when it was needed. She didn’t want to take any chances of missing out on God’s protection.
Because of Rahab’s brave actions, the two Hebrew spies returned safely to Joshua and the rest of the camp. They were able to share with them that the inhabitants of the country were scared of them. Rahab’s words confirmed that God was at work preparing the way for the Israelites to take over their Promised Land.
The fear in the land of Jericho increased when all of Israel crossed over the Jordan on dry land. As the Hebrews made their final preparations, the land of Jericho went into lockdown.
Joshua 6:1 tells us, “Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in.” (ESV)
God knew that the people of Jericho were already frightened, so He had Joshua heighten the tension. He gave instruction for the priests and army to march once around the city for six days. As they marched, the priests blew horns.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for the people of Jericho to watch the Israelites parading around their city? How confused they must have been. Only one woman watched with mounting interest.
As everyone else panicked, Rahab calmly gathered together her family members and waited for the Israelites to destroy Jericho.
On the seventh day, the Hebrews marched once around the city, then again, and again. Seven times around with the priests blewing their horns. At the end of the seventh trip, the priests gave out a final loud blast and all the people shouted with a mighty yell.
And the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. While the Israelites were capturing the city, the two spies went to Rahab’s house and rescued Rahab and her family. The two men took them to the outskirts of the Israelite camp.
What Can We Learn From Rahab’s Story?
God didn’t wait until Rahab had her life cleaned up before He used her. He met her where she was at. Then He immediately gave her an assignment to test her faith. Would she place the red cord on her window or would she dismiss it as silly? Would she follow the rules that said that she and her family must remain inside if they wanted to be kept safe? How tempting it might have been to sneak outside to see what was going on around them. But they stayed where God told them to stay.
And then, that glorious moment when the dust was settling around them and the roar of the Israelites could be heard as they stormed the city. How wonderful it must have been to hear that knock on the door and have the Hebrew spies escort Rahab and her family to safety.
Rahab stepped out in faith. She risked everything she’d held dear in the past to take a chance on an unknown future. And God rewarded her for her faith with an amazing future.
Rahab Bible Study
Bible Study Review
- What was Rahab’s profession?
- How did she protect the spies?
- What happened to Rahab when the Hebrews attacked Jericho?
Thoughts to Ponder
- Why did the spies go to Rahab’s home?
- Why was Rahab glad to meet the spies?
- How was Rahab redeemed?
- Have you been surprised by who God has brought to your life?
- Have you ever felt unworthy for God’s grace?
- How does it feel being included in God’s family?