The Harlot Who Pleased God: the Story of Rahab part 1

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

The Harlot Who Pleased God: the Story of Rahab

A Canaanite woman living in Jericho, Rahab is a prostitute who is also a biblical heroine. According to the narrative in Joshua 2, before the conquest of Canaan, Joshua sends two men as spies to see the land. They come to Rahab's house for lodging, information, and/or sex.
The Characteristics of Rahab
The Bible calls her Rahab the prostitute because that was her defining trait. The Bible used the word harlot to refer to prostitutes and anyone who worshipped idols–those who prostituted themselves before pagan gods.
Lived 1214 BC - 1114 BC
Spouse Salmon
Children Boaz (Son) · NN (2nd Son of Salmon of Judah) ... (Son) · Elimelech. (Son) · Tob (Son)
Parents Nahshon (Father)

According to the Book of Joshua, Rahab was a harlot who lived in Jericho. In its day, Jericho was the most important Canaanite fortress city in the Jordan Valley. It was a stronghold directly in the path of the advancing Israelites, who had just crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1-17). The Hebrews were encamped to take Jericho. Before entering the land west of the Jordan, Joshua sent two spies to look over the land. The king of Jericho heard that two Israelite spies were within his city and ordered them to be brought out to him. Rahab, the woman with whom the spies were staying, protected them by hiding them on her roof.

The spies were sent to investigate the Jericho military strength. Rahab hid the spies in flax and barley; she only asked to be spared from the attack. Rahab is still known even today as “Rahab the harlot” because this is what the bible calls her. This title is undoubtedly how she defined herself and how the community defined her.

Many people are familiar with the story of the Israelites marching around the city of Jericho to bring down the walls. However, the account of Rahab is less well known in Joshua 2:1–24, 6:2–5, and 6:20–25. Just as the Israelites' faith in God led to their victory, Rahab's faith saved her family and played a vital role in the Israelites' success over Jericho.

Forty years after the Israelites had left Egypt, they could finally leave the desert and enter the Promised Land. However, the Promised Land was under the control of other nations. The Israelite leader, Joshua, sent two spies to survey the land, especially the city of Jericho before they sought to overtake it. The spies lodged at the home of a prostitute named Rahab. However, the Israelites' reputation for defeating the Egyptians and the Amorites preceded them. When the king of Jericho heard that spies had come into his city, he sent men after them.
Rahab, a prostitute in a house on the city's outer wall, was an unlikely character in the Israelites' epic defeat of Jericho. A humble and intelligent woman, she believed in the power of the Israelites' God. She told the spies, "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. … the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath" (Joshua 2:9, 11). Therefore, she hid the spies on her rooftop and told the guards they had already gone. Once it was safe, she arranged to help the spies escape if they promised to spare her family when they besieged the city. "'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.'
When the Israelites attacked Jericho, they killed everyone except Rahab's household, and she and her family joined the Israelites. Moreover, the men said to her, 'Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the LORD gives us the land, we will deal kindly and faithfully with you" (Joshua 2:12–14). She lowered them by a rope out of her window and advised them to spend three days hiding in the hills until the guards returned to the city. They told her to put a scarlet cord in her window and keep all of her family inside of her house and that they would be spared.

In Hebrews 11, Paul lists Rahab as an example of faith (Hebrews 11:31). Her belief in the sovereignty of the God of Israel motivated her to help the spies and leave behind the world she knew. James talks about Rahab's faith being proven by her actions (James 2:25). Rahab is the first Gentile recorded in the Bible as having converted to Judaism. In addition, she is an excellent example of the power of God to transform us from our sinful state into the person He wants us to be. She shows that with forgiveness, there is no need to live in guilt and stay in our sinful ways. Once she joined the Israelites, Rahab married Salmon from the tribe of Judah, their son Boaz married Ruth, and their descendant was Jesus' earthly father, Joseph (Matthew 1:5). Rahab should be part of the lineage of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice would reconcile both Jew and Gentile to God.
She told them (the spies) how the citizens of Jericho had been fearful of the Israelites since they defeated the Egyptians via the Red Sea miracle (some 40 years prior). She agreed to help them escape, provided that she and her family were spared in the upcoming battle. The spies agreed to her request, giving her three conditions to be met: 1) she must distinguish her house from the others by hanging a scarlet rope out of the window so the Israelites would know which home to spare; 2) her family must be inside the house during the battle; and 3) she must not later turn on the spies.
Safely escaping the city, the two spies returned to Joshua and reported that the "whole land was melting with fear." The Israelites crossed the Jordan into Canaan, where they laid siege to the city of Jericho. The city was utterly destroyed, and every man, woman, and child in it was killed. Only Rahab and her family were spared. Ultimately, Rahab married Salmon, an Israelite from the tribe of Judah. Her son was Boaz the husband of Ruth. Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, is her direct descendant.
Jericho was one of the principal seats of idol worship, mainly devoted to Ashtaroth, the goddess of the moon. Here was centered all that was the vilest and most degrading in the religion of the Canaanites. Rahab was a young Canaanite prostitute and, as such, not a very likely candidate for a heroine of the faith. Many Bible commentators, eager to remove the stigma of the designation “harlot” from one included in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:5), have described Rahab as a hostess or tavern keeper. Nevertheless, scriptural usage of the Hebrew word zanah (Leviticus 21:7-14; Deuteronomy 23:18; Judges 11:1; 1 Kings 3:16) and the authority of the apostles (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25) establish the credibility of the use of the word “harlot.”

Rahab was perceptive, intelligent, and well-informed. Rahab identified the spies for what they were, hid them, and had a plausible story ready to deceive the king’s agents. Rahab did not deny that she had entertained the men. She says that they left at dusk when it would be difficult for anyone to be sure of clearly seeing anything. The agents did not dare to risk stopping to search Rahab’s house because, if they did, the spies might get away. Finally, the Canaanite prostitute gives the two Israelites excellent advice. She tells them to hide in the hills for three days before attempting to cross the Jordan.

Spiritually, Rahab was not in an ideal circumstance to believe in the one true God, the God of Israel. She was a citizen of a wicked city under God’s condemnation. Rahab was part of a corrupt, depraved, pagan culture. She had not benefited from the godly leadership of Moses or Joshua. However, Rahab had one asset—she had heard from the many men she came into contact with that the Israelites were to be feared. She heard the stories of their escape from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the wanderings in the wilderness, and their recent victory over the Amorites. She learned enough to reach the correct, saving conclusion: "For the Lord, your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below" (Joshua 2:11). It is this change of heart, this faith—coupled with the actions prompted by faith—that saved her and her family.
It is often said that Rahab, while a genuine historical person, also serves as a symbolic foreshadowing or "type" of the church and Gentile believers. She was, in fact, the first recorded Gentile convert. There are many ways in which Rahab depicts the church. First, she was part of a pagan world system, a prostitute who, by her conversion, was enabled to become a legitimate bride. In like fashion, Israel was the first chosen people of God, but they were set aside temporarily so the Gentiles could be brought into the kingdom of God, and the church is now considered the bride of Christ (Romans 11; Ephesians 5:25-27). Second, because she welcomed the spies, Rahab was saved because of her faith in "God in heaven above and on the earth below" (Hebrews 11:31). Likewise, Christians are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. "For it is by grace, you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).

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