By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV
Now things get really interesting. Up to this point in the chapter, the author of Hebrews has been dealing with some fairly significant and well-known individuals in the family tree of Israel – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, and by extension, Joshua. But it should catch us a bit by surprise to read the name of a prostitute in this great “Hall of Faith.” To understand her presence in the list of the faithful provided in Hebrews 11, we have to go back to the original story found in the book of Joshua. When it came time for the people of Israel to begin their God-ordained occupation of the land of Canaan, Joshua sent out spies to determine the situation in Jericho. “And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1 ESV). There is a lot we don’t know in this story. We don’t know why they chose Rahab’s house. Had they been given her name by someone else? Where they aware that she was a follower of Yahweh? Did they choose a prostitute’s house because they believed no one would think to look for them there? The passage doesn’t provide us with answers to these questions. But we do know that someone ratted on the two spies, and the king of Jericho sent soldiers to Rahab’s house to find them. “Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land’” (Joshua 2:3 ESV). But rather than turn the two spies over to the king’s soldiers, she hid them, and she covered for them. “But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, ‘True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them’” (Joshua 2:4-5 ESV).
Rahab protected the two Israelite spies. Why? Because she was a God-fearer. She had somehow heard about the God of Israel and believed in Him. Word of God’s powerful and miraculous deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt had gotten out, and Rahab determined that He was the one true God. She knew that Jericho was no match for God, so she protected the spies and asked them to return the favor when the time came.
Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “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. 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 2:9-13 ESV
I tend to believe that the two men inadvertently ended up at Rahab’s house and that they had no idea she was a believer in Yahweh. That would have been the last thing they expected from a woman who made her living as a prostitute in a pagan city. But God, in His divine plan, arranged for them to go to the very house where they would find a woman who had become a believer in the God of Israel. She was so convinced of God’s power that she knew Jericho was going to fall. She only asked that she and her family be spared. She believed with all her heart that the God of Israel was the “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” The spies made an agreement with Rahab, instructing her to tie a scarlet thread in her window. That would act as a sign, much like the blood on the door post and lintels during the Passover. That threat would tell the Israelite troops to spare all the individuals found in that house. And when the walls of Jericho fell, we are told, “But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Joshua 6:25 ESV).
You might be tempted to say that Rahab’s faith was in the two spies. She believed they would keep their word and spare her life. But while there is some truth to that, the thing that drove her actions from the outset was her belief that God was the one true God and that He would give their city into the hands of the Israelite troops. Their God was greater. And in her action of providing protection for the two spies, she was acknowledging that she believed in God. Hebrews 11:6 tells us “without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Rahab definitely believed God existed. And she was seeking His protection and the reward of her life being spared. Rahab had no track record with God. She had simply heard the stories of His deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. She had heard about His redemptive power illustrated in the parting of the Red Sea. She had heard the stories about His defeat of the Amorites. For her, the rumors and hearsay became cause for belief. And her faith that God was real and that He had the power to save as well as destroy would lead to life, rather than death. Everyone in the city was doomed to destruction, but her faith in God resulted in her salvation.
Rahab would go on to spend the rest of her life living among the God’s people. She would marry and have children. In fact, you read her name in the gospel of Matthew. She is listed in the lineage of David.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV
And from David would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Not only did Rahab’s faith result in the sparing of her own life, it paved the way for the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Her faith had long-lasting repercussions. Out of faith in God, she gave a friendly welcome to the spies, and that faith would result in her redemption and allow for the coming of the Redeemer of the world.