31 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
The Israelites followed the strange-sounding commands of God and enjoyed a lopsided victory over the city of Jericho. This first battle in their efforts to occupy the land of Canaan had gone off without a hitch because they followed God’s instructions down to the last detail. But now the story gets 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 find the name of a prostitute in this great “Hall of Faith.”
To understand her presence in this list of the faithful 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 reconnoiter the cities on the western side of the Jordan River.
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 are a lot of details left out of this story. We aren’t told why the spies chose Rahab’s home as a safe house. Had they been given her name by someone else? Were 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? Or was their selection of her house because of its location within the walls of the city (Joshua 2:15)?
The passage doesn’t provide us with answers to these questions. But we do know that someone informed 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, Rahab chose to protect them and even concocted a story that diverted the soldiers from her home, giving the men time to escape.
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
But why did this woman take such a dangerous risk? Because she was a God-fearer. Rahab had somehow heard about the God of Israel and believed in Him. News of God’s powerful and miraculous deliverance of the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt had gotten out, and Rahab determined that their God must be the one true God. Without realizing it, she was living out the truth of the following verse.
…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 ESV
Rahab had somehow deduced that her city would prove to be no match for the God of Israel, so she chose to protect the spies and asked them to return the favor when the time came. She believed that this powerful God of the Israelites was going to destroy her hometown and she wanted to live. She greatly desired to be saved from the coming destruction.
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 spies 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 according to His divine and sovereignly ordained plan, God arranged for them to go to the very house where they would find a woman who had placed her faith in the God of Israel. She was so convinced of God’s power that she knew Jericho was going to fall, and 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 serve as a sign, much like the blood that was placed on the doorpost and lintels of the Israelite homes during the Passover. That red-colored thread would tell the Israelite troops to spare all the individuals found within that house. The book of Joshua reveals that when the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were protected from the devastation and escaped death.
…they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” – Joshua 6:22-23 ESV
The spies kept their word and Rahab was spared.
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
One might be tempted to say that Rahab’s faith was in the two spies. She had to trust that these men would do as they had promised. She had no guarantees from the God of Israel. She had been given no promises by Yahweh. But while it’s true that she had to have faith in the two spies, the thing that drove her actions from the outset was her belief that God was the one true God and that He would give the city into the hands of the Israelite troops. The Israelites’ God was greater. And in providing protection for the two spies, she was acknowledging that she believed in this superior God of Israel.
Hebrews 11:6 states, “…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 believed in God’s existence, 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. News of His redemptive power as illustrated by the parting of the Red Sea had reached her ears. God’s role in the Israelites’ defeat of the Amorites had gotten her attention. For her, all the rumors and hearsay about God had become cause for belief. Her faith that this God was real and that He had the power to save as well as to destroy led to life, rather than death. While everyone else in the city was doomed to destruction, Rahab’s faith in God resulted in her salvation and that of her family.
Rahab would go on to spend the rest of her life living among God’s people. She would marry and have children. In fact, her name appears in the gospel of Matthew in the lineage of King 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
But Matthew’s record of David’s lineage doesn’t stop there. His list goes on to include the name of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Not only did Rahab’s faith result in the sparing of her own life, but it paved the way for the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Her faith saved her and her family, but it had much longer-lasting repercussions. Out of faith in God, she gave a friendly welcome to the spies, and that faith would result in her redemption but also pave the way for the coming of the Redeemer of the world.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.