Once there was a woman named Rahab. She lived in a city called Jericho. One day, a couple of Israelites visit her home. She takes them in and hides them. When the King’s men came looking for them, she tells them they had already left. She lies. Then she lets them down through a window on the outside of the city wall.
That’s how most people remember her. But that’s not how God wants us to remember her. He wants us to remember her for something else.
Rahab was a prostitute. She made a living by selling her body for sex. We are told that not just once, but five time in the Bible. In Joshua 2:1 she is introduced as “a prostitute named Rahab.” In chapter 6:22 Joshua gives orders to the spies to go the prostitute’s house and then in verse 25 she is named, “Rahab the prostitute.” In James 2:25 we are reminded about “Rahab the prostitutee” and then in Hebrews 11:31 – that great chapter on the heroes of faith it says, “By faith Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed.”
It seems that God is wanting to make a point. When we hear the name “Rahab” he wants us to always remember her past. Why? Does he have something against prostitutes? No more than he has things against you are I. We are sinners just the same. We’ve all broken God’s law – multiple times. Then what? Well, that’s what we are about to find out.
Jericho – the “City of Palms”, was a very famous city. Located five miles west of the Jordan River, it blocked the entrance into the Promised Land. And it was well fortified. The city itself covered about 8 acres and it was surrounded by inner and outer walls. The inner wall was 12 feet thick, the outer wall six feet thick and they both stood about 30 feet high. The city was impregnable. It was impossible to breach. But not for God. He was going to flatten it. All the Israelites would do is stand by and watch.
Joshua sends two spies into the city of Jericho on a reconnaissance mission. Like any good general, he wants to scope the enemy out. The spies find their way to a prostitute’s house – a place where travellers frequent themselves, a place where they could remain undetected. Well it doesn’t take long however before their cover is blown. The King’s men come searching. Rahab hides the Israelites on her roof and tells the King’s men they’ve already left – through the city gates. Then she goes up on her roof, pulls away the flax where she hid them, and makes this astounding confession of her faith in Israel’s God,
“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.” (Joshua 2:9)
She tells them how she has heard how God dried up the water of the Red Sea and led his people through and what He did to the King of the Amorites and the nations.
“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 2:11)
This is a most remarkable statement. Rahab is a foreigner, a Canaanite. She lives amidst a pagan culture that worships idols. Yet she declares that Israel’s God – Yahweh (she uses His covenant name), rules over the heavens and the earth and all other gods. In other words, the gods of her people are not true gods, the Lord is the only true God.
Rahab has put her faith in the One and only true God. But note that her faith is not perfect. She was not truthful to the King’s men. She lied. The New Testament commends her for what she did, not for what she said. Her actions were of faith, not her lie. Then she says to 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” (Joshua 2:12)
Do you see that term “deal kindly”? It is the word chesed. It means steadfast love. It is covenant language. It is used by God to describe His covenant love for His people and it is used by God’s people to describe their covenant love for God. It is never used by foreigners.
Here Rahab uses it to make a pledge with the spies. She says, “Covenant with me. Promise me you will protect me and my family.” And the men covenant with her. After letting them down by a rope through her window which was located on the outside of the city wall, they say to her, “Take this cord and hang it outside this window. Keep all your family in your house. Don’t go out of doors, and don’t tell a soul about this. We’ll be back for you.” And then they were gone.
The two men return and report everything to Joshua, including their encounter with Rahab. They tell him,
“Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” (Joshua 2:24)
The Lord gives very specific instructions on how the city would be taken. They were to march around it six times and on the seventh time around, the priests were to blow their trumpets, and all the people were to shout with a great shout and God would bring the walls down. No besieging of the city, no ramparts, no battering rams, not even a single arrow. This battle would be the Lord’s.
Six times the Israelites would march around the city. And every time they went around, they would see a bright scarlet cord hanging high up out of a window in the wall. Joshua would say, “That is the house of Rahab the prostitute, whom the Lord will deliver.” And on the seventh day the people marched around Jericho one last time, and the trumpets blew and they gave a great shout, and the walls came crashing down. The Israelite army went in, and we are told in chapter 6 verse 21
“Then 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.” (Joshua 6:21)
But Rahab and her father and her mother and her brothers and all who belonged to her were saved alive.
That’s the story of Rahab’s deliverance. But what does it mean? And what does it teach us about the deliverance that God offers to us in Christ?
Today we live in a culture of violence, idolatry, materialism and sexual degradation. We protect whales while we kill babies. We ignore the starving while we install flat screen TV’s. We worship sport and sex and materialism and violence. We even watch movies that glorify the idols we worship. This is the world we live in. This is our Jericho. God has declared war on it, and everyone who lives within its walls. And a day is coming when it will be completely destroyed. God will send His Joshua. The skies will split apart and He will descend from heaven, riding on white horse and He comes to judge and make war (Revelation 19). On his robe and on his thigh the name is written: King of kings and Lord of lords. And we are told that the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, will hide themselves among the rocks of the mountains and they will call to the mountains,
“Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15–17)
Their hearts will melt with fear, just like the citizens of Jericho. Better to be crushed by a mountain that to face God’s great King.
Rahab was a prisoner, just like us. A prisoner of her culture, her idols and her lifestyle. She longed to be free. She began to hear of a great nation that was heading her way. This nation had been delivered from bondage by a powerful God. This God parted the Red Sea and buried armies. Could this God also deliver her and her family? Then she met the two Israelite spies. She received them into her house. She hid them. She knew this may cost her life. That no longer mattered. Such was her longing to be free. This was the moment Rahab’s chains came off. When she took in the spies, her identity changed. She was no longer a harlot of Jericho, she was Rahab of Israel. By faith, she had joined her heart to them. And in joined her heart to Israel, she was joining her heart to the Lord.
Do you see it? Do you see the picture of the salvation we can find in Christ? We are all Rehab’s. We are spiritual idolaters. We are prisoners of a city doomed for destruction. And news has come of a great deliverer who can save us from destruction. His name is Jesus. His first mission on this earth was not to judge, but to save. He lived a perfect life, He died in our place. And on the third day He rose from the dead, proving that He had conquered sin and death and Satan. If we are to be rescued, we must through in our lot with him. We must join with Him. And we must turn our backs on the world. As Rahab was delivered from that kingdom of darkness in Jericho, and brought into the kingdom of Israel, so too we can be delivered from this kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13).
When the trumpets sounded for the final time and the Israelites gave forth a great shout, the walls of Jericho fell. Joshua’s army went in, and mercy was shown to no one. No one that is, except for Rahab and her household. There, in the crumbled ruins of Jericho, one section of wall remained – Rahab’s house. God brought down every section of wall, except this one. God enabled it to stand. It stood because it was joined to an eternal habitation that could not be shaken. The house of Rahab had become a house of God.
Imagine what it must felt like that day for Rahab and her household. Here she comes, stepping out of the front door of her house, with her family following her, with smoke and ruins and the smell of death all around. She makes her way through the rubble, past the broken walls to the outside of the city. And there, standing before her is the commander of the Lord’s army, with sword in hand. He holds out his hand and says, “Welcome Rahab, to your new home.”
Rahab’s story doesn’t end in Joshua 2. Rahab and her entire family became citizens of Israel. She married a man from the tribe of Judah by the same of Salmon. Salmon and Rahab had a child by the name of Boaz, who married another Gentile called Ruth. Ruth became the mother of Obed, who become the father of Jesse, the father of David, the ancestor of Jesus, of the kingly line. God saved Rahab, so that Jesus could come and save you.
I find that quite extraordinary, don’t you? He chooses to work through the most ordinary and unlikely people – people like you and me. He chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong. He chooses what is low and despised in the world to bring to nothing things that are, so no human might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27-29). God loves to turn things upside-down, and he turns impossible situations into great victories.
The truth is my friends; we are all Rahab’s. But God so loves Rahab’s that he sent His Son to die in their place, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Then He raises them up with Christ and seats them in the heavenly realms.
God transforms prostitutes into princes and princesses. He makes them part of His own family. Then he loves them as His very own.
Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached in a series called “Ordinary Heroes”. You can listen to the full audio on our website here.