I have many passages of Scripture which I love. One of my favorites tells a story of how an unlikely person is brought into fellowship with God against all earthly odds.
The Old Testament Book of Joshua records the history of the Jews after being in the desert for 40 years. Moses has died, and his younger protégé Joshua is given the leadership of the Jewish people. Then Joshua leads the Jews into the new land which is to become the Israel of the Old Testament era.
Before the Jews crossed the Jordan River, Joshua sent two spies into the walled city of Jericho to see what opposition the Jews would face. This is really a fascinating story, but you might never have heard the emphasis on the Prostitute Rahab before. The account is recorded in Joshua, Chapters 2 and 6.
Rahab is simply described as a harlot, or, a prostitute. She had what we might call a condominium along the outer wall of Jericho. Somehow, the spies ended up at her place looking for a place to hide. I would guess they stood out somehow, perhaps with their rough clothing, and they knew they were in trouble.
As they seek shelter, Rahab eagerly opens the dialog, but not as one might expect. She begins by telling the two that she has heard of the recent news and how it is that the Jews have entered the land with victory after victory. There were news accounts of the 40 years in the desert, the victory over Pharoa’s Army, the crossing of the Red Sea and the more recent battles with kingdoms on the opposite side of the Jordan River. She said that everyone in Jericho was in fear. Then, she asks that she and her family be spared if she hides the two spies.
The spies agree and Rahab must place a red ribbon in her window on the outer wall so that the rest of the Jews can see where she is, and know not to slay her and her family.
Then, the story (which is also really cool but not on point with THIS discussion) gets to the destruction of the walls of Jericho (and the walls came-a tumbeling down…). The punch line comes with the following facts:
1. The wall where Rahab lived was left intact, so Rahab and her family weren’t crushed and killed.
2. Rahab made a pledge of FAITH with representatives of the Lord (the two spies)
3. Afterwards, Rahab is noted to have remained with Israel (though her family isn’t mentioned.)
The analysis goes along these lines:
1. God honored her initial faith statement and saved her and her family from physical destruction.
2. Rahab heard the word about this God of the Jews and she had a really intense respect for this God. The Bible often calls this a “fear of the Lord”. We each need to get to this point where we understand both the Devine and awesome nature of a Holy God. The ‘fear’ or reverent respect (some say ‘awe’) is a natural state we must reach. This first stage for Rahab was that beginning of faith.
3. Rahab then puts action to that young nascent faith but approaching the two spies and ask for safety in exchange for help. The spies might have said, “No.” She might have been overheard and betrayed to the local government. She would have been killed. Her boldness of action was an “all in” movement. In effect, she committed her life in one move.
4. Rahab then follows through with her telling lies to protect the spies. Now, lying is not really honored by God, but in this case, this person of young faith acted in a genuine faith motive.
5. Next, after helping the spies escape (another gutsy move) she follows through on her instructions by tying a ribbon in her window so that her location was visible to the outside. This meant she was not really a secret believer.
6. Finally, afterwards, she identified with a new people, the Jews. She remained with the Jews. Notably absent in the notes is any mention of the family she also rescued. Sometimes, family doesn’t adopt the faith we each must find.
The Bible provides a few footnotes in the history of Rahab. For example, the Gospel of Matthew records the genealogy of Jesus. In Matthew 1:5, Rahab is listed as the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth and eventually was the ancestor of King David and eventually to Jesus. And in the Epistle of James, the brother of Jesus, Rahab is lauded for putting action to her faith.
So, what does all of this mean?
First, Faith comes by hearing about God. It is the work of God Himself to reveal His nature to people who will believe. Rahab heard about God and believed. Today, we have the Bible, God’s Word. Sometimes the Word of God is hidden inside other things, perhaps like C.S. Lewis’ works or the words of beleivers.
Second, true faith requires some action. While it is God who brings that first tiny bit of faith, obedience to God’s Word is required. God didn’t ask Rahab to do a lot, but what she had to do was irreversible. So it is today. Growing in faith requires more and more obedience to God. As a believer is obedient, God brings more faith and the process continues.
Third, God’s family is a cast of unlikely characters. Rahab was a prostitute who had a change in her entire life and was then honored in her posterity by being in the lineage of Jesus. King David was an adulterer and a murderer. The Apostle Paul was tossing Christians in jail until he literally saw the light. It was very unlikely by our human standards, but as God sees us, once we have been grafted into the family relationship of God, the old sins are covered and forgiven. This is part of the new life the Bible speaks about.
Finally, Rahab remained with her new identity. This is a subtly new wrinkle I missed until now. After Rahab and her family were brought out safely from Jericho, they were placed ‘outside the camp’. See Joshua 6:23. Later, however, we see only Rahab mentioned, not her family, as ‘living in our midst to this day’ Joshua 6:25. And THIS is an intriguing change.
What was the change which would allow a Gentile prostitute to reside inside the camp? The Bible doesn’t talk of this directly with respect to Rahab. But we can form some excellent guesses. The first Question would be, “Was Rahab still a practicing prostitute at Joshua 6:25?” Prostitution was a sin punishable by stoning, so it is unlikely she could still be a harlot at this time. I think the answer is deeper yet. I think she so identified we the God of the Jews that she went “All In.” That probably meant a time of convincing elders of her sincerity, humbling herself to receive religious instruction and perhaps a time of some proof. What happened with Rahab was a true conversion in which her whole life changed. And so it is with each of us.
At least one part of Sripture that notes this transformed nature is in 1 Corinthians chapter 6. In verse 10 is a list of ungodly behaviors. But in verse 11, speaking to the congregation in Corinth Paul says, “And such were some of you.” Past tense. Some of the Corinthians were engaged in things and now, after their conversions, they weren’t. Remaining, as Rahab did, also means forsaking sin.
Every time I read the Rahab history, I am reminded how, in my own life, I came to faith as a young person and how God has allowed my faith to grow. And like Job, even now as I face my own struggles with my health, and as I question God on why there is no cure in sight, yet I love God and I remain in my faith. I fully understand that my faith and my remaining are all part of the Grace of God which keep me day to day.
I hope this simple story of Rahab has been a blessing to you.