Our scene opens with the 12 tribes now camped on the east side of the Jordan River, ready to begin the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of their new Commander-In-Chief, Joshua.
The first city the Israelites would have to take was Jericho, the City of Palms. It controlled a lush green valley. God had promised His people a land flowing with milk and honey, and the first city in their path was one that filled that description perfectly.
The valley was fertile and well-watered, overflowing with abundant crops and luscious fruits. The city itself was the strongest of the fortified cities in Canaan. The mud walls, about 20 feet high, seemed impregnable. Archaeologists tell us that there were actually two walls with a room-wide gap between them. If an enemy succeeded in scaling the first wall, he would be trapped in this no-man’s-land, an easy target for the defenders; Jericho was well protected.
Over the gaps in these walls were houses at intervals around the city. Strong timbers supported these houses spanning the gulf between the two sets of walls. It was in one of these houses on the walls that Rahab lived.
Our story begins in Joshua 2:1, “Joshua, son of Nun, secretly sent two spies from Shittim.” “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho. So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. “
That’s the setting: Israelite preparations for war, spies, and questions of loyalty and patriotism. Where could they stay? How could they learn what they needed to know? What better place to go than to a house of prostitution? Visiting merchants frequently asked directions to such places. We need not be too surprised that the two spies from Israel ended up at Rahab’s house on the wall.
But had the spies succeeded in evading suspicion? Read Joshua 2:2-7, “The king of Jericho was told, Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land. So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land. But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them. But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof. So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.”
Rahab was faced with having to make a split-second decision.
Would she do the patriotic thing and turn over the spies to the king? Or would she lie and become a traitor by sheltering the enemies of her people?
That is a big decision for anyone to make. And Rahab did not have several hours or several days to think it over or to consult with people she trusted. She had to make that decision quickly. The spies, at least for the moment, were safe under the stalks of flax on her roof. The soldiers who had come to her door believed her story and went off to search for the spies on the road back to the fords of the Jordan River.
Like many of the split-second decisions we make, Rahab’s decision came out of who she was and what she believed about herself, about her world, and about God. What she believed gave her the courage to go against her people and her government when she was faced with a split-second decision. Read what Rahab said to those two young men in Joshua 2:8-13, “Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.”
That is the only way you and I can confront our culture or go against the tide of society around us. We find the courage to do that only when we are convinced that “the Lord [our] God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Do we really believe that God is sovereign not only in heaven above but also on the earth here below? Are we convinced that “my times are in [God’s] hands” (Ps. 31:15) and that God really does have “the whole world in His hands?” Can we be sure His hands are good hands and that He will cause justice to triumph and good to win out in the end?
Rahab knew enough about God to believe He would use His great power to benefit His own. She was willing to bet her life on it. She knew how thick the Jericho walls were; she lived on them. She knew how ferocious the Jericho soldiers were. As a prostitute she probably had listened to enough of them brag about their strength and prowess when they visited her. She could see how invulnerable Jericho was to any invader. But despite all of that, she had come to believe that the God of Israel would triumph, and that the Israelites were on God’s side. She believed that so thoroughly that she was ready to bet her life on that reality. Rahab dared to stand alone against her culture because she had a strong faith in Israel’s God.
We learn something important about Rahab’s faith when we move over to the New Testament. To our surprise we find this prostitute held up as an example of outstanding faith. Look first at Hebrews 11:31, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” The writer of this letter to the Hebrews is not the only one who used Rahab’s faith as an example.
Look also at James 2:25-26, “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
She asked that, in exchange for saving the spies’ lives, the lives of her parents, brothers, and sisters be spared when God gave Jericho to the invaders. “Our lives for your lives!” the spies assured her. On two conditions: She must not tell their mission to the authorities in Jericho, and she must bind a red cord in the window on the wall. Only those in that house at the time of the conquest would be saved. Everyone else would be destroyed. They all agreed on the conditions and she let them down over the wall by a heavy rope; and told them to hide in the mountains until the search party had returned to Jericho empty-handed. She tied the red cord in the window and she waited.
In Joshua 3, 4, and 5, we read the story of a huge nation of people crossing a raging river, which the Lord opened up to make a way (Joshua 3:13)2, and of the things that happened as they set up camp not far from Jericho. Meanwhile, Rahab waited. Our story resumes in Joshua 6:1, “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.” With that, God gave Joshua one of the strangest battle plans ever recorded. Read Joshua 6 to understand the full battle.
Joshua called the two spies and gave them a good assignment (Joshua 6:22-23): “Go to Rahab’s house and bring out everyone there and keep them safe. The young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.”
Rahab had bet her life on Israel’s God. God had come through for her and for all who huddled with her inside that house on the wall of Jericho. In Joshua 6:25, the writer tells us that Rahab lived among the Israelites to the day the book of Joshua was written. She became one with the people of God. The fact that she had been a prostitute was no longer relevant. By faith, she was joined to the community of God.
One of the remarkable things we see when we look at Jesus’ contacts with women in the four Gospels is that He often stooped down and lifted up “fallen women”. Remember the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume in Luke 7:37-38, and the woman taken in adultery in John 8:1-11. Again and again, we see the compassion of Jesus reaching out to women who had broken the rules and had lived the lives that “respectable” people looked down on.
Rahab reminds us that being joined to the family of God has nothing to do with our goodness. It has everything to do with God’s grace. Through a prostitute, God teaches us that we are saved by grace, not by being good.
Matthew 1:5 says, “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.” Rahab the mother of Boaz? That means she was the great-great-grandmother of David, Israel’s greatest king. Even more amazing, she was an ancestress in the genealogy of Jesus, the Lord of glory, the God-man, the Savior of the world.
Rahab, the prostitute. Wouldn’t you think that God would be a bit more choosy about the lineage of His Son? For people for whom descent was everything, wouldn’t God take their scruples into consideration and choose a purer line for the Messiah? Apparently, God wanted us to learn something else as we look at Rahab.
Rahab stands as a tribute to the possibilities within every one of us. God saw in her the possibility of an active and invigorating faith. Never mind what she was. He looked at what she could become.
It is the same for us. Our past is irrelevant. Our future alone matters to God. Faith can blossom in any environment. Roses can grow in manure piles. Whatever lies behind us is not nearly as important as what lies before us. The choices we have made in the past have brought us where we are today. The choices we make today, tomorrow, next week, or next year will determine our destiny.
Some of those choices will be split-second decisions. They will come out of who we are and what we believe about ourselves, our world, and God. Those decisions will determine the actions we take.
Rahab heard about Israel’s God. She responded to what she heard by faith. She made a split-second decision to go with God by saving the two spies. Her faith gained her life in the midst of destruction. It gained her the salvation of her entire family. It gained her a place in Israel and marriage to Salmo, who tradition tells us, was one of the two spies. It also gained her a place in the genealogy of Israel’s greatest king and a place in the genealogy of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
What she was is irrelevant. What she became through active faith was all that mattered.
What resources do you fall back on when you have to make split-second decisions in your life? Are your decisions grounded in your faith in a loving, compassionate God whose hand is on you for good? Do your actions show your faith as you go with God and with His people? Look at this prostitute, Rahab, who modeled vibrant faith for Israel and for us today.
Examples of God’s Promises – Three Cycles God takes us through in response to receiving God’s promises made in faith.
Promise: Rahab 2
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, promised the land of milk and honey to their descendants.
Problem: After the Israelites heard the report from the leaders of the 12 tribes who entered to spy the land, they were filled with mistrust and disbelief. The Lord’s anger came upon them (Num 13-14). God waited forty years before he would deliver them to the Promised Land.
Provision:. Once that generation died, Joshua was ready to pick up where Moses left off and enter the Promised Land. God was ready to deliver Jericho to His people (Joshua 1).
Rahab played a key role in accomplishing the successful execution of the battle of Jericho.
As we see how dysfunctional the family of Jesus was, we should give praises to the Lord that He is merciful and doesn’t care what our past looks like, but what we are willing to change in our present and allow Him to mold us for the future.