The book of Joshua introduces us to one of the most amazing and thought provoking women of the Old Testament. Rahab, the prostitute earned unique praise for her faith, and a place in the lineage of Christ. Certainly the faith this one woman revealed demonstrates the potential we all have; yet she also reminds us to not judge–how many of us would expect a great act of faith from a hooker? How many of us would not only have walked by her house, but crossed to the other-side of the street so as not to be contaminated. Yet, God blessed her by putting her in the lineage of Christ. God’s blessings come in surprising packages.
We first meet Rahab in Joshua 2:1: Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there.
Here we learn three things: Rahab is a prostitute, she lives in Jericho, and that the spies go to her house while on the job. There are “Bible Story” that depict Rahab demurely dressed, standing in the foyer of a cheery little cottage, a cozy fire warming the room and sweet little flowers to enliven the room. Unfortunately, from what we know of prostitution, then ,and now, that scene is misleading. Instead we should envision a small cramped area–a place of outcasts. This isn’t a woman dressed in Sunday best, but for a Saturday night special. Only by facing the reality of Rahab’s life, can we truly learn from her. Her society would have rejected her. Her career would have exposed her to dirty, possibly diseased men who sought to use her for one purpose only. However, her story doesn’t end here, and we have other questions to consider.
Why did these men go to a prostitute’s house when they were supposed to be viewing the land? What exactly could they spy on there? The Bible doesn’t indicate there were others in the house to “eavesdrop on”, so why were they there? The Bible doesn’t tell us, though the most obvious answer is usually dismissed. Sometimes we like to think this was just an inn, and the two men were just renting a room. This wasn’t an inn, though we could believe they were just renting a room. But while that is an interesting question, the Bible really has something to teach us in this story. Read Joshua 2:2-7.
Rahab betrayed her own people. The Israelites were seeking to take Jericho, and Rahab had the opportunity to stop them, but she didn’t. Rahab found herself in a position many teachers claim never happens–she had to decide between God’s plan and the plans of earthly authority. Rahab proves she is a cracked vessel even as she operates in great faith. She steps out in faith–and lies to do it. Certainly, the Lord isn’t instructing us in situational ethics, rather, the Word demonstrates that women are human too. We are capable of great acts of faith, just like men. Equally, we are capable of great acts of error, just like men.
This passage also offers and interesting mirror to other more famous “intruder” stories in the Bible. In Genesis Lot offers his two daughters for the sexual use of a crowd in place of the visitors. Later in Judges the Levite will thrust is wife out of the door into the hands of a rapine mob. Yet, when Rahab, a woman, a lowly prostitute faces this same challenge—she responds differently. When the crowd comes to her door, she reacts quickly, the men in similar stories resort to sacrificing the “least of these” in their midst. Have you ever wondered, how many times have you been Lot instead of Rahab? Or how many times have you sacrificed the ones you should have protected? Read Joshua 2:8-11
Finally we learn why Rahab betrayed her people. She heard what the Lord had done and believed. She knew they were people of faith and knew who to be victorious. Too many times we hear what the Lord has done and refuse to believe, or worse we believe but refuse to act on that belief. Rahab believed and acted, even though acting put her life on the line. We often talk about stepping out in faith, but many times that step has little meaning because the drop is small. An abyss awaited Rahab with her first step-the life of a traitor would be short indeed, especially the life of a traitorous harlot. Read Joshua 2:12-13; 14-21
Rahab has already expressed faith: she acknowledged God and that God could and world act in her life. But there was more to be done. Faith alone isn’t good enough. Faith must produce action. As the Book of James tells us, “faith without works is dead.” The two spies explain to Rahab that she must act–she must not betray them and she must put the scarlet cord in the window. Failure to act, despite her claim of faith, will result in her destruction. Faithfully (pun intended) Rahab ties the cord and awaits the results.
- Joshua 6:17
- Hebrews 11:31
- James 2:24-26
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