When you think of heroes of the faith in the Old Testament, who comes to mind? Abraham (my personal fave)? Moses? Elijah? David?
What about women heroes? Ruth? Deborah? Rahab?
Rahab? You mean Rahab the harlot?
If you had asked me a couple of months ago if I thought much about considering Rahab as an example of a woman of faith, I would have told you “no”. Not that I didn’t appreciate what she did – it just didn’t stand out to me like Ruth leaving everything to follow Naomi’s God or Deborah going with Barak to the battle. But that changed this summer as I was going through a book by a local author, Debbie Wilson, in my quiet time called Little Women, Big God. One of the chapters was on Rahab, and it made me stop and take her more seriously. You have to feel for a woman whose name has “the harlot” after it almost every time it’s mentioned in Scripture!
You may be familiar with Rahab’s story. It’s in the Book of Joshua in Chapter 2. The Israelites had finally reached the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, and Joshua is ready to lead them in to take possession of it. Their first test after they cross the Jordan River is the city of Jericho so Joshua sends some spies to assess the situation before they go into battle. The spies end up staying in the house of Rahab who happens to be a prostitute. The king of Jericho sends people to Rahab to tell her to bring out the spies, but she hides them and lies to protect them.
Before Rahab sends the spies on their way with instructions on how to stay safe, she asks them to deal kindly with her and her family when they come back and take the city. She knows about their God and believes in Him saying, “For the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11) They agree to spare her family but only if she ties the scarlet thread in the window that they leave through and gathers all of her family into that home. Later in Chapter 6, we see her do just that and her whole family is spared. The last we hear of her in the Old Testament is: “and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” (Joshua 6:25)
But you don’t have to go far in the New Testament before Rahab shows up again. In Matthew 1:5, she is listed in the genealogy of Jesus when it says that Boaz was born to Salmon by Ruth. So we learn some of what happened to her after she lived “in the midst of Israel”.
The other two times Rahab is mentioned in the New Testament she is held up as an example of faith. One is in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 where she is one of only two women mentioned by name (the other is Sarah). “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” (Hebrews 11:31) The other mention of her is one I had never really noticed before in the Book of James. In writing about the relationship between faith and works, James uses Rahab as an example. “And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:25) Here’s the thing that got me about the reference to her in James – when James comes up with examples of how faith without works is useless he picks Rahab and Abraham. She is in the same company as Abraham when it comes to faith! To me, that is a big deal, and it means I have to really take her seriously and admire her as an example of faith.
So I did. Here are a few of my thoughts so far on the faith of Rahab:
- The main act of faith she showed was clearly welcoming the spies and protecting them because she believed in their God. Why is this held up as such as example to us? For one thing, she had to be putting her life on the line. You will pay the price if you harbor spies even in the U.S. today much less in every other part of the world, and I imagine the price would have been even higher for her back then. Again, she chooses to risk her life because she is aligning herself with their God.
- Part of this alignment is also a radical decision to leave her culture, her people, and her gods. Because her family trusts her and apparently trusts God, too, Rahab does get to keep them. But she gives up everything else. I guess she would have lost it all anyway when Jericho was conquered, but I don’t think that’s her calculation. I think instead, like Ruth who will be her daughter-in-law, she comes to know and believe in the true God and chooses to follow Him and align herself with His people.
- Reading Little Women, Big God made me realize part of the story I had never thought about before that blew me away. Rahab’s house was “on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall.” (Joshua 2:15) This is the same wall that “fell down flat” (Joshua 2:20) when the people shout after circling it seven times. So imagine being Rahab and sitting in your house with all of your family, scarlet thread in the window, and the wall your house is on – the one you are sitting in – completely crumbles. Falls flat. How would you feel? How would you respond? I think, for me, my instinct would be to run out of the house and try to find somewhere safe. I would be tempted to give up on the men who made the promise and come up with my own strategy to save myself. But Rahab didn’t do that. For me, that is the act of faith that really stands out. Of course, the scarlet thread in the window points us to Jesus whose scarlet blood would be shed to save us. Even when our world is crumbling, Rahab’s faith encourages us to keep trusting in Him no matter what.
In Little Women, Big God, Debbie Wilson shares that “a local pastor’s wife visited the ruins of Jericho on her trip to Israel. Their guide pointed to one section where the wall still rises above the crumbled city. ‘Rahab’s home,’ he said.” (Page 73). I like that.
- Rahab is the mother of Boaz. We learn a lot about Boaz in the Book of Ruth. Apparently he is a man of great means. He is a kind man who takes notice of Ruth when he sees her gleaning in his fields behind his workers. Even though she is a foreigner, he has compassion on her and protects and generously provides for her. Boaz admires what she has done for her mother-in-law and how she left everything to follow the God of Israel. As Ruth’s kinsman redeemer, he points us to Christ who will come one day from his lineage to be our Redeemer.
When I see what an incredible man Boaz is, it makes me think that Rahab must have been a great mom. I wonder if he has compassion on Ruth as a foreigner because his own mother was a foreigner. What a legacy for both Rahab and her son and daughter-in-law to be in the lineage of the Messiah!
So I have added Rahab to my personal Bible “Hall of Faith” (even though the writer of Hebrews and James had already added her for me!). I am challenged by her bravery, by her commitment to the Lord no matter what – risking her life, identifying with a different people and culture -, by her faith in God even when the circumstances around her could have led her to stop trusting in God and instead try to save herself, and by the legacy she left her in own family as she must have continued to walk with God. Not bad for a “harlot”. A REDEEMED harlot!