Rahab the Faithful? Surely it sounds rather  too stretched to describe her in this way?  Perhaps she is a woman we tend to shun because of the unsavoury title that Scripture ascribes  to her. Her first mention in the record is of the spies  lodging at “an harlot’s house, named Rahab” (Josh  2:1). The fact she lied to the soldiers also springs to  mind. Surely we would not condone such behaviour.  So how is it that such a woman came to be  singled out so deliberately both by James and by  the writer of Hebrews as faithful? And not only  faithful, but listed among such men as Abraham,  Joseph, Moses and David! And how could she  possibly be put in the list alongside Sarah, the very  mother of the people of God. Even more incredibly,  she is the only named Gentile in the list! It is worth  laying all this before our minds before we start to  look at her story so we see the divine perspective  on this woman; a Gentile, a former harlot, and yet  loved of Yahweh.

Spies in Jericho

Before crossing the Jordan after the long weary  wilderness pilgrimage, Joshua wisely sent two  men out to assess Jericho secretly. Thirty-eight  years earlier ten unfaithful spies had so melted  away any confidence in the people that this time  Joshua would undoubtedly have sent two of the  most faithful and courageous men he could find.  They would have been as faithful as he had been  those many years ago as he set out with Caleb to  see the beautiful land God had promised. We are  also given the extra detail that these were “young  men” (Josh. 6:23). Climbing down walls using but  a scarlet rope – Joshua had foresight in sending out  men with youth and agility!

We can only imagine the finer details of the  tale. The men may have posed as traders or travellers,  asking about for a lodging for the night. Places  of lodging no doubt would provide the men with  opportunity to hear local gossip, and find out the  feelings of the city on local politics. The enormous  camp of the famous Israelites across the river would  no doubt be top on the list for discussion over the  dinner tables at any inn in Jericho. It seems therefore  logical that the men found Rahab’s establishment  the ideal place to stay.

That a lodging for strangers doubled as a harlot’s  house is no surprise when we consider the reason  God was ridding the land of the Canaanites en  masse. Such behaviour was quite acceptable under  the immoral worship codes of the Canaanites. God  roundly condemns such behaviour under the Law,  and wanted no repeating of the errors of the people  that He was ‘driving out’ of the land (Lev 19:29Josh 23:913). It was in this establishment that the  spies took shelter.

Rahab’s mind at work

No doubt Rahab would have noted any men coming  in who were not of her regular acquaintance.  What were her first thoughts? Perhaps those in the  house would nudge her and suggest here was some  money to be made. It seems however that her mind  was growing anxious about the threat to her safety.

Would she not have felt trapped in Jericho?  What could she possibly do to save herself and the  family so dear to her? She knew in detail of the  dramatic events of the demise of Pharaoh and his  chariots in the depths of the Red Sea. What had  the gods of her people done in comparison to that?  They had merely sat in their stone shrines.

The God of the children of Israel could open  mighty tracts of water, could avenge His people  with the elements under His control and could keep  them all alive with miraculous bread for forty years.  Her heart would ache to think of the kindness and  care this God of the Hebrews showed to families  who had been slaves. Was she not a slave? Her own  life was one of depravity and humiliation!

Rahab had heard about the mixed multitude  across the water. Some of the Egyptians had become  Hebrews, and come out of Egypt to join with the  wanderers to worship the God of heaven. How she  longed to be among that group! It made no sense to  her to pay tribute to pathetic gods of stone.

Somehow Rahab understood, whether by her  own female intuition or some other way, that these  men were different from the other men who frequented  her establishment – they were Hebrews!  They were also no doubt quite different in their  demeanour and language. After all, Joshua would  have chosen wisely and well. She also sensed immediately  the danger they were in. The record says  the king was told, “There came men in hither tonight  of the children of Israel” (Josh 2:2). And Rahab said  to the king’s guards, “It came to pass about the time  of shutting of the gate, when it was dark” (v 5). There  was precious little time from the men’s entry at dusk  to the time when the king of Jericho’s armed men  came knocking on Rahab’s door!

Throwing in her lot with the people of God

Rahab’s quick mind worked overtime. How could  she protect these men? She longed for the chance to  talk with them, and in some way come to know how  she could become part of Yahweh’s people. But that  would have to wait – her first concern was that of  the safety of these men. It was a very common sight  during harvest to have stalks of flax drying in the sun  on the roofs. And as it dried it would be piled to one  side to allow room for more to be spread in its place.  The men were brought to the roof by this quickthinking  woman and covered with “stalks of flax”.  Incidentally, is not this an ‘undesigned co-incidence’  that such a hiding place was available? It was the time  of harvest (Josh 3:15), flax was drying, and used for  God’s purpose. The record agrees with itself.

Rahab answered the inevitable knock at the  door. She was demanded by the delegates of the  king to deliver up the men who were known to have  entered her house, “for they be come to search out all  the country”. She tricked the men into thinking the  spies had left already, and had gone. “Whither the  men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for  ye shall overtake them.” Her face must have given  nothing away, for it seems that her house was not  even searched. Her suggestion of pursuing them  “quickly” was heeded and the men left immediately.

What would we have done? What did God  think of Rahab’s answer? She lied, and there is no  way around that. The alternative of stating truth,  however, would have led to the death of the two men  under her protection. Telling the lie put her own life  at risk had her deception been uncovered. Rahab  sacrificed her own safety in telling a falsehood.

We have all at some time in our lives not told  the truth, or perhaps not the whole truth. Why did  we do that? Surely the answer in most cases was to  save our own skin, to try to salvage our reputation,  or to smooth over something to make our lives  more comfortable.

It is for God to judge Rahab’s words in this case,  and we can produce no quotation from Scripture  to condone telling of untruths in any form. But we  have in Hebrews and in James applause for this  woman from the God of heaven in receiving the  spies in peace and sending them out another way.  Rahab threw in her lot with the people of God at  this point – discovery of her hidden charges would  have meant death for her. God forgave Rahab this  falsehood, just as He forgave Abraham who called  Sarah his sister instead of declaring their true relationship.  Abraham is called the “Friend of God” in  the same context in the epistle of James that Rahab  is called “justified” (Jas 2:23-25).

Speaking with the spies

As soon as the pursuers left her door Rahab went to  the roof. She would no doubt have described what  had transpired at her door, and urged their caution  and immediate departure. The young men would  have marvelled at her courage – just what had been  commanded to Joshua by God (1:9).

Rahab’s words to the spies showed an amazing  understanding. She showed the faith of one who  “has not seen, and yet has believed” (Jn 20:29). She  even used the very Name of God Himself, “Yahweh  dried up the water of the Red Sea for you.” She  believed that the Lord had done the impossible  and saved His people when they looked completely  trapped by Pharaoh’s army, and more recently “utterly  destroyed” the two Amorite kings, Sihon and  the giant Og, whose very names struck fear into  men’s hearts.

Rahab’s words showed an awe and respect for  God which so many of the children of Israel had  failed to show so soon after the dramatic events of  the Red Sea. “For the Lord your God, he is God  in heaven above, and in the earth beneath” (Josh  2:11). In declaring, “He is God,” she showed her  renunciation of any past faith in pagan idols. She  knew God hated idolatry and would destroy it. That  was the reason He was giving Israel the land (v 9).

Rahab large-heartedly pleaded for her family, “I  pray you … show kindness unto my father’s house” (v 12). Her family were very important to her. She  did not ask only for her own life as she might have  done. She would need to trust her family, believing  they would not divulge her hiding of the Hebrews,  but would faithfully accept the plans for deliverance.  “Save alive my father, and my mother, and my  brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and  deliver our lives from death” (v 13).

We too are not going to the Kingdom in isolation.  We are surrounded by others we need to think  of, care for and help towards that great goal. Noah  saved his family, and Rahab saved hers. Christ’s own  role can be summed up as coming into the world  to save others (Jn 3:17). How large is our heart?