Probably one of the best known stories in the Old Testament is one that has to do with the conquest of the Land of Canaan. It’s the story of the prostitute Rahab from Jericho.
Chapter 1 of Joshua tells about the change of command for the Children of Israel. Moses is dead and God has appointed and confirmed Joshua as their leader. Around two and one half million people are camped on the east bank of the Jordan River which is in flood stage. They’re ready to cross over and possess the Promised Land.
Chapter 2 records two spies on a reconnaissance mission, but this mission starts some action that has eternal ramifications. Scriptures give us no indication here of just how important and far reaching this little part of the Greatest Story Ever Told will be. One of those spared from death in the city of Jerico is destined to become an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 3 opens with the Children of Israel being told what they must do. They have to cross the Jordan river which is in flood stage to reach the land of Canaan. So you could skip chapter two and not lose the continuity of the story of the conquest of Canaan.
But chapter 2 is included in the story of Israel conquering Canaan for a VERY special reason.
Before the Children of Israel actually began their assault on Canaan, God was going to give them tangible evidence in Jerico that he was already at work on their behalf. It would be their first battle against their enemies and it would be successful.
The spies learned from Rahab that the people of the land were afraid of Israel because they had heard of the power of Israel's God. God wanted Israel to realize that too because it would encourage them, knowing their enemies feared the true God.
Joshua 2:1-24. “Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, "Go, view the land, especially Jericho." So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.
2: And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, "Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country."
3: So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country."
4: Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from.
5: And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them."
6: (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.)
7: Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate.
8: Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof,
9: and said to the men: "I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.
10: For 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 the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.
11: And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
12: Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and give me a true token,
13: and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death."
14: So the men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you."
15: Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall.
16: And she said to them, "Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way."
17: So the men said to her: "We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear,
18: unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father's household to your own home.
19: So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him.
20: And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear."
21: Then she said, "According to your words, so be it." And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window.
22: They departed and went to the mountain, and stayed there three days until the pursuers returned. The pursuers sought them all along the way, but did not find them.
23: So the two men returned, descended from the mountain, and crossed over; and they came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all that had befallen them.
24: And they said to Joshua, "Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us." NKJV
In verse 24, the spies reported these things to Joshua and he no doubt told the people. That had to have been a real encouragement to them before they even started out. God was going to give the people who crossed over in chapter 3 a real confidence booster.
Chapter 2, then, shows how gracious God is towards His people. He could have sent them forward simply on the basis of His spoken promise without giving them any further encouragement, but God knows our natural fears and human weakness, so in His love for His people, He gives us confidence and assurance and that encourages our faith. That’s what He did here through the reconnaissance mission of the two spies. He had already promised them the land. He encourages His people and gives assurances before He sends us into battle.
Chapter 2 is a record and a reminder of God’s grace to His Own covenant people, and a record and reminder of God's grace to the lost.
The salvation of Rahab the harlot is a clear testimony of God’s saving grace and that His ability to save isn’t limited to any one nation or any one group of people. His saving grace can reach even the most unlikely people.
God intended to bring Gentiles into a saving covenant relationship with Himself through the Israelites and it would be through Israel that salvation would come to the world.
In Joshua 2, God gives us an example of His saving grace at work in the life of a Gentile sinner.
Rahab really believed in God. That’s confirmed in the New Testament in two places. Her name is on God’s honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11:31: “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.”
And James emphasizes that the genuineness of her faith was confirmed by her works in James 2:25. “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” NKJV
The fact that Rahab came to faith in God is very unusual. The chances of finding a citizen of Jericho, particularly one who lived and worked in the red-light district like Rahab did, trusting in the true God of Israel, would have been astronomical.
From the human level, the first thing that would have been against her was her religious background. All of the nations that inhabited this land such as the Hittites, the Amonites, the Jebusites and the Canaanites were idol worshippers and worshipped false gods.
Jericho would have had shrines, temples and idols located all over the place. This worship involved immoral sexual behavior and the worshippers openly engaged in fertility rites. Secular history records this. This would be Rahab's religious background. She would have grown up knowing nothing else and this would be normal religious activity for her. She would have believed that these gods really did exist and that this form of worship was how you obtained the favor of these gods.
The library in Jerico wouldn’t have had any information about the True and Living God. She wouldn’t have known anything about God’s written law. She was brought up in total spiritual darkness. She was a stranger to the covenants and the promises of God.
In spite of her religious background and the beliefs that had been ingrained into her thinking from childhood, and in spite of the spiritual darkness that surrounded her, this woman came to know and believe in, to trust and serve the one true and living God.
Undoubtedly her moral teaching was just as bad as her religious background. Rahab was a grossly immoral religious pagan, she earned a living as a harlot, she was a prostitute.
Joshua sent out two spies and they went to her house. This probably wouldn’t cause much concern because people were likely used to strange men going to Rahab’s house. We can’t get away from the fact that she was a prostitute. The king seemed to know her so she may have been one of the prostitutes who served at one of the shrines where he worshipped.
From the human point of view you would never expect to find true saving faith in a person with such a background but Rahab had that faith.
Remember King Nebuchardnezzar? He, too, was an idol worshipper who eventually believed in the one true God, the God of all creation who was also the God of Daniel.
We don’t have the details of how Rahab came to have faith in God but we get some insight into how genuine it was from what happened when she hid the spies on her roof. Verse 9. “I know that the LORD has given you the land.” This God was new to her and was the total opposite of the gods of Jericho.
Paul tells us faith comes by hearing. She hadn't heard much, but what she heard she believed and acted on, and in verse 10, she said, “For 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 the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.”
Rahab was convinced that the God of Israel was real, and had proved that reality. Rahab knew in her heart that Israel's God was the true God. Look at verse 11. "the Lord Your God is God of heaven above and earth below.” This is faith in God, coming from a woman who had known nothing but pagan idolatry all her life. She believed in the God of Israel and she believed His promises would be fulfilled.
If God could save Rahab, with all the religious ignorance and immoral background that she had, he can save anyone. No-one is beyond the reach of God's saving power. In Isaiah 59:1, God said “Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.” NKJV
Some of us have loved ones and friends who are in as much spiritual darkness as Rahab was. When it comes to their moral conduct, some of them may make Rahab look like a lady. We may think that the odds of them coming to faith are impossible, humanly speaking. She is a reminder that things that are impossible with men are possible with God.
Rahab lived at a time when those who God had chosen to share the truth of His grace were reluctant to do so but we live in a time when the Gospel is being spread by believers who really want every person to know God’s saving grace and to come to Him for eternal salvation. It’s true we live on the side of Calvary where a lot more spiritual light is available, but the way of salvation is the same, salvation comes by believing God’s Word.
Most people have either heard the Gospel from their parents or from their Sunday school teacher, or have read it from a tract. They may have heard it from the pulpit of a church or sometime at a funeral. And despite all this, some still refuse to believe the gospel. If you have never trusted Christ, Rahab’s faith is a challenge to you to believe.
If you don't accept Christ as your Savior, on the day of judgment, this prostitute redeemed by faith in God will rightfully rise up against you and condemn you for not believing God.
When a person has genuine faith, it manifests itself in tangible ways. James 2:17: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” NKJV
Rahab demonstrated her faith in two ways, one was in her dealings with the spies and the other was her concern for the salvation of her family.
Put yourself in Rahab’s place. What would you do?
Two foreign spies had come to her from a people who posed a real threat to destroy her city. It was going to be the original 9-11. Her king heard she was hiding them so he sent some men to find out about this.
Rahab had very recently come to believe in the God of Israel and she believed that He was going to destroy Jericho and give it to the Israelites. Now this question; should she abandon that new belief and go back to her old way of thinking and hand the spies over to the authorities like a true patriot so she wouldn’t be called a traitor for harboring spies? That's one thing she could have done. Or, should she risk her own life and hide the men and send the kings men on a wild goose chase so the spies could escape?
She was being challenged by God to prove her faith by identifying with and ministering to the needs of God's people in the persons of these spies. In verse 3, Rahab basically faced the question, whose side are you on? Who is your god? Whose people are your people?
Rahab showed where her faith was with her action. She sided with God’s people, hid the spies and sent the kings messengers on a wild goose chase and helped the spies escape.
If she had been caught she would have been killed. Her faith in God was so real that she put her own life on the line in order to help the people of God. She risked everything in proving the reality of her faith in the God of Israel.
We can’t justify the lies she told in verses 4-5. The fact that her lies are recorded in the Bible doesn’t mean that the Bible either approves or excuses them. She was a new convert with little understanding of God's Law and of His moral standards. She came from a culture where such things were very likely politically correct. (Does that ring a bell today?)
The point that we need to focus on is that she proved the reality of her faith by her works. And where true saving faith in Christ exists, it will be seen. A person’s life will authenticate the reality of their profession of faith.
It’s important to make a profession with the lips but it is equally important to prove that profession by our life. When a life consistently contradicts that profession then no matter how often a person says they have faith, the faith they have is not the saving faith of the Bible. True faith has a transforming effect and produces good works in a persons life.
Rahab proved the reality of her faith not only in her dealings with the spies but also in her concern for her family, she was concerned that her family might be saved. (Verse 12).
She wanted the spies to guarantee her family's safety so they made a covenant with her. Part of the condition of deliverance was that her family members had to be with her in the house. The house was the place of refuge, the only place of safety.
A scarlet cord was to be hung from the window of her house to identifying it as the house of safety when the walls came tumbling down and all the people in the city would be killed.
The “family” pictures the family of believers. The “house” speaks of salvation. That “scarlet cord” pictures the blood of Jesus Christ that would be shed to provide our salvation.
When God’s judgment comes, only those who are of the family of God and in the house of Jesus Christ will be safe from eternal destruction. Christ’s shed blood bought us this.
Deliverance was promised to only those who were in the house, so I think Rahab probably spent the next seven days as a fervent evangelist. Each day the Israelis marched around the city, doomsday drew nearer. She was warning her relatives, telling them that Jericho was going to be destroyed. She was promised deliverance and she wanted them to come to her house where deliverance was guaranteed.
I wonder if we Christians have the same concern for our relatives that Rahab had for hers. She knew they were in danger, she knew destruction was coming and she told them there was only one way to escape.
I think most of us have loved ones and friends who are in danger of eternal destruction in Hell. We know there’s a way of escape and there’s a place of safety, but have we told them about it? Have we told them how to flee from the wrath to come, to trust in Jesus where there will be no condemnation?
Rahab showed us tangible works, both in her dealings with the spies and in her desire for her family. That is undeniable evidence of faith authenticated by works.
Faith is often rewarded with immediate blessings as well as blessings later on.
Joshua 6:22-25 “But Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the country, "Go into the harlot's house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you swore to her."
23: And the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had. So they brought out all her relatives and left them outside the camp of Israel.
24: But they burned the city and all that was in it with fire. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.
25: And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father's household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” NKJV
Both she and her family who took refuge with her in the place of safety were saved. She was fully included in the covenant people of God,- 'So she dwells in Israel to this day.'
Later Scripture tells us that, as one of God’s people, she was blessed with a husband by the name of Salmon, and with a family, and that she was a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus Himself. In Matthew 1, the family tree of our Lord can be traced back through its various branches and you’ll find the name "Rahab".
Rahab is a wonderful example of God’s grace and a reminder that where sin abounds, God’s grace can abound even more.
The example of Rahab leaves no excuse for anyone who reads this not to put their faith in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation from God’s judgment and hell.