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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Kelly

Voices That Testify: Rahab


Most simply remember her as the prostitute that helped the Israelite spies escape with a scarlet rope in hand. But I don’t want you to miss the importance of context because of familiarity. Take a moment with me and remember the historical setting of the Israelite people and allow the story to come alive.

Moses has just died.

The Israelites have been wandering the wilderness for 40 years.

The faithful and valiant new leader named Joshua has officially taken over.

Yahweh is finally leading his people over to the promised land and has assured them victory.

This is a pivotal moment for the nation of Israel.

When God commands and charges his people, “Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” the Israelites respond with absolute wholehearted devotion and courage.[1]

We are on the precipice of God on the move for the Israelite nation once again!

So, when Joshua sends the two spies to check out the land, we pause. Why doesn’t Joshua go ahead and take the entire nation and cross the Jordan as God commanded?[2] The suspense and secrecy of the mission of the spies are to get a temperature check of the land and its people. All of a sudden, we are invited into a tricky situation.

Here's where it gets good. I wish I could translate the literary cues and magic that is the Hebrew language of the Old Testament. But what I can tell you is that where these two Israelite men actually end up is most scandalous! Irony and tension are all over the place. These two scouts take up residence at a prostitute’s house. Rahab enters the story like a double-take moment that needs to get replayed.

Who is this woman?

And what are the Israelite men doing in her house?

How did they end up there?

Her particular status as a non-Israelite and prostitute alone would cause any reader to stop and make sure we’re hearing the story right … especially the original audience. Remember, in Old Testament times, foreign women were to be avoided and sometimes were considered dangerous.[3] Also, prostitution was a clear sign of covenant violation to the Israelite people.[4] The fact that two Israelite spies slept in the house of a Canaanite prostitute would certainly raise a few eyebrows.

Rahab is the antithesis of everything the Israelite people would deem worthy or noble. She is beneath anything they hold to be sacred or good.

But in this story, Rahab provides for the spies what they need at the moment: information, anonymity, and a way out. What is most astonishing is how the Bible celebrates her declaration of faith and the role she played in aiding the Israelites’ conquest of Jericho (despite the very fact of who she was).

The King of Jericho sends his guards knocking on her door, Rahab plays it cool. Not only does she hide the Israelite spies (covert action), but she gives the guards misinformation that allows the two Israelite spies more time to escape. Rahab is cunning and swift. Her bravery to hide the spies and re-route Jericho’s men could have cost her life. But why would this Canaanite harlot act contrary to everyone’s expectations? What caused her to put her own life on the line for two Israelite men?

During her life spent in the walls of Jericho (and most likely due to her occupation) Rahab hears amazing stories about the redemptive acts of Yahweh. This God, who makes promises to Israel, performs works of awe, devastation, and wonder all on account for the Israelite nation impacts her. So much so that she brings up two different stories to the spies: how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea when they came up out of Egypt and the complete destruction of the two kings of the Amorite nation.[5]

I wonder as Rahab lied in bed at night during her days in Jericho if she ever prayed and asked Yahweh to deliver her. How often were her thoughts on this God who acts on behalf of the Israelite people? Even if she came to believe this God was true what could she possibly do to attain her deliverance? She knew that she needed to do anything, risk everything to be on the side of the one true God, and save herself and her family from death.[6]

Rahab makes one of the most beautiful confessions about God in the Old Testament. To the two Israelite spies that have now found themselves under the protection of a Canaanite woman, Rahab declares that “the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath”.[7] Her confession and oath must have come as a shockwave to the men.

But here's where it gets interesting. Rahab’s actions are not merely self-protection. She is inserting intentional words and steps to envelop herself in the Israelite community. By Rahab speaking the most theologically significant Hebrew word for “loyalty” within the covenant community … ḥesed (often translated as “loving-kindness,” “covenant love,” or “loyalty”) the spies know exactly what she is doing.[8] In return, the Israelite men declare, “our life for yours even to death” and promise her that same covenantal protection.

Two completely different cultures and genders and worlds collide at that moment. Both, Rahab and the Israelite men (who were natural enemies) are now united under the belief in the one, true God.

When Rahab lets down that rope and gives specific directions for the spies to escape, she is carving a new path forward for her own life and future. Her trust in the God of Israel is palpable. She ties the scarlet cord out her window … waiting, trusting, and knowing that the God who delivered the Israelites out of the Red Sea now has delivered her from the walls of Jericho.

The woman who would have been despised, outcasted, and rejected by most Israelite people, becomes included in the hallmark of faith. Rahab is listed in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 and praised for her faith. But what is even more remarkable is that God includes her within the lineage of Jesus ... the redeemer of all mankind.[9]

Isn’t that what God does? The cosmic God of the Universe, of Heaven and Earth ... who causes the sun to shine, and the earth to rotate, and the stars to sparkle in the night, He takes the most insignificant, unlikely people who dare to place their faith in Him and uses them for good.

Rahab’s story portrays a God who is the grand weaver … who displays unlimited mercy and power and faithfulness to every, single one of us that trusts Him with our lives—no matter who we are or what we have done.

I’ve got a litany of scarlet thread stories in my past that I have entrusted to the cross of Christ. His blood covers my sin and shame and suddenly I realize, the very same loving-kindness (hesed) that God extended to Rahab in those walls of Jericho, He extends to me through His Son.

God is still on the move my friends. We live in the precipice of today. Rahab's story beckons us to reflect on our own lives. Rahab was shown to be right with God through her actions. What does your response need to be?

[1] Joshua 1:9-18 [2] Joshua 1:2 [3] Deuteronomy 7:3; Judges 3:6; Proverbs 2:16 [4] Exodus 34:14-16; Numbers 25:1 [5] Joshua 2:10 [6] Joshua 2:12-14 [7] Joshua 2:11 [8] Gordon H. Matties. Joshua: Believers Church Bible Commentary. Herald Press, 2012. p 73. [9] Matthew 1:5

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