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Rahab the harlot

September 2014 | by Timothy Cross

Some Bible stories are a bit too indelicate to read to children, lest they ask awkward and embarrassing questions.

One such concerns ‘Rahab the harlot’ in the Old Testament book of Joshua.

There is no easy way of saying it, but, Rahab was a prostitute who lived in a house on the city walls of Jericho. She was a product of the land of Canaan, for Canaanite religion involved unmentionable practices.

Salvation

The book of Joshua records that Rahab took in two Israelite spies on a reconnaissance mission. In a way not explained, Rahab had come to know the one true God, and that he had promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites.

She hid the two spies, but asked that she and her family be spared when the Israelites eventually destroyed Jericho and conquered Canaan. Her request was granted. In due course, Jericho was destroyed but Rahab and her family were spared.

Rahab receives an honourable mention in the New Testament. Hebrews 11:31 states: ‘By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies’.

Rahab eventually married into the people of Israel. She became the mother of Boaz, the great, great, great ancestor of King David, and so gained a place in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Degradation

When we first encounter Rahab, we see that she plied what is known as ‘the oldest profession’. This degrading trade went on in Canaan, just as it does in many of our towns and cities today. Yet it is contrary to the will of God, for God’s revealed will is monogamous marriage.

He condemns fornication outside marriage and adultery within marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Rahab was thus an open sinner.

The Bible pronounces though that, in the sight of God, we are all sinners; for, even if we do not commit sinful acts openly, we all have sinful impulses. Our thoughts, words, deeds, desires and motives cannot stand up to divine scrutiny.

We need to be saved. Martin Luther used to say that the realisation of sin is the beginning of salvation, since it turns us to the Lord Jesus as Saviour. While Rahab’s degradation was great, the transforming grace of God did not leave her in that condition.

Despite her unpromising background, Rahab came to know the one, true God. He enabled her to see the falsehood of Canaan’s fertility gods.

Confession

It was by God’s grace that Rahab came to know this. We understand this from her confession to the Israelite spies: ‘I know that the Lord has given you the land … We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what he did to the two kings of the Amorites … For the Lord your God is he who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath’ (Joshua 2:9ff).

What a confession! Rahab pledged her allegiance to the true God and his people. The gift of saving faith was bestowed on her. She was numbered with God’s people and her life was transformed.

Joshua 6:25 records: ‘But Rahab the harlot, and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive, and she dwelt in Israel to this day’.

And what is more, Rahab became a member of the royal line and an ancestor of the promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). A harlot becoming an ancestor of the Son of God could not be made up. The change of status is inexplicable apart from the intervening grace of God.

Amazing grace

Yet doesn’t Rahab illustrate what God has done for every Christian? He has saved us by his grace, through Jesus, his own Son, who came into the world to redeem sinners.

Furthermore, in Christ, we actually become God’s adopted children — heirs of the kingdom of heaven, true royalty! ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Peter 2:4).

When we read Rahab’s story, we glimpse the gracious heart of God and are forced to believe that no one is beyond redemption. ‘He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people’ (Psalm 113:7-8).

God’s grace refers to his kindness to the undeserving and ill-deserving — to sinners like Rahab and us. He saves, transforms, guides and brings us safely to live with his people in the Promised Land — the kingdom of heaven itself. Such is the God of the Bible!

Timothy Cross

The author has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC