Bible Ladies (Part 5), The Foreign Women (b): Rahab


The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

As in the case of Zapporah and Ruth, Rahab in the Book of Joshua is a foreign woman of note.  She is presumably a Canaanite, or at least lives in Canaan.  She lives on the border of the Jordan in the city of Jericho, the first place of conquest by the Israelites within the Land of Promise.

The main account of Rahab is found in Joshua chapter 2. She offers refuge to the Hebrew spies, and takes great risk in hiding them within her home.

“Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’  So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.  At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.’  (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut (verses 1-7).”

Okay, the account tells us she is a prostitute. It could be argued that her protection of the men in her house was a occupational or “professional” decision.  The details, however, do not stack up to such a narrow line of thinking.  She not only gives them shelter, but vital intelligence as well.

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof  and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  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 Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below (verses 8 – 11).”

This information is valuable militarily (as it shows the low morale of the people of Jericho).  It also, however, shows her clear belief in the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Herein, lies a dilemma.  She as a Canaanite is marked for destruction (Deuteronomy 20:17).  Yet, she has just expressed a faith in God, and has aided the cause of the Hebrews.  Her redemption is promised in the following passage.

“‘Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them – and that you will save us from death.’  ‘Our lives for your lives!’ the men assured her. ‘If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.’ So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.  She said to them, ‘Go to the hills so that the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there for three days until they return, and then go on your way.’ Now the men had said to her, ‘This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house.  If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.’ ‘Agreed,’ she replied. ‘Let it be as you say.’ So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window (verses 12 -20).”

Okay, life spared, and her household.  But there is more! Let’s look at some details.

While some Evangelicals have tried to sanitise Rahab’s reputation by noting that she was some sort of weaver (thus the flax bundles on her roof), this does not diminish the testimony of several scriptures to her being “a harlot” (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25, and others).  This view is also found within rabbinic tradition as well. In fact, rabbinic literature not only acknowledges her prostitution, but her repentance and conversion to the faith.

The texts have a conversion process mentioned for Rahab, “Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things [with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach]. By the merit of three things pardon me: the rope, the window, and the wall [pardon me for engaging in harlotry because I endangered myself when I lowered the rope for the spies from the window in the wall].” (Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 116a-b).”

And now, what about the woman herself?  In Joshua, Rahab is apparently in her forties or even aged fifty, but still able to bear children as she is cited as being the mother of Boaz in some traditions. There is a spelling variant (Rachab/Rahab) in Matthew 1: 5 which various interpreters have argued makes her a different woman. If she is the same, she would be the wife of Salmon and therefore an ancestor of Jesus. Rabbinic tradition suggests, however, that Rahab married not Salmon but Joshua himself (Midrash: Eccl. Rabbah 8:10:1).

Rabbinic sources state she was 10 at the time of the Exodus and therefore 50 when the spies came to her.  This does seem to be supported by the knowledge she possesses in Joshua 2: 8-11.

Whether she is in the line of the coming Messiah, or the wife of the leader, Joshua – Rahab remains a woman of faith.  She was willing to risk her life, forsake her nation, and defy her king in the service of the King of kings.  She is an inspirational “Bible Lady” who shows that no matter what one’s background, and past sins, that God is willing to accept and use them for the kingdom.



Other Bible Ladies posts:

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