LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM WOMEN IN THE BIBLE
PART 4: RAHAB – “HARLOT OR HEROINE?”
Let us get “straight into it”. Let us allow the Bible to speak for itself as we read the story of Rahab.
Just a bit of context here. After the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, after the death of Moses, after Joshua became the new leader of the Israelites; the Hebrews were ready to cross into the Promised Land to take hold of their inheritance as promised by God. The problem was that the mighty city of Jericho stood right in their path…
Joshua 2: 1-21
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. [WHOA! they went into a house of a prostitute! What are God’s people doing consorting with this kind of a woman?!]
2 The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’ 3 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.’
4 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. 5 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.’ 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 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. [WHOA! she told a lie – is that OK?]
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 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. 10 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 11 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.
12 ‘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 13 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.’
14 ‘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.’
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 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.’
17 Now the men had said to her, ‘This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 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. 19 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. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.’
21 ‘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.
Joshua 6: 22-24
22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, ‘Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.’ 23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.
Matthew 1: 5-6
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David. [WHOA! A prostitute was the ancestor of Jesus!]
Let’s look at some of the lessons that can be learnt from this wonderful woman of the faith…
- GOD SEES THE PERSON AND NOT THE PROFESSION
Rahab WAS a prostitute. Let’s not beat-about-the-bush over this one. Attempts have been made to suggest she was an inn-keeper – and maybe she was – she certainly took the spies into her place (Josephus, the Jewish historian suggested this way back in the 1st C). But…Rahab WAS a prostitute. The Hebrew words used are “Ishah Zonah” which literally means “woman prostitute” – she was a sex worker (not a cult prostitute which is a different word entirely). The Greek word used in the Septuagint and in the New Testament mentions of her is “porne” – un-equivocally a prostitute.
Notice, however, that there is no sense of judgementalism. The fact of her profession is stated without comment.
God saw the person and not the profession. God saw a woman who believed in Him and put her faith in Him and then served Him. She was justified by faith and saved by faith. There is no suggestion that she had to give up her profession before Joshua agreed to save her in the battle.
Did she continue in her profession after being saved? I don’t think so. The fact that she married Salmon and became the ancestor of David and ultimately Jesus suggests she left her profession behind. And yes, the fact that her name is divinely placed in the genealogy of Christ shows that God saw who she really was, rather than what she actually did at the time.
And the relevance to us? We are challenged to face our own prejudices. In our society today we are going to be faced not just with prostitutes but more likely with drug addicts, with the violent, with the criminals, with people traffickers, with modern slavery, with transvestites, with homosexuals and those who have had sex changes. Let us remember that God looks on the heart; God looks at who the person really is, rather than the “profession” or “lifestyle” from which they are coming to us. Oh, I know that this leads to all kinds of questions and problems – and we have to work through these issues patiently and lovingly. This does not mean accepting the lifestyle, but it does mean accepting the person. Remember that we are “called to catch the fish – it’s God who cleans them” – and this He certainly did with Rahab.
And use this story to counter the lies of the devil against you, Satan will constantly remind you of who you used to be before you came to Jesus, and how He can’t possibly forgive you for what you have done in the past. Do not be defined by your past! God looks at the person and not at the profession.
- LIFE IS COMPLICATED SO BEWARE OF LEGALISM
Rahab lied to the king of Jericho! This can’t be right – can it? The “10 Commandments” clearly tells us that lying is wrong.
But, if she had told the truth, the spies would have been discovered and executed. History might have been changed. Was she wrong to lie?
What about the Christians and other good people during World War 2? Against the law they hid Jews in attics and secret rooms and lied to the authorities over this. Did they do wrong? Should they have said “We cannot lie – yes, there are Jews here” – thus allowing them to be dragged out, sent to concentration camps and killed?
Life can sometimes be very complicated. Some have said that there is a higher law when it comes to telling the truth or a lie. I am not advocated falsehood and lies. But I am suggesting that the story of Rahab teaches us that sometimes legalism is the wrong way. Love of rules should never replace love of people. Life is complicated, so beware of legalism.
- THROUGH RAHAB WE SEE THE STEPS OF SALVATION
- She had heard of God – and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10: 17).
- She confessed her faith to the spies – and confession is a major step on the road to salvation (Romans 10: 9).
In later years she was hailed as a hero of the faith. In Hebrews 11: 31 she was inducted into the faith “hall of fame”:
“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient”
- She was saved by grace – Rahab was a prostitute, yet her faith led to her being saved when the rest of Jericho was destroyed. She was not saved because she lived a right life but because of the promise that had been made to her (Ephesians 2: 8-9)
- She was not saved through her works; but her faith was demonstrated or proved by her works. This is why she is praised in James 2: 25-26 which shows us the importance of works:
“was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead”
- Her life was changed by her experience- she left the world for the Promised Land and left behind her prostitution; her faith brought her blessing and honour through her offspring.
Be encouraged therefore and look at your own life:
God saves those with a past: what was her childhood like, her experiences like that led her to prostitution? What about your life?
God uses those with a past- she saved the spies, she saved her family, she mothered Boaz. Don’t let the devil lie to you that God can’t use you.
God redefines those with a past: from a fallen woman to a chosen woman,
from a bad girl to a bride,
from a mess to a mother and
from prostitute to progenitor of the Messiah.
This is a story of hope – for Rahab, for you and for me.
- GOD WANTS TO USE ALL WHO ARE AVAILABLE
Rahab was a prostitute, yet God saw her faith and was willing to use her then-and-there for His good purposes. She DID offer shelter to the spies. She DID lie to the authorities to save them. She DID hide the spies. She DID help them escape through her window. God DID use her to change history.
She had three factors going against her. She was triply marginalised. She was:
- A Canaanite – hated by the Jews and rejected by God
- A woman – in a male-dominated society
- A prostitute – this was definitely not acceptable in the eyes of the Law (Leviticus 19:29 says “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity”)
Yet she made herself available through faith. And God clearly said that this was a person that He could use.
We see this principle throughout the Bible: God used a donkey to speak to Balaam. God used Nebuchadnezzar to humble the Jews, God used a Samaritan to care for an assaulted man. God wants to use all who are available.
And the relevance of this to us? No matter who you are, no matter what you know, no matter what you have done; If you have faith in God and say to Him “Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6: 8) then He WILL use you – imperfect though you most definitely are!
There is so much for us to learn from Rahab – here is a summary of some of those lessons for us to take away and apply to our lives:
- God never writes anyone off as being too-far-gone to be saved – and neither should we.
- God saw not the profession but the person, not the failure but the faith – He sees us in the same way.
- You are saved by faith and not by works, but your works are the evidence that you are saved by faith.
- You don’t come to God clean – He cleans the one who comes to Him.
- Morality can be complicated in the spiritual battles of life – remember to love the person rather than the rules.
- God is able to use anyone who makes themselves available…will you?