Yep, she was a hooker, and all the way up into the New Testament, she is known by her profession, Rahab the Harlot. There is a good reason for that, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Jericho was the first city the Israelites had to conquer in order to claim the land God had promised them. The Canaanites lived in Jericho, descendants of Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Yes, the one Abraham sent away with his mother, Hagar. God saved them and made Ishmael a nation, but not a good nation. They worshipped the goddess Asherah, known for her love of murder and war. They worshipped Baal with every imaginable sexual perversion with male and female prostitutes and animals. At the same time, mothers sacrificed their children in the fire to either appease the gods or gain some personal favor.
It is good to remember that God allowed the Israelites to destroy them and take their land, not just to give it to the Israelites, but because their beliefs and behaviors, especially child sacrifice, were so egregious to God and humanity.
Traders and travelers spread the word of a vast contingent of Hebrews coming to Canaan to conquer them. They had heard about the parting of the Red Sea and the mighty power of the Hebrew God, Yahweh, and their hearts melted with fear.
Before you think less of Rahab for her profession, consider that she was not a temple prostitute but made her living in what the Canaanites would have regarded as a respectable means of employment.
We often expect people outside the sphere of our faith to adhere to our Biblically-based moral compass. Some people honestly don’t know what the Bible teaches. Some know but choose to disregard what the Bible says. So many decide for themselves what feels right or wrong. Don’t expect unbelievers to have the same moral compass as you. The ability to judge what is sin is not the same as judging people.
Before crossing the Jordan River into Canaan, Joshua sent two men to spy out the land. They were fortunate to meet up with Rahab.
She hid the spies on her roof, helped them escape, and diverted the posse sent out to capture them.
I wonder how they knew they could trust Rahab? You just never know about people. Sometimes, the person you least expect to be open to a conversation about faith is actually searching and anxious to have their questions answered. People who challenge our beliefs in a combative way may be demanding answers that satisfy their doubts and fears. A person’s defensive behavior may only be masking a fear of appearing vulnerable.
Sharing our faith comes down to this verse in 1 Peter 3:15
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,NIV
This most unlikely woman, Rahab the Harlot, was ready, willing, and able to betray her own people and cast her lot with the Israelites and their God. Here is what she told the spies:
“I know that the LORD has given you this land 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 melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.NIV
Rahab not only took these men into her home, but she took the first steps of taking God into her heart. She believed God and turned her back on Asharah and Baal.
She asked in return, not only for her own life but the lives of her family, her parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. The two spies agreed. She was to hang a red cord from her window to indicate to the conquering army that she was to be spared. She locked her family into her house with her and instructed them to remain indoors no matter what happened, and then they waited. Do you know how long they waited?
It took the spies three days to return to camp. Joshua then gave the Israelites three more days to prepare to move. As God did for Moses at the Red Sea, God made a dry path through the flooded Jordan River so that they could all cross over. I don’t know how long that might have taken. There were 40,000 fighting men plus women and children. Then all the men and boys were circumcised, and then they waited for them to heal.
Finally, they were prepared to move against Jericho, and all this time, Rahab and her family were watching and waiting. It may have been weeks before finally, one day, the Israelites appeared with their ark and their priests, blowing their Shofars as they walked around the city. Imagine the sound of 40,000 warriors marching in silence while the Shofars blew.
Surely Rahab and her family braced themselves. Finally, the time had come! They watched and waited, tense, fearful, and anxious. The Israelites marched around the city once and went back to their camp. What a letdown, and how confusing! What did it mean?
They repeated this the next day, and the next and the next, for six days. I wonder if she and her family grew weary? Did they begin to doubt? Was she sure about what they said? Maybe she misunderstood.
They watched and waited, minute by minute, hour by hour, expecting God to do something. Why wasn’t God doing something?
And then it happened. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times, and when the Shofars blew on the seventh time around, all the men shouted, the walls came down, and all of Jericho were destroyed. As promised, Rahab and her family were saved.
How often have you trusted a promise from God, only to watch and wait, like Rahab, moment by moment and day by day, to see some sign, some move of God? While Rahab and her family waited and wondered, God was working. God had some business to attend to with the Israelites. She would not have known any of that, but she showed remarkable courage, fortitude, patience, and faith.
We may not see all the ways God is working on our behalf. Like an orchestral performance, the musicians tune their instruments, reseat themselves, and adjust their sheet music while the audience sits and waits. Finally, the maestro taps his baton. It is time, and the music begins, bringing it all together in perfect harmony and synchronization for one magnificent performance, one magnificent move of heaven and earth.
Sometimes, God tells us to be strong and courageous, as he told Moses on the banks of the Red Sea. Sometimes God says be still and know that I am God. And sometimes, God says nothing as we watch and wait.
God answers every prayer. Sometimes he says yes, sometimes he says no, and sometimes he says wait. Sometimes, we wait in silence.
For Rahab, the red cord on her window was like the blood on the doorposts of the Hebrew’s homes when the angel of death passed over Egypt, taking all the firstborn sons. Rahab’s family was spared. They went to live with the Israelites, where eventually, she married Salmon, one of the two spies. They had a son. They named him Boaz. (See Mothers and Mentors post)
Yes, she was a prostitute, but her bold step of faith changed the entire trajectory of her life and of her descendant’s lives. She is one of only five women named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. She is the only named woman commended for her faith in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith passage, and the book of James commends her for her faith.
Although she became a respectable married lady, she is consistently identified as Rahab the Harlot, to remind us all of who she was and how faith changed her destiny; how faith changed us.
Have you been watching and waiting for God to move in your life? Have you wondered why God has not answered your prayer? God may have to move whole armies of people and make a way through flooded rivers to get to the outcome you’re expecting. Faith. Hold onto your faith. It is indeed the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)