2 Joshua chose two men as spies and sent them from their camp at Acacia with these instructions: “Go across the river and find out as much as you can about the whole region, especially about the town of Jericho.”
The two spies left the Israelite camp at Acacia and went to Jericho, where they decided to spend the night at the house of a prostitute named Rahab.
2 But someone found out about them and told the king of Jericho, “Some Israelite men came here tonight, and they are spies.” 3-7 So the king sent soldiers to Rahab’s house to arrest the spies.
Meanwhile, Rahab had taken the men up to the flat roof of her house and had hidden them under some piles of flax plants that she had put there to dry.
The soldiers came to her door and demanded, “Let us have the men who are staying at your house. They are spies.”
She answered, “Some men did come to my house, but I didn’t know where they had come from. They left about sunset, just before it was time to close the town gate. I don’t know where they were going, but if you hurry, maybe you can catch them.”
The guards at the town gate let the soldiers leave Jericho, but they closed the gate again as soon as the soldiers went through. Then the soldiers headed toward the Jordan River to look for the spies at the place where people cross the river.
8 Rahab went back up to her roof. The spies were still awake, so she told them:
9 I know that the Lord has given Israel this land. Everyone shakes with fear because of you. 10 We heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea so you could leave Egypt. And we heard how you destroyed Sihon and Og, those two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River. 11 We know that the Lord your God rules heaven and earth, and we’ve lost our courage and our will to fight.
12 Please promise me in the Lord’s name that you will be as kind to my family as I have been to you. Do something to show 13 that you won’t let your people kill my father and mother and my brothers and sisters and their families.
14 “Rahab,” the spies answered, “if you keep quiet about what we’re doing, we promise to be kind to you when the Lord gives us this land. We pray that the Lord will kill us if we don’t keep our promise!”
15 Rahab’s house was built into the town wall, and one of the windows in her house faced outside the wall. She gave the spies a rope, showed them the window, and said, “Use this rope to let yourselves down to the ground outside the wall. 16 Then hide in the hills. The men who are looking for you won’t be able to find you there. They’ll give up and come back after a few days, and you can be on your way.”
17-20 The spies said:
You made us promise to let you and your family live. We will keep our promise, but you can’t tell anyone why we were here. You must tie this red rope on your window when we attack, and your father and mother, your brothers, and everyone else in your family must be here with you. We’ll take the blame if anyone who stays in this house gets hurt. But anyone who leaves your house will be killed, and it won’t be our fault.
21 “I’ll do exactly what you said,” Rahab promised. Then she sent them on their way and tied the red rope to the window.
22 The spies hid in the hills for three days while the king’s soldiers looked for them along the roads. As soon as the soldiers gave up and returned to Jericho, 23 the two spies went down into the Jordan valley and crossed the river. They reported to Joshua and told him everything that had happened. 24 “We’re sure the Lord has given us the whole country,” they said. “The people there shake with fear every time they think of us.”
24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house. 25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.
31 By faith Rahab the prostitute wasn’t killed with the disobedient because she welcomed the spies in peace.
SERMON Women of the Old Testament - Rahab
I don’t think sermons on Rahab are common. I don’t recall preaching about her before myself. If you are aware that she is usually known with as Rehab the Harlot, you won’t be surprised that she has a chapter in Liz Curtis Higgs’ famous book, Bad Girls of the Bible. But as Higgs classifies these bad girls, Rehab is under the best heading, “bad for a season but not forever.” It may indeed be that we need to remember her past to value her transition, and the hope it offers the rest of us. But I also want to remember her as someone whose faith was stronger than her fear.
As you know from the readings today, Rahab lived in Jericho, and her home was within its famous city wall. What most of us remember from childhood regarding Jericho is the little ditty, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho….and the walls came a tumblin’ down.” As Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land, Jericho was their first target. Moses and the priest, Eleazer gathered the pilgrims on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan River from Jericho and took a census there. Moses’ story ends there, but not the peoples.
The Lord showed [Moses] the whole land: the Gilead region as far as Dan’s territory; 2 all the parts belonging to Naphtali along with the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as the entirety of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea; 3 also the arid southern plain, and the plain—including the Jericho Valley, Palm City—as far as Zoar.
4 Then the Lord said to Moses: “This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised: ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.”
5 Then Moses, the Lord’s servant, died—right there in the land of Moab, according to the Lord’s command. (Deuteronomy 34:1-5)
Joshua become the new leader as God had chosen. As the plan to enter the new land unfolded, Rahab of Jericho would also find a new life, because she chose God.
The walls of Jericho were doubled. Higgs said they were 12 – 15 feet apart. Jean Syswerda said they were 20-30 feet thick with each stone weighing 80 ton. Clearly, they were very strong and had enough space between them for solid homes and businesses. They also had a good view inside and outside the city, especially from the rooftop. For Rahab’s business it was convenient to serve travelers as well as citizens.
It’s sometimes said that prostitution is one of the world’s oldest professions. In Old Testament times there were two types. Some served in pagan temples where such intercourse played a part in sacred rituals. This was NOT true in Judaism but it surrounded the Jews as part of most Canaanite religions. Rahab, however, had a private one-woman business serving her customers in the same way we think of prostitutes today.
MacArthur suggests Rahab represented the immoral culture in which she lived. I chose the word immoral. He used far worse language to describe Rahab and her city making it sound as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah, the sin cities of Abraham’s day. (MacArthur, p. 53) Jericho was in Amorite territory which MacArthur claims was a violent, pagan society that God had ordered the Israelites to wipe out, giving the land to Abraham’s descendants instead. (MacArthur, p. 52)
Two spies were sent by Joshua into Jericho for reconnaissance as he and Caleb had once been sent by Moses. Rather than deal with the naysayers he remembered from the past, those who brought back fear causing the freed slaves to wander an additional 40 years, Joshua sent only two trusted men and kept their mission a secret. Their journey to Jericho looks like an Iron Man race to me, minus the bikes. They had a two hour walk to the River then swam across. After that was another 7-mile hike, then slip through the city gate before it closed while avoiding getting caught. (MacArthur, p. 56)
When the men arrived, Rahab’s home was a convenient place to start their assignment. When they knocked on her door it was not as customers, but they took a chance on her location and occupation as cover. Her home was a good vantage point to get a visual on the surrounding area. Her profession meant no one would question two travelers coming and going from her abode at a late dark hour. It also meant she knew how to be discreet and keep a confidence. They took a risk choosing her door, but perhaps God nudged them that this one would be safe.
But someone did notice and passed word to authorities. The king and the people were well aware that Joshua and his thousands were camped across river and their intentions to cross over. The stories of the Israelites coming from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, overcoming armies along the way were well known here. No doubt bits of intelligence on their movements would be rewarded. Someone reported the spies.
So guards came pounding on Rahab’s door, demanding to know where the spies were. There was no point denying they had been there. They had been seen. But Rahab faced a life changing decision in that moment. Could she profit from turning them in? Sure. Would it be better to keep them safe? Maybe. Her decision made; she sent the Hebrew spies up to her roof. Most commentators suggest it wasn’t the first time she had hidden men up there. Then she lied to the guards, “There were a couple of men here, but they left. If you hurry, you might catch them.” Classic, right?
Was lying the right thing to do? No. But… I like the way MacArthur treated this issue, saying there is no reason to condone the lie, but she was suddenly new to the practice of faith and right living. Don’t expect her to get it perfect at the start. Let her take one step at a time; at least she chose to take steps of faith. (MacArthur in Twelve Extraordinary Women discusses this on pate 58)
Rahab had also heard all about the Israelites. She knew these men came from that group. She had also heard about the God they served, different from the gods served by others in her city. I think verse 11 is her faith statement to that point, “We know that the Lord your God rules heaven and earth, and we’ve lost our courage and our will to fight.” (Joshua 2:11) Instead of fighting, Rahab decided to strike a bargain. “Please promise me in the Lord’s name that you will be as kind to my family as I have been to you.” (Joshua 2:12) Her faith may have been for purely practical reasons at this point, but she threw her life on the line for it and pled for the lives of her family members as well.
What symbolized this new faith? The spies told her before she lowered them out the window by a rope, to hang a red cord there later, so they could find her home again and save whatever family she managed to gather there. As Higgs points out, rescue is not what we associate with the color red, if we are talking about a prostitute. A red dress, red lipstick, the red-light district maybe, but a red cord might not indicate salvation to us. However, MacArthur brings a different Bible story to remind us it is a perfect indication of which home is to be saved. (MacArthur, p. 62) When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they were told by God to mark their doorposts with the red blood of a lamb, so that the angel of death would pass over that home. In the Bible red means salvation; we are told it is by the blood of Christ shed at the cross that we are saved. The red cord Rahab immediately hung from her window was a practical, visible sign that those inside her home were to be saved. Higgs also suggests that confessing our sins is like hanging a sign out the window for the world to see that we are sinners, yet that is precisely how we are saved. She adds this, “Red is a very becoming color when it signifies a confession of our sins and our desire to trust God.” (Higgs, p. 170)
The spies returned to Joshua with their report including telling him about Rahab. When the time came for God’s plan to be put into action, perhaps you remember how it went. The Israelites did not storm the walls of Jericho by their own might. Instead, following God’s instructions, they marched around the walls for seven days in this order: the front guard, seven priests blowing rams horn trumpets, then the priests who carried the ark of the covenant which was God’s mercy seat and presence in their midst, followed by the rear guard. They made one circuit each for six days, but on the seventh day they made seven circles around the city walls. Then when Joshua told them to shout, they let out a great shout while the trumpets blew. The walls crumbled, and the people overtook the city.
One section of wall did not utterly collapse immediately, the one where a red cord hung in the window. Joshua sent the two spies to retrieve Rahab and her relatives keeping the promise they had made when she protected them from the king’s guard. Not only did they spare her life, but they brought her with them to their camp. She and her family continued to live outside their camp, a new life, a new people, worshipping their new God.
We learn later that Rahab wed into the Israelite people; she married a man named Salmon. I’ve always expected he must have been one of the spies who rescued her. Liz Curtis Higgs agrees. It makes a nice story, but it also makes sense. What we do know for sure is how their family continued. Their son was Boaz, and if that doesn’t sound familiar right away, it will next week when we share Ruth and Naomi’s story. Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed, whose son was Jesse, whose youngest son was David, the shepherd boy who became king. Yes, Rahab the Harlot, redeemed by God, was the great, great grandmother of the much beloved King David, whose family line was promised a king forever, a Savior, a Messiah, a Great Shepherd. This is the earthly family heritage of Jesus.
Five women are named in Jesus’ family tree as recorded in Matthew 1. All five of them could be judged inappropriately by human standards: a seductress, a prostitute, an immigrant, an adulteress, an unwed mother. But God doesn’t see things the way we do. As God spoke to Samuel when he was seeking Jesse’s son to anoint as king, “People judge by what is on the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)
Rahab’s heart had turned to the Lord of Israel, the God known by Abraham and Sarah, the one who created Adam and Eve. Rahab left everything but her immediate family behind her and never turned back to her old way of life. She embraced this God and her new life whole-heartedly.
I judge her somewhat by what I know of her son. Boaz was a remarkably kind, just, and compassionate man who treated women with respect and men fairly. That speaks well to me of both his parents. Rahab was indeed an extraordinary woman. As MacArthur sums up her story, Rahab “is a living reminder that even the worst sinners can be redeemed by divine grace through faith.” (MacArthur, p. 66)
What do we take away from her story? Liz Curtis Higgs suggests four things (pp.175-176):
- That our past does not determine our future. No matter what mistakes you have made or how you lived in the past, that isn’t all there is to your life. Rahab the Harlot became matriarch to kings. God doesn’t leave us stuck in the past if we choose, as she did, to trust God for our future.
- To care for others not just for ourselves. We live in a world that too often prioritizes saving ourselves. That kind of selfishness is not the same as self-care which gives us the health to also care for others. Rahab bargained not just for her own safety. She was concerned for her parents, siblings and extended family. We don’t know what they thought of her or her profession, but we can see the evidence that she loved and cared for them in any case. Jesus named as the second greatest commandment to love others as we love ourselves. Rahab was actually a good example of this.
- That obedience requires confession. Try as we might we are not always going to do the right thing and live perfectly obedient lives but learning to live right includes turning away from sin. Rahab didn’t deny what she had been, but in the end, she did turn from it. When we strive to live better lives, confessing where we have not been our best is part of the deal.
- That faith demonstrated is remembered. When the author of the Hebrews included Rahab in his Hall of Faith, it was because she did more than think or even say, I trust your God. She acted on it by hiding and protecting the Israelite men who came to her for help. She didn’t just believe they would keep their promise and come back for her, she hung the red cord in the window right away and kept her family close by acting in faith on the promise they made. To believe is not enough, we need to live our lives based on what we believe.
In this Rahab shows us the path to salvation: she heard, she believed, she found faith, she acted on that faith, and she was saved. (Higgs, p. 168) This pattern is a basic of coming to faith. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing. (Romans 10:17) Therefore, for others to come to faith, we must be sharing God’s Word and our own experience of Christ. The early church grew because those who heard believed, and they were added to the community of faith. But faith will show itself in action, this is the teaching of James 2, that faith without works is dead. The two go together.
One more thought: I’ve always been fascinated by God knocking down those walls. All of us have walls we need to knock down. Maybe someone else built them to segregate those they don’t want around. Maybe we built them to protect ourselves. Perhaps we have even built a wall between ourselves and God.
Years ago when we had Luminate here for a concert, the worship moment that was important to me related to their song, “Fallen Walls.” We had everyone write on a paper bag the confessions they wanted to hide, and out of those paper bags, hiding one inside the other, we made paper bricks and built a wall. At the right moment in their song we knocked that wall down.
The walls of Jericho fell by God’s design when the Israelites followed God’s instructions. The walls in our lives and our world can also come down when we listen to God’s Word for our lives. The tumbling walls spelled destruction for those who didn’t live for God, victory for those who did trust God, and saving grace for Rahab and her family when they chose to belief and trust that same God. What will you let God do with the walls that need to come down? Will you choose faith and action according to God’s instructions?
No matter what your life has been like decades ago, last year, yesterday or even if you messed up this morning, God has extended his grace to you if you choose to follow, to turn and act on that faith.