Welcome to our study titled “Bad Girls of the Bible,” by Liz Curtis Higgs. We are using her study materials as the basis of this study. Liz is a fabulous and humorous writer, so grab your Bible and join me as we dive into another bad girl – Rahab.
“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. Joshua 2:1
Whether a mean or bad girl, Rahab is immediately defined by her occupation. There were two kinds of prostitutes in her day – the religious ones who worked at the Canaanite temple and the run-of-the-mill harlots who worked for cash which is what Rahab was. Prostitutes were social outcasts – ostracized moral lepers, tolerated but in no way honored. Even the men who beat a path to her door at night turned their backs on her by the light of day, as did the rest of Jericho.
Older commentaries insist Rahab was more of an innkeeper of her establishment, situated as it was by the city gates of Jericho, undoubtedly serving many weary travelers. But there was a big difference between what was offered at her inn compared to other inns.
She was on her own but not alone in life. Her family – father and mother, sisters and brothers, no mention of children – lived in another part of town. Two things not discussed in Scripture or worth remembering: first, this was a woman who knew how to handle men. Rahab knew how they thought, how they behaved, and what they needed. Second, according to rabbinical tradition, Rahab was one of the four most beautiful women in the ancient world, along with Sarah, Abigail, and Esther. Even given these truths, one still might ask why two righteous Israelite spies landed at a harlot’s doorstep.
Rahab’s house was hard to miss, nestled against the town wall at the gate, her high roof level with the ramparts. Archaeologists say the double walls of Jericho were built 12 to 15 feet apart – plenty of room to squeeze in a cozy house, supported between two walls by stout timbers.
The king of Jericho knew they had come and had his men combing the streets for two foreigners.
“The king of Jericho was told, “Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.“Joshua 2:2
“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 homeland.“ Joshua 2:3
Notice that this wasn’t a suggestion; it was a command. The messenger didn’t need to specify which man. Everyone in town would have identified the Israelites by their accent.
Rahab was faced with a difficult choice, much more challenging than the one Delilah faced. In Delilah‘s case, the authorities offered her money for information on the stranger. In Rahab‘s case they not only didn’t offer a reward; they implied a threat to her life if she didn’t cooperate.
In every life story, including our own, decisions are made in haste to determine the course of eternity.
“But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.” Joshua 2:4
Rahab risked life and limb to hide two men she barely met. And not only hide them – she lied for them.
“She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.“ Joshua 2:4
She was pretty clever when you think about it. She couldn’t deny the obvious – the men had already been seen entering her door- but who’s to say they signed the guest register?
“At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went.“ Joshua 2:5
“Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.“ Joshua 2:5
Rahab’s actions were even more courageous because these men were not family; they were strangers. What possessed her to protect them, to hide them under the 4-foot stalks of wet flax she’d spread out to dry in neat rows on her roof? Obviously, this wise woman sensed an upheaval – spiritual and otherwise – about to sweep through Jericho. She reasoned things through and made the most important decision of her life.
“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.“ Joshua 2:8-9
The Lord? Would that be Baal or some other, lesser god? Do you mean the God, the one true God, the God of the Israelites, revealed his Holiness to you? You, of all people -a woman, a hooker, unmarried and unworthy, lovely but unloved Rahab?
Finally, she spoke the unvarnished truth. She went on to explain how the citizens of Jericho had trembled at the news of the parting of the Red Sea and of the Israelites’ utter destruction of two neighboring towns ruled by Sihon and Og.
“When we heard of it, our hearts melted in everyone’s courage failed because of you for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:11
Rahab the harlot, the Canaanite, the worshipper of Baal, and worse, had come to her senses. “God is God!” She’d seen the power of Jehovah God at work, accepted the reality of his existence, and confessed with her mouth to these witnesses that the one they called guard was gone, the Almighty God. One author described it succinctly: “First she heard the word, then she believed. This belief led to faith, which then led to works. In the process, she was saved.”
So much for Baal, Molech, and Ashtoreth.
This soiled dove found peace and bright hope for the future with one God, not myriad gods. Generous Rahab was even more concerned about the lives of others as we will read in Joshua 2:12, “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.”
If we didn’t already know so much about this woman, her words might have sounded self-serving or manipulative. “Give to get“ goes the modern business philosophy. But Rahab’s selfless actions to this point suggest that she’s merely a determined overseer of her family’s welfare, and bless her for that.
“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.“ Joshua 2:12-13
Rahab wanted her family safe too. Don’t we all? The men were quick to agree probably out of relief and gratitude and more than a little respect.
“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.” Joshua 2:14
This “sure sign” that Rahab requested was a binding pledge with the terms carefully stated. True, it was spoken, not written – but so are marriage vows in they’re plenty binding. Know that trust flowed in both directions. Her newfound faith empowered her to trust these complete strangers – and a strange, new God – to save her life. Their seasoned faith enabled them to trust a harlot wearing her changed heart on her sleeve to save them from death. We are talking about a God-sized miracle here.
With her belief in God stated and her trust in his messengers confirmed, Rahab acted on her faith, post haste:
“So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.“ Joshua 2:15
Most of us don’t keep a rope strong enough to support a man tucked away in our bedroom closets, just in case but Rahab did. She told them to run for the hills and hide for three days until the king’s henchmen gave up searching for them. The spies had some parting instructions for her too.
“The men 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.” Joshua 2:17–18
Rahab’s sins were as scarlet as the thread that draped from her window, and every bit as obvious. I sure can identify with that. How about you? That’s why God‘s grace is so amazing. When we confess our sins – literally let them all hang out like Rahab’s red thread – and repent, leaving the old life behind as Rahab did, we are forgiven and washed clean, without a spot or blemish left. We no longer look like scarlet sinners; we look like grateful grace bearers.
Red is also the symbol of blood, of life flowing into death. Or, more accurately, death flowing into life, like the red blood of a sacrificial lamb smeared over the doorpost of a house so that all who lived there might be spared when the Lord passed over. Or like the doubly thick scarlet cloth that kept a woman’s family safe and warm: “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.“
The men explained that she must bring her loved ones into her house and keep them there or the men wouldn’t be responsible for their safety. “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. Joshua 2: 20-21
When Joshua and the gang showed up, Jericho prepared for the worst.
“Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” Joshua 6:1
Imagine the tension in Rahab’s house, filled with children and grandparents and every extended family member they could squeeze in. The siege lasted seven long days, during which the citizens of Jericho heard the Israelites marching around the city. Not storming walls, just marching. How a sense of dread must have filled the lost souls inside those walls! Under Rahab‘s roof, hope still lived, so it surely was put to the test on the seventh day.
“They got up a daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner.“ Joshua 6:15
“The seventh time around, when the priest sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!“ Joshua 6:16
“Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared because she hid the spies we sent.” Joshua 6:17
Rahab and her family waited, holding their breath inside their sanctuary, while outside their whole world fell apart.
“At the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, and donkeys.” Joshua 6:20-21
After seven days of relative silence, the horrible sounds of death and destruction outside her door must have tested Rahab’s new faith to the core. Did she feel like Noah with his family and the ark, hearing the cries for help as the rains fell and swept away their friends and neighbors? When we choose to acknowledge God but others around us don’t, suffering is sure to come on both sides of the wall.
“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.” Joshua 6:22
“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.” Joshua 6:25
When Rahab walked out of that house for the last time and out of Jericho forever, she left everything behind. Unlike Lot’s wife, Rahab did not look back with longing at her city or her possessions. She became part of the Israelite community and lived among them “to this day,“ not in the flesh but through her descendants.
Check out these opening lines from the New Testament: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” Matthew 1: 5-6
Rahab the harlot an ancestress of the royal line of David? One commentator wrote, “Thus poor Rahab, the muddy, the defiled, became the fountainhead of the river of the water of life.”
Rahab‘s courageous act earned her a spot in the Hebrews honor roll. “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.“ Hebrews 11:31
It’s interesting to see that the New Testament writers insist on calling her a prostitute. Can’t she lose the old label? Must those of us with a hairy history wear our past around our necks like a scarlet thread for the rest of our lives? Yes and no.
Paul and James mention Rahab’s past for the same reason people share their testimonies today – to demonstrate the “before and after“ power of knowing the Lord. Stories of how God has changed lives aren’t intended to glorify sin; they are meant to glorify God‘s grace. Even so, some people have a hard time getting past our past. Women who have grown up in the church don’t always know what to do with a Rahab. Especially in a smaller fellowship, Rahabs may feel like they do not fit in, that no one “gets it.“
If God can turn a harlot into a holy vessel, entrusting her with the very genes that would one day produce the king of kings, surely those of us with a past can leave our shame on the rubble and walk away, fixing our eyes on the One who washes us white as snow.
What lessons can we learn from Rahab?
1) Our past does not determine our future. Rahab is remembered not for her harlotry but for her bravery. Not for loving men but for trusting God. She was blessed with a good husband in Salmon, an honorable son in Boaz, and a useful place in God’s kingdom -not because she “deserved it” but because God was faithful and extended grace to her. In the same way, we need to get past our past. Telling ourselves we don’t deserve forgiveness. No one does. It’s a gift…with our names on the tag!
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
2) Rahab cared about her family’s safety, not merely her own pretty neck. When it came to being spared from certain death, Rahab’s family was even less deserving than she was. We’re not told that they recognized the God of Israel or humbled themselves or kept their mouths shut or even thanked her when it was all over. Yet she loved them, provided for them in her home, and saved them.
“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than a nonbeliever.” 01 Timothy 5:8
3) Obedience often requires public confession. When Rahab hung the scarlet cord out of the window, exactly as the spies commanded her, she marked herself as a prostitute, not only for the two who’d come for her but for all the Israelites, including Joshua himself. She didn’t “blend in” with her new people – she stood out. To their credit, they embraced her. To her credit, she was not afraid to wave a red flag and say, “Here I am, that harlot! Somebody save me!” Sharing with others our shameful past and God’s glorious grace doesn’t bind you to your past – It frees you from its power to hurt you any longer. Tell your story, dear heart! “Let the redeemed of the Lord say this… Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.” Psalm 107: 2,8
4) Faith that’s demonstrated is remembered. James chose Rahab as a good example of someone who walked her talk, who put her feet to her spoken faith. We can go to Bible studies, sing praise songs, and warm the pews in the church six times a week, but if no one ever says of us, “You would not believe what this woman did because of her love for God!” then it’s time for us to open the doors of our hearts and see what brave thing God is asking us to do. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26
Thank you Liz Curtis Higgs for the wonderful reminder of what faith looks like even when our lives don’t look like those around us. Praise to you Lord for the mighty work you have done through the years as an example for us to follow today.
See you next time!