Faith of Rahab - Unlikely Hero! The gospel in the life of Rahab

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Bible Studies on the Real Heroes of the Faith Hebrews 11

Faith of Rahab - The Unlikely Hero! The gospel in the life of Rahab

by I Gordon

Last time we finished a mini-three part series looking at the life and faith of Moses. The Lord's hand was all over Moses' life from the moment he was born to his death 120 years later. From royalty down in Egypt, to shepherd in Midian, to prophet and deliverer for Israel, Moses was some name and hero in Israel's history! Today's hero is, well, not like that. Today's hero comes from a different walk of life. In fact, if there was a case to be made for the most 'unlikely' hero this person probably would win. This unlikely hero actually had some pretty significant barriers and strikes again them.

1. Firstly, this person lived in a corrupt and sinful gentile nation with pagan religion and beliefs. Thus, their understanding about the God of Israel and the true way was severely limited. Strike one.

2. Secondly, this person just happened to be a harlot, a prostitute. She made her living by selling her body. She was a member of what is often called the world's oldest profession  [1]  and was personally living in sin. Strike two.

3. Thirdly, this person potentially doesn't have long to live. Her city is about to be destroyed within days. Strike three! She's out!

And yet she wasn't out. Faith found a way to overcome the greatest odds against her and Rahab, if you were wondering whose faith I am speaking about, became one of the most unlikely and greatest salvation stories in the Bible. It's a story of a prostitute living in a city set for destruction who hears of what is to come, defies the leader of her own people and finds a way to not only save herself but all of her family. But she isn't finished yet. She goes on to turn her whole life around becoming the mother of one of the greats in Jewish history - Boaz, the husband of Ruth. And not only that but this one-time prostitute goes on to be recorded in history as being the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great  [2]  , grandmother of someone called Yeshua - the Saviour of the World! Not bad for a one time 'lady of the night'. We need to look at her remarkable story so let's start by with our initial text in Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11 

Hebrews 11:30-31 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. (31) By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

Previously we've been talking about men such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and last of all Moses. If you were writing the faith chapter of Hebrews and you got to the part about the Israelites taking the Promised Land, who would you speak about? Joshua? Caleb? 'By faith Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised Land not fearing the enemy'. 'By faith Caleb, though 85 years of age, conquered and took the city of Hebron for his inheritance.' Yeah that sounds good. It would have slotted nicely into Hebrews 11. But those two, as great as they are, don't even get a mention in Hebrews 11... they are piped to the post by a Canaanite female prostitute. It is a story the Holy Spirit wanted remembered and what a story she has!

So who is this Rahab? In Jewish tradition she was named as 1 of the 4 great female beauties of the Bible. If you are big on biblical beauties, name the other three!  [3]  Rahab is mentioned by name 8 times in the Bible. Can you remember what 8 is the number of in the Bible? It is the number of resurrection and new life. It is Jesus' number. And Rahab's story is wonderful in the light that it shines on salvation, new life and resurrection through faith. So why talk about Rahab? As we shall soon see, the Holy Spirit has recorded a lot of detail around the salvation and deliverance of this lady and her family. It is recorded for a reason and that reason is not just for historical purposes. Hopefully we shall see that in her life lays the timeless gospel story of redemption. The future outworking of end-time events are also hidden in the life of Rahab. When you stop and study her story you see why the Lord wanted her act of faith recorded. We will focus more on the personal redemption aspect but we'll also touch on some very interesting parallels in her life with that which is still to come.

Time to remember the story 

So let's have a look at Rahab's story in Joshua chapter 2. There are some great aspects to this story. It is too long to speak about verse by verse but as I read and studied it there were several themes, (about 7), that I wanted to focus on. And remember again... this is not just a historical story but one that is placed in the Bible to teach about salvation and redemption. That applies to both our individual salvation but also how God wants to use us to help others find Him.

1: The sovereign leading of God

Joshua 2:1 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.

As I read the passage the first thing that jumped out at me was the sovereign leading of God at the beginning of the story. Here you have two Israelites who have been told to spy out the land and the next thing we read is that they went and stayed in the strangest of all places - the home of a prostitute! Why would the spies go to the house of a harlot? Odd place for a God-fearing Israelite to be don't you think? If that was the end of the story you'd be left thinking 'hmmm'! Some have said that maybe they were after information and thought she would have 'the goss' on the city, its people and the lie of the land. Maybe! But I see something far greater here. I see the hand of God ordering this. It isn't luck or chance and it certainly isn't sinful intentions on the part of the two spies. It is the providence and working of God. God is in the business of setting up 'meetings'. In the book of Ruth, this poor gentile woman called Ruth was trying to glean from what the harvesters had left behind and it says 'she happened to come to the field belonging to Boaz.' Oh that didn't just 'happen' anymore than it just 'happened' that the spies in Jericho ended up staying the night at Rahab's. It's God!

 So let's personalise it:
Maybe you can look back and see how God arranged people and situations in your salvation? I know I can. The Great Shepherd came to both seek and save those that were lost and He hasn't stopped doing this work! And how great it is when we are used in such God-ordained meetings! This is something that we should pray about a lot more.

2: The Unlikely Choice

The second thing that stood out to me was the unlikely choice for the hero of this story. God was ordering the details as mentioned above so look at who He chose to both save the Israelites and find salvation herself... Rahab, a prostitute! We may have expected to read 'Now there was a God-fearing man in Jericho who had dedicated himself to knowing the way of truth since birth who sheltered and protected the Israelites...' But no... nothing of the sort. I said earlier that Rahab is mentioned by name 8 times in the Bible. Out of those, 5 times it says she is a prostitute! Talk about rubbing it in... it seems that the Holy Spirit wants us to remember her way of life before trusting the Lord. Even in the New Testament there are 3 mentions of Rahab and 2 of those remind us again of her, argh, 'profession'! It is like God is saying 'Look at who I save!' It wasn't someone powerful or wealthy or even holy that became the hero of this story and was saved. It was someone living an immoral lifestyle. Someone frowned upon. Yet God is in the business of drawing those that others despise. Jesus actually said to those who were considered (and considered themselves!) as the holiest of God's people -  'I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.'  (Matt 21:31)

 So let's personalise it:
At a surface level we think that Rahab was as unlikely choice but let me tell you that I was an unlikely choice. And so are you. All we can do is sit back and thank God. And let me ask you, who do you know that you think 'Hmmm - I can't see them being saved!' The point to take from this is that grace has no boundaries on those it will call and we too should never underestimate what can be going on in another person's heart despite their sinfulness or outward rough exterior. The sin barrier that separated people from God was smashed 2000 years ago. Pride, self righteousness and unbelief remain the strongest barriers today but sinfulness certainly isn't. God chooses and calls unusual and unlikely people. Like you!

3: True Faith Acts 

Joshua 2:3-6 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, the men 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.)

The third point that comes out of this is that Rahab's faith wasn't just a head knowledge. It acted! It impacted her life and decisions. It changed how she lived! She heard a report, she believed, she confessed (as we shall see) and she acted. In fact she was actually willing to put her own life at risk to protect the two Israelite spies. Amazing! She didn't know very much but what she knew had gripped and taken hold of her life. The book of James emphasises this point of the story - how her faith worked. He writes: '  ...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?(James 2:25)  Works don't save us. Salvation is only by grace. No other way. But a true faith works. It has fruit. How can it not? When a person truly comes into contact with the living God and is born again how can there not be fruit of that in one's life? How can in not lead to a changed life? Is that not what we want to start seeing when somebody claims faith in Christ? Do we not want to see the impact that Christ is having and how their life is being changed?

 So let's personalise it:  We should consider the ways in which our faith acts. All of Hebrews 11 is about what the people DID by faith. Not so much what they believed. The belief comes, and has to come, first. But the consistent testimony of Hebrews 11 is 'By faith somebody DID something.' 'By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice', 'By faith Noah... built an ark to save his family', 'By faith Abraham went out not knowing where he was going', 'By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born', 'By faith Moses left Egypt for he was looking ahead for his reward'. The beauty of it is that we all have works to do that were prepared by God before our salvation. William MacDonald writes:

 'God's order then is this: Faith - Salvation - Good Works - Reward. Faith leads to salvation. Salvation results in good works. Good works will be rewarded by Him. But the question arises: What kind of good works am I expected to do? Paul answers, Good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. In other words, God has a blueprint for every life. Before our conversion He mapped out a spiritual career for us. Our responsibility is to find His will for us and then obey it. We do not have to work out a plan for our lives, but only accept the plan which He has drawn up for us. This delivers us from fret and frenzy, and insures that our lives will be of maximum glory to Him, of most blessing to others, and of greatest reward to ourselves.' 

4: Rahab's knowledge of God

(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 melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

Before actions however comes the work of God in the heart so for the fourth point, I was also taken by Rahab's knowledge of God and what motivated her actions. Being a Canaanite she would not have had full details about the God of Israel but she knew some critically important things:

  1. She knew that Yahweh (whose name she used) was God of Heaven and Earth.
  2. She knew of the great deliverance He had given Israel out of Egypt
  3. She knew that judgement was coming and most importantly that she was right in its path!
  4. She knew she wanted to find salvation for her family and herself.

If you don't know much those 4 things should be top of your list! She actually stood in the fear of the Lord (which the Bible says is the beginning of wisdom) thinking of what was going to happen. We live in an age when people don't like to hear about judgement of any type. The world certainly doesn't, seeing 'tolerance' of basically everything as the greatest of all virtues. "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES." Is the testimony of scripture (Romans 3:18) They may like to hear about the love of God but certainly not His holiness, judgement of sin or coming wrath. Even the church is starting to change where heresies such as Universal Salvation start to take root once again. Rahab had it right. She was like Christian in Pilgrims Progress that suddenly saw that she dwelt in the city of destruction and if she didn't do something about it judgement could fall at any moment.

 So let's personalise it:  Perfect love casts out all fear so if you are a child of God you should not go around being scared of your Heavenly Father. That would suggest a vastly imperfect understanding of what Jesus has done for you and your standing in grace because of the cross. But we should live in a reverential fear of God considering how incredible He is and how ordinary we are. We should also know, as Rahab did, that living in this world is like living in Jericho. It is living in the city of destruction and we should plan ahead. We plan ahead by not just living for today but with eternity in mind.

5: Rahab's thought of her family and others 

(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.

The fifth point, and related to what we have been saying about planning ahead, is that I like how Rahab thought of others. It wasn't just that she said 'Whew! I'm saved... I'm going to live!' Her first request is actually for her family.  'Please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family.... My father, my mother, my brothers, sisters, um, theirs Grandpa Joe, and my cousin Betsy. Argh, oh yeah and little Louie, and big Barbara...'  Her house was the only safe place to be and I'm sure she crammed as many people as she could into it!

 So let's personalise it:  We too need to think of others. We are all in the city of destruction not knowing how long we've got. Do we pray for our family who don't know the Lord? Do we speak to our friends who don't realise that destruction is coming? It is easy to get discouraged because it isn't easy work. But be encouraged that even old seeds planted can spring to life. My mother had planted a specific special foxglove in her garden, which, being an annual died after its first year. No other seedlings came up so she thought that was that. Years passed and no more thought was given to it until suddenly, 5 years later, the seedlings burst forth and here again was this unmistakable special foxglove plant! So the seeds had been sitting in the soil, dormant, for 5 years, just waiting for the right time. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the moisture, maybe it was turning over the soil, maybe a combination... who knows... all we know is that the dormant seed sprang to life years later! What a great picture of what can happen with the gospel seed that we sow into the lives of others!  [4]  How amazing that a spiritual seed planted in the early years of her life could remain dormant but come to life at the end of her life. So we need to think of others, like Rahab did, whose first request was for her family to be saved.

6: The scarlet sign of salvation

Joshua 2:17-19 The men 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 anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him.

The sixth point is that salvation was promised but she needed to do two things. She and her family had to remain in her house and she had to have a scarlet cord tied out her window as a sign. This house, with the scarlet sign on it, was the only safe place in the entire city. Now if you know your Bible you know that there is a scarlet thread that runs through the entire Bible. Scarlet is the colour of blood, the colour of atonement and with this scarlet cord over Rahab's house God is teaching, through another outward example, what He taught the Israelites at the Passover - that you HAVE to be under the blood of Christ! 'I will see the blood and Passover you' (Ex 12:13) There were many houses in Jericho but only one where salvation was offered. There are many ways that seem right to man in this world but only one that is right to God... and that is through the blood sacrifice of the Lord Jesus - the scarlet thread that weaves its way right through the revelation of God.

So let's personalise it:  Just as the scarlet cord was a sign for the Israelites to see and not to destroy that house, so God sees the blood of Christ and those under it. Some Christians doubt their salvation because they have their eyes on the wrong thing. I received an email from a lady 2 days ago doubting this very thing because she came from a church that taught that works are required for salvation. God looks at the blood, the finished work of Christ on the cross, and so should we. Where are you looking? Where is your confidence?

7: The type of things to come

Joshua 6:24-25 They burned the city with fire, and all that was in it... (25) However, Rahab the harlot and her father's household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

Finally, as a seventh point, God not only puts the gospel in these stories but He also teaches about the days at the return of Christ. You should remember the story as told in Joshua 6: God instructed the Israelites to march around the city once a day for 7 days. But on the 7th and last day, they had to march around 7 times blowing their trumpets. On the final 7th time around the city they below the trumpets and gave a loud shout and the walls came down. So we see the initial 7 open up a further 7 and at the conclusion of that last 7 the walls came down and Israel took the land. This is all prophetic. Revelation tells us that there are 7 seals of judgement and the 7th seal opens up a further 7 - the 7 trumpets that are sounded. So again we have a 7 within a 7. And what happens when the 7th and final trumpet is sounded? Well, the walls come down and the King of kings will take back this earth!

 Revelation 11:15-17 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "  The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever  ." (16) And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, (17) saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 

What then happens? In the story of Rahab this gentile woman and her family are allowed to live on in this new kingdom established in the Promised Land because she had protected the Israelites while they were under threat. The same thing will play out again when Jesus returns. There will be a separation of the nations  [5]  . This is 'the sheep and the goats' judgment of Mathew 25, where entrance into the new Messianic Kingdom is based on how they treated the Jews and believers ('these brothers of mine' - Matt 25:40) during the tribulation period. Those amongst the nations who through faith protected and helped God's people will be allowed in enter into the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. But those who didn't will have to depart in judgement and punishment.


To close its worth just repeating some of the simple but important points that we learn from Rahab's life.

  • God is in the business of turning people's lives around. And he does that for the most unlikely of people. That includes Rahab and you. Think about what he has done in your life and where you would be if you didn't know Him.
  • Rahab's life didn't deserve salvation - she was very much a sinner. But she found salvation through faith. We don't deserve salvation either, but God has provided a way through faith in Jesus. Give thanks once again for the most precious of gifts - salvation. As an aged John Newton (author of Amazing Grace) said  'Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.'
  • It is also worth remembering that Rahab didn't receive the grace of God in vain. She didn't remain in her sins. She wasn't a prostitute after this point! Her life was changed, becoming the mother of Boaz and the great, great great etc grandmother of Jesus! We too should think about what we have done with this great gift of salvation He has given us.

  • And we should think about others. Rahab cared that her family was saved not just herself. We are not called JUST to be thankful that we are saved. We are called to share that message and be an ambassador for Christ!

[1] ↩  Although I would have thought that something slightly more innocent would have been the world's oldest profession and that's gardening. Adam and Eve had a beautiful completely organic garden down in Eden for a while. No one else to sell to of course... and they were kicked out for good reason. But surely men and women have been earning a living from the ground longer than selling their bodies! I hope so anyway!

[2] ↩  I might just add a note to say that this comes with a margin of error of +/- 1 'great'. I think it is right... but my poor brain - it's not so great and was greatly troubled counting these greats! : )

[3] ↩  Ok... the answers are in - how did you go? The four biblical beauties in Jewish tradition are Sarah, Rahab, Bathsheba and Esther!

[4] ↩  We had a wonderful testimony of this in the lives of the parents of a family friend. A family friend called Yvonne was a Christian but her mother and father (Mr and Mrs Farnsworth) weren't and didn't want to be. Nothing could move them until right near the end of their lives when Mr Farnsworth was close to dying. Mrs Farnsworth went out to the gate to get the mail and looking up to the heavens, finally cried out to the Lord asking 'Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me!' Why did she pray that? Well, as a child of around 10 years of age her mother had taken her to a church where they asked everyone to pray. She didn't know what to say so she asked her mum and her mum said 'pray create in me a new heart and renew a right spirit within me.' So she prayed that. But the decades passed without any sign of that being answered. Yet a seed was planted in this young life which sprang to life in her last days. The Holy Spirit brought the memory of that prayer as a child back to her mind, out at the gate getting the mail, and she prayed it again with meaning and was born again! She rushed back inside to tell her dying husband what she had done and why. He joyfully received the message and also cried out to the Lord to be saved. He then said to his wife 'this is the first day of our new life!' He died the next day. True story... God ordained!

[5] ↩  The sheep and the goats judgment is of the nations, not the church. It is a judgment to see who is allowed to enter into the Messianic Kingdom. The acts of faith are examined. This judgment is also talked about in the Old Testament in Joel 3 with the judgement in the valley of Jehoshaphat.