September 28, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Rahab saves Joshua’s spies

John F. Fink(Ninth in a series of columns)

Before launching his invasion of the Promised Land, Joshua wisely sent spies into the country. Two of them went to Jericho, where they lodged in a public house kept by a woman named Rahab.

She is called a harlot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she was a prostitute. She might have been just the owner of a house where men lodged, and the spies went there hoping to be undetected.

Somehow, though, word got out that spies were there, so the king of Jericho ordered Rahab to put the men out.

Instead, she hid them on the roof of the house among stalks of flax. She admitted to the men who had come to arrest the spies that the men had indeed been there, but she said that they left before the gate to the city was shut at dark. The king’s men set out in pursuit, and the city’s gate was shut.

Rahab then went to the spies and told them that she knew that the Lord was going to give them the land. Jericho’s inhabitants had heard of how the Lord had dried up the Red Sea and how the Israelites had defeated the Amorite kings Sihon and Og. They were in dread of the Israelites and discouraged. She said that she was going to help the spies and asked in return that, when Jericho was overrun, she and her family would be spared from death.

The spies guaranteed Rahab’s safety. The house had been built into the city walls, so she let them down through a window with a rope. The spies told her that, when the invasion came, she was to tie a scarlet cord in that same window and to gather her family there. Then they escaped into the hills until their pursuers gave up their chase.

The spies told Joshua what Rahab had done. Therefore, when the city was conquered and the Israelite soldiers were killing all of its inhabitants, Joshua ordered the two spies to go get Rahab and her family. They did, bringing her and all her kin to safety. Every other living thing—men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and asses—were put to the sword.

Rahab and her family lived among the Israelites. She married a man named Salmon and their son was Boaz, the great-grandfather of King David. Rahab is included in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.

Rahab is also mentioned in both the Letter to the Hebrews and the Letter of James in the New Testament. In Hebrews, she is included in the section that glorifies the faith of the ancient ancestors of the Jews: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the disobedient, for she had received the spies in peace” (Heb 11:31).

In James, she is praised for her good works: “Was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?” (Jas 2:25). She was, therefore, justified by both faith and good works. †

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