Rahab the Harlot


Jericho (whose name means fragrance) was a city of vast strength and material riches in a position of exceeding loveliness (see Num. 13: 27, 28; Deut. 34: 3; Josh. 6: 1, 24; 7: 21). As such, it is a figure of this world—attractive in so many ways and confident in its own strength—yet devoted to judgment by the word of God. Thus one day Christ will come from heaven with His holy myriads, and in flaming fire execute judgment on the peoples of this earth (see 2 Thess. 1: 7, 8; Jude vs. 14, 15). He will overthrow man’s world and set up His own glorious kingdom and reign for a thousand years. That coming destruction of the world–system is typified by Israel’s war of extermination against the Canaanites (see Deut. 7: 16; 20: 16, 17) led by one whose Hebrew name is Joshua, but who in Greek would be known as Jesus.

   Now it has pleased God that two thousand years should pass by since the death of His Son. The judgment long foretold (see Jer. 30: 7; Matt. 24–25) still tarries and the kingdom of Christ is not set up in power on the earth. Because of this, men scoff “where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pet. 3: 4) and mock the Bible as a collection of myths from a more superstitious age. And yet there is a purpose in those long years of apparent delay—indeed, a double end in view. On the one hand, it is the will of God that His people should learn practically what this world is, and, on the other hand, that certain characteristics in the world should be fully developed. Thus, while it is only eleven days journey from Horeb to Kadesh–barnea (see Deut. 1: 2), forty years of wilderness experience had to elapse before the nation entered the land. The object of the wilderness was to teach Israel dependence (see Deut. 8: 15, 16)—and in the same way, the Christian lives in the world as having both his hopes and his resources elsewhere. God’s purpose for His saints is reigning with Christ and so faith reaches beyond the present and looks for the glory and the kingdom. The believer knows that the present ruler of this world will be overthrown, and that Christ   will take the throne, and this is what enables him to pass through this scene with a proper judgment of what surrounds him.

   Again, in the purposes of God, the world’s ways must reach their full development and certain characteristics of evil must progress to completion before Christ comes to the earth in judgment. Hence, since the judgment has not yet fallen, it may be said, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15: 16). We get a sense of the advanced Canaanite iniquity from Lev. 18 where incest, bigamy, adultery, human sacrifice, homosexuality and bestiality are described, such that “the land vomiteth out its inhabitants” (v25). How far this present scene must similarly degenerate (spiritually as well as morally) before God intervenes, we can only wonder—but it should at least cause us to rejoice in His long–suffering and mercy. Judgment is God’s strange work (see Is. 28: 21), for He “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving–kindness” (Ps. 103: 8). However, He is also “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab. 1: 13), and therefore has already “set a day in which he is going to judge the habitable earth in righteousness by [the] man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17: 31).

  With these preliminary considerations in mind, we follow the two spies that Joshua had sent to spy out Jericho (see Josh. 2: 1). Everything attached to their mission of espionage was necessarily hidden work—just as in this day a secret work of God in the Gospel is in progress, for “the wind blows where it will, and thou hearest its voice, but knowest not whence it comes and where it goes: thus is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3: 8). It is also of note that these agents of Joshua came in the evening: “Behold, men have come hither to–night” (Josh. 2: 2, my emphasis). This last fact is surely suggestive of Gospel work at the end of a long day of grace, with the dark clouds of judgment already gathering. Jericho was doomed, but in it was a vessel of mercy prepared for glory (see Rom. 9: 23), a brand to be literally plucked from the fire (see Zech. 3: 2).

  The two spies were directed by God to the very house in the city where the prepared heart was to be found, for those who act in faith do not waste time and are led by God to the right places and persons. Being a prostitute, Rahab’s house would be a most unlikely one in which to find the fear of the Lord, but God never makes mistakes. Some Christians, like the disciples in John 4: 27 or the Jews in Acts 11: 3, find the wideness of grace very difficult to stomach. They may well delight in accounts of remarkable converts on the other side of the globe, but they are secretly repelled by the thought of actually sitting down with persons not of their own culture and class. And yet the Word of God is emphatic that it is the tax–gatherers and harlots (the despised of society) that are more likely to enter into blessing than the morally upright (see Matt. 21: 31)! The Lord Himself was characterised by touching the untouchable, eating with the immoral and speaking to the ostracised (see Luke 5: 13; 15: 2; John 4: 27). How rightly the apostle John could observe, “we have contemplated his glory … full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14, my emphasis).

   Standing with Rahab upon the flat roof of her house (see Josh. 2: 8) and looking around, we learn a lesson for our own times. Mark the security of the fortress: its high stone walls, and its great bronze gates. Take in the surrounding plains filled with ripening corn, and the nearby hillsides purple with fruitful vines, for it is the time of harvest (see Josh. 3: 15). Prosperity and hope of increasing greatness abound, and the expectation of the future fills the hearts of Jericho’s inhabitants. How little therefore does the world dream that the sickle which is about to reap the harvest is a sickle of judgment! The business of the city, its commerce and its luxury, the eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, birth and death, go on as in former generations (see Luke 17: 27). How solemn then to hear the divine warning that “when they may say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them” (1 Thess. 5: 3)!

   Note, however, that is not when men may think peace and safety, but “when they may say” (my emphasis). Jericho was “shut up and barred” (Josh. 6: 1) and apparently safe, but inside all was in turmoil. The appearance and assertion of confidence is often not a true reflection of the heart and mind when faced with the Word of God. Jericho might have looked secure, but the report that they had heard had had an effect. Thus “the dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard that Jehovah dried up the waters of the Red sea before you when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. We heard [of it], and our heart melted, and there remained no more spirit in any man because of you; for Jehovah your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Josh. 2: 9–11). The sneer of unbelief and its destructive effects is undeniable but so is the power of a testimony to Christ’s coming and kingdom which God’s children live out. When a believer testifies by the manner of his life to the reality of Christ’s coming (see 1 John 3: 3), men are unnerved. Doctrinal intelligence convinces no man, but practical behaviour is unanswerable. The children of Israel had no battering rams or siege towers in their armoury—and logic therefore dictated that Jericho was secure behind her walls. However, what the men of Jericho had heard about the children of Israel had found its mark. With the mass it produced an uncertain fear, but with Rahab, it resulted in authentic faith, for while all had heard, only she said, “I know that Jehovah has given you the land” (Josh. 2: 9). The report produced but dread and paralysis in the men of Jericho, but Rahab reacted by making bold and audacious demands for herself and her family. In this she displayed the same great faith that the Canaanitish woman of Matthew 15 exhibited in pressing her case with the Lord (see vs. 21–28), when she knew she had no rights whatsoever but cast herself simply on His mercy.

   The two spies that Rahab had received into her house were the exponents of their expectations: they came to Jericho, not to make it their home, but to spy it out and to be gone. Thus the Christian is sent into the world, not to settle there, but to be a witness for God and to Christ’s coming and kingdom. Satan cannot destroy the truth, but he nullifies its power wherever the testimony of God’s people becomes in word only and lacks the energy of faith. Christians sometimes wonder why their testimony is ineffective, but the problem is not in finding an answer to the question, but facing up to the discrepancy between what they profess and their actual manner of living. We can be sure that Rahab never had men like these two spies under her roof before! Jericho was of no interest to them, except as devoted to destruction. What kind of spies, then, are we? In NT language, if we are “known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3: 2), what is the message that is being read? Lot was in great earnest in preaching to his family, but the message of his life had already been read and, tragically, “he was as if he jested” (Gen. 19: 14)!

   Once Rahab had opened her door to the two spies, she immediately provoked the opposition of the king of Jericho: “And the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that have come to thee, who have come into thy house: for they have come to search out all the land” (Josh. 2: 3). There was hardly anything unusual about men coming to the house of a harlot, but these were no ordinary men to provoke the ire of the king. With similar rage will the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4: 4) view any intrusion into his domain, and he will bring all his energies to bear in seeking to snuff out any testimony to Christ and His coming kingdom. Thus, the king of Jericho’s men pursued after the spies “the way to the Jordan, to the fords” (Josh. 2: 7). The world delights to present itself as a decent, reasonable and tolerant system, but bring in Christ and you will soon be faced with the gnashing of teeth.

   It is delightful to see, even at this early stage, that the authority of the king over the soul of Rahab is already broken. She has not yet appealed to the spies regarding her future, nor had time to speak to them of her beliefs and hopes, but nonetheless she “concealed the two men” (v4), and “secreted them under the stalks of flax, which she had laid out on the roof” (v6).  Thus “was not … Rahab the harlot justified on the principle of works, when she had received the messengers and put [them] forth by another way?” (James 2: 25). That does not excuse her subsequent lie to the king’s messengers, but it is her faith, not her falsehood that is commended: “by faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with the unbelieving, having received the spies in peace” (Heb. 11: 31). Men paint pictures of themselves that flatter; God tells the truth about our characters and points out what belongs to our new nature and what does not. The grand distinguishing characteristic of Rahab, however, was that she had faith. Canaanite, harlot and liar she may have been, but she had been “born again” (1 Pet. 1: 23) and was headed for blessing and not judgment.

  By faith this poor heathen believed that the days of her city were numbered, and her allegiance was no longer therefore with Jericho’s king, but to Joshua and the Lord’s people. She had realised that the two spies were the messengers of the God of heaven, and her conviction was, “I know that Jehovah has given you the land” (Josh. 2: 9). As with the man of John 9, “I know” is an immovable assurance in the heart of the child of faith. And when the heart is at rest towards God then faith can become active towards men. Thus, the testimony of the spies not only filled Rahab with assurance as to her own salvation, but gave her energy for the lives of her whole family. She believed judgment would presently fall on the city and her request was therefore “And now, I pray you, swear to me by Jehovah, since I have dealt kindly with you, that ye will also deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a certain sign, that ye will let my father live, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that belong to them, and deliver our souls from death” (Josh. 2: 12, 13). Nothing was to be kept back: all that she had was to be placed in the hands of God. For the fulfilment of this desire she sought a sign that was certain, and in response, the spies simply gave her their assurance that “our lives shall pay for yours, if ye do not make this our business known; and it shall be when Jehovah shall give us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee” (v14). This is truly remarkable. All she had was their word, and yet it was certain, and she believed them. In a similar way we have the bare word of God for our confidence, and on it we rely for our eternal blessing. Thus “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4: 3). Some sneer that this makes salvation too easy, but the testimony of God’s own Word (which ought to settle the matter) is that “The word is near thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from among [the] dead, thou shalt be saved. For with [the] heart is believed to righteousness; and with [the] mouth confession made to salvation” (Rom. 10: 8–10). Rahab had no righteousness of her own to trust in, and no moral character to commend her to God. As a Canaanite, she was already judged, but she simply believed the report she had heard, and rested on the word of promise. It is exactly the same with regards to the Gospel, for “the Scripture says, No one believing on him shall be ashamed” (v11).

   Having received the assurance, Rahab let the spies down by a cord from her window (for her house was built upon the wall). This same cord was to be the sign that marked out Rahab’s home from the rest of Jericho’s inhabitants as a household that had passed from death unto life: “Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind in the window this line of scarlet thread by which thou hast let us down” (Josh. 2: 18). As the colour of kings (see Mat. 27: 28; Rev. 17: 3, 4) scarlet is an emblem of regality, but the production of the dye itself is of significance, being due to the crushing of a particular form of insect larvae. Is there not at least a hint here then of a kingdom to be established on earth by virtue of the shed blood of the Saviour? Whatever we make of this thought, it is clear that the scarlet line was the silent witness of Rahab’s faith, just as the expectation of Christ and His coming kingdom should be the Christian’s living testimony. Rahab was alone in Jericho and yet her faith was strong and certain: soon Jericho’s mighty walls would lay flat, but that little red line would carry into blessing all those boldly trusting in it. Have we, therefore, a similar scarlet cord in our windows? Does our Lord see that we, who trust in His Word today, are indeed looking for His coming and His glory? Are we living “soberly, and justly, and piously in the present course of things, awaiting the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2: 12–13)?

   Rahab’s dwelling was on the wall, as far from the centre of the city as possible—just the place for a believer who is in the world but not of it. Her window faced out of Jericho, and the scarlet cord was bound in it—exactly what should be true of the outlook of every house where Christ is known: its windows should not look towards the world, but towards the Coming One. At the same time, Rahab’s door was open to Jericho in order to get people into the place of safety—a lesson for every saint of God, for their homes should be places were the message of blessing can be found. Her house was the only place in the city of destruction where salvation could be had—just what should characterize the homes of those who look for Christ’s kingdom. Thus, she spent her time in bringing in all that were dear to her: none of them were left to perish in the overthrow (see Josh. 6: 23). By her persuasion she brought them into a place of safety. Solemn lesson to those Christians, who, while they profess to know Christ is coming, live otherwise, and have tragically lost their families to unbelief. We see this solemn contrast very clearly pictured in the lives of two OT saints. Abraham lived in the high country, walked in this scene as a stranger and pilgrim (see Heb. 11: 9) and commanded his household well (see Gen. 18: 19). Lot settled in the cities of the plain (see Gen. 13: 12), got on (as men speak) in this world (see Gen. 19: 1), but lost his entire family (see vs. 14, 26, 30–38). Thus while you may not be gifted as an evangelist you must at least seek to “gather to thee in the house thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household” (Josh. 2: 18)! If any man say he believes Christ may come today, and is apathetic as to the salvation of souls—especially as to that of those of his own household and circle—let him ponder the testimony of Scripture that “as the body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2: 26). How sad, for example, to witness Christian parents who seem more concerned that their children ‘get on’ in this life than to grow up serving Christ! We should not be surprised at the tragic end–results, for God is not mocked.

   No message of mercy came to Jericho or its king, and nor is mercy ever offered to Satan’s world–system for “now is [the] judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out: and I, if I be lifted up out of the earth, will draw all to me” (John 12: 31, 32). The world–system is doomed, though souls may be saved out of it, for it hated the Son of the Father, and so “if any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2: 15). A false gospel inverts this truth, exhorting its adherents to ‘make the world good, improve society, and educate man up to holiness’ while all the time adamantly refusing the truth that Christ came “so that he should deliver us out of the present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1: 4, my emphasis). We see this NT truth illustrated in the type: from the moment of her conversion, Rahab lived in Jericho as belonging to another place and people, and when judgment fell upon the city, Joshua instructed the spies to “Go into the harlot’s house and bring out thence the woman, and all that she has, as ye swore unto her. And the young men, the spies, went in and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had: all her kindred did they bring out” (Josh. 6: 22, 23, my emphasis).

   I have little space left, but before we leave Rahab, we need to consider the blessing to which she was introduced. In Scripture, the meaning of a name is often important, and Rahab’s is no exception. Her name means enlargement or breadth, and we see this in abundance when we read of her blessing. Following her deliverance, Rahab and her family were left “outside the camp of Israel” (Josh. 6: 23). One can imagine the perplexity with which some in Israel would view this representative of a people devoted to destruction. But “outside the camp” will not do for the “God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5: 10). God cannot have one whom He has marked out for blessing to be, as it were, only ‘barely saved’. Like the prodigal of Luke 15, the best robe must be brought forth and the fatted calf killed. Thus if “Joshua saved alive Rahab the harlot” (Josh. 6: 25), then that salvation must not be hindered in its flow. Grace is not merely active, but abounds towards the sinner (see Rom. 5: 15), and so Rahab’s stay outside the camp is but temporary, and we soon read that “she dwelt in the midst of Israel to this day; because she hid the messengers whom Joshua had sent to spy out Jericho” (Josh. 6: 25). What a place of privilege for an immoral Canaanite! Grace, however, must display all its riches (see Eph. 1: 8), and Rahab marries Salmon in the royal line of Israel (see Ruth 4: 21, 22), and then, wonder of wonders, is placed in the very line of the Messiah Himself (see Matt. 1: 5). May these brief contemplations cause you and I to bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has similarly “delivered us from the authority of darkness, and translated [us] into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Col. 1: 13)!

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