Bible Studies in Book of Joshua
Joshua Chapter 2: Rahab – From Harlot to Hero!
By Fraser Gordon
Let’s continue with our studies in the book of Joshua, following Israel's journey from Egypt through to Canaan. This study will look at chapter 2 about Rahab and it is a wonderful picture of God's grace shown to a gentile woman who had watched all that had happened to Israel and whose heart was prepared to accept Him. Ephesians tells us that when we were born again we were blessed in Christ Jesus with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. It is something that has already happened. In like manner, Canaan, for us, is not heaven one day - it is about all the riches and inheritance that God has given to us in the person of Christ Jesus; It is past tense....So it is a matter of us, by faith, entering in to what God has given us.
But the book of Joshua is also a book of battles. It is about Israel moving forward and taking the land of Canaan. There are going to be lots of battles in our Christian lives and lots of opposition too, and in this chapter we see the beginning of this.
Send in the spies...
Joshua 2:1-3 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. (2) The king of Jericho was told, "Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land." (3) 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."
The first thing that Joshua does is to send in spies; similar to what Moses did, but on a completely different level. When Moses sent in spies, they went in and had a look at the land and came back in unbelief. From Joshua's perspective it was different. “I want you to go in under the battle mind-set and view this place, especially Jericho,” he told them. Jericho was situated about five miles inland from the Jordan, and seems to have been the centre of the Canaanite villages in that area. So in a sense Jericho was a real stumbling block to Israel's progress in going forward. It was a massive stronghold standing in opposition to them, so they now faced their first battle.
Jericho had a king over it, and Satan also has his dominion and he has his realm. In the same way that this king stood against Israel, there are lots of principalities and powers that oppose us on our walk. Jericho is the first stumbling block to the nation inheriting the Promised Land, just as Amalek was the first stumbling block to the nation coming out of Egypt. So we see that “It was told the king of Jericho saying behold men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” The king has obviously got a pretty good intelligence network. He knows straight away that people have entered into his country, and they were in Rahab’s house. When I was thinking about that, I thought that is so true because whenever you want to go forward in your Christian life there is always opposition. Remember that this book is about taking the things that have been given to you, things that you were once afraid of and fearful of; it is about applying God's principles and receiving all that God has for you in a risen Christ.
I remember taking a mission trip into Thailand. We normally took in medical teams, attending to sick people during the day, and evangelism and outreaches at night. One of the Thai leaders said “I think we will go to this other village as we have never been there before.” We went, not expecting any opposition, but from the moment of our arrival in the village there was trouble from the word “go”. We actually had a split in the team where half of the team refused to go into this village because they believed it wasn't God's will that we should be there. They got in their vehicle and went back to the city. I was one of those who went on into the village. As soon as we arrived we were received by the people, but there was just something about this village that didn't want us there. All our outreaches were an absolute mess. We would put on little musical items but everything went wrong. Not one of us got a wink of sleep. I mean none of us. We were bombarded all night with troubling thoughts etc. So there is always opposition. We stayed in this village a couple of days and who knows whether we got anywhere but I know that we were just beaten around and buffeted and we felt as though everything we were doing was being opposed.
But when God is leading...
Joshua 2:4-7 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.) (7) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
I love the providence of God. Here you have two men that are sent in to view this city. They didn't know where they were going to go or where they were going to stay, yet God, in His providence, had gone before them and they met up with a woman named Rahab. She is a harlot, a prostitute, but in this woman the light of heaven has been shining. And so they are led to a soul that God has been touching at this time. We should always be looking for the things that God has for us and we should be asking “God, you know what is going on in this circumstance; you know the hearts that you are reaching and touching. Who is it that you are actually going to bring me into contact with today.” God led them to Rahab and she received them.
Now what is her reaction? What does she do when the king’s men come? She hides them. And what else does she do? She lies to the king’s men and uses deception. There is no doubt that she lied and used deception. We will look at what the New Testament says about Rahab. It doesn’t condemn her for lying, it actually commends her faith.
Hebrews 11:31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
So here it is saying that by faith she received these two spies. There was a working out of faith in how she received them and the book of James says “You see then that a man is justified by works and not by faith only. Likewise was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way.” So in other words what James is saying is that the outworking of her faith was to receive these two spies and actually conceal them and send them out another way so that they could not be caught. So the New Testament commends the way that she acted. So did she lie?
Is it ever ok to lie?
Some people would say “she lied, and you cannot lie”. There are some Christians who feel like that. I don't know whether things are so black and white. If I transported you all back into World War 2 in Nazi Germany, would you conceal some Jewish people and lie against the authorities? It is exactly the same thing. I think war is very different. In war time espionage is vital. Look how many nations think that their enemy is going to attack on such and such a beach where in fact it is somewhere else ... this is actually deception by the invading enemy troops. The nation of Israel is coming in, and it is coming in to destroy. In actual fact what Rahab is doing is committing treason against her own people. She is siding with the people of Israel, as we will see when we read on further. Is there a higher moral law that we are obedient to? Is there a higher moral law than the ones of the state? At times, all Christians are asked to answer that. Consider bible smuggling - Can you take bibles into closed countries when you have got to fill out the form and sign it saying that you have no illegal material? Some Christians can't do that because they see it as lying, when they know that their bags are jammed full of New Testaments. However, some have no problem with this.
Virtually every commentary I read on this passage condemned Rahab for lying. How many of you guys leave the light on when you go out at night for dinner? Why do you do it? It is a deception. You are trying to deceive the intruder by letting them think you are home!
God has been at work in her heart!
Joshua 2:8-11 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.
The first thing Rahab said was “I know that the Lord has given you the land and terror has fallen upon us.” We don’t know the history of her statement but the light of God has been shining upon this woman. She has come to realize things about the nation of Israel and their God. Verse 10 tells us what it was that had spoken to her. It was the miraculous things that the God of Israel had done! - How He dried up the Red Sea for Israel to cross over on dry ground, and how they had destroyed the two kings of the Amorites on the other side of Jordan. And in verse 11 Rahab expresses the outcome of this knowledge. Rahab says “we have really been afraid since we heard about all of these things”. And this is the crazy thing... For 40 years the nation of Israel wandered round and round the desert because of unbelief. They were afraid of the inhabitants of this land. But when you get into Canaan, you see that the inhabitants have been afraid of Israel for the same amount of time. They have both been afraid for 40 years!
It is like that for us, the enemies of our lives, the principalities that oppose us have already been defeated by a risen Christ. They have already been defeated, but it is a matter of us pressing on into the things that God has for us and taking those places by faith. We read that now there is no more courage in anyone. Then Rahab makes this wonderful statement “For the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath!” So you can see that she has come into the realization of who the true God is through His miracles and through His leading of Israel.
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. Give me a sure sign
Rahab knows that the land is actually Israel’s, and that there is judgment coming upon Jericho. That is what she is afraid of. She is afraid of the judgment to come for herself and for her family. When I was thinking about this, I thought that this is one of the ways that many people actually come to Christ and to a saving knowledge of Him. They know, as it says in Hebrews, “it is appointed unto man to die once and then comes the judgment.” They know that at some point all lives will be judged. Part of the Holy Spirit's working on earth is to convict people of the judgment to come; and that we will all have to stand before God and give an account of our lives. Rahab knows this and asks for a token. She is asking for herself and for her family to be spared. Many people come to faith because they know that there is a judgment coming one day. They don't know when it is but they know that it is coming. It is not a popular topic these days to actually talk about a day when we will all stand before a righteous and Holy God and give an account of our lives. Most people like hearing about the God of love and grace, and that is all true but there is an aspect where God is a judge and there is a day coming when He will dispense this judgment. I know for myself that when I became a Christian part of my reasoning was that I knew I had fallen so far short of what God had commanded. I also knew that one day I would have to stand before God and give an account of my life; which was an absolute train wreck at that. I knew that I had to come to the Lord.
So Rahab’s concern is for herself; she wanted to be spared from this judgment and not only herself but her family as well. She is instantly concerned for those who were special to her that they also would be spared.
The sign of the scarlet cord
Joshua 2:15-20 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. (16) Now she had said to them, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way." (17) 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. (20) But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear."
So safety and security for this woman was that she and her family must stay inside her house. Next she was to bind a scarlet cord, or rope outside the window. What does a scarlet cord or rope signify? There is a scarlet line that runs through the Bible, that of sacrifice by blood and the covering that occurs. If she stayed in her home, Rahab and her family were safe under the protection of the scarlet cord. This is the same thing that happened in Egypt when the children of Israel had to kill the Passover lamb. If they were behind the doors of the house and the blood was over the doors they were safe. Jesus said “I am the door, if any man comes to Me, he shall be saved.” So the scarlet cord speaks of Christ and His death and resurrection and the blood that He shed for all those who believe. There is no need to be afraid of the future; there is safety and security for those who are washed by His blood.
The faith that works...
Joshua 2:21 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.
All Rahab had to do was put this scarlet cord outside of the window, so straight away she did this. There is no delay, she took on board what had been told her and applied it to her situation straight away. She didn't think “well there might be judgment in the future but I might have a few days before that happens.” Many people think like that, they think later in life they will give it their consideration. However, you do not know when the judgment will come. If you knew that your city was to be attacked, and that there was a way of escape, I’m sure that you would take it. There was no hesitation with Rahab. You can see all through this passage that she has faith in God, and is acting on it continually. She wants herself and her family to be safe and secure.
Salvation by faith
Joshua 2:22-24 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. (23) Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. (24) They said to Joshua, "The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us."
So while the nation is preparing three day's provisions this wonderful chapter of God's grace is taking place. The other thing I really like is that it mentions Rahab about eight times in scripture, six of which call her a harlot. I like the fact that God is no respecter of persons. He takes you for what you are. I met this girl at Bible College once and we were talking about how people come to faith. She said to me “I was told that all I needed to do was to come to God as I am.” “That was enough to actually win me.” Many people believe that you have to get all cleaned up and get things right before you can come and approach God but it is actually not like that. You come just as you are, just as Rahab did; she is a harlot but she is also someone whom God is working with and He took her as she was. It doesn't mean that she remains that way. But you come to God with all of your baggage, and He takes care of that. What I love about Rahab is that though she is a harlot, a sinner, she marries into the line of Christ the Messiah. She is actually mentioned in Matthew 1:5-6. We read that Salmon; a man in Israel of the tribe of Judah in the lineage of Christ, married her. She became the great, great grandmother of David the King of Israel. What marvelous grace God showed her! Rahab has gone from harlot to hero and even more importantly has found salvation through faith in the God of Israel!