Her name means: "Storm," "Arrogance," "Broad," or "Spacious"
Her character: Rahab was both clever and wise. She saw judgment coming and was able to devise an escape plan for herself and her family. As soon as she heard what God had done for the Israelites, she cast her lot with his people, risking her life in an act of faith.
Her sorrow: To see her own people destroyed and her city demolished.
Her joy: That God had given her, an idolater and prostitute, the opportunity to know him and belong to his people.
Key Scriptures: Joshua 2:1-21; 6:17-25; Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25
Jericho may be the world's oldest city. Established nearly six thousand years before Miriam and Moses completed their desert wanderings, its ancient ruins can be found just seventeen miles northeast of Jerusalem. Gateway to Canaan, it was also the home of a prostitute named Rahab, whose house nestled snugly into its thick surrounding walls.
As well as entertaining locals, Rahab welcomed guests from various caravans whose routes crisscrossed Jericho. Men from all over the East brought news of a swarm of people encamped east of the Jordan. Rahab heard marvelous stories about the exploits of the God of the Israelites—how he had dried up the Red Sea so they could escape their Egyptian slave masters, and how he had given them victory in battle against Sihon and Og, two kings of the Amorites. For forty years the God of the Israelites had trained and toughened them in the desert. Such rumors spread fear in Jericho.
While men talked, another man planned. Moses was dead, and Joshua, son of Nun, had been appointed leader of the Israelites. Nearly forty years earlier Joshua had spied out the land along with Caleb and a group of others, urging the Israelites to take hold of the land of promise. This time there would be no shrinking back. Once the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and destroyed Jericho, the land would open like a melon with the rind peeled back. He could taste the victory.
Joshua sent two spies to Jericho to probe its secrets. The spies soon made their way to Rahab's house, where she hid them beneath stalks of flax drying on the roof. Later that day, Rahab received a message from the king of Jericho, asking her about the spies who had taken refuge in her house.
"Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from," she lied to the king's messenger. "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."
As soon as the king's men left, she hurried to the roof, quickly warning her two guests: "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us…. The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 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 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."
To this remarkable statement of faith, the men replied: "Our lives for your lives!" thus sealing the bargain.
Quickly, the two spies handed Rahab a scarlet cord, instructing her to tie it in the window on the side of the house built into the city wall. The invading Israelites would see it and spare everyone inside. Then Rahab instructed the men to hide themselves in the hills for three days until their pursuers abandoned the chase. With that, they slipped out the window and scrambled down the walls of Jericho.
Joshua was smiling long after the spies had left him with their good report. Now was the time to move. He marshaled the people and led them across the Jordan. Though the river was at flood stage, a massive army of Israelites crossed on dry ground. God was with them just as he had been when they left Egypt. Only this time, no one was chasing them—Israel had become the pursuing army, ready for battle!
The news that the waters of the River Jordan had parted for the Israelites terrified the inhabitants of Jericho. Rahab watched anxiously from her window in the wall as the Israelites gathered around the city like a growing storm. Would these fierce warriors with their powerful God remember the scarlet cord? For the thousandth time she reminded her family, especially the little ones, not to take even one step outside the house, lest they perish.
That first day Rahab watched as seven priests carrying an ark led thousands of men around the city. She braced herself, but nothing happened. The next day and the next, for five more days it continued. Then, as the sun was rising on the seventh day, the men of Israel marched again, encircling Jericho seven times. Suddenly, she heard the ram's horn sound and then a thunderous cry, loud enough to split a mountain. The city walls shattered and the Israelites rushed in. Rahab tried to plug her ears to the mayhem outside her home. When the battle of Jericho was over, Rahab and those she loved were spared. Her faith had saved not only herself but her entire household from the terrible judgment decreed for her city.
Jericho's end reminds us of Sodom's. In Sodom, Lot and his daughters were spared; in Jericho, it was Rahab and her family who were spared. But unlike Lot or his wife, Rahab never once hesitated. She is the only woman singled out by name and commended for her faith as part of the great "cloud of witnesses" mentioned in the book of Hebrews. A prostitute living in the midst of an idolatrous people, Rahab was like a brand plucked from the fire. Her own people destroyed, she left everything behind, becoming an ancestor of King David and, therefore, one of Jesus' ancestors as well.
Rahab's story is a dramatic one. It shows us that God's grace accepts no boundaries. The red cord that saved Rahab and her family reminds us of the red blood of Jesus, who still saves us today, and of Isaiah's words, that "though your sins may be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Rahab put her faith in the God of Israel and was not disappointed.
The story of Rahab reveals again God's willingness to use the less than perfect, the outcast, what we might see as the unsuitable to accomplish his holy purposes. Throughout Scripture, with what can almost be seen as divine humor, God chooses a stutterer to speak for him (Moses), an infertile woman to be the mother of a nation (Sarah), a weakling to defend him (Gideon), a forgettable youngest son to be the most unforgettable king of his people (David), an unknown youngster to be the mother of his son (Mary), and a persecutor to take the gospel to the nations (Paul).
God doesn't wait for us to become spotlessly clean or totally mature in our faith in order to use us. Instead, he takes ordinary, willing people and accomplishes the extraordinary, both in their lives and in the lives of those around them. As he did with Rahab, he promises to use us, and through that experience to perfect us.