Her door was always open – for the wrong reasons. Rahab was a whore in Jericho, a significant and wild city in Canaan. It was no surprise to Rahab that two men had come to her place. This happened all the time in her line of work.
These men, however, were strangers to Jericho. Spies from Israel sent by Joshua sought refuge in a harlot’s house. They found hospitality among the seamiest folks in the town, just as Jesus would during His time on earth. The Savior became known as the Friend of sinners, who also ate with them. The common people heard Christ gladly.
Rahab more than welcomed these spies; she kept them safe from the soldiers on patrol in the city. She no doubt was well-practiced in the art of fast talk and deception. That came with the territory in her profession. She led the spies to hiding places on her roof, and threw off the search party with a false story about how her visitors slipped out before the city gate was shut.
“Hurry! You can still catch them,” she told the men sent to arrest the spies.
A Heart that Knows
The nature of her profession also meant that Rahab heard lots of things, secret things. She was a person in the know, and she told the spies what was being said about Israel.
This band of delivered people had been wandering the wilderness of the region for nearly 40 years. Israel and her God had picked up a reputation along the way. The stories of how Egypt was decimated and the way the Red Sea opened for Israel were well-known. More recent reports of the destruction of the Amorites and their kings had set Jericho astir. Trouble was coming and everyone knew it.
“…As soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you for the Lord your God, He is God of heaven above and on earth beneath,” Rahab said (see Joshua 2:11).
Here, we read, how Rahab seized an opportunity. She had taken to heart what she had heard of the God of Israel. She believed in His power and rightly figured that Canaan would soon belong to Israel. She rendered a kindness in protecting the spies from detection. Now she appealed to them for a kindness in return.Rahab wanted something from the Lord. Her plea was this: 'Save me and my family. Deliver us from death.' Click To Tweet
Rahab wanted something from the Lord. Her plea was this: “Save me and my family. Deliver us from death.”
This woman was a merchant, and a capable and well-connected one at that, given how Jericho’s king sent to her to find out about the spies. She was a person who trafficked in the phony romance and the purchased intimacy of the sex trade.
False things, Rahab knew them well.
What she heard about Israel and the Lord rang true to her, however. And this seems to have cut through the accumulations of suspicions she had collected over the course of her dark life.
The spirit of the spies confirmed her feelings, I think. Their talk and manner convinced her to cast herself upon the mercy of the Lord. She was not disappointed.
A Promise and a Token
The spies gave Rahab a promise and a token related to it. She and her family were invited under the covering of God. The home of the harlot was declared a safe space under this condition — a scarlet thread had to be hung in her window.
This string of hope was meant to keep death away, the same way death had been kept from the children of Israel who followed the Passover instructions from Moses. On that night in Egypt, the Lord sent the angel of death into the nation to slay the firstborn in all the land. The homes with doorways marked with the blood of a slain lamb were passed over. Everyone who took refuge in those houses was spared. Similarly, all who would come to Rahab’s home would be passed over when Israel marshaled its attack on Jericho.
“According to your words, so be it,” Rahab told the spies. At once, she tied the scarlet thread in the window.
This was a major moment of faith action for this harlot. The kingdoms of that era were ruthless in conquest. In triumph, armies slaughtered the defeated, collected spoil, and enslaved those they allowed to survive. Even Israel thoroughly wiped out the Amorites who lived just across the Jordan River from Jericho.
Would the spies be true to their word? I think Rahab believed they would be because she had come to believe in their God.
Sharing the Message
The next task for Rahab was getting her family members to believe as she did. She had to convince them that the red string in her window was their one thin line to salvation. I have wondered how many conversations she entered into. I am sure some scoffed at the notion of invading soldiers taking note of a thread tied to the house of a whore.
But some heard and believed, as we read in Joshua 6. Israel obeyed the Lord and marched around Jericho for a week. On the seventh day of that week, the troops traveled around the city seven times. Trumpets were blown, the city’s walls fell flat, and the army of Israel charged forward to “utterly destroy” all that was in it.
Only those inside the house with the scarlet thread survived. The spies went to Rahab’s door and brought out all of her father’s household and all that she had.
The story doesn’t end there. Rahab’s name comes up again in the opening chapter of the New Testament, in Matthew 1. There, we read the genealogy of Jesus and discover this phrase: “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5). This is the same Boaz who took Ruth to be his wife. She gave birth to Obed, who fathered Jesse, who fathered King David.
Rahab the harlot’s faith set her into the line of the Messiah. She’s permanently part of the heritage of King Jesus, the Son of David. It only took a thread of hope to make it happen.