Rahab the Harlot

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Focus Verse: Hebrews 11:31 (NKJ)
By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.

Chapter 2 of Joshua details the story of Rahab the harlot. When God sent Joshua and the children of Israel across the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan to take possession of the land, the first order of business was to destroy the city of Jericho. It was one of the largest, most prosperous, and most thoroughly fortified cities in the land. But the city was cursed of God and marked for destruction. The sentence of death had been passed upon it forty years earlier (Ex. 23:27-28).

In the story of Rahab, two spies are sent to search out the city. These men would have to cross the Jordan river, get into the city, and assess it's strength. We could conclude that these men were the prototype of navy SEALS. Next we have the men of Israel coming to the house of the harlot, who is immediately identified (v.1). Dana Nolan Fewell makes the point that women do not feature in the conquest narrative, and the women who do appear are “visible only because they represent some kind of exception.” (Newsom & Ringe 1992:64) Rahab is an exception relative to the other players in the drama because she demonstrates a commitment to God superior to that even of Joshua.

Many commentators try to change the meaning of the word harlot to hostess or innkeeper. But in the Greek it is the word porne (4204). It is always translated in the New Testament as: "harlot" or "whore". The designation "harlot" heightens the grace of God, verifying that He is no respecter of persons. Not only was Rahab a harlot, she was a Gentile. She didn't belong to the covenant people of God. She is an illustration of the truth of the promise that in the seed of Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18). Rahab’s first work of faith was letting the spies stay at her house, whose mission was to “view the land” (v.1) or “search out the land” (v.2). Perhaps the spies felt that Rahab’s house would serve as an inconspicuous location, since it was frequented by strangers. (Who’s Who In the Bible) Somehow the news about them and what they were up to leaked out. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country. So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.” Joshua 2:2-3 (NKJV) Why is it that Rahab believed and nobody else in Jericho did? Was she better or smarter than everybody else? Paul answers this question in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (NKJV)

The second work of Rahab’s faith was hiding the men. Joshua 2:6 says she brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. Next, she lies to the king's delegation by affirming: “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.” (2:4-5)

Rahab’s action of hiding the spies is commended as an act of faith. Harold J. Ockenga states it this way:
Rahab stands as an evidence of salvation, of justification by faith. She believe when others did not. She chose the people of God and the God of Israel as her God. She dedicated her all to God and hazarded her very security upon this faith. (p.61) It is difficult to understand how the means by which that action was carried out, "namely lying," is not considered a sin. James 2:25 (NKJV) says: “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the...
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