Rahab the Prostitute, the Riches of God’s Irresistible Grace

Following the death of Moses, the LORD calls Joshua, Moses’s assistant, to lead the people of Israel in their conquest of Canaan (Joshua 1:2). God was fulfilling His promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-21). After some four hundred years of wickedness, God would judge the Amorites in the overthrow of their land.

Joshua commissions two men to secretly scout the land for invasion. The two go, eventually finding shelter in the house of a prostitute named Rahab (Joshua 2:1). While the Scripture doesn't give reason for their stay with Rahab, it’s reasonable to suppose that it allowed for inconspicuousness. More than that however, it provides us a view of God’s magnificent providence and sovereignty in salvation.

For one thing, of all the prostitutes in Jericho—Numbers 25:1-2 gives evidence of licentiousness in Canaanite worship—God’s providence orders these men to the home of Rahab. This is important since God Himself seems to have visited Rahab ahead of the men. For when the King of Jericho seeks custody of the spies, Rahab instantly sides with a Greater King over her own.

She hides the men under stalks of flax on her roof and lies concerning their whereabout. She states: “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them” (Joshua 2:3-4).

The King of Jericho is sent on a wild-goose chase while the spies are kept safe, later escaping the city with the assistance of Rahab. The men pledge to preserve the life of Rahab and her family in exchange for their own (Joshua 2:14-16). The promise is kept in Joshua 6:22-23.

And what are we to think of Rahab’s lie? We know that lying is a sin (Exodus 20:16, Leviticus 19:11). Yet it appears as if Rahab is saved from God’s judgment as a result of her deceitful tactics. Should we rejoice here or should we frown?

The author himself neither affirms nor condemns Rahab’s actions. Commentary on her action waits centuries later for the writer of Hebrews and for James, the brother of Jesus. Hebrews states: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). James adds: “was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way” (James 2:25)?

According to Hebrews, Rahab isn't spared as a result of her deceit itself but is preserved from God’s judgment by the instrument through which all are saved…faith. James explains further that her work in sheltering the spies is the evidence of that very faith. True faith is revealed in works that please God. Rahab denies the truth to her own nation, revealing allegiance to and fear in One greater (Joshua 2:8-13).

It was the same fear that motivated the Hebrew midwives to stealthily defy Pharaoh in the saving of lives (Exodus 1:8-22). It was the same fear that drove Jael to deceive and later murder Sisera, the army commander of the Canaanites (Judges 4:17-24). It was the same fear that inspired the ten Boom family to secretly hide Jewish neighbors in 1940 Nazi occupied Netherlands. All withheld the truth from murderous authorities at the risk of their own lives because they feared a Greater Authority. And so the maxim is proved true: we absolutely obey the authorities unless they command us to disobey God (Acts 4:19).

And this the Bible calls wisdom, for who is more fearsome than God Himself (Psalm 90:11-12; Hebrews 10:31)? Yet who is more gracious? He is a God who both judges and saves.

Years before Rahab would meet the spies, God rescues His people from Egypt with mighty acts of power (Exodus 3:20). He so doing, He tells Pharaoh: “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). The wonders of the exodus were both for the deliverance of Israel and for the fame of God, that the nations might behold His power and repent.

Somewhere in Jericho, a prostitute—with eyes as unseeing as her idols (Psalm 115:4-8)—is enabled to behold “the Lord, [the] God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath,” and she believes (Joshua 2:8-13). God elects to cover the naked breasts of a Canaanite prostitute with a garment of grace (Romans 9:15-18). And then—as though to display the gloriousness of His own mercy—He adopts Rahab, knitting her into the fabric of Israel as the mother of Boaz, and then Obed, then Jesse, then King David, and ultimately Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 1:5-6). I am left with one question:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24)?

*Thanks for reading! This post is part of my Mothers in the Bible Series; we are looking for glimpses of the gospel in the lives of biblical women--from Eve to Mary, the mother of Christ. Click here to see other writings. And please let me know your thoughts!