“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” (Hebrews 11: 31)
This is the thumbnail sketch of a truly extraordinary late-entry in the roll-call of faith. Rahab was the rank outsider who became centre-stage in the Covenant Family; and the sketch provides the barest outline of the story of that journey of transformation:
- She was a prostitute
- She welcomed the spies
- So she didn’t suffer the fate of Israel’s enemies
- And this course of action was accomplished “by faith.“
Every reader is assumed to know the story backwards, of course, when this merest of outlines is considered sufficient. The following verse is even more brusque: “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about…” Perhaps a little more explanation is due nowadays, however, so that we can better understand what faith is and what it does and how we can fully engage in the adventure ourselves…
The story, (from Joshua 2), is the dramatic opening scene of Israel’s invasion of Canaan. Joshua had sent spies into the walled city of Jericho to gain military intelligence; to gauge the mood of the people and test their war-readiness.
They find refuge with Rahab. The Hebrew אשה זונה, used to describe Rahab in Joshua 2:1, literally means “a woman, a prostitute”. The Hebrew zōnâ may refer to either secular or cultic prostitution, and the latter is widely believed to have been an invariable element of Canaanite religious practice. However, qědēšâ is the usual word for cult prostitutes, which may mean that Rahab was freelance. The 1st century AD historian Josephus, mentioned delicately that she kept an inn, but is silent as to whether merely renting out rooms was her only source of income. It was not uncommon for both an inn and a brothel to function within the same building, of course, so going into Rahab’s building was not necessarily a deviation from Joshua’s orders, and where better to get information than a pub, anyway?
In any case, Rahab is introduced as someone in a bad position. She is located in an enemy city slated for destruction, and she is in a reprehensible profession.
It’s almost the opposite of one of those High School Year Books with a student voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” Rahab, the text underlines, was “Least Likely.”
And yet she was alert to her own situation. She provided a graphic account of the state of the city’s mood in Joshua 2:9: “A great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.”
She also exhibited a consciousness of what God was doing: “I know that the Lord has given this land to you… our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:9,11)
And third, she indicated a desire for change, and a readiness to link her destiny with that of these strangers. At the moment, it must have seemed a perilous choice, but this is the point for which James 2:25 commends her for her “righteous works“: “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?”
This is the connecting link between the faith of Rahab of those already mentioned in Hebrews11: it’s an alertness to the big picture of God’s story and a willingness to go for it with no sure guarantees. In a word, it’s “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
You might see Rahab’s actions as opportunist, and so they were. She was seizing the opportunity for salvation just as surely as Bartimaeus did, as he cried out, without restraint: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
So though she was in a bad position, she was alert to change, and God responded to her responsiveness. She heard of the appoaching army and she recognised what it meant. She put her life at peril by joining sides with them. Her “conversion” issued in action and she became fully part of what God was doing.
And more than that, she brought those within her circle of influence into her decision. She asked for, and received, pledges of safety not just for herself, but for her family too.
The consequences were enormous. The original texts are a little ambiguous, but the normal way of reading is that Rahab became Great-Grandmother to King David, and her place in that illustrious geneaology is enshrined in Matthew 1. That is to say, she became part of the covenant story.
In our consideration of Hebrews 11, we see that God uses individuals…but don’t forget that this is HIS story, not yours! You are blessed to bless, like Rahab.
She experiences a new freedom (Joshua 6:20-25); she finds a new family (Joshua 6:25; Matt. 1:5; Ruth 4:21); and she finds a new fame (Matt 1:5).
These are the blessings of transformation, to which we are called.
It’s like a current – a Gulf Stream. Don’t miss it! The current is called: freedom/ family and “fame” (or, say, favor)… it’s God’s transformation in action!