The Faith of Rahab

One of the most intriguing aspects of the account of the fall of Jericho and the part played in the drama by Rahab is all the things that are left unsaid and unexplained. In the second chapter of Joshua we read that the people of Israel, having come to the end of their sojourn in the wilderness, were now facing their entry into the promised land, and here was the city of Jericho to be taken.

Their leader Joshua "sent out two men from Shittim to spy secretly, saying, 'Go, view the land, especially Jericho'" (Joshua 2:1). This, as with most spying expeditions was a dangerous undertaking. The Hebrews would have been easily recognizable, as revealed by the later panic that ensued when their presence was reported.

And Jericho, in fact any city, with two million potential enemies camped outside it within a few miles, would have been apprehensive. Yet, with typical economy of words, the account tells us: "So they went, and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab, and lodged there. "

Who was Rahab? She is described as a harlot in a community where sexual and homosexual practices would have been a part of their everyday idolatrous religious system. She was certainly a woman of some standing and acceptance in the city, for her statement on the spies' departure was immediately acted upon.

Her suggestion to the spies that they travel in the opposite direction from their pursuers was an excellent one as just three miles to the west of Jericho the mountainous country was honeycombed with caves which would afford excellent cover.

The supply of flax on her rooftop, and sufficient scarlet thread to make a rope strong enough to carry the weight of a full-grown man indicated that Rahab was involved in some sort of merchandising or weaving business, possibly very lucrative.

Rahab had a dwelling; she must have been self-sufficient; her family did not live with her because she was told to "bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father's household to your own home" (Joshua 2:18) for safety when the city was taken.

Why would Rahab risk all that she had, especially her life and the lives of her family members secure behind those vast walls, to join forces with a group, albeit large, of nomadic tribesmen, and trust in their keeping their promise to her? The answer is twofold. It lies in the witness of Israel and in the faith of Rahab.

Rahab had told the spies she was willing to hide them from the authorities: "I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are faint-hearted because of you" (2:9).

She referred to the God of Israel with supreme confidence, a confidence and faith that had been lacking even in Israel at times. "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed" (2:10).

Rahab was referring to events that lay at opposite ends of Israel's forty years of wandering, thereby embracing all that had taken place in between. Yet the magnitude of the miracle of Israel's survival in the Sinai wilderness can easily be overlooked or taken for granted.

The mind boggles at the amount of manna miraculously delivered six nights a week that had been required to satisfy the hunger of an estimated two million people. Consider the vast amount of water, sometimes gushing from a rock, sufficient for themselves and their flocks; clothes that as Moses reminded them: "have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet" (Deuteronomy 29:5)–in forty years!

Consider also a God, (as opposed to the many pagan gods), who spoke "face to face" (Deuteronomy 5:4) with their leader, a God who revealed His presence, and who "went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night" (Exodus 13:21), and who preserved them from their enemies.

No wonder Jericho was in a state of panic. The testimony to the faithfulness of the God of Israel had smashed their morale. Rahab stated, "For I know that the LORD has given you the land" yet the whole population preferred to trust in their walls. And we all know what happened to those walls!

Rahab's faith was supreme as she affirmed: "The LORD your God, he is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11). This indicated the absolute superiority of Israel's God over the many gods worshipped by the people of Jericho. Many may have heard, but only one believed, and she stated: "For I KNOW . . . "

Rahab probably could have escaped with the spies had she so desired, but she chose to remain for her family's sake, so she appears as a woman of courage, compassion and concern. She makes a covenant with the spies–all brought into her house to be guaranteed safety provided she does not betray Israel.

She would identify her house when the conquest began by tying the scarlet thread in her window, thus securing God's place of safety and pardon in the midst of danger and judgement. Later "the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had. So they brought out all her relatives and left them outside the camp of Israel. But they burned the city and all that was in it with fire" (Joshua 6:23,24).

Rahab's family had to make their own decision regarding her assurances of safety in her house, and trust in the God of Israel to preserve them in such a dangerous situation. But they did trust in a faithful God and were saved.

Thus Rahab, a Gentile, became a princess of Israel. She became the wife of Salmon who was the great great grandfather of King David, and she is therefore included in the Messianic line of the kingdom of Judah, and is an ancestor of the Messiah.

Rahab had faith; she had heard marvellous things and she intelligently comprehended them. "We have heard . . . but I know. " And in these days we are seeing things of comparable significance regarding Israel, "For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob" (Malachi 3:6).

We are witnesses to God's faithfulness, not for a mere forty years, but for a history of thousands of years. Many Pharaohs, Sihons and Ogs, Hamans and Hitlers have come and perished, and Israel has stood at the graves of every one of them.

Israel has survived two thousand years of dispersion, and they have been returned to their land and their city. Was not the God of Israel proved faithful in 1948 when against impossible odds Israel became a sovereign State? Again in 1956 and 1967 their enemies fled before them, and even in 1973, with more sophisticated weaponry than they could use, plus the element of surprise, Israel's implacable foes could not defeat them.

As in Rahab's day many have heard but few have believed. God destroyed Jericho and the other cities of Canaan because of their gross sin–the just judgement of a righteous God. And once again God is preparing to judge a godless world, and the sign once again is Israel. "For the LORD shall build up Zion; he shall appear in his glory" (Psalm 102:16).

"Behold, he is coming with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also who pierced him. And all the tribes of the land will mourn because of him" (Revelation 1:7).

"And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!'" (Revelation 6:15,16).

Let us, like Rahab, intelligently heed and respond to the warnings before us.