Have you ever found yourself in a situation where all that people talk about you is your sin? Your wrongs and bad things that you have done? Well, I have been there. Actually to date some only see a hellward soul and pity me for I have fallen out of grace. But I have some good news today because if God can truly use anything; He can use you and me. The story of Rahab in the book of Joshua is a full gospel – good news. Let us get to look at Rahab and learn some lessons from there.
Many might think of Rahab as a harlot; an immoral woman who used manipulation to escape the inevitable fate of the city. Regardless of her profession, or her intentions, one fact remains: Rahab was a woman of incredible humility and faith. And they were the keys to her redemption. Yes, Rahab was a base strumpet, a harlot, a woman who submitted to any man who crossed her threshold for sinful purposes, who sold her body for money, and who practiced what has been called “the oldest profession in the world.” Ethically and morally speaking, Rahab was anything but the kind of woman one would expect to be singled out as an example in a matter of religious standing.
As we look at the story of Rahab, we note that there is a higher morality in life than that of personal virtue. It is the morality of atonement and it is based upon faith in what God has done. Herein lies the great hope for all sinners who may be justified or declared righteous before the tribunal of God, before they have any personal righteousness or any meritorious standing. Rahab is a fine illustration of this great Biblical truth of the higher morality.
Men who travelled through the city would find accommodations at Rahab’s home. And people talked. Rahab had heard many stories about the God of Israel over the years. She knew about the parting of the Red Sea, and the destruction of the Egyptian army. It had been more than 40 years since God had led Israel out of Egypt, but the fear of the people was still fresh. Rahab also knew of the fates of King Sihon and King Og. All of Jericho was terrified of the Israelites and what they had done to those two kings and their nations on the other side of the Jordan River
Rahab was delivered from her sin and given a place with Sarah in the roster of the heroes of the faith, who were justified and declared righteous (Heb. 11:13). It seems incredible that Rahab should take her place with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses and the other heroes of the faith, and yet she does. She was given this position not after she reformed, but while she was still a harlot. This seems all the more incongruous and yet it sets forth the principle about which we are speaking in a very clear light.
Rahab was inducted or adopted into the family of the Israelites. She married a prince in Israel, by name Salmon, and she became one of the progenitors of the sinless one, namely, Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5). The incongruity of this is seen in the attempt by some interpreters to avoid the embarrassment by making the Hebrew word mean, “a landlady” or “a formerly fallen woman,” etc. They try to circumvent the direct meaning of the word “harlot,” but the very fact of Rahab’s sinful condition is the glory of this message. Hence, this should teach us something about the nature of saving faith.
I want to look at 3 things from Rahab’s story. I’d like to look at her Trust, her Territory, and her Twine and from there she leads us to some very interesting places.
So let’s start with Rahab’s trust. After she sent the king’s men on a wild goose chase, Rahab goes up to the roof and talks to the spies. She says, “I know that Yahweh has given you this land.” She knows who God is. And not only does she know who he is, she uses his name, “Yahweh.” She then proceeds to give an abridged version of salvation history. Suddenly this foreign hooker becomes a prophet of the one true God! Suddenly a madam who traffics in a rather unholy business demonstrates that she knows Israel’s God by Name, that she is familiar with some of His recent doings, and that she has even come to believe in the truth of His covenant. Rahab has faith.
Forty years earlier Joshua had been one of the original twelve spies sent to scout out the Promised Land for Moses. 10 of those spies talked only about the physical and military lay of the land; so much so that they scared the Israelites silly with their report of giants living in cities of stone. Those spies gave a typical military report and it caused a crisis of faith so intense that God punished the people by postponing their entry into the Promised Land for four decades.
Ironically, these two spies give a report that focuses not on military matters but on divine matters [truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands] and this has the exact opposite effect: this time the Israelites get energized for their mission! This time the focus is where it should have been forty years earlier – namely on God and on his power. And the weird thing is that this radical change of situation happened because two guys heard Yahweh speaking through a prostitute…through Rahab. So she had faith; she trusted in God. But she was a prostitute, right? Interesting.
Let’s move on to Rahab’s territory. Rahab’s home is an interesting indicator of where she stood in her society. Rahab, as I’ve pointed out, was a prostitute. And, as has been the case throughout history, she was relegated to the edges of society. She was an outcast; she was looked down upon, she lived on the fringes of society…and not just her social standing, but the physical placement of her home was on the fringes. Rahab lived in the wall of the city. Jericho had two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall. Archeologists discovered that beams were laid between these two walls and people lived there in between. Since the text tells us that her window was on the very outer wall, we can gather that she was considered a disposable commodity. In case of an attack, Rahab lived in the most vulnerable spot. She wasn’t even inside the city wall, she was between the outer wall and the inner wall, the very first in the line of fire. Yet, God used her, even with this filthy occupation, even though she was marginalized, even though she was disregarded, God used her. Others who lived nearer to the king’s palace, who lived inside 2 walls, higher up, further in, in the safest place, they did not survive, but this prostitute, God rescued her.
When it comes to dispensing love and grace, God can be downright promiscuous. The whole story reminds us that God takes care of things in a way that defies conventional wisdom. God is endlessly creative and surprising in his workings. I mean, Rahab had at least 3 strikes against her going by practices during her days: she was a woman (women’s rights were not equal to men), she was a Canaanite (foreigner), and she was a PROSTITUTE! So no matter what we may have done in our past, God is ready to forgive us and to use us for his saving purposes. God can work through anyone who is available to him.
Which brings us to Rahab’s Twine (Strong thread) or “how God used Rahab’s twine to save Israel”. The gate to the city was closed right after the king’s men left on their goose chase, which left the spies locked inside Jericho. But they were on a mission. They needed to get to safety and to give their report to Joshua. What could they do?
Rahab to the rescue. Perhaps she had had to use this scarlet twine before to keep a client out of trouble, but Rahab seems to know what to do to get the spies to safety. And she strikes a deal: if this crimson cord is tied in her window, she and her family will be saved.
Rahab’s twine, by which she lowers the spies to safety and which serves as a sign of her safety from the attacking army, this crimson cord, reminds me of another crimson sign in Israel’s history. That crimson cord at the window was a blood red sign of deliverance, like the sign of the Passover on the door post of Israelite homes. The blood, when seen by the angel of death, served as a sign that death would pass over that home. And so when we see the crimson cord tied in Rahab’s window, we wonder, will the army remember, will they pass her over? Did the spies tell them what the deal was? Did they keep their word? We find our answer in chapter 6: Joshua tells the spies “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out the woman and all who belong to her.” Praise God! She’s saved. But that scarlet twine doesn’t end there.
Come with me to Hebrews 11. “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.” She is remembered by Paul as one of the great examples of faith.
And listen to James 2, “was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?” James who says, “Faith without works is dead” says Rahab showed faith by her works and her scarlet twine flows on.
It’s amazing. God loved Rahab. He knew the depths of the things that she had had to do, but he still loved her. In spite of Rahab’s life history, God was not disgusted by her. And God was not finished with her, and the scarlet twine winds on. Did you know, if you read Matthew 1, that she married Salmon and had a son named Boaz who became the great great great great great grandfather of King David… which means that Rahab the prostitute was his great great great…grandmother. And what does that mean? That means, that Rahab the prostitute is also the great great (many greats) grandmother of our Lord Jesus Christ! And then where do we see that scarlet twine again? We see it again in the blood of Rahab’s grandson, Jesus, when he died on the cross for us. That crimson cord is hanging as a sign of hope and salvation; we are washed in the blood of the lamb. How unexpected! The one who cleanses us from all sin had an ancestor who was a prostitute!
Do you grasp that? Rahab is in the lineage of Jesus. Rahab, the Prostitute, is Jesus’ great great great great great however many greats, great grandma. Rahab not only saved the lives of the spies, she not only saved her life and her family through her actions, God used her to save all of humanity!!!
But what does Rahab have to do with you and me today?
First, if God can use a Rahab, He can use you and me. No matter what we’ve done in our life, God accepts us as we are and he forgives us. God loves you. He can use you, yes, even you!
Secondly, God used Rahab, a prostitute. Which causes me to ask, do we expect Him to use people like Rahab? People who look different, people who act different, people we look down upon, people on the fringes, on the margins? I wonder if there isn’t a lesson in here for us in our dealings with, our attitudes towards, and our expectations of marginalized people.
How do we treat the Rahab’s of the world today? Do we even notice that they exist? Do we honour our word to them? The spies could have ignored their little arrangement. After all, they probably had some explaining to do to Joshua and the others about why they went to the prostitute’s house in the first place and why they wanted to save her. They could have said, “let’s just save face and not mention this little Rahab thing.” But they didn’t. They told Joshua—they kept their word.
And then afterwards, they accepted her. We might go ahead and allow a Rahab to live, but what then? Would we ask her to join us in our day to day living or would we let her know that her kind and our kind don’t mix? Would we set up projects on the other side of town and hope that she will just “go away”?
I’m struck by this passage and the way the spies honoured their word. Does this unsettle you? It does me. After all, Rahab’s story is a biblical reminder that a good many of our efforts to neatly mark off the sacred from the secular just don’t work. Too often we find ourselves pointing to areas where we just know that God is absent. We think we know who is who when it comes to distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys, the holy from the secular. But if Rahab the prostitute could turn out to be a servant of Yahweh and if the spies and other Israelites could accept her, even with her past, I think we can learn and grow to be more like them.
We need to look for God in odd places, to recognize that often God is lurking in the hearts of unlikely people. We need to look for God in strange places, so that if we should happen to spy God on the move, we can cooperate with His Spirit and so in the end – as happened with Rahab and the spies, we can perhaps help save someone after all. In other words, perhaps if we would open our eyes and ask the Spirit for illumination, we might see that there are a lot of places in this world where scarlet cords are draped out people’s windows, if only we would take the time to notice and accept that God just might be using these unexpected people too.