The five women in Matthew’s geneology of Christ: Rahab – From Harlot to Heroine


We are entering a very interesting period of the year when there is so much talk about Christmas. Our church too is currently looking at some of the women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ. Actually it is interesting to note that Matthew included five women in his genealogy of Christ. This is notable since it was not customary for Jews to include women in their records in those days. Even more remarkable is the fact that Matthew included some women who had disreputable histories. The five women included were: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.  Today we are looking at Rahab from Joshua 2:1-24. As we will see later, Rahab was a harlot who lived in Jericho. She hid the spies of Joshua forty years earlier when Moses first sent the spies. Because of this, the Israelites spared her life when they conquered Jericho. She later became the wife of Salmon, and the mother of Boaz. Rahab’s faith was later commended (Heb 11:30-31).  The issue is why would a holy God include such people and raise them to such a great lofty position? Is there something for us to learn? Pastor Steve Makau spoke this last Sunday and I was motivated to revisit this subject again for our blog this week.

To begin to answer some of the questions raised above, I would like to start by saying, yes – there was an important reason why God allowed his people, the Israelites, to take possession of Canaan. The people who lived there before the Israelites were very wicked. God had allowed them to continue to live there for several centuries. But in the end, God always punishes sin (evil deeds). See Genesis 15:13-16.

But God saves people who have faith (active belief and trust in God). He does that whichever nation they come from. He even saved a few people in Canaan, because they had faith. Therefore, if a common harlot of Canaan could become an uncommon saint of faith and courage and receive the privilege of motherhood in the line of Jesus Christ, then surely nothing is impossible with God. Rahab‘s amazing story is a lesson for us all.

The Facts as they were:

For 40 long, rigorous years, Moses—under God’s direction—led the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness. God had delivered them from Egypt, helped them cross the Red Sea on dry ground and supernaturally defeated the enemies who tried to thwart their path to Canaan.

Now (around 1400 B.C.) Israel was about to enter the land God promised to the nation. God had transferred the mantle of Israel’s leadership to Joshua, an able, faithful and courageous leader. Before Israel entered Canaan, Joshua sent a reconnaissance party of two men to spy out the land just west of the Jordan River, paying special attention to the formidable city of Jericho.

It didn’t take the pair long to reach Jericho, a bustling, fortified city strategically situated in the fertile plains of the Jordan valley. To avoid being noticed, they blended with the busy pedestrians outside the great city walls. It was difficult not to be visibly impressed with Jericho’s massive fortifications. Still, the spies’ primary job was to take mental notes of the city’s layout and fortifications. Instantly they realized that these impressive man-made barriers would never be breached or destroyed unless God miraculously intervened for the Israelites.

The incredible events that followed include an encouraging lesson involving a woman who had lived an ungodly life. Without a doubt Rahab the harlot helped save the lives of the Israelite spies, which in turn set Israel on the path to conquering Jericho and moving into the Promised Land.

Responding to God

What do we know about Rahab, who played such a pivotal role in the fall of Jericho? Halley’s Bible Handbook suggests she may have been a temple prostitute, which in Canaanite eyes was an acceptable line of work (2000, p. 190). Rahab was therefore, a harlot, that is, a prostitute. A prostitute is a woman who offers her body to men for sex. She owned a house in Jericho. Jericho was an important city for trade; many traders passed through it. Rahab offered them food, a place to sleep, and sex. That was how people in Canaan behaved.

Rahab and her family lived within the outer city wall. Her house was apparently part of the wall. It is possible that the house doubled as an inn since the spies were sought there. Besides her infamous profession, it appears that Rahab engaged in less-questionable labor as well. Either raising or buying flax, she dried it on her rooftop and made linen from it.

One day, two men came to Rahab’s house. They only wanted a safe place to sleep for the night. But the king of Jericho sent a message to Rahab that she must hand these men over to him. The Israelites had established a camp on the other side of the river Jordan from Jericho. These two men had left that camp in order to explore Canaan. They were collecting information that would help the Israelite army.

When Rahab heard this, she decided to protect the two men. She hid them. And she told the king’s officials that the men had already left even though they were at her house. Now, the whole city had received news about the miraculous events and conquests of the wandering nation of Israel, yet Rahab was the only resident of Jericho who resolved to fear and obey Israel’s God. This she did even before she had the opportunity to interact with the spies from Israel. Although the Canaanites had many gods, she had enough understanding to realize that the God of Israel was no ordinary Canaanite deity.

Upon entering Jericho to determine its strength, the spies conferred immediately with Rahab. The ensuing conversation revealed her understanding of the true God and her determination to help His chosen people.

When the king of Jericho heard that spies from Israel had entered his city, he immediately sent soldiers to Rahab’s house. Word got to Rahab that the king’s men were coming to investigate her and her two guests. Understanding the gravity of the situation and moving with haste, Rahab hid the spies under the drying flax on her rooftop. There she made a covenant with them: She would help them to safety; they, in turn, had to spare her and her family.

The spies then negotiated their side of the agreement: She had to keep their location a secret along with helping them to safety. Moreover, she was required to gather all of her father’s family under her roof and identify her house by hanging a scarlet cord from a window.

The deal struck, God afterward gave Jericho into Israel’s hands by flattening its walls. Yet, incredibly, Rahab’s house was left standing. As had been agreed, Rahab and her family were delivered. They made their home with Israel from that day on.

She explained why she protected the men in Joshua 2:8-13. People had told her how God helped the Israelites during their journey to Canaan. So she believed that their God is the real God. He rules heaven and earth. She had shown kindness to the Israelite men, and she asked them to be kind to her, too. She asked them to save her life, and the lives of her family, when they attacked Jericho. She was sure that God would give them success.

But the story doesn’t end there, as we’ll see.

Through faith and courage

Surprisingly, Rahab is one of two women named in Hebrews 11 as examples of godly faith. The other is Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Few would question Sarah’s inclusion. She exemplified, in most respects, what are generally considered Christian values and qualities. But Rahab? Why would the holy, righteous God include the name of a harlot as one of His faithful saints?

God, we must realize, shows His great mercy and power through human weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). Out of Rahab’s weakness she was made strong in faith—through the power of God. The record of her deeds provides sufficient scriptural evidence for why God included her in the faith chapter: “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:31).

Many people would not risk their lives for family and friends. Yet Rahab risked her life to protect “enemy” spies. Rahab focused on the godly mission of the spies and her realization that they represented the God of Israel. Rahab didn’t believe just in the existence of God, she literally believed what He revealed. That is, she believed it was He who was bringing Israel into the Promised Land. Risking her very life, she had no more evidence to go on than the reports from others that somehow, in some way, the God of Israel had given His people great victories over more-powerful foes.

Rahab stated confidently: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. 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.

“And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9-11).

Rahab was here living by faith and not by sight, for, though she saw none of these events actually happen, she had faith to believe that Israel’s God was more powerful than all others and would take care of her and her family too.

Rahab’s faith and conviction gave her the courage to look death in the face—and live. As Proverbs 28:1 tells us, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Courage is born from unwavering faith, as Rahab demonstrated.

The merciful and patient God

We can learn a powerful lesson from Rahab. Her example demonstrates living faith in a forgiving and merciful God. Rahab was not a good woman, but she did have faith (active belief and trust in God). She was trusting God to save her, and she wanted to join God’s people. And God did these things for her, because of her faith.

When the Israelites attacked Jericho, they saved Rahab and her family. She joined the Israelites, and she married one of them. Israel’s royal family came from her family. And Jesus came from that family, too.

We should note, however, that Rahab’s response to God was not perfect. She lied to protect the spies’ whereabouts. Sadly, some will use this to excuse lying when, in their determination; it’s for a good cause. However, God’s law makes it clear that lying is never acceptable (Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 12:22). We should bear in mind that Rahab is commended for her faith , not her lying—and realize that her faith was not yet educated, so to speak.

It may even be that Rahab did not yet fully understand the sinfulness of her past way of life. But she did know she had lived apart from the true God and now believed He would receive her if she would serve Him. No doubt this fact would later lead her to a committed life of obedience to God.

No, God did not condemn her for not telling the truth about the spies’ whereabouts; He commended her for hiding His courageous representatives. The apostle James later wrote: “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25)—her works being a natural response to her faith. Had she known the truth about lying, this verse would likely read differently. Butshe acted in the best way she knew—and a merciful and patient God proclaimed her a heroine of faith.

Rahab also showed a deep devotion to those close to her. Considering the terrible destruction about to befall the great city of Jericho, Rahab could easily have thought only of her own safety, ignoring the welfare of others. Yet her agreement with the spies was that they should guarantee not only her safety but that of her entire family. Rahab’s faith, courage and concern for others saved her family and herself.

“But Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the country, ‘Go into the harlot’s house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you swore to her.’ And 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 . . . And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Joshua 6:22-25; see also verses 17-21).

Yes, the Israelites received Rahab and her family into the nation of Israel. Over time, she would have learned the laws of God and come to serve Him more completely, repudiating the mistakes of her past. Indeed, being of Canaan and a former prostitute, she must have convincingly changed her life to have been able to marry a prominent Israelite.

Messianic hope

Surprisingly, Rahab married Salmon, the son of Judah’s tribal leader. From this marriage would come their son Boaz, a faithful man of God. Boaz would marry Ruth (of the book of Ruth), and their son Obed would be the father of Jesse, the father of King David. From David would descend the Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5-6, 15-16; Ruth 4:21-22; 1 Chronicles 2:10-15). Amazingly, then, a former prostitute of Canaan would become what every Israelite woman hoped to be—a mother in the line of the Messiah.

In fact, Rahab experienced the messianic hope in an especially personal way—finding deliverance, physical and spiritual, through the mercy of God. Rahab’s story represents what God has in store for those in non-Israelite nations (the gentiles), who are also promised God’s salvation (Acts 2:21; Romans 9:22-26). Her conversion reminds us that one day God will write His laws on the hearts and minds of all mankind, converting all peoples (Hebrews 8:11).

A transformed life, like that experienced by Rahab, is there for you if you follow the apostle Peter’s instruction: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

If a common harlot of Canaan could become an uncommon saint of faith and courage and receive the privilege of motherhood in the line of Jesus Christ, then surely nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26). Rahab’s amazing story is a lesson for us all.

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