Scripture: ‘Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”‘ Joshua 3:8-10 ESV
Observation: With Joshua consecrated as Israel’s leader and the people declaring their support of him with a united battle cry to be strong and courageous, the Rahab story seems disjointed from the escalating drama of God’s people entering the Promised Land. But its inclusion foreshadows several features of the conquest. In particular:
- Joshua would continue to use spies to scout enemy territory (see 7:2).
- Israel would use deception to defeat enemies (Ai, chapter 8) and be deceived by an enemy (Gibeonites, chapter 9).
- An outsider would betray her people by hiding (burying) Israel’s spies under flax and professing loyalty to Israel (Rahab); an insider would betray Israel and suffer the consequences of burial, being swallowed by the ground (Achan, chapter 7).
As Rahab’s story unfolds, the author tells us the king of Jericho sends soldiers to question Rahab regarding Israeli spies lodging at her house. Pleading ignorance, she informs them the two men left before dark, heading southeast, and urges the soldiers to make haste to catch them. When all is clear, Rahab negotiates with the spies (who remain nameless in this story as secondary characters) to spare her family when Israel conquers Jericho. She advises them to lay low in the hills for three days before returning to Israel’s camp (due east). With both sides agreeing to the terms, she lowers them with a rope from her house’s window (which adjoins the exterior city wall) to safety.
Of note, the Hebrew word translated “prostitute,” describing Rahab, is synonymous with “innkeeper” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p.246). Indeed, in this ancient culture, female innkeepers often offered sexual favors to sojourners to earn extra income. And what better location than an exterior wall of the city to gain maximum customer traffic? And what better source of reconnaissance than an innkeeper who hears and sees all behind closed doors? Thus, this broader meaning possibly exonerates the spies of ungodly sexual behavior.
Takeaway: The heart of this story is the initial dialogue between Rahab and the spies in the above verses. Here, she confidently confesses her knowledge of the Hebrew God’s might and power, demonstrating a robust faith that exceeds that of the weak-kneed Israelites who refused to enter the Promised Land the first time around. Moreover, as she repeatedly uses the holy name of God, Yahweh (“I Am”), Rahab recounts how he granted Israel victory over three paramount adversaries, implying the inevitability of Jericho’s fall. She further notes her people are terrified of Israel and, with a dramatic conclusion, declares: “for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (verse 10b above). Wow! Is there any wonder Matthew cites her name with the three other women in his genealogy of Jesus?
How then does this story speak to us? We must not judge people based on ethnicity, gender, or history. On the surface, Rahab appears to be a mismatch with the purposes of God. But our Father looks to the heart. And Rahab was a perfect match for the time at hand. This wise and courageous innkeeper would best know how to extricate two of God’s people and her family from certain death. And the Son of God does as well. For Jesus reached out to Mary Magdalene (demon-possessed and likely a prostitute, Luke 8:2) and called her to follow him and support his ministry. He also rescued an adulterer from stoning at the hand of hypocrites (John 8:1-11). And Christ fellowshipped with other misfits (Matthew and his friends and Zacchaeus) to welcome them into his kingdom.
Lastly, he has reached out to you and me (when we couldn’t save ourselves) and has miraculously and marvelously ushered us into his kingdom. Thus, no matter our past failures, like Rahab, let’s put behind our regrets, give no thought to what our peers may think or say, and use our life experiences (the good, bad, and ugly) to advance our Lord’s kingdom as misfits for his glory.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who came into our world to save misfits like us. And we thank you for encouraging stories of redemption, like that of Rahab. Would you please help us to screen out the self-righteous naysayers of this world who fail to understand your gifts of grace and forgiveness in Christ and instead follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in accomplishing your purposes for your glory? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling