The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that Rahab did not perish with the others in Jericho. Why was she chosen from among the many others of this ancient city to become an object of divine grace? Why is Rahab used so frequently by New Testament writers to illustrate genealogy, faith, and theology? Spiritual minds bow in wonder at the God of infinite mercy who reached down low to lift her up to the very lineage and genealogy of the Messiah. Faithful Rahab is a shining example to every Gentile who has come to believe in Christ. Has not God reached down low to each of us? Are not we, likewise, innumerable objects of His matchless grace? Are we not sons and heirs of God? The apostle Paul has well said, “You…being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world…have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). How does God take the “far off” sinners of the Gentiles and transform them into sons, heirs of God, and joints-heirs with Christ?
The Fear of God
To those who have no knowledge of God, the “lofty One who inhabits eternity” loves to first reveal Himself in majesty and power. This revelation of God would deeply grip Rahab’s heart and mind. This fear of God brought her to her knees and to faith in the high King of heaven. Rahab testified, “The terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainting because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites…our hearts melted…for the Lord, your God, He is God in heaven above and earth beneath” (Josh. 2:10-11). Godly fear is the sacred awe of God’s majesty and holiness. It is that dread and amazement with which men and women are struck and overwhelmed by the awesome power of God. Rahab was never so impressed with a conviction of her insignificance, until she contrasted herself with the majesty of God. Godly reverence also involves the proper fear of God’s displeasure. True faith acknowledges God’s right to chasten, to punish, and to judge because of sin. This truth cast divine light upon Rahab’s false gods and the empty worship of Canaan. All of Jericho was challenged by the majesty, glory, and power of God. They were all bowed by the power and terror of God, but not all believed.
Faith in God
The news of God’s acts of power moved among the cities of Canaan with mysterious swiftness. Soon the news had reached Jericho. All the citizens had heard about the defeat of the Amorites, and now Sihon and Og, the king of Bashan, had fallen. Terror, melted hearts, and fear filled the breasts of the people. But there was one in the city that confessed, “Jehovah, your God, He is God in heaven about and in the earth beneath…I know that Jehovah hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us” (Josh 2:9, 11). Long before, in the song of Moses, the children of Israel heard, “The peoples shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold of them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away; fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of Thine arm they shall be still as stone” (Ex. 15:14-16). All had now heard of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All had heard of His power, judgment upon sin, and victory over the heathen gods of Transjordan. But now Rahab turned from her sin and her back to Canaan’s false gods; she believed, and took a stand among the people and received the promise. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us of her, “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:31). Only one believed and said “I know that the Lord…He is God..” and did not perish. The others of the city had every chance to believe as Rahab did, but refused. Rahab possessed the costly marks of faith: Rahab heard… “how the Lord dried up” (2:10); confessed… “our hearts did melt” (v.11); believed…. “I know the Lord” (v.9); entreated…. “I pray you, swear” (v.12); received… “we will deal kindly” (v.14); worked… “she let them down” (v.15); and obeyed… “bind this cord” (v.18).
When did Rahab believe? Did she believe after she received the spies in peace? How did the spies know to seek out her dwelling in the wall? There is evidence that Rahab believed days or even months before Joshua and spies ever made plans investigate the city. Her reception of the spies was evidence of her genuine faith in God. The New Testament book of James tells this side of Rahab’s faith. James chapter two teaches that true faith in Christ will be evidenced by works. The touchstone phrase in this section is James 2:20, “Do you not know…that faith without works is dead?” James is making the point that genuine faith is always followed and proven by works, using the Old Testament illustrations of Abraham and Rahab. He explains that when Abraham offered his son Isaac on the altar, Abraham was proving his faith by works (2:21-22). But when was Abraham justified? James explains that Abraham was justified forty years prior, in Genesis 15:6, when “he believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (2:23). Abraham proved his faith in God by works after he believed. What of Rahab? James says, “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (2:25). James presses the point that Rahab first believed, then later proved her faith when she received the spies. Men are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone; it is proven by works. Commentator Lehman Strauss writes, “When did Rahab believe in the God of Israel? She had trusted her soul to Jehovah when she heard of His divine power in judgement against heathen nations. When she exercised that initial step of faith, she was justified before God….but the day arrived when she proved her faith by her works and not merely her words. When she hid the spies she was justified by her works before men.” (1) So Rahab is chosen by the Spirit of God from out of the many in Israel to be an biblical example of true faith demonstrated by works. This truth must not be missed by those in our day who would mistake a decision for salvation and occasional churchgoing for genuine new life in Christ. We must reject the current notion which suggests that one who lives an unholy and careless life may, nevertheless, be a true Christian.
Faithfulness of God
Those who know something of new life in Christ soon discover that the ways of God are perfect. And so it is with Rahab. Why was it that Rahab did not return with the spies to dwell among the people of God? She alone knew the grave danger that lay before the city. Before Rahab there lay two issues that were still of great importance: the deliverance of her family and the Word of the Lord. For the spies had said, ”...you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, and your brothers, and all your father’s household to your own home…” (Josh. 2:18). Rahab was about to discover that in the ways of God the most dangerous place in Jericho was the safest place in Jericho. Carl Armerding writes, “The only safe place in Jericho just then was Rahab’s house. No matter how beautiful other houses were, no matter where they were located, not even the king’s palace could afford such protection. but it was the most dangerous place of all in the wall of the city. But its safety did not depend on its location.” (2) God had ordained that her house on the wall, the place of greatest danger, was also the place of divine deliverance. God’s ways were higher than Rahab’s ways and God’s thoughts than her thoughts. It mattered not that other houses had thicker walls and firmer foundations. Regardless of the fact that the walls were always the first point of attack for invading forces, Rahab’s house on the wall was the safest place because God’s sovereign will had designed it to be so. Self-denial, faith in God, and heartfelt devotion were all in order. The Word of God via the spies was to remain in the house. Rahab’s responsibility was to believe God. In war, the walls of ancient cities usually fell either inward because of the continual battering of opposing forces, or outward as defending soldiers forced the walls to break down upon the enemy below. In either case, Rahab would be in danger. Rahab would shortly discover that the high God of heaven and earth had other plans for falling walls. “And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat” (6:20). Rahab’s lessons in the school of faith would be life-transforming. She learned that the God she once feared, now could be loved and trusted because of His mercy and faithfulness. She came to know that God, who was gracious in every way in the past, would be infinitely merciful in the future, eventually placing her, a harlot, in the very lineage of King David. May we also, like Rahab, be ready learners of God’s boundless grace in the school of faith.
(1) Lehman Strauss, James, Your Brother, (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux, 1986), p.117
(2) Carl Armerding, Fight For Palestine, (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen, 1949), p. 37