One of Israel’s most dramatic and detailed conquests, as described in the biblical record, is that which occurred at Jericho, just after the nation had crossed the Jordan River.
The supernatural crumbling of Jericho’s walls stands as a spiritual lesson to all Christians. It makes the select accounts of faith as outlined in Hebrews 11. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days” (verse 30).
In that history of Jericho is a remarkable character. And in the listings of Hebrews 11, if you could only list one person for the faith displayed in the Jericho account, who would it be? Verse 31 reads: “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”
Rahab is specifically mentioned for her faith, for surviving as the rest of her city perished, and for receiving the spies “with peace.” She is the last Hebrews 11 character mentioned in detail (the remaining are merely in a list of names); she is the last woman mentioned by name, and the only woman named in Hebrews 11 besides Sarah.
Commenting on Hebrews 11, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that Hebrews 11 “implies, certainly, that others such as the harlot Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae and Samuel will be in God’s Kingdom. We cannot presume to decide what office Christ has in store for them. And there are many, many others” (The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like).”
Another remarkable reference to Rahab is found in the epistle of James. Notice the context first: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:23-24).
James names only two Old Testament figures as examples of faith coupled with works. If you had to pick two from all that history, who would you come up with? Abraham demonstrated great faith when offering up Isaac. To pair with this “Friend of God,” James writes: “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (verse 25).
The Greek word justify means to render righteous, to pronounce as just. James puts Rahab’s faith in receiving spies on similar level to Abraham’s faith in offering Isaac!
Room for Repentance
While Israel camped 14 miles from Jericho, on the other side of Jordan, Joshua “… sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1).
The undeniable fact is that the word “harlot” is used in both the New Testament and Old Testament accounts. The Hebrew meaning for this word is literally “to commit fornication.” So even though she wasn’t a Canaanite, she was not a virgin. Her mention in Matthew’s genealogy has her alongside other women who broke the seventh commandment: Tamar and Bathsheba. On the other hand, however, it is highly doubtful she was an active prostitute at this time, or that the spies were sent to an actual whorehouse.
The fact remains, she had a sinful past. Even in this account, she lied to protect the spies. God did not ask her to do that, and He could have protected them even if she were completely honest. We would not presume any human in the Bible is perfect. Rahab teaches us that, in spite of our past sins, even if a label follows us beyond the grave, we can be forgiven, cleansed, granted repentance and throw our lives into God’s Work.
Look at the works she could do despite her past. James says that was faith with works—works that made her just, or that pronounced her righteous. She could have been stymied by her past, but she was not!
In his booklet on James, editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes: “Rahab risked her life to save these messengers of Israel. At this point, she had repented of her sins and believed what the God of Israel said. Rahab’s works showed her living faith.”
Hiding the Messengers
Joshua 2:2-3 read, “And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country.”
Elder asks: “But why this request? Why not send his official into Rahab’s house to institute a search? Because no native could enter the Embassy uninvited. … In this incident may be seen the strong line of demarcation between Rahab and the Canaanites among whom she lived” (op cit).
We, like Rahab, have to live among spiritual Canaanites. God did not promise to remove us from the world (John 17:15), but we must remain spiritually separate from it (Revelation 18:4).
“But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof” (Joshua 2:6). These vegetables (after spread out on the flat roof to dry in the sun) are piled in numerous little stacks which can rise to a height of three to four feet.
Notice her words in verses 9-10: “And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.”
She knew the land would be Israel’s. She mentions Israel’s God, not as their God, but as the God. She credits Him for giving the land and drying the Red Sea.
She appears to be too young to have been alive when all that happened, but it’s clear she knows the story. Her family would have passed that on!
In Exodus 15:14-17, the song at the Red Sea prophesied how “all inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away” and that “Fear and dread shall fall upon them” because of what God did at the Red Sea. Rahab’s testimony to the messengers shows that this came true!
Joshua 2:11 states: “And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”
She acknowledges that “the Lord your God” is God in heaven and earth.
“Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death” (verses 12-13).
She asked to be spared from the death penalty because of how she helped God’s Work. We can see here that she is not too old here—she has father, mother and siblings.
“And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the Lord hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee” (verse 14).
“Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall” (Joshua 2:15).
The house being situated there may add evidence to it being some sort of embassy or consulate. She let them down by a cord and told them, “Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way” (verse 16).
Rahab sent the pursuers to the fords of Jordan while the spies hid in the mountain.
Notice how the spies replied: “… We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee. And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him. And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear. And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window” (verses 17-21).
The scarlet thread in this account is significant. Just as the blood on the door-posts of the Israelites protected their firstborn from the death angel that smote Egypt four decades earlier, so would this thread shield anyone within Rahab’s walls. A literal scarlet thread itself is also mentioned elsewhere in the Bible—it was significant in the birth of Judah’s twin sons through Tamar (Genesis 38:28-30). In Song of Songs 4:3, Christ mentions His wife having lips like scarlet thread. Scarlet is also the color that represents sin (Isaiah 1:18), but it also comes from the worm that was a symbol for Christ’s sacrifice (as described in Psalm 22:6). The color represents escaping the penalty of sin. Rahab was a reformed harlot whose physical escape from the destruction of Jericho (under the symbol of scarlet thread) is an exact type of how we can come under the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and escape the death penalty.
Joshua 2:22-23 show that the spies returned to Joshua after hiding in the mountains three days. Verse 24 quotes their words to Joshua: “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us.” In this full report, what is recorded is that the people were terrified of Israel. The spies didn’t do much other exploring, and this was all Joshua needed to hear. He may have also wondered if there were anyone righteous in Jericho to spare—which this report would have confirmed for him.
Joshua and Israel moved to the banks of Jordan early the very next day and lodged there three more days (Joshua 3:1-2). Then, the day after that, came the miraculous crossing of the Jordan by this entire nation. This was at a time of year when Jordan was typically overflowing, due to melting snow from the region of Lebanon; but God drove the river back as far as the eye could see (verses 15-16). It wasn’t long before “all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel,” after which “their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel” (Joshua 5:1).
They camped several miles west of the Jordan, on the outskirts of an immense palm forest, in a place which came to be known as Gilgal (verse 9), which is where they kept the Passover on the 14th of the month (verse 10), which began the evening before at sunset. The day of the 14th, the Captain of the Host appeared to Joshua, and told him how to take Jericho (verses 13-15).
“Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in. And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour” (Joshua 6:1-2).
Jericho was already theirs! God told Joshua to compass the city seven days (the details of which are found in verses 3-5).
Verse 14 shows that they compassed the city once a day for six days and then returned to the camp. On the seventh day, which was the seventh and last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they were to march around the city seven times. They started at dawn (verse 15), which—according to one commentator—would have taken them about the entirety of daylight to accomplish, factoring in respites between marching. And so they would have entered the city around sundown, at the end of the holy day, when the fighting would begin (Joshua 24:11 says the men of Jericho fought back).
Before they started marching that day, notice what Joshua told the people: “And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent” (Joshua 6:17). Israel was told what Rahab did and how her house was to be spared.
Everything in the city was cursed and to be destroyed, except for the silver and gold—which wouldn’t burn (Joshua 6:18-19). Jericho would undergo complete destruction—except Rahab’s house.
“So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city” (verse 20). Remember the Hebrews 11 account: By faith the walls fell. But then Israel had to go in and actually take the city. It was faith coupled with works, which Rahab herself personified.
“But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her” (verse 22).
The same two spies were responsible for extracting Rahab and her family. God had already supernaturally protected her from the destruction of the walls. Now the spies were to see to it that she was protected from the invasion—to personally ensure their promise to her was kept.
“And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel” (verse 23). The spies were “young men,” as was all of Israel at this time (excluding Joshua and Caleb, the oldest would have been under 60 and most of the nation would have been under 40).
Not only did Rahab survive thanks to her faith. She was able to help save her father, mother, brothers and “all her kindred” even! Remember, Ephraimites had been living there since before the Exodus—and any in that town (Rahab’s kindred) likely would have gone to this place of safety.
Notice verses 24-25: “And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”
Again, there is no mention of her husband or children because she married after this event. We know from Matthew she married Salman and they had Boaz. She dwelled in Israel even unto the day of that writing—which was likely decades after the miracles at Jericho. Only five years after Jericho, Caleb had asked Joshua for a specific mountain in Judah’s inheritance, and Joshua gave him Hebron (see Joshua 14). Joshua 15 records a great amount of detail regarding Judah’s inheritance. And we know, because of whom Rahab married, that she would have settled there—in Ephrath, to be exact, near where Rachel was buried. One of the men in that area founded Bethlehem, where Rahab’s son would become a wealthy land owner. (Remember Joshua 6:25 said that “all that she had” was protected—her goods weren’t pillaged: It’s no wonder her son, Boaz, would be so wealthy.)
Rahab stands as a testament to life-saving faith. It was a faith manifested through works—works that required her to risk her life for God’s cause. That kind of faith takes a deep-rooted trust in God.
Rahab also stands as a testament to God’s forgiveness—and how to move forward and support God’s efforts despite a horribly sinful past. Again, James 2:25 reads: “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?”
As Mr. Flurry writes in the James booklet: “Does God still view Rahab as a harlot? He only gives her that label within this context in order to teach a lesson! In His mind, she is right up there with Abraham—a friend of God! What a marvelous example. … Some say they can’t deal with certain individuals in the Church because of past sins. That is nothing but self-righteousness. In the Kingdom of God, when Rahab is exalted to the heights, no one will be whispering about her being a harlot! We all make mistakes. When we do so, it is our responsibility to bury them and grow in character—and to become the friends of God!”
Rahab teaches us to move forward and do all we can to support this mighty, miraculous Work!
“Abraham and Rahab believed God and proved it by their works. They showed their faith by their works. They acted on their faith by doing exactly what God said. God’s Work became their work. This is how we bring our faith alive (ibid)!”
SIDEBAR: Was Rahab a Canaanite?
Matthew 1 contains one other New Testament reference to Rahab: Notice verses 3-6: “And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Boaz of Rachab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias.”
Four women are mentioned in this genealogy: Tamar (transliterated Thamar in the New Testament), Ruth, the “wife of Urias” (Bathsheba), and Rachab (a more accurate transliteration of the Hebrew).
Some will contest that this is not the same Rahab as the one in Jericho—given the variant in the Greek spelling. However, Rahab was a Hebrew name, and names are commonly spelled differently when transliterated into a different language—especially in the case of two regionally different writers (i.e., Paul, a Benjamite Jew, and Matthew, a Galilean Jew). Names may even be spelled differently in the same language, at different times in history. (Samuel spelled the name of Jesse’s third son differently from Ezra centuries later—compare the Hebrew in 1 Samuel 16:9 to 1 Chronicles 2:13.)
If Matthew mentions only four women in the genealogy of Christ, and all but this “Rachab” can be found elsewhere in the biblical record, why name Rachab at all? Given the number of generations between Judah and Christ (Matthew 1:17), the age of Judah when he conceived Pharez and Zarah of his daughter-in-law, where Boaz (son of Rahab) was in the history of the judges (and his age when he married Ruth), all this confirms that this is the same Rahab.
As the mother of Boaz and an ancestor of Jesus Christ, she is a significant figure in both the Old and New Testaments.
In Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote: “Jesus Christ was born of the tribe of Judah, and it was necessary that He be of the original pure racial strain, even as Noah was.” The Hebrew word that tell us of Noah’s “perfect” genealogy (Genesis 6:9) is the same word for “without blemish” that’s used in Exodus 12:5—the verse that describes the Passover lamb (the same Hebrew is used for “without blemish” when referring to other sacrificial lambs in the Old Testament).
Rahab would therefore have to be of Israelite stock.
All the women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy were such. Bathsheba was the granddaughter of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 11:3; 2 Samuel 23:24), who was from a city occupied by the tribe of Judah since the days of Joshua.
Ruth was from “Moab,” which was the common term used for the land occupied by the tribes of Israel (Reuben, Gad and East Manasseh) east of the Jordan River. Ruth would not have been considered eligible to need a “near kinsman” to marry her if she were an actual Moabite in ethnic heritage.
Tamar was the Hebrew daughter-in-law of Judah. She had married Judah’s half-Canaanite firstborn son, but they never conceived a child. None of Judah’s half-Canaanite sons conceived through Tamar (as described in Genesis 38). Judah fornicated with Tamar after his Canaanite wife had died, and Tamar conceived Pharez and Zarah. So, even though it was a sinful conception in one sense, it was pure in terms of racial strain.
Just because Rahab dwelled in Canaan before Joshua was there does not mean that she was Canaanite. The question is: Were there Israelites there before Joshua? Yes! Some descendants of Ephraim, as Ezra tells us much later in the Old Testament record.
The word Rahab literally means broad or wide, even proud. It is understood, however, to be the poetical name of Egypt (see Psalm 87:4; Isaiah also uses the word Rahab poetically to depict Egypt). Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon says the name is “probably of Egyptian origin, but accommodated to the Hebrew language.”
There was a particular Israelite family that had its origins in Egypt—Joseph’s family. Ephraim was born to Joseph and the princess Asenath. (But this wasn’t an interracial marriage either, as Abraham and Job had already had a heavy influence in the royal house of Egypt.)
Notice where some of Ephraim’s descendants went before the children of Israel went into Egyptian captivity. 1 Chronicles 7:20-24 read: “And the sons of Ephraim … whom the men of Gath that were born in that land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle. And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And when he went in to his wife, she conceived, and bare a son, and he called his name Beriah, because it went evil with his house. (And his daughter was Sherah, who built Bethhoron the nether, and the upper, and Uzzensherah.)”
Ephraim’s sons moved into the Canaanite region before any Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Ephraim also had a granddaughter whose family built parts of Canaan. So they had left Egypt and had a presence in Canaan before the Exodus. The daughter Sherah built Bethhoron the upper and Bethhoron the lower.
Later, the cities built in Canaan by the granddaughter of Ephraim were eventually given to Ephraim’s descendants when Joshua came into the Promised Land! (Joshua 16:1-6).
It’s most likely then that Rahab was a descendant of Ephraim as well. When born, she was given a name meaning “remembering Egypt.” That could indicate she came from an Ephraimite family living there. And with the rest of the family in Egypt, her family may have been ambassadors for Egypt.
Numbers 14:9 shows that one of the reports from Joshua and Caleb, after spying out Canaan, was “their defense is departed from them.” This was within the first year since Egypt had been decimated after the Exodus. This confirms that the Egyptians were the overlords of Canaan until that time, and that any of their occupying troops in Canaan withdrew at the time of the Red Sea miracle.
Rahab may have been born around or after the time spies were sent to Canaan. She was still childbearing age after Jericho, and over 40 years after Red Sea.