Rahab: A Life Transformed

A transformed life begins with an encounter with God.  The Bible has many testimonials of people whose lives were forever changed by God, but perhaps one of the most dramatic and unexpected is the story of a Canaanite woman named Rahab. 

We first meet Rahab in Joshua chapter 2.  The Israelites, after a forty-year journey from Egypt in the desert, have just crossed the Jordan River into the land of Canaan.  This was the Promised Land which God was giving to them for an inheritance.  But it would not be theirs without a fight.  The land was inhabited by idol worshipers who had long rejected the one true God, and they would have to be conquered.  The first city facing the Israelites in opposition was the mighty fortified city of Jericho.  “Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim.  “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.”  So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there” (Joshua 2:1).

Rahab the What?

There’s always been a bit of controversy surrounding Rahab’s occupation.  With one exception, she is always referred to in the Bible as Rahab the prostitute.  The Hebrew phrase ishah zonah literally means “a prostitute woman.”  But not everyone is willing to accept that as her profession.  The Roman historian Josephus referred to her as “an innkeeper” (though it would not be uncommon for an inn and a brothel to operate in the same building).  Based on her ownership of the house, some scholars have speculated that Rahab was not actually a prostitute herself, but was a “madam” who ran a brothel.  And because of the reference to flax drying on her roof, others have even suggested that Rahab simply ran a linen service!

It’s tempting to soften her image, but the fact remains that Scripture calls her a prostitute.  There are actually two types of prostitutes in the Old Testament.  Some were cultic prostitutes who were involved in the worship of  idols; their activities were generally confined to pagan temples.  Then there were the prostitutes who operated their own business within their homes.  Rahab falls into this category.

You might wonder why the two Israelite spies went to a prostitute’s house, but actually it was a logical move on their part.  Neighbors would have been accustomed to seeing strangers come and go at all hours of the day and night, so their arrival would not arouse suspicion.  An inn or brothel would be an ideal place for the spies to gather information.  And since Rahab’s house was located within the city wall itself, a window would offer an alternate escape route if needed.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the spies did not go unnoticed.  Someone reported it to the king of Jericho, who immediately sent soldiers to Rahab’s house with orders for her to turn them over.  But Rahab, perhaps sensing someone’s betrayal, had already hidden the spies under stalks of flax laid out on the roof.  She then sends the soldiers on a wild goose chase.  “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.  At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left.  I don’t know which way they went.  Go after them quickly.  You may catch up with them” (Joshua 2:4-5).

Time For A Change

Why would a Canaanite prostitute help two Israelite spies?  Rahab had her reasons, which we discover when she goes up on the roof and has a conversation with them.  Her words are astounding:  “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  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 Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the  Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.  When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9-11).

Rahab reveals that the people of Jericho are absolutely terrified of the Israelites, because they have heard of the mighty works God had done for them when He brought them out of Egypt!  Somehow the news had spread, even without cellphones and the Internet.

But that’s not all Rahab told them.  She has been born and raised in a pagan culture.  No doubt she has worshipped idols all her life.  But Rahab knows that they are powerless, and she acknowledges, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”  Although she still refers to him as your God, it is obvious that Rahab no longer believes in the false gods of Jericho.  Her transformation has begun.

Rahab then strikes a deal with the two spies.  “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.  Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them– and that you will save us from death” (Joshua 2:12-13).   Rahab has no doubts about which side will win the battle, and she wants nothing more to do with the pagan culture she has been living in.  Rahab is ready for change.

It’s A Not-So-Wonderful Life

Think of what her life must have been like in Jericho.  Prostitutes lived on the edge of society.  She would have been well-known but least respected.  She would be all too aware of the sideways glances, the whispering behind hands, the mocking laughter as she passed by.  Neighbors would keep their distance, fearful of guilt by association.  Even family members would be ashamed of her.  There would be no friendships, and certainly no love.  There would only be loneliness and abuse and shame, day after endless day.

But now Rahab saw a way out.  She would cast her lot with the Israelites, and hope for mercy from their God.

The spies readily accepted her proposal.  “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her.  “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land” (Joshua 2:14).  They tell her to gather her family into her house and tie a scarlet cord in her window, promising that all those within will be spared.  Just as the scarlet blood of the lamb on their doorposts protected the Israelites in Egypt during Passover, so the scarlet cord in the window would protect Rahab.

You know the rest of the story, I’m sure.  The walls came tumbling down, and a promise was kept.  “Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.”  So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her.  They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel” (Joshua 6:22-23).

Rahab and her entire family were saved.  That’s not how the story ends, though:  “But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho– and she lives among the Israelites to this day” (Joshua 6:25). 

Living The Transformed Life

It wasn’t the end of Rahab’s story– it was the beginning.  She entered into a new life with the Israelites, and a new faith in the one true God.  We are not given the details, but I have no doubt that Rahab received healing from her past hurts and deliverance from her shame as she was accepted by her new family of faith.  “Rahab the prostitute” would no longer be her identity:  it would be the testimony of her transformed life.

There are three New Testament references to Rahab.  Hebrews 11:31 acknowledges her faith in saving the spies.  James 2:25 says she is considered righteous for what she did.  And she has the honor of being listed simply as “Rahab” in the geneology of Jesus the Savior in Matthew 1:5.   All three verses are evidence of a life transformed by God!

Perhaps, like Rahab, you’re tired of the life you’ve been living.  Perhaps you are haunted by the pain of your past.  Perhaps you long to be set free of the shame that Satan has buried you under.  Perhaps you have been in bondage to sin.

I know what that’s like.  So does Rahab.  But our lives have been transformed by the love and grace of a wonderful heavenly Father.  That forgiveness and healing and transformation is available to you as well.  Reach out to Jesus and receive His embrace.  You’ll never be the same again.



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