Welcome to our third lesson in the book of Joshua.
In the previous lesson I left you with a question and I hope you’ve thought about it since then. The two men whom Joshua sent to spy out the city of Jericho, Caleb and Pinchas, did something that we find rather odd. They went into an inn operated by Rahab, a woman of ‘ill repute’.
Now here’s a very interesting character who enters the story – Rahab. This is a woman whose very name generally has evoked derogatory feelings throughout the centuries. Jewish mothers name their daughters after Ruth, Esther, Sarah and others. But nobody names their daughter, Rahab. Why in the world would the two spies go there?
Actually they had good reason to do so. First of all, Rahab was an innkeeper. Her home was built into the wall of the city and would be the first place they saw as they entered the gates. Rahab, as an innkeeper and a prostitute, knew everybody and was known by everybody in Jericho. If you want to find out what’s going on in a city, find the person who knows. That’s Rahab.
In the very next verse we read that ‘someone told the king of Jericho’ that two Israelites had arrived in the city and the king’s reaction betrays his fear of the children of Israel. How did word get to him so fast? Rahab may well have sent him the message. One thing is certain, he knew Rahab and knew immediately where the men were, but notice that he did not attribute any moral intent to their presence. Instead he says that ‘they have come here to spy out the Land.’ 2:3
Now why in the world would he say that? The king is worried. We realize later why. Rahab declares to the spies in vs. 9-11: ‘I know the LORD has given you this land. We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror for we have heard how the LORD made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.’
What is so interesting about this particular passage?
Three things: 1) Rahab, the innkeeper, the prostitute, is the first person in the Bible to declare that God is the only God in heaven and also on the earth. This, in a manner of speaking, is her declaration of faith in the one true God. 2) She is the first non-Israelite person in the Bible to declare that the Land belongs to Israel by divine gifting. 3) she has just told the spies exactly what they needed to hear – the people of Jericho are terrified, they will not fight.
Jericho was a crossroads city on the ancient trade routes. Rahab’s inn was ‘prime real estate’ in that setting. Business travelers – to put it in modern terms – crisscrossed the area constantly and there’s no doubt she had regular clients who frequented her inn ‘Bed & Breakfast’.
Historical records indicate that Rahab was about 10 years old when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt. It is now 39 years later so she is close to 50. All through the years she’s heard from travelers about the Exodus, about miracles in the desert, about this multitude of people who seem to have a Divine connection that no other people group has. Word traveled quickly when Sihon and Og were destroyed. Now, lo and behold, from the city walls, the people of Jericho can look across the river and see that very multitude camped opposite their city. No wonder they were all terrified!
But Rahab apparently recognizes something in these two spies that is different from other men who have lodged at her inn. They may be the first of her clients who didn’t want something more than a room from her. Their manner intrigues her and she is drawn to desire what they had – a relationship with the God she recognizes as sovereign over heaven and earth.
Notice in verse 4 that Rahab hid the spies and then helped them escape through a window of her home that looks out beyond the city but before she did, she pleads with them to save her and her family when Israel enters the land. They agree and give their word, instructing her to hang a scarlet cord from the window by which they escape.
In Hebrew, the text says that she tied THE scarlet cord to her window, not “a” scarlet cord, indicating that THE scarlet cord had more significance than any old piece of red yarn or twine. The Sages suggest a thought-provoking scenario.
Consider: her house (inn) was built into the wall of the city with a front door within the city and – very unusually – a window in the wall through which she could look out over the desert – and through which men seeking more than a room for the night, could climb up and enter surreptitiously. Could it be that THE scarlet cord (or rope) was always there for the convenience of her ‘clients’?
After the visit of the spies, however, something appears to have changed. THE scarlet cord previously used for ungodly purpose now became a source of protection and safety first for the spies and then afterwards for Rahab and her family.
There is a principle in Judaism which says that true and complete repentance can be described this way, ‘With this I sinned, with this I now do good.’ The Sages suggest that when Rahab used the scarlet cord to save the lives of the spies, it was symbolic of her repentance and desire to align herself with the God of Israel.
From ancient historical sources, we learn that Rahab did indeed join herself to Israel through faith in the one true God. In due time, she became the wife of Joshua and among her descendants are the prophet Jeremiah and the prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22:14 and 2 Kings 34:22).
When you hear the name ‘Rahab’, what is your first thought? A prostitute? Or a woman of ill repute who in due time recognized and acknowledged the God of Israel and ultimately joined herself to Israel and became the mother of Joshua’s children?
In a negatively bent culture we are too easily inclined to remember what is wrong about certain people and not even look for what is right or how they may have changed later in life. One thing is sure: Joshua would never have married her had she not utterly changed her way of life.
Yehoshua – Joshua – whose name means ‘the Lord saves’ takes Rahab, the former prostitute, to be his wife. What a vivid picture in type and shadow of our Heavenly Father’s redemption offered to all who repent and turn to ‘the Lord [who] saves’.