Rahab: The Violation of Mercy

Rahab: The Violation of Mercy

Part 8 of “The Tree” – a study of Jesus’ family tree.

Joshua 2:1-24

Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn son with Jacob, was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, then rose to a place of prominence under the providence of God just as he had dreamed would happen.  Joseph brothers conspired together to kill him, but after their brother Reuben talked his brothers out of it, they threw Joseph into a pit.  Instead of leaving Joseph in the pit, Judah talked his brothers into selling him to anyone interested in using him for slave labor.  

Thirteen years after his brothers thought they were permanently rid of Joseph, as they sought food from Egypt during a great famine, Judah and his brothers found themselves before Joseph, second to only Pharaoh himself.   After their meeting, Joseph’s brothers and father moved into Egypt under Joseph’s care.  For the next 430 years, their children, and their children’s children lived, but eventually became slaves of another Pharaoh.

During that time, God raised up a man by the name of Moses to deliver his people from the slavery of Egypt to be His people in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In the land of Canaan the Hebrew people would be called to serve the nations as God’s Kingdom of priests.  After God delivered the Hebrew people through the leadership of Moses, God commissioned His people: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel”(Exodus 19:4–6). 

By the time we come to the book of Joshua, Moses was dead, Joshua succeeded Moses, and all that separated them from Canaan was the Jordan (Joshua 1:1-11).   However, before entering Canaan, Joshua sent two men to spy out the land the previous generation refused to take possession of under the leadership of Moses (Numbers ch. 13-14).  The two men that were secretly sent into hostile territory were the two most able and faithful men under Joshua’s command. Unlike the report of the 10 unfaithful spies of Numbers 13, the spies from a new generation understood that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses was big enough to handle whatever Jericho and Canaan would throw at them; there report was simple and direct: “Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands.  And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us” (2:24).  However, the success of their mission was largely due to the faith of a Canaanite who was would seem too dirty for the God of the Hebrew people.  The Canaanite was the infamous Rahab.

Rahab Was Far from God

I am stating the obvious by labeling Rahab a “sinner.”  However, the striking thing about Rahab is that, of the citizens of Jericho, she was the furthest of all the citizens of Canaan from becoming a Yahweh worshiper for two very big reasons.

The first reason was because she not only belonged to the Canaanites, but she was an Amorite; which meant that God had particularly signaled out her people group from destruction for their evil.  God had instructed His people in Deuteronomy 20, just what they were to do with the people when they entered the land: “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God” (20:16–18).  Because she was an Amorite, Rahab stood condemned to suffer both the violence of the Hebrew people and the wrath of a holy God.  It is for the purpose of leveling her home and city that the spies sought refuge in Rahab’s home.

The second reason we should believe Rahab was far from God has to do with her profession.  Rahab was not only an Amorite in Jericho, but she was also a prostitute (Josh 6:25; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25), and Joshua 2 describes Rahab’s home as, “the house of a prostitute” which may have meant that she was not just an average prostitute, but one who ran a brothel.  The Bible says horrible things regarding the sexually immoral:

  • For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph. 5:5)
  • Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Heb. 13:4)
  • Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.” (Lev. 19:29)

The spies had no interest in proselytizing any of the inhabitants of Jericho, especially a prostitute like Rahab.  The reason the spies found their way into her home was because a whorehouse was a place where one could expect not to be questioned.  As far as the spies were concerned, Rahab and her house deserved the same impending judgment that waited for the rest of Jericho.  When the king of Jericho confronted Rahab about the two spies, she answered: “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from.”  She was then able to get the king and his men to look elsewhere for the spies by telling them, “…when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out.  I do not know where the men went.  Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” The men went looking for the spies where Rahab directed them because they had no reason to believe that she lied to them (see vv. 3-7).

God Came Near to Rahab

The second thing we learn of Rahab was that she was a seeker.  What do I mean by the word “seeker”?  Long before the spies ever set foot in her brothel, God was already at work in this woman.  We know that Rahab was a seeker and God was at work in this woman because of what she said to the spies:

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. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death. (Joshua 2:9–13)

Rahab helped the spies because she had heard about the God of the Hebrews and how He delivered them from the bondage of Egypt.  This prostitute risked her life to save the spies, because of what she had heard regarding their God.  God has moved in such ways in the hearts of people throughout human history.

One of my favorite stories took place in Myanmar near the city of Yangon in 1795 when an English diplomat entered a remote village near Yangon, which electrified the people of the village who were drawn out of their homes to see the white face of the foreigner.  One of the villagers, who was of the Koran tribe, explained to the diplomat’s Burmese guide if the white diplomat was the “brother” whom the village expected would bring them their lost book.  When the diplomat asked what book they were referring too, the villagers explained: “He is supposed to bring a book just like one our forefathers lost long ago” as they waited with baited breath to receive it once again.  The diplomat inquired who the author of the book was, to which the villager replied: The author is Y-wa—the Supreme God.  The white man who will give us this book will thereby set us free from all who oppress us.”[1]

It wasn’t until February 19, 1812 that a white man by the name of Adoniram Judson first stepped foot upon Myanmar soil with his wife Ann.  Eleven years after his arrival, on July 12, 1823 Adoniram complete the New Testament in Burmese and part of the book that the Karen people waited for, was finally given to them. 

Similarly, God moved in Rahab’s heart and mind in a like way.  She heard of the great power of the Hebrew God and hoped for His mercy when His people would soon bring His wrath upon Jericho in His name.  Rahab and her family were not only spared, but they were also brought into the community of God’s people.  In fact, Rahab is listed among those who were revered for their great faith in epistle to the Hebrews: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb. 11:31).  When she heard about the God of the Hebrew people and how He delivered them, Rahab heard how Yahweh conquered all of the Egyptian gods by making a mockery of them with every plague brought upon Egyptians.  She most likely heard how Yahweh instructed His people to mark their door posts with the blood of a lamb without any defects.  The God of the Hebrews was unlike the gods she grew up worshiping, for the Hebrew God was One who not only loved His people, but he was active and alive! 

When Rahab heard about Yahweh, faith was born within the prostitute just as it can only be birthed when people hear about him: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  Rahab’s newfound faith resulted in action when the mercy of the only true and holy God came to her in the form of two Hebrew spies who represented the living God.  Just as God spared every home that was marked by the blood of the lamb in Egypt, so Rahab was instructed to tie a scarlet cord and hang it from her window so that when the time came when God’s people brought upon the city of Jericho His wrath, Rahab and all in her home would be spared, and so she was.  What is amazing to me, though, is that Rahab was not only spared, but she also became a member of the people of God. 

As a member of the Hebrew people, Rahab met a Hebrew man by the same of Salmon and the two got married and had a son by the name of Boaz.  Boaz would become the great-grandfather of King David.  The tsunami of God’s love for an outsider like Rahab not only resulted in her salvation from a judgment she deserved, but included her as an ancestress of God’s son Jesus Christ. 


Consider the people included in Jesus family tree; each person included in His bloodline was used to illustrate that they were the kinds of people He came to die for.  The infant Messiah was born to redeem:

  • God-usurpers like Adam and Eve,
  • Conniving husbands like Abraham and wives like Sara,
  • Compromising father’s like Lot and his morally debased daughters,
  • The Leah’s of the world who long for the love of a father or the affection of their husbands,
  • The Judah’s of the world who have used women for their own gain,
  • Tamar’s of the world who have been used by men like Judah, and…
  • Whores like Rahab.

There is a scarlet thread that runs through the Bible, and that thread is the promise of a redeemer who was eventually born to Mary the virgin. What Rahab’s story teaches us is that we are all Rahab in need of salvation from a judgment we all deserve. 

Rahab was far from God who was brought closer through faith and a scarlet cord; we were outsiders brought to closer to God, because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ who didn’t hang from a window, but on a cross in our place. 

[1] Don Richardson.  Eternity in Their Hearts (Ventura, CA: Regal Books; 1981), p. 76.

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