Read: Joshua 2
Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there (Joshua 2:1).
It’s hard to know what to do with a book that justifies genocide. That’s the interpretive hurdle that sends many modern readers of the book of Joshua back to the locker room in defeat. But while we wait there with them for wisdom, we may still be able to find some insight in one of the book’s best stories: the story of Rahab the prostitute.
It should come as no surprise that some have tried to side-step that crude label by calling her an “innkeeper.” But the Bible is blunt on this point. She’s a prostitute. Of course, she’s also a lot of other things—and that’s part of what makes her story so instructive. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here is how her story begins.
Joshua and the not-so-newly-liberated people of God are on the eastern edge of the promised land. He sends two men ahead as spies, telling them to pay particular attention to the city of Jericho.
It’s a stroke of either genius or providence that the men end up at Rahab’s house. Think about it. Where else could two men from out of town go that would arouse less suspicion? But the king of Jericho is still nervous about them, so he sends orders for Rahab to hand them over.
Her response is a brilliant, bald-faced lie. Yes, they were here, she says breathlessly, but I don’t know who they are. Anyway, they left town as the gate was closing for the night. If you hurry, you just might catch them!
Meanwhile, she has hidden the men up on her roof under some flax. (Flax is used to make linen, from which we can conclude she has a sideline.) Negotiations ensue, and she emerges with a deal. She gets the spies to swear that they will spare her and her family if she helps them escape. To make a short story shorter, she does and they do.
There’s no substitute for reading the story yourself, but as you do, look for these often overlooked qualities in the woman I prefer to call, Rahab the Resourceful:
- She is well-informed. She knows all about the exodus and what’s happened since.
- She is a believer. “The LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on the earth below,” she admits in v. 11. And then she starts talking about “kindness,” which is one of God’s most important qualities. As she has been kind, so she asks them to be kind—to her and to her whole family.
- The fact that she insists on the safety of her whole family says a lot about her. She is not just intent on saving her own skin. It’s a detail that makes me wonder if her concern for others was a driving factor in her “day job.” There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but most prostitutes are forced into what they do to survive and to help their family survive.
- She’s got guts. Helping spies is risky business. It could well have cost her life.
- She’s a great strategist. Notice the way she tells the men just what they need to do to get away safely.
- She’s as good as her word. And the Israelites honor that by keeping their end of the bargain. Don’t miss the post-script to the story in Joshua 6:22-25, where the narrator sums up her story by noting that “Her family has lived in Israel ever since” (v. 25). Tradition has it that she married one of the spies.
Of course, that is not the last word on Rahab in the Bible. She shows up in both David’s and Jesus’ genealogy (see Ruth 4:18-20; 1 Chronicles 2:10-11, Matthew 1:5). She even gets a shout-out in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 where she is celebrated for her faith.
So, call her Rahab the Prostitute if you must. But call her Rahab the Resourceful, Rahab the Brilliant, Rahab the Generous, Rahab the Brave, Rahab the Faithful, and Rahab the Ancestor of David and Jesus, too. Because she is all of these things and more.
Finally, she is one of the Bible’s best Faithful Foreigners.
Ponder: What can we learn from Rahab’s story? If you could have a conversation with her, what would you want to ask her? What might she ask you?
Pray: Help us to see people for who they really are. Help us to respond to your kindness by being kind to others—even those whom society shuns.
Introduction to the Faithful Foreigners Series
Sprinkled throughout Scripture are stories of “faithful foreigners.” These are people who are perceived as outsiders, but who often behave more faithfully than the insiders.
In our xenophobic age, it seems a good time to get reacquainted with these faithful foreigners. The Holy Spirit preserved their stories for a reason, after all. It’s my hope that we can learn some things about faith and faithfulness from what they have to teach us.
The first piece in the series explores Jesus as refugee. While it may not technically qualify as a “faithful foreigner” story, it does introduce us to some themes that will be important for understanding the faithful foreigner motif—and our resistance to those we perceive as “other.” After that, we’ll meet Rahab, Uriah, some eunuchs, a Roman centurion, and yes—even a couple of faithful foreigners from the animal kingdom!
As it happens, I am writing this series while on sabbatical in Rome, Italy. It will be interesting to see how my own experience of being a foreigner influences my engagement with these stories. You can decide if I’m a faithful foreigner or not!