Rahab, the Harlot

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Joshua, Women in the Bible


Would you please tell me more about Rahab, the woman, who helps Joshua conquer Jericho?


Joan Koelle Snipes, BibleWise consultant, and author of That Ye May Teach the Children, shares her insights on Rahab.

The Bible states that Rahab was a harlot -- an immoral woman. In spite of this, close examination of the text in the book of Joshua reveals that Rahab exhibited a number of admirable qualities.

A resident of Jericho before the take-over by the Hebrews, Rahab was not Jewish. Yet, she demonstrates remarkable insight when she says to two Jewish spies sent by Joshua: "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...." Rahab also notes the Hebrew victories over two Amorite kings.

Rahab continues: "the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath." These statements from someone in the enemy camp show an open-mindedness to a new point of view regarding both God and the land. Rahab strikes a deal with the spies and includes her entire family in the plan for protection. Thus, the reader learns that Rahab is not selfish, thinking only of her own well-being.

When questioned by emissaries from Jericho's king, Rahab concocts a clever lie. She tells the questioners that the men left her home "when it was dark," when, in fact, she hid them under stalks of flax on her roof. Later, "she let them down by a cord through the window." The cord was dyed scarlet and served as a symbol, known only to the conquering Jews, that hers was the household to be spared in the destruction of Jericho.

Joshua and the Hebrews honored their agreement with Rahab and saved her and her family. Then she dwelled in Israel. No further details of her life are given in the Old Testament. Most scholars, however, believe that Rahab married Salmon and became the mother of Boaz. This is documented in the genealogy of Jesus Christ recorded in the first chapter of the gospel Matthew. (In the King James Version, Rahab's name is given as Rachab.)

Hebrew genealogies normally did not include the names of any women. Matthew's, however, mentions four Old Testament women, Tamar (spelled Thamar), Rahab, Ruth and "her that had been the wife of Urias"--Bathsheba.

Rahab is one of only two women listed in the honor roll of the faithful in chapter 11 of Hebrews. The author writes:

"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace." (Hebrews 11:30, 31)

Finally, the epistle by James cites Rahab as an example of one who demonstrated her faith by her works. Although James doesn't actually use the word courage in connection with Rahab, he compares her to Abraham and makes the point that "faith without works is dead." (James 2:25, 26)

In the past, I've never put much emphasis on teaching the story of Rahab in Sunday School. I plan to rectify this because her role in helping the early Hebrews conquer Canaan was clearly revered by the biblical authors of Matthew, Hebrews, and James.

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