From Rahab to Jesus

Hebrews 11:31

February 7, 2009 | Ray Pritchard

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“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31).

There are certain occupations that we associate with certain biblical characters. To say a particular name immediately brings a certain occupation to mind.

Abraham was a herdsman.
David was a shepherd.
Nehemiah was a cupbearer.
Isaiah was a prophet.
Peter was a fisherman.
Herod was a king.
Esther was a queen.
Matthew was a tax collector.
Caiaphas was a high priest.
Joseph (NT) was a carpenter.
Paul was a tentmaker.
Lydia was a seller of purple cloth.

Perhaps the strangest of all is Rahab. Mention her name and immediately one occupation and only one comes to mind. Rahab was a harlot. She traded sex for money in what has sometimes been called the world’s oldest occupation. Whether or not it is literally the oldest means of making money, prostitution has been with us for thousands of years. I would venture to say that there is no city of any size where there are not women who sell their bodies for money.

The Bible makes no bones about Rahab’s occupation and makes no attempt to cover it up. The first time we meet her in Joshua 2:1, she is called “a prostitute named Rahab.” She is called “Rahab the prostitute” in Joshua 6:17 and again in 6:25. If that isn’t enough, twice in the New Testament her occupation is mentioned:

“By faith the prostitute Rahab” (Hebrews 11:31).
“Rahab the prostitute” (James 2:25).

That’s five times in all when one would be enough. It seems that God wants us to think “prostitute” when we think about Rahab. It is not an easy fact for us to face. Consider the English synonyms for prostitute:

Call girl
Lady of the night

There are many others that might be listed, including some too graphic to be used in a message like this. But they all paint the same sad picture of a woman who for whatever reason has decided to sell her body for money. I wonder if we have lost the sense of how degrading this is. Hollywood has managed to glamorize prostitution so that it doesn’t seem very ugly. Sex in general has become so casual that we aren’t very surprised by anything anymore. So teens experiment and singles sleep around. Girls sleep with their boyfriends. Married men and women have affairs. Although we think nothing of it, sexual sin always leaves a deep scar on the soul. No woman can cheapen herself through sexual sin and escape the deep sense of guilt and shame. Those who say they feel no guilt are simply lying to themselves.

The Bible makes no bones about Rahab’s occupation and makes no attempt to cover it up.
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I imagine Rahab had given up any hope of ever turning her life around. But God had other ideas. He can turn shame into glory in one shining moment of redemption.

The biblical record does not give us very many details about Rahab. We know that she lived in Jericho near the city wall. She was evidently well-known to the men of the city because the two spies had no trouble finding her house and the king of Jericho knew who she was and where she lived. But there are many things we don’t know about Rahab.

1) We don’t know how she became a harlot.
2) We don’t know her family background.
3) We don’t know her religion, except that she was not raised to believe in the God of the Bible.
4) We don’t know if she was hungering for a better life when the two spies came to her home.

All of that makes the following fact more startling. The Bible mentions Rahab the harlot as a hero of the faith. She made the Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. Think of that list . . . Abel . . . Enoch . . . Noah . . . Abraham . . . Sarah . . . Isaac . . . Jacob . . . Joseph . . . Moses . . .

And then suddenly . . . Rahab!

No woman can cheapen herself through sexual sin and escape the deep sense of guilt and shame.
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And if you go to the end of the next verse, you find David, Samuel, and the prophets. That means Rahab the harlot is in some pretty good company. She’s up there with the man who built the ark (Noah), the father of faith (Abraham), the man who led the Jews out of Egypt (Moses), the sweet singer of Israel (David), and she’s up there with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and all the rest of the great heroes of the Old Testament.

If ancient Israel had a Mount Rushmore, her face would be on it.

It’s just mind-blowing if you think about it. In one fell swoop God reaches down and rearranges all our neat little categories. In our mind we would do it like this:

Jacob                                           BIG GAP                             Rahab

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Can’t let the prostitutes get too close to the men of faith, or so we think. But God’s evaluation is strikingly different. When the Bible tells the story, it makes no attempt to cover up her sordid past. Five times she is called a harlot. She is truly a “scarlet woman” whose reputation will follow her till the day she dies. Choices have consequences, and just as we remember Peter who denied the Lord and Judas who betrayed him, even so we recall that Rahab was a harlot.

Note the past tense. She “was” a harlot. That’s what she was. But through the grace of God she became a woman of faith.

I. A Hopeless Beginning

When Philip Edgecumbe Hughes wrote his commentary on Hebrews, he noted the barriers facing Rahab.  First, she was a woman in a world in which women were often mistreated, devalued and taken for granted. How remarkable, then, that the writer of Hebrews should choose two women and only two to highlight-Sarah the wife of Abraham and Rahab the harlot. By including a woman like this the writer wants us to know that the ground is level at the foot of the cross, and that even in that degraded age a woman could be included on an equal basis with men in the household of faith.

Second, she was a harlot. Some wish to downplay that fact and seek to soften the impact by translating the word as “innkeeper,” but there is no need to do that. The fact that she was a harlot magnifies the grace of God by demonstrating that even the lowest of the low could find a place in God’s family. Grace is for sinners, and only sinners need to be saved, so Rahab stands as a beacon of hope to the broken, hurting, bruised, fallen men and women everywhere who look in the mirror and feel, “There is no hope for me.” If you feel that way, then consider that Rahab was a harlot and at this very moment she is in heaven. If God can save her, he can certainly save you.

Third, she was a Gentile, a foreigner, raised in a pagan religion. As such, she did not belong to the Israelites, and yet by faith she was accepted by God and by his people and when the great attack on Jericho came, she was spared while the city around her was destroyed. Her life illustrates God’s promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) that through his descendants all the nations on earth would be blessed.

If God can save Rahab, he can certainly save you.
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It was hard for her to believe, and we can imagine many reasons she might not have believed. Certainly she took a great risk when she sheltered the spies and sent them out another way and when she refused to tell her own people where the two spies were and sent the soldiers on a wild goose chase on the road that leads down to the Jordan River. Why would she do it? There are two ways to answer the question, and they both lead to the same conclusion. Joshua 2:9-13 tells us that she and all the people of Jericho had heard stories about how God had delivered his people through the Red Sea and how he had given them victory over the Amorite kings. That fact means that everyone in Jericho had some degree of knowledge. Rumors had spread like wildfire. But only Rahab had the foresight to believe that the Lord himself was at work in all that had happened to the Jews. Where does such foresight come from? I believe the eyes of her heart had been opened by the Holy Spirit so that she took the same information others had and came to a proper conclusion. When it came time to choose sides, she chose to side with God’s people.

She even went so far as to make provision for her own family.

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).

Here is another sign of true conversion. She now has a concern for the safety of her extended family. She doesn’t want to be saved alone. She wants to make sure her family is saved with her.

II. A Remarkable Deliverance

The spies agreed to spare her family in the coming attack on Jericho if she tied a scarlet cord to her window. Why a scarlet cord? In the chaos of the coming battle, a scarlet cord would be easily seen by the attacking army. But there is a deeper symbolism at work here. The scarlet cord reminds us of the blood of the Passover. The color was no coincidence. It was a scarlet cord that guaranteed her deliverance from otherwise certain death. Note that as soon as the spies left, Rahab tied the scarlet cord in the window so everyone could see it. She had no idea when the attack would come. Maybe in a few days, maybe in several weeks. It didn’t matter. She believed the promise and acted upon it.

Here is the key. Rahab heard the promise and did something about it. What would have happened if Rahab had forgotten about it and never gotten around to tying that scarlet cord outside her window? She would have died like everyone else. It is never enough merely to hear the truth. Hearing the truth must move you to action sooner or later. Rahab the harlot, this sinful woman who sold her body for money, made the Hall of Fame of Faith for one reason. When the chips were down, she believed the promise and did something about it. And that simple scarlet cord saved her life.

Let each person who reads these words take them solemnly to heart. You may be a religious person. You may be very moral in the eyes of others. You are probably not a harlot. You would likely be embarrassed to be classed as a harlot. And yet you may not end up as well off as Rahab. You may hear the gospel over and over and yet do nothing about it. You may believe that the blood of Christ can forgive your sins, you may even be a member of some church somewhere, but until by faith you come to Christ personally, you cannot be saved. Rahab heard the word and personally responded by tying the scarlet cord to her window. You and I must do the same thing. It is not hearing that saves us, but hearing and believing to the point that you reach out and trust Christ as Savior.

Days passed. Then a week and perhaps two weeks. Inside Jericho life proceeded as normal. Meanwhile two things were happening that few people knew about.

1) Rahab spreads the word to her relatives. “When the attack starts, come to my house. Don’t delay. Don’t join the battle. Don’t run and hide. Come to my house and you will be safe.” Rahab became an evangelist to her own family.

2) Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan and up toward Jericho. That caused the men of Jericho to close the city gates in the belief that they could withstand any assault and anysiege.

We all know what happens next. It has been immortalized in the word of the old spiritual, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho.” Archaeologists tell us that the city was already 1000 years old when Joshua prepared to attack it. It had enormous strategic importance because Jericho sat on a hillside guarding the central portion of Palestine. Over the centuries Jericho had been destroyed and rebuilt many times. It was so strong that the people inside felt absolutely safe. Apart from a miracle, there was no way the Jews could take the city.

You know how God instructed Joshua and the people to march around the city for six consecutive days. On the seventh day they marched around the city seven times. God promised that on the seventh day, on the seventh time around the city, when the priests blew their horns and the people shouted, the walls would come tumbling down.

With the walls down, the people of Jericho were defenseless.
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That’s exactly what happened.

We all know that part of the story. Here’s the P.S. With the walls down, the people of Jericho were defenseless. The Jews attacked and at God’s express command killed everything in the city. Men and women . . . young and old . . . cattle and donkeys.  It was a total slaughter by the children of Israel. Absolute annihilation. Holy war. Nothing left of the city because they burned it to the ground.

Except . . . . except for Rahab. When the soldiers saw the scarlet cord in her window, they spared her and everyone with her. They kept the promise the spies had made. And so Rahab the harlot was spared and her faith caused her to reach out and guarantee the salvation of her own family as well. This is true conversion.

III. A Timeless Message

For 2000 years Christian expositors have seen two major themes in Rahab’s story.

1)   Salvation for the worst of sinners.

This story teaches us that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Even in the midst of judgment, God reaches out and saves a harlot who turns to him in faith.

But think of all the men she had slept with.
Think of all that sin.
Think of her stained reputation.
Think of her past.

And God says, “I know all about her past, and it doesn’t matter because she believed in me.” Not that sexual sin doesn’t matter. It matters greatly. After all, she is still called Rahab the harlot. But she is free now, and forgiven, and on the road to heaven.

So what’s your sin? You may be reading this sermon and right now you feel unworthy to go to heaven. If so, I have wonderful news for you. Only unworthy people go to heaven. The people who think they are “worthy” end up in hell. So if you’ve been sleeping around, or messing around, or fooling around, or making one stupid mistake after another, I’ve got good news for you. Your sin makes you an excellent candidate for salvation.

Only unworthy people go to heaven.
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Remember . . . If God can save Rahab, he can save anyone. And that includes you.

And just for the record, I would rather be Rahab the harlot on my way to heaven than to be Sally the Sunday School teacher on my way to hell.

2)   Salvation through the blood of Jesus.

If Rahab represents a helpless sinner, then the scarlet cord represents the blood of Jesus shed for you. One of our old gospel songs puts it in the form of a question.

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.

As one early writer said regarding Rahab, “Not only faith but prophecy is found in this woman.”

So this is a message of enormous hope for all of us. And the worse you feel about yourself, the more hope you can find in Rahab. There is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still. There is no sin so terrible that Jesus cannot forgive it. There is no stain on your soul that Jesus cannot wash away.

But what if you don’t know very much? Take heart. Rahab knew very little and yet she was saved. I have often wondered how much you have to know to be saved. We could argue that for hours but since faith is a gift of God, we know that it’s not how much faith you have, it’s where you place your faith. It’s not the amount of faith that matters. It’s the object of faith. Rahab knew enough to know that the God of the Israelites was the one true God. Her faith caused her to welcome the spies and then send them on their way. And her faith caused her to hang the scarlet cord out of her window. In theological terms, she was in spiritual kindergarten. But it didn’t matter.

It’s not the amount of faith that matters. It’s the object of faith.
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She made the Book!
“By faith Rahab!”

God delights to save notorious sinners. So let every sinner take heart and come running to Jesus.

One final word and I am done. What happened to Rahab after the fall of Jericho? We know this much. She married a Jewish man named Salmon and together they had a son named Boaz whose name pops up in the book of Ruth. Boaz and Ruth gave birth to Obed the father of Jesse the father of David who became the king of Israel. Get the picture?

Hundreds of years later her name shows up on the first page of the New Testament. When Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus, he includes this section:

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David
(Matthew 1:5-6)

Rahab the harlot made the list. She’s part of Jesus’ family tree. If you know Jesus, one day you will meet her in heaven. And there at last she will be no more Rahab the harlot. She will forever be known as Rahab the child of God.

So let me end by calling to mind one sentence from a familiar gospel song called To God Be the Glory. The second verse goes like this:

Oh perfect redemption, the purchase of blood.
To every believer, the promise of God.
The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

How true it is. Rahab proves it, and you can prove it too by coming to Christ right now. Don’t let your past keep you away. Come to Jesus! Your sins will be forgiven, you will be saved, and your life will never be the same.

When the old-time preachers would give an invitation, they would say, “Won’t you come?” “Won’t you come to Jesus?” Let me make that same invitation to you right now.

Won’t you come?
Won’t you come to Jesus?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?