Here are some notes from my Sunday School class on Joshua Chapter 2, which I taught today.
Rahab is described in the Bible as a harlot, which is to say, she violated the 7th commandment for a living. A lot of people, even in the church, have tried to tone this down, but the text is clear. The Hebrew word is “zonah”, which is the word for a common prostitute. It is used in Joshua 2 and Joshua 6 to describe her. In the New Testament, in Hebrews 11:31, she is also called a harlot. Since Canaan was coming under judgment for its sins, including sexual immorality, she was part of the problem.
Some commentators have said that she wasn’t really a common harlot, but was rather a temple prostitute, who was serving the Canaanite fertility goddess. But Hebrew has a different word for that (qedeshah). Besides, that wouldn’t make her any better.
Others say that she was a former prostitute who had repented and reformed her ways. Again, there is no evidence for this. Yes, she was also an innkeeper (which is why she lodged the spies), but being a prostitute and an innkeeper are not incompatible. There is really no evidence that she wasn’t doing business until the day the spies arrived.
As an innkeeper and prostitute, she had a lot of people entering and leaving her house, so it was natural for the spies to stop there. It was a good anonymous place for them to operate, and anyone who saw them would have a pretty good idea of what they were up to. They could also learn a lot from talking to her, because she would have heard lots of information from travelers.
Unfortunately, the king of Jericho and his informers were aware of her too, and apparently they watched the movements into and out of her house. That is why they noticed the spies, and sent to her, asking for her to turn them in.
The story could have been short and sad, but now something amazing happens. She hid the spies, becoming a traitor to her city. If she had been caught, she would have faced the wrath of the king, and there were no laws against “cruel and unusual punishment” in the ancient world. Not only did she hide them, she lied to their pursuers no less than 4 times, and sent them off on a wild goose chase to the fords of the Jordan. In this she displayed some dramatic talent. Then she told the spies her story.
Rahab had heard about God’s mighty acts, including the parting of the Red Sea, the defeat of neighboring Sihon and Og, and the promise that He would give the land she was living in to the Israelites. She knew that her people were afraid because of this, and she was convinced that God, the One true God, had condemned her city. Her confession shows that she knows God as a universal god, and not as she would think of a local or specialized pagan deity. This is why she protected the men, and on that basis she asked for mercy for herself and her family. The two spies promised to save her and her family, upon several conditions: she had to gather her family into her house, she had to keep their secret, and she had to leave the scarlet cord in the window to mark the house so the invading army would leave it alone. (The scarlet cord is a sign similar to the blood of the Passover Lamb.)
The spies escaped through the window, and made their way back to camp. Meanwhile, Rahab had at least two weeks of waiting for the Israelites to arrive. At any time, a knock on the door from the King of Jericho’s secret police would have meant her death.
The invasion was successful, and she and her family were rescued, as reported in Joshua 6:22-25, and she made her home in Israel. But that is not the end of the story.
Not only did she settle in Israel, she married a guy named Salmon. You can read about him in Matthew 1:4-6. You probably wondered why these genealogies were here. Here they show the power of the gospel. Rahab and Salmon had a son named Boaz, who appears in the Book of Ruth. Boaz is King David’s great-grandfather, and Jesus is descended from the line of David. So, for us looking back, we can see that God called a prostitute, changed her into a wife and mother in Israel, and made her an ancestress of Christ. This is really cool, but Rahab didn’t know the future.
Now let’s take a look from Rahab’s perspective. After being saved from Jericho, she may have wondered about her future in Israel. After all, what respectable man would marry her? Everyone knew what she had been.
If we look at that genealogy, we can see that Salmon, who she married, was the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab. If we look back to Numbers 7, verse 2 and 12, we see that Nahshon was the leader (“prince” in the King James Version) of the tribe of Judah who was appointed to bring the offering for the dedication of the tabernacle. Salmon was his son, and therefore also a prince in Judah.
So, Rahab didn’t just marry “some guy.” In a short period of time, she went from prostitute to princess.