Her Faith Was Lifesaving
REPORTS circulated quickly. An enslaved nation had been set at liberty. The Red Sea had parted, making it possible for these former slaves to walk across on dry land. But the pursuing Egyptian army, seeking to recapture them, was caught in the seabed when the waters came back together. The entire military host perished.
For about 40 years thereafter little was heard about the freed nation, Israel. Then, news reached Canaan that the strong Amorite kingdoms east of the Jordan had fallen before the Israelites. How did the peoples west of the Jordan react?
The Bible quotes a woman of Jericho as saying to two young Israelite spies: “The fright of you has fallen upon us, and . . . all the inhabitants of the land have become disheartened because of you. For we have heard how Jehovah dried up the waters of the Red Sea from before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, namely, Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. When we got to hear it, then our hearts began to melt, and no spirit has arisen yet in anybody because of you.”—Josh. 2:9-11.
Yes, fear filled the inhabitants of Canaan. They felt a sickening dread within themselves. Their courage failed them. No one had any spirit to act. However, this did not move the Canaanites to fear Jehovah in a wholesome way. They faithlessly hardened their hearts against him, revealing this by calling out their armies for battle. The Bible reports: “There proved to be no city that made peace with the sons of Israel but the Hivites inhabiting Gibeon. All the others they took by war. For it proved to be Jehovah’s course to let their hearts become stubborn so as to declare war against Israel.”—Josh. 11:19, 20.
RAHAB WAS DIFFERENT
But what about the woman of Jericho who spoke to the Israelite spies? Who was she? Did she, too, harden her heart? The woman was Rahab, a harlot whose house was situated atop the wall of Jericho. Based on what she had heard about Jehovah’s dealings, she was prompted to acknowledge the superiority of the true God. Rahab told the spies: “I do know that Jehovah will certainly give you the land. . . . Jehovah your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”—Josh. 2:9-11.
Her faith was not a mere expression of words. Rahab had already acted in harmony with it. How so? First of all, she received the spies into her house, knowing that they were Israelites. In those times, a harlot’s house often served also as an inn, but, even so, Rahab was under no obligation to receive the spies. Since she knew full well that the inhabitants of Jericho hated the Israelites, it took faith for Rahab to receive the men into her house.
Later, when the king of Jericho heard that the Israelite spies had gone to Rahab’s house, he sent messengers there, demanding: “Bring out the men that came to you, that have come into your house, for it is to search out all the land that they have come.” (Josh. 2:2, 3) This gave Rahab the opportunity to prove her faith. At the time, the spies were on the roof, hidden underneath stalks of flax. (Josh. 2:6) What would Rahab do now? Would she yield to the order of the king? Or, would she side with Jehovah’s people?
To protect the Israelite spies, Rahab used a weapon at her immediate disposal—her tongue. She misdirected the king’s messengers, saying: “Yes, the men did come to me, and I did not know from where they were. And it came about at the closing of the gate by dark that the men went out. I just do not know where the men have gone. Chase after them quickly, for you will overtake them.” (Josh. 2:4, 5) So, besides misdirecting the messengers, Rahab feigned total ignorance and gave not the slightest hint that her sympathies were with the Israelites. The subterfuge evidently also served to discourage any search of her house. Certainly, it took firm faith in Jehovah’s granting success to Israel for Rahab to take a stand against the king of Jericho. Such action, if discovered, could doubtless have cost Rahab her life.
A PROMISE OF PRESERVATION
After the king’s messengers departed, Rahab went up to the roof to speak with the Israelite spies. No one in the city would have seen this, as the flat roof was equipped with a high parapet. At this time, after having proved her faith by works, Rahab made expression of that faith to the two spies. Then she continued: “Now, please, swear to me by Jehovah that, because I have exercised loving-kindness toward you, you also will certainly exercise loving-kindness toward the household of my father, and you must give me a trustworthy sign. And you must preserve alive my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters and all who belong to them, and you must deliver our souls from death.”—Josh. 2:12, 13.
Thus Rahab pleaded, not only for her own life, but for the lives of all those making up the house of her father. To assure her that all would be preserved alive, she requested a “trustworthy sign.” This sign proved to be a solemn oath, guaranteeing that everything she had asked for would be granted her. The spies answered: “Our souls are to die instead of you people!” (Josh. 2:14) By these words, they were in actuality saying that, if they failed to spare Rahab and her relatives from death, God should punish them with death. In this way the spies presented their lives as surety for the life of Rahab and the lives of her father’s complete household.
The oath-bound promise, however, was conditional. Rahab was under obligation to continue safeguarding the interests of the spies. Furthermore, in the window, through which she had the men descend, she was to tie a scarlet thread. Being the color of life-sustaining blood, this thread could well represent the arrangement under which Rahab and all taking refuge in her house could be preserved alive. A third condition was that safety could be found only inside Rahab’s house. If any of her relatives were to venture into the streets during the time of the conquest of Jericho, they could not expect to be spared from execution.—Josh. 2:14-20.
RAHAB’S FAITH REWARDED
The time came when, by a miracle, the walls of Jericho fell down flat. But the section of the wall where Rahab’s house stood remained intact. At Joshua’s direction, the two spies went into her house and brought out all who were there. (Josh. 6:22, 23) Still further blessings awaited Rahab. Eventually she entered into an honorable marriage with a Judean man, Salmon. Her son Boaz became a vital link in the line of descent leading to David and finally to the Messiah or Christ, Jesus.—Ruth 4:21, 22; Matt. 1:5-16.
Truly, the faith of Rahab was richly rewarded. Her example serves as an encouragement for Christians to live their faith, demonstrating it by works. This is fortified by what the Christian Greek Scriptures say about Rahab. In the letter to the Hebrews, we read: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who acted disobediently, because she received the spies in a peaceable way.” (Heb. 11:31) Pointing out what her faith and that of others should stir Christians to do, the letter continues: “Because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin [loss of faith] that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1) The disciple James, in stressing the importance of works consistent with faith, wrote: “Was not also Rahab the harlot declared righteous by works, after she had received the messengers hospitably and sent them out by another way? Indeed, as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”—Jas. 2:25, 26.
The account about Rahab also shows that a past life of sin does not prevent a person from changing that way of life and gaining God’s approval. Even Jesus Christ told the unbelieving religious leaders of his day: “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and the harlots are going ahead of you into the kingdom of God. For John [the Baptizer] came to you in a way of righteousness, but you did not believe him. However, the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and you, although you saw this, did not feel regret afterwards so as to believe him.”—Matt. 21:31, 32.
Moreover, just as Rahab’s faith proved to be lifesaving, so, too, our faith in God’s provision for salvation through Jesus Christ can be lifesaving for us and all who take advantage of it.
Surely, we have good reason to demonstrate our faith, as did Rahab. And, as she was concerned about the life of her relatives, may we show like concern by putting forth diligent efforts to aid our relatives, acquaintances and others to learn about God’s means of salvation.