Rahab—Declared Righteous by Works of Faith
JUST imagine! A harlot declared righteous from God’s standpoint. “Never!” many would exclaim. Yet, that is what happened to the prostitute Rahab of Jericho, an ancient Canaanite city.
The Bible writer James records: “A man is to be declared righteous by works, and not by faith alone. In the same manner 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.” (James 2:24-26) Why was Rahab declared righteous? What did she do to be granted such a privileged standing with God?
The Israelites Are Coming!
Let us return to the year 1473 B.C.E. Visualize the setting. Jericho is heavily fortified. Perched atop the city’s walls is the house of Rahab the harlot. From this vantage point, she can likely look eastward toward the overflowing waters of the river Jordan. (Joshua 3:15) On its eastern bank, she might observe the encampment of the Israelites, with a fighting force of over 600,000. They are only a few miles away!
Rahab has learned about Israel’s exploits in battle. She has also heard about displays of Jehovah’s power, particularly in opening an escape corridor for the Israelites through the Red Sea. Surely, then, the swollen waters of the Jordan will be no barrier. This is a time of crisis! How will Rahab react?
Rahab Takes Her Stand
Soon, Rahab receives two unexpected visitors—spies from the Israelite encampment. They seek a lodging place, and she admits them to her home. But word of their presence reaches the ears of the king of Jericho. He promptly dispatches his minions of law enforcement to take them into custody.—Joshua 2:1, 2.
By the time the king’s officers arrive, Rahab has taken her stand for Jehovah God. “Bring out the men that came to you,” demand the royal emissaries. Rahab has concealed the spies among stalks of flax laid to dry on her roof. She says: “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 [city] 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.” (Joshua 2:3-5) That the king’s men do—in vain.
Rahab has thrown the enemies off the trail. She immediately takes further steps that display her faith in Jehovah by works. Up to the roof she goes and tells the spies: “I do know that Jehovah will certainly give you the land.” Rahab admits that all the land’s inhabitants are fearful because they have heard that God “dried up the waters of the Red Sea” from before the Israelites 40 years earlier. The people also know that the Israelites devoted two Amorite kings to destruction. “When we got to hear it,” says Rahab, “then our hearts began to melt, and no spirit has arisen yet in anybody because of you, for Jehovah your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”—Joshua 2:8-11.
Rahab pleads: “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.”—Joshua 2:12, 13.
The men agree and tell Rahab what to do. From her window, she must hang the scarlet cord used to lower the spies to the ground outside the walls of Jericho. She must gather her family into her home, where they must remain for protection. Rahab gives the departing spies helpful information about the lay of the land and tells them how to elude their pursuers. This the spies do. After displaying the scarlet cord and gathering members of her household, Rahab awaits further developments.—Joshua 2:14-24.
What has Rahab done? Why, she has proved that her faith rests in Almighty God, Jehovah! She will live by his standards. Yes, and she will be declared righteous for such works of faith.
Down Come the Walls!
A few weeks pass. Accompanied by priests—some with rams’ horns and others bearing the sacred ark of the covenant—Israelite men of war are encircling Jericho. They have been doing this once each day for six days now. On this seventh day, however, they have already marched around the city six times. There they go again!
The seventh march completed, long blasts from the horns fill the air. The Israelites now shout mightily. At that, Jehovah causes Jericho’s protective walls to collapse in thunderous rumblings. Only the section supporting Rahab’s house remains standing. The rest of the city and its residents are destroyed. Her faith proved by works, the repentant prostitute is preserved along with her household, and she begins to dwell among Jehovah’s people.—Joshua 6:1-25.
A Look at Rahab’s Traits
Rahab was no pampered idler, for on her roof were stalks of flax being dried in the sun. Fibers of flax would be used to make linen. There was also a stock of crimson thread in Rahab’s house. (Joshua 2:6, 18) So she may have engaged in producing linen and possibly knew the art of dyeing. Yes, Rahab was an industrious woman. Above all, she had come to have a reverential fear of Jehovah.—Compare Proverbs 31:13, 19, 21, 22, 30.
What about Rahab’s other profession? She was not just the hostess of an inn. No, the Scriptures identify her by using Hebrew and Greek words denoting a prostitute. For example, the Hebrew word zoh·nahʹ always has to do with an illicit relationship. Incidentally, among the Canaanites harlotry was not a business of ill repute.
Jehovah’s use of a harlot demonstrates his great mercy. Outward appearances can deceive us, but God “sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Hence, righthearted prostitutes who repent of their harlotry can receive Jehovah God’s forgiveness. (Compare Matthew 21:23, 31, 32.) Rahab herself turned from sin to a righteous course having divine approval.
The Israelite spies lived by God’s Law, so they did not lodge at Rahab’s house for immoral reasons. Their reason may have been that it was less likely that suspicion would be aroused by their presence in a harlot’s house. Its position on the city wall would also facilitate escape. Jehovah evidently guided them to a sinner whose heart had been so favorably affected by reports of divine dealings with the Israelites that she repented and changed her ways. God’s statement that Israel was to drive out the Canaanites because of their immoral practices, and his blessing on Rahab and on the conquest of Jericho, make it evident that the spies did not commit immorality.—Leviticus 18:24-30.
What about Rahab’s misleading words to pursuers of the spies? God approved of her course. (Compare Romans 14:4.) She took a risk in order to protect his servants, giving evidence of her faith. While malicious lying is wrong in Jehovah’s eyes, a person is not obligated to divulge truthful information to people who are not entitled to it. Even Jesus Christ did not give full details or direct answers when doing so could have brought unnecessary harm. (Matthew 7:6; 15:1-6; 21:23-27; John 7:3-10) Evidently, Rahab’s course of misdirecting the enemy officers must be viewed in that light.
How was Rahab rewarded for exercising faith? Her preservation during Jericho’s destruction surely was a blessing from Jehovah. Later, she married Salmon (Salma), the son of the wilderness chieftain Nahshon of the tribe of Judah. As parents of the godly Boaz, Salmon and Rahab formed a link in the line of descent that led to King David of Israel. (1 Chronicles 2:3-15; Ruth 4:20-22) More significantly, the former prostitute Rahab is one of only four women named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:5, 6) What a blessing from Jehovah!
Though not an Israelite and once a prostitute, Rahab is an outstanding example of a woman who proved by her works that she had full faith in Jehovah. (Hebrews 11:30, 31) Like others, some of whom have abandoned a life of prostitution, she will receive yet another reward—a resurrection from the dead to life on a paradise earth. (Luke 23:43) Because of her faith backed by works, Rahab gained the approval of our loving and forgiving heavenly Father. (Psalm 130:3, 4) And surely her fine example provides encouragement for all lovers of righteousness to look to Jehovah God for life everlasting.
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Rahab was declared righteous because her works proved that she had faith
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Archaeologists have uncovered remains of ancient Jericho, including a small section of an early wall
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.