RAHAB peered from her window as the light of dawn streamed onto the plain surrounding Jericho. An invading army was gathered out there—the forces of Israel. As they began yet another march around the city, the dust rose in their wake and the blare of horns again pierced the air.
Jericho was Rahab’s home; she knew its streets, its houses, its teeming markets and shops. She knew its people even better. She could sense their fear intensifying as the days passed and Israel continued this strange ritual—marching around the city once each day. As the sound of their horns echoed in the streets and squares of Jericho, though, Rahab did not feel the dread and despair that her people did.
Rahab watched as the army began its march early on this seventh day. Amid the Israelite soldiers, she saw their priests blowing horns and bearing the sacred ark that represented the presence of their God, Jehovah. We might imagine Rahab’s hand resting on a scarlet cord hanging from her window, which looked out from Jericho’s great wall. That cord reminded Rahab of her hope that she and her family would survive the destruction of the city. Was Rahab a traitor? Certainly not to Jehovah; he saw her as a woman of remarkable faith. Let us go back to the beginning of Rahab’s story and see what we can learn from her.
RAHAB THE PROSTITUTE
Rahab was a prostitute. That stark fact so alarmed some Bible commentators in the past that they claimed that she was merely an innkeeper. The Bible, though, is quite clear and does not whitewash the facts. (Joshua 2:1; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25) In Canaanite society, Rahab’s profession was probably respectable enough. However, culture cannot always eradicate conscience, that inner sense of right and wrong that Jehovah has given us all. (Romans 2:14, 15) Rahab may have keenly sensed that her way of life was degrading. Perhaps, like many today in such walks of life, she felt that she was trapped, with no other choice if she wanted to care for her family.
No doubt Rahab longed for a better life. Her homeland was full of violence and depravity, including incest and bestiality. (Leviticus 18:3, 6, 21-24) The prevalence of such evils in the land had much to do with religion. The temples promoted ritual prostitution, and the worship of such demonic gods as Baal and Molech included the burning of children alive in sacrificial fires.
Jehovah was not blind to what was going on in Canaan. In fact, because of the many wicked practices of the Canaanites, Jehovah said: “The land is unclean, and I shall bring punishment for its error upon it, and the land will vomit its inhabitants out.” (Leviticus 18:25) What did “punishment for its error” involve? In general, Israel was given this divine promise: “Jehovah your God will certainly push these nations away from before you little by little.” (Deuteronomy 7:22) Centuries earlier, Jehovah had promised the land to the family of Abraham, and “God . . . cannot lie.”—Titus 1:2; Genesis 12:7.
However, Jehovah also decreed that certain groups in the land were to be completely wiped out. (Deuteronomy 7:1, 2) As the righteous “Judge of all the earth,” he had read every heart and knew well how deeply entrenched their wickedness and depravity were. (Genesis 18:25; 1 Chronicles 28:9) What was it like for Rahab to live in such a condemned city? We can only imagine how she felt as reports about Israel reached her ears. She learned that the God of Israel had led his people—a downtrodden nation of slaves—to complete victory over the army of Egypt, the mightiest fighting force in the world of that time. And now Israel was about to attack Jericho! Yet, the people of that city persisted in their wickedness. We can see why the Bible speaks of Rahab’s fellow Canaanites as “those who acted disobediently.”—Hebrews 11:31.
Rahab was different. Over the years, she could have contemplated the reports she heard about Israel and its God, Jehovah. How completely unlike the Canaanite gods he was! Here was a God who fought for his people instead of victimizing them, who elevated the morals of his worshippers instead of debasing them. This God treated women as precious, not as mere sexual objects to be bought, sold, and degraded in vile worship. When Rahab learned that Israel was camped across the Jordan, poised to invade, she must have been dismayed over what that could mean for her people. Did Jehovah notice Rahab and value the good in her?
Today, there are many people like Rahab. They feel trapped, stuck in a way of life that robs them of dignity and joy; they feel invisible and worthless. Rahab’s case is a comforting reminder that none of us are invisible to God. No matter how low we feel, “he is not far off from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27) He is close by, ready and eager to offer hope to all those who put faith in him. Did Rahab do that?
SHE RECEIVED THE SPIES
One day, sometime before Israel marched around Jericho, two strangers appeared at Rahab’s door. The two men were hoping to pass unnoticed, but in that tense city, many were on the alert to detect any potential spies from Israel. Sharp-eyed Rahab may have been quick to draw her own conclusions. Not that it was unusual for strange men to come to her door, but these two wanted only lodging—not the services of a prostitute.
The two men were, in fact, spies from the camp of Israel. Their commander, Joshua, had sent them to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of Jericho. This was the first city of Canaan that Israel was to invade and perhaps the strongest of them all. Joshua wanted to know just what he and his men would be facing. The spies no doubt chose Rahab’s house deliberately. Here of all places, at the home of a prostitute, strangers might pass unnoticed. Perhaps the spies also hoped to pick up useful information from any careless talk they might overhear.
The Bible says that Rahab “received the messengers hospitably.” (James 2:25) She took them into her home, and even if she had suspicions about who they were and why they were there, she let the men stay. Perhaps she hoped to learn more about their God, Jehovah.
Suddenly, though, messengers from the king of Jericho arrived! Word had spread that spies from Israel had come to the house of Rahab. What would Rahab do? If she protected those two strangers, might she not put herself and her entire household at risk? Would not the people of Jericho slaughter them all if she sheltered such enemies? On the other hand, Rahab could now have no doubt about the identity of the men. If she already knew that Jehovah was a far better God than her own, might this be her opportunity to take a stand on Jehovah’s side?
Rahab had little time to think, yet she was resourceful and acted quickly. She had the spies hide among stalks of flax that were laid out to dry on the flat roof of her house. Then she spoke to 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.” (Joshua 2:4, 5) Imagine Rahab watching the faces of the king’s emissaries. Did she wonder if they could tell that her heart was racing?
Her ruse worked! The king’s men hurried off in the direction of the fords of the Jordan. (Joshua 2:7) Rahab must have breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Using simple strategy, she had misdirected murderous men who had no right to the truth and she had saved innocent servants of Jehovah.
Rahab hurried back to her roof and told the two spies what she had done. She also revealed a vital fact: Her people had lost heart and were terrified of the invaders. This piece of good news must have thrilled the spies. Those wicked Canaanites were becoming terrified of the power of Israel’s God, Jehovah! Rahab then revealed something of even greater importance to us. She said: “Jehovah your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11) The reports she had heard about Jehovah were enough to teach her at least this much: Israel’s God was worthy of her trust. She put her faith in Jehovah.
To Rahab, there was no question that Jehovah would give his people the victory. So she begged for mercy, pleading that she and her family be spared. The spies agreed, stipulating that Rahab must keep their secret and must hang a scarlet cord from her window in the city wall so that the soldiers could protect her and her family.—Joshua 2:12-14, 18.
We can learn an essential truth about faith from Rahab. As the Bible puts it, “faith follows the thing heard.” (Romans 10:17) She heard reliable reports about the power and the justice of Jehovah God, so she put her faith and trust in him. Today, we have far more knowledge about Jehovah available to us. Will we seek to get to know him and put faith in him based on what we learn in his Word, the Bible?
A MIGHTY CITADEL FALLS
Following Rahab’s advice, the two spies clambered down the wall by means of a rope hanging from her window and then slipped off toward the mountains. There were many caves along the steep slopes to the north of Jericho where the spies could hide until it was safe to return to the Israelite camp with the good news that they had acquired from Rahab.
Later, the people of Jericho surely shook with fear when they learned that Jehovah had miraculously stopped up the Jordan River, allowing Israel to cross over on the dry riverbed. (Joshua 3:14-17) But for Rahab, that news only gave more proof that her faith in Jehovah was well-placed.
Then came the long days of Israel’s marches around Jericho—six days, one march each day. Now the seventh day was here, and it was different. As mentioned at the outset of this article, the march began at sunrise, and after the army had circled the city once, it kept going, marching around Jericho again and again. (Joshua 6:15) What were the Israelites doing?
Finally, at the end of the seventh march on that seventh day, the army stopped. The horns stopped. Silence hung in the air. The tension in that city must have been almost palpable. Then, on a signal from Joshua, the army of Israel raised their voices for the first time, letting out a mighty shout. Did the guards atop the wall of Jericho think that this was some strange sort of attack, this mere cry? If so, they did not think so for long. The massive wall began to tremble under their feet. It shook, it cracked, and then it fell—crashing to the ground! As the dust cleared, though, one segment of the wall emerged intact. Rahab’s house still stood, a solitary monument to one woman’s faith. Imagine her feelings when she saw how Jehovah had shielded her!* Her family was safe!—Joshua 6:10, 16, 20, 21.
Jehovah’s people likewise honored the faith of Rahab. When they saw that one house sticking up from the ruined wall like a lone tooth, they knew that Jehovah was with this woman. She and her family were spared the execution that came upon that evil city. After the battle, Rahab was allowed to dwell near the encampment of Israel. In time, Rahab became part of the Jewish people. She married a man named Salmon. Their son, Boaz, grew up to be a man of remarkable faith. He married Ruth the Moabitess.* (Ruth 4:13, 22) King David and later the Messiah himself, Jesus Christ, descended from that outstanding family.—Joshua 6:22-25; Matthew 1:5, 6, 16.
Rahab’s story shows that none of us are insignificant to Jehovah. He sees us all, he reads our hearts, and he is delighted when he finds a spark of faith like the one that lit up the heart of Rahab. Her faith moved her to action. As the Bible says, she was “declared righteous by works.” (James 2:25) How wise we would be to imitate her faith!
Interestingly, Jehovah respected the agreement the two spies had made with Rahab.