“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:1, 30, 31)
“By faith, Rahab the harlot did not perish…”
Rahab the harlot is one of the unlikeliest heroines in the bible—a pagan prostitute in the city of Jericho, which was a place as corrupt and depraved as it got. Yet, because of her faith and actions, she is one of only two women named in Hebrews 11 (known as the “faith chapter”), and one of only two women named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5). There are many parallels between Rahab and the church, and a number of lessons we can draw from her life and character.
In Joshua 2, two spies are sent into Canaan to spy out the land and the impregnable city of Jericho. Rahab not only receives them, but hides them and protects them when the city’s king tries to find them, then advises them on how to escape the city. On their own these actions would make her pretty special, but then she says something amazing as she’s hiding them on her roof:
“I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites…whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house…and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death” (Josh. 2:8-13).
This woman, who was immersed in a corrupt, polytheistic culture and had never been taught about the true God, BELIEVED. She hadn’t seen God part the Red Sea or seen the Israelites defeat the Amorites. She had seen nothing with her own eyes, but heard stories of the miracles God had performed for the Israelites—some more than 40 years ago—and believed with her whole heart. She acknowledged that He was the one true God, and was willing to act on those beliefs to be saved from destruction. Because of this, we’re told that “Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day” (Josh. 6:25).
Rahab is a type of God’s called-out, chosen church. Rahab was a Gentile woman, steeped in the city of Jericho, a type of the end-time Babylon (called the “great harlot” and “mother of harlots”). She had fully succumbed to that way of life as a prostitute. Like Ruth after her, she was a Gentile purposefully grafted into the vine of God’s people after her conversion, foreshadowing God calling the Gentiles after Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 11:11-24).
In the bible, God’s people are often symbolized by a woman. After God divorced physical Israel, He called people—Jews and Gentiles, alike—out of the world to be converted and become a spiritual Israel, the bride of Christ, and ultimately His children and joint heirs with Christ (Gal. 3:29, Rev. 14:4, Rom. 8:16-17). Like Rahab, we were full participants in a corrupt system before coming to know God. As sinners we were condemned to death, but our conversion wiped our sins away and allowed us to become a pure, chaste bride for Jesus Christ (Col. 2:12-14, Rev. 19:7-9).
Let’s look at some other similarities we must share with Rahab.
Faith with Works
Rahab’s complete trust and faith in God’s ability to save her family is awe-inspiring. But it wasn’t enough for her just to believe in Him—in order to be saved from Jericho’s destruction, she was required to take action and follow the very specific instructions given by the spies. Because she feared God, she did exactly as she was told, and while she was ultimately saved by faith, that faith required her to do something. James elaborates on this, saying, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-20). He even uses Rahab as an example of someone who was saved by what her faith drove her to do (James 2:25).
As members of God’s called-out body, we are sometimes guilty of thinking that because we have special knowledge and understanding, because we keep the Sabbath and holy days and understand that Jesus Christ will return to this earth in the future, that this knowledge and our observances automatically qualify us for salvation. However, if that knowledge and our belief in God and Jesus Christ don’t lead us to specific actions—growing in Godly character, taking care of others, searching out and repenting of sin—then it’s all for nothing (James 2:14-17, II Pet. 1:5-10, I John 2:3-4).
Concern for the Brethren
Another aspect of Rahab’s salvation was that she was concerned not just for herself but for the safety and well-being of her family. In fact, when she begs the spies to protect them, she asks that they “spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have” but doesn’t even mention herself (Josh. 2:13). We, too, should be looking out for the physical and spiritual well-being of our family—our brethren in the church. There are dozens of scriptures that command this, we’ll look at only a few:
- “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one that this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:12)
- “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…bear one another’s burdens…as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:1-2, 9-10)
- “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:2-4)
- “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27)
Being a member of the body of Christ is not an “every man for himself” game. While we are told to work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12), God makes it clear that He expects us to care for, suffer with, and rejoice with our fellow brethren (I Cor. 12:26).
Separation from the World
Perhaps the most critical condition required of Rahab was that she totally separate herself and her family from the city of Jericho (representing the corrupt world system) in order to be saved. This event occurred during the Days of Unleavened Bread, a time that symbolizes our journey out of Egypt (the sinful world) and into the Kingdom of God. The people of God are also told not to align ourselves too closely with the world, “for what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?” asks Paul. He goes on:
“For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore, ’Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you’” (II Cor. 6:14-17).
In Revelation, John reiterates that God’s people must separate themselves from this present corrupt world in order to be saved: “And he [the angel] cried mightily with a loud voice saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen…and I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest your receive of her plagues…therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire [just like Jericho was], for strong is the Lord God who judges her’” (Rev 18:2-8). Coming out of the world doesn’t mean that we should all go live in some remote commune and never speak with a non-converted person (John 17:15), but that we should reject the evils of this present age and keep ourselves unspotted from the world (Gal. 1:4, Tit. 2:12, James 1:27).
It’s important to note that Rahab’s separation from the world was not a temporary measure to escape the destruction of Jericho. After Jericho’s fall, she turned away from her previous life of harlotry, married, and became a part of the nation of Israel (eventually part of the genealogy of Christ). Similarly, we become children of God and heirs of His promises when we are converted and redeemed by our Elder Brother’s sacrifice from our previous life of bondage (Rom. 8:17). We must fully turn from our past sinful life, be converted, and our sins will be blotted out. However, if we cling to the world and willfully remain in sin, Christ’s sacrifice will no longer cover us (Heb. 10:26-27, Heb. 6:4-6). Paul tells us we must not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
A Cautionary Tale
Interestingly, the story of Jericho also provides us with a strong counter-example to Rahab the harlot’s faith. We’re told in Joshua 7 of the Israelite Achan, who stole a beautiful Canaanite garment and gold and silver during the destruction of Jericho, though he was expressly forbidden to do so. Because of Achan’s rebellion, the Israelites lost their next battle and several men died as a result. Only when confronted with his sin did Achan confess and repent, and he and his family were stoned and burned up as punishment. Achan was part of God’s chosen people and witnessed all the miracles of God—he passed through the Red Sea and the Jordan, saw the pillar of fire and cloud, the serpents, ate the manna—yet still he clung to the world, and was destroyed because of it. We’re told not to love the world of the things of the world (I John 2:15). Jesus tells us what the ultimate result of this approach will be: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26). Do any parts of the world still appeal to us so strongly that we’re unwilling to let go and lose our place in the kingdom?
Rahab’s faith was so great that she saw nothing herself, yet believed in God’s might and upended her life in order to follow God. Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed [but] blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).