Rahab: The Redeemed Prostitute

Landon ChapmanChristianity, Series: Women of the Bible2 Comments

Joshua 6:25 [ESV] “But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”

Have you ever felt as though you are too damaged to be used by God?  Worse, have you ever had the thought that you’re too damaged for God to truly love you?  For most mature Christians these thoughts are silliness because we know how great and gracious our God is through His mercy and grace.  However, young Christians and those yet to be drawn to the faith, if they are like I used to be, often think themselves unworthy of Christ because of their past sins.  This is utter nonsense.

There are many tales in the Bible of men and women who sinned greatly against God but whom He still chose to use to further His kingdom.  Rahab (the Harlot) was one of these people and as John MacArthur points out, “Rahab is a beautiful example of the transforming power of faith. Although she had little knowledge of the truth, her heart was drawn to the God of Israel. She risked her life, abandoned her pagan culture, and brought her closest family members with her into the community of God’s people.”1

If you’ve been around church much at all, no doubt you’ve heard the name Rahab.  Her story is recounted in Joshua 2 and 6 and she is never again mentioned in the Old Testament.  Rahab was a harlot, or prostitute, in the city of Jericho.  Jericho was the location of the first battle of the Israelites as they prepared to take over Canaan (the land God promised to Abraham centuries prior in Genesis 15:7–16).  Thus her city was destined for destruction — and she and her family along with it.  However she was spared, and her life transformed, simply by tying a scarlet cord in her window.  This cord represented the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and it pointed toward the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  In fact, as I’ve mentioned both in articles and on the podcast, the entire Bible is about Jesus Christ and His blood redemption!  That includes both the Old and New Testaments, and you will find this scarlet thread throughout the Word of God.

So, the questions become, why did she tie the scarlet cord in her window and why did the Israelites choose to spare her life and incorporate her into the Jewish people?  This article will answer those questions and hopefully once again display to you the sovereign reign of our most high God and his providential plan for us all in order to glorify His holy name.


As I’ve mentioned, Rahab trusted Israel’s God (the God we know as the God of the Bible) and not only found personal deliverance when Jericho fell, but actually ended up marrying an Israelite and produced a son who… get this… was in the line of David and Jesus Christ!2  That’s right, not only was Rahab instrumental in the Israelites receiving the Promised Land, she actually became a contributor to the line of Jesus Christ who would come nearly 1400 years later.

When the Israelites, under the command of Joshua, crossed the Jordan River into Canaan (again, the Promised Land) they could not gain access to the heart of the country without first moving through Jericho, which was heavily protected.  These protections made Jericho impossible to overtake by just “storming” the city and Israel was simply not prepared for a long, drawn out siege because it would give the Canaanites time to unite their forces and overpower them.  So, Joshua decided to send two spies into the city to look it over and determine the best method of attack.

Unfortunately, the spies were somehow discovered and the city gates were closed and locked.  The city guard began going house-to-house to find and arrest the spies.  This is where our harlot turned heroine makes her appearance as Rahab chose to hide the spies in her house.  It should be noted that two kinds of prostitution are mentioned in the Old Testament. One type is ritual prostitution, in which sex acts are engaged in as an element in the worship of pagan fertility gods.  The other type of prostitution had commercial but no religious significance: it was simply the transfer of sexual favors for payment.  Archaeological discoveries have made it clear that commercial prostitution was common in drinking establishments and inns.  Some have even argued that in identifying Rahab as a harlot, the author of the biblical text is simply saying that she was an innkeeper.  The professions were so closely linked that to call one an innkeeper suggested that sex was one of the services ordinarily provided.

Whether Rahab was a prostitute when the spies entered Jericho is, however, quite irrelevant to the story. The frequent reference to her as a harlot reminds us that God offers His salvation to sinners, not simply to those whom society classifies as “good.”3

The fact that the spies found a place of refuge in the home of a prostitute was an unexpected twist in God’s providential design.  After all, why would a pagan woman choose to hide spies of the nation coming to destroy her city?  Well, Rahab actually gave the spies an explicit testimony of the faith that motivated her:

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua 2:8-11)

hidingSpiesJohn MacArthur points out that “Rahab’s faith was accompanied by fear and there is nothing wrong with that—’The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111:10). In Rahab’s case, fear motivated her faith.  She had heard powerful evidence of the Lord’s supremacy over Egypt.  She understood that it was the Lord’s might—not sheer military skill—that triumphed over fearsome Amorite kings across the river.  Hers was a healthy kind of fear.  It convinced her that Israel’s God was indeed the one true God.  The psalmist wrote, ‘Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness’ (Psalm 145:6).  That is precisely the kind of testimony that brought Rahab to faith.”4

What is really striking is that all the Canaanites apparently has this information about God but that Rahab was the only one who acted in this way.  You see, rather than resist Him, Rahab was determined to commit herself into His care; thus she bargained.  Rahab would protect the spies, but when Israel inevitably overtook Jericho, the Israelites promised to spare Rahab and her immediate family.  So, the spies swore an oath that they would deal kindly with her when they conquered Jericho (Joshua 2:14) and she made sure they escaped safely.  The one condition they gave her was that she was to tie a scarlet thread from the window where she let the spies down.  This marking would be visible to all of Israel and anyone in the house would be spared (Joshua 2:17-21).

The Hebrew word for “thread” in verse 18 is different from the word for “rope” in verse 15. This thread would have been a brightly colored band of woven material, used for decorative purposes. The color would make it easily visible from beneath the wall. Both its appearance and its function were reminiscent of the crimson sign of the blood sprinkled on the doorposts at the first Passover.

Many commentators believe the scarlet color is also a deliberate typological symbol for the blood of the true Passover Lamb. Perhaps it is. It certainly stands as a fitting symbol of Christ’s blood, which turns away the wrath of God.

From Rahab’s perspective, however, the significance of the scarlet thread was nothing arcane or mystical. It was a simple, expedient emblem suited to mark her window discreetly so that her house would be easily distinguishable from the rest of the houses in Jericho.5

So, God did display the power that the Canaanites had rightly feared and Jericho’s walls fell without any military means whatsoever (Joshua 6:20).  When they did, Rahab and her family were spared.  The text states, “So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her.  And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel.  And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.  But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” (Joshua 6:23-25)  This is the very last mention of Rahab in the Old Testament.  The next time we see Rahab again in the Bible is in the New Testament.

Rahab is mentioned three times in the New Testament; Matthew, Hebrews, and James.

joshuaSavesRahabFour women are mentioned in Matthew’s list of Christ’s ancestors. One was Tamar, who tricked Judah and became pregnant by her father-in-law.  The second is Rahab, who, as we just saw, in her life before becoming a member of the Old Testament community of faith was a pagan who probably engaged in commercial prostitution.  The third is Ruth, a Moabitess and not an Israelite at all. And the fourth is Bathsheba, whom David raped and later married. Put bluntly, few would be proud to have these four women emphasized in his or her own family line. Of the four, we might least impress our friends with a pagan woman of Canaan who openly engaged in the world’s oldest profession.  It would serve us well to remember that it is not a person’s past that defines them. Rather, people are defined by the choice they make when they become aware of who God is. It was Rahab’s choice rather than her past that defined her for all time to come.6

It was very unexpected that we might find Rahab’s name there in Matthew 1:5-6, “…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.”  This is where Rahab takes her place in the scarlet thread of redemption we spoke of earlier that runs throughout the Old Testament and leads to the Messiah.

It is highly unusual for women to be named in Hebrew genealogies at all.  Rahab’s inclusion show’s clearly how scandal was such a big part of the messianic line.  Hebrews 11 reviews the wonders faith has worked in human lives. Of Rahab that passage simply says, “by faith Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.”

The theme of scandal in Christ’s lineage was no accident.  MacArthur points out that, “In His incarnation, Christ willingly ’emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave’ (Philippians 2:7 HCSB). He became an outcast and a public disgrace, being made a curse on our behalf (Galatians 3:13).  He remains even now ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’ (1 Peter 2:8).  Furthermore, the gospel message is a public scandal—mere foolishness and shame as far as those who perish are concerned.  But to those who are saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).”

Finally, the book of James uses Rahab’s story as a definition of a living faith.  James 2 has actually troubled many people over the years because at first glance it seems to teach salvation by works rather than by faith alone.  This verse asks, “Was not Rahab … also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?”

In chapter two, James contrasted “faith” with “faith.” Often we use the word “faith” to mean no more than an agreement that certain things are true.  In the context, James points out that even demons have this kind of faith in God. They know that He exists they tremble in fear!

But Christian faith is far more than intellectual agreement or even intellectual certainty. At its root, saving faith involves a trust response to what is known. What James argued is that any person’s claim to have saving faith, and even God’s declaration that Abraham had faith, is justified—that is, shown to be true—by the response [works] that a true faith produces. Can we say with certainty that Rahab truly possessed the faith ascribed to her in Hebrews? Yes, without doubt. For Rahab “received the messengers and sent them out another way.” Her works did not save her. Her works demonstrated and thus justify the claim that Rahab truly was a woman of faith.7

God placed the prostitute Rahab in His plan to bring His Son into the world.  Rahab is extraordinary because she received extraordinary grace.

When you are in Christ, your past becomes the testimony by which you proclaim the glory of God.Landon Chapman
There’s no need to reinvent her past to try to make her seem less of a sinner.  The disturbing fact about what she once was simply magnifies the glory of divine grace, which is what made her the extraordinary woman she became. That, after all, is the whole lesson of her life.8

Rahab’s story is yet another proof that the Bible isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus Christ; the entire Bible.  However, with that in mind, we absolutely are to glean principles and lessons from these stories.  The life of Rahab should encourage you that no matter what you’ve done in your past, God is willing to forgive those sins and you may be made righteous in His sight by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  If you put your trust and faith in Him and repent and turn from your evil ways, Jesus’ blood will cover you and your Heavenly Father will accept you into His Kingdom and you will be made righteous in His eyes.

Have you put your faith and trust in Him?  Have you repented of your evil ways?  If not, what are you waiting for?  Please visit the “Are You Saved?” page and test yourself to the scriptures.  Your eternity depends on it.  If you have questions please feel free to email those to me.

[tweetable alt=””]When you are in Christ, your past becomes the testimony by which you proclaim the glory of God.[/tweetable]

Landon Chapman

Landon Chapman

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Founder of Entreating Favor, writer, and host of the Fire Away! podcast. He is an architect by vocation and professes the Bible to be the infallible, inerrant, Word of God. He and his wife Holly have two children.

Show 8 footnotes

  1. MacArthur, John. “The Scarlet Thread.” Grace to You. 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.
  2. Richards, S. P., & Richards, L. (1999). Every woman in the Bible (p. 79). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
  3. Richards, S. P., & Richards, L. (1999). Every woman in the Bible (p. 79). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
  4. MacArthur, John. “The Scarlet Thread.” Grace to You. 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.
  5. MacArthur, John. “The Scarlet Thread.” Grace to You. 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.
  6. Richards, S.P., & Richards, L. (1999). Every woman in the Bible (p.79). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
  7. Richards, S. P., & Richards, L. (1999). Every woman in the Bible (p. 80). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
  8. MacArthur, John. “The Scarlet Thread.” Grace to You. 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.