Old Testament women who appear in the New Testament - Rahab
Michael Buckbridge, Grantham, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Bible does not gloss over the faults of those of whom it speaks. Two out of the three times Rahab is mentioned in the New Testament, it is with the addition of ‘harlot’, Heb. 11. 31; Jas. 2. 25. This follows the pattern of the Old Testament, Josh. 2. 1; 6. 17, 25, and sets the dark background upon which the jewels of God’s grace and her faith stand out all the more brightly.
God’s response to Rahab’s faith – ‘By faith the harlot Rahab perished not’, Heb. 11. 31
When, in every other example of the faithful, it is the triumph of their faith that is highlighted, and all other failings are passed over, it seems harsh that for Rahab the manner of her previous life is mentioned. But does this not contribute to the force of the argument? In a wicked city, here was a sinful woman, and yet God’s grace was such that, in response to her faith, she ‘perished not’. Like Paul, Rahab stands out as a beacon to God’s longsuffering, ‘for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting’, 1 Tim. 1. 16.
Faith is therefore defined as the key point of distinction between those who perish and those who do not. The action of receiving ‘the spies with peace’ stemmed from a faith that is shown in her remarkable verbal testimony in Joshua chapter 2 verses 9 to 13. It was a faith that:
- Had come by hearing, v. 10; cp. Rom. 10. 17.
- Was rooted in the evidence of history, v. 10; cp. 1 Cor. 15. 1-11.
- Had an appreciation of the person, power and purpose of God, vv. 9, 11; cp. 1 Cor. 2. 1-5.
- Laid hold on things not yet seen, v. 10a; cp. Heb. 11. 1.
- Was prepared to ask big things, vv. 12, 13; cp. Eph. 3. 20.
Hebrews chapter 11 verse 30 reminds us of the destruction of the walls of Jericho, and Joshua chapter 6 verse 21 tells us that the people were also ‘utterly destroyed’. The scriptures make it clear that Rahab not perishing ‘with them that believed not’ was no accident. Her complete security, even before the battle, is seen in Joshua’s account. In his speech to the people at the start of the day of victory, he says, ‘only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house’, 6. 17. Responding to the promise of God through the spies, she binds the cord in the window. God’s promises, received by faith, are utterly secure, Rom. 4. 16, and despite her house being in the very wall that was destroyed, Rahab, her family, and all that she had, were saved, Josh. 6. 25.
Rahab’s response to God, ‘Rahab the harlot justified by works’, Jas. 2. 25
Faith that results in justification will prove itself by works. Therefore, we have the twin truths of Romans, which speaks of faith as the means of receiving justification, e.g., 4. 2-5, and James, who writes of the importance of demonstrating the reality of that faith by our works, e.g., 2. 21-24. This is the distinction between mere profession, Jas. 2. 14, ‘though a man say he hath faith’, and the practise of it, vv. 15-17.
James was writing ‘to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad’, 1. 1. His readers would therefore have been happy with the illustration from the life of Abraham, 2. 21-24, but it would have been a jolt to have seen the argument continue with, ‘Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works’, v. 25. Was James following the example of his Lord in stirring up the Jews by highlighting that they did not have exclusive rights to God’s blessing, Luke 4. 25-27? Here, he brings her as a second witness to this important truth ‘that faith without works is dead’, v. 20.
Rahab and the inhabitants of Jericho illustrate the distinction that is made in verse 19. It was undeniable that there had been some higher power at work to enable the Israelites to win such victories as they had won. As in the case of the demons in James chapter 2 verse 19, however, it had only caused ‘terror’, Josh. 2. 9: resulting in, ‘the inhabitants of the land [to] faint’, v. 9 and, their hearts to ‘melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man’, v. 11. There was no desire to come to trust in such a God and thus there were no works fitting to those that had faith.
What a contrast with faith-filled Rahab. She ‘received the messengers’, Jas. 2. 25. This was not just doing them no harm, but an active hospitality was shown to them. She ‘lodged’ them, Josh. 2. 1; ‘hid them’, vv. 4, 6; protected them by leading the investigating soldiers the wrong way, vv. 4-7; helped them to escape the city, v. 15, and gave advice as to how best to escape detection on the way back to camp, v. 16. Faith in God will change our natural allegiances and, for her, this was now with the God of Israel, evidenced by the care she had for His people and her willingness to risk the wrath of the king of Jericho. James reminds us that ‘friendship of the world is enmity with God’, 4. 4; John says that ‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him’, 1 John 2. 15, and Paul teaches that we should, ‘come out from among them, and be ye separate’, 2 Cor. 6. 17. If our lives were examined, where would our allegiance be found? What would this tell us, and others, about the reality of our faith?
This change of allegiance was not just demonstrated in her willingness to help the spies. To an extent, this could have been done privately, but then the challenge came as to whether she was willing to publicly declare where her faith was and whose side she was on. ‘Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee’, Josh. 2. 18. She was not left any choice of keeping her faith private. If she wanted to be saved, it would have to be declared in the cord, and if she wanted her family rescued she would have to talk to them sufficiently to persuade them to come and stay at her house. Both tests were passed with flying colours as immediately ‘she bound the scarlet line in the window’, v. 21, and by the time the city was defeated, she was not only saved but, ‘her father’s household, and all that she had’, 6. 25. That our faith will be declared publicly is expected, e.g., ‘with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’, Rom. 10. 10; ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them’, Matt. 28. 19; ‘Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together’, Heb. 10. 25. Would our faith be known by our works?
The grace of God, ‘Rahab’, Matt. 1. 5 NKJV
The last we read of Rahab in the Old Testament is that she ‘dwelleth in Israel even unto this day’, Josh. 6. 25. God’s grace had done much, but it was going to do so much more, including marriage into the nation and ultimately becoming part of the lineage of the Lord. What a reminder of God’s heart towards us, for He did not simply bring us to where we ‘perished not with them that believed not’, but to ‘have everlasting life’, John 3. 16. More than that, He, ‘gave
. . . power to become the sons [children] of God’, John 1. 12, and ‘the adoption of sons’, Gal. 4. 5. Such is the grace of God in our lives that we are so linked with the family of Christ, that He is ‘not ashamed to call [us] brethren’, Heb. 2. 11.
How beautiful that, in this family tree, the fact of her past life is no longer mentioned; she is simply ‘Rahab’. To be linked with Christ in His family, is to bring about such a change that Paul could say to the Corinthians, ‘And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God’, 1 Cor. 6. 11, and then in his second Epistle, ‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’, 5. 17. What a joy to know that none can bring anything, ‘to the charge of God’s elect’, Rom. 8. 33.
We have no direct record of the kind of woman Rahab became, but it is interesting that throughout the history of Israel, mothers were often mentioned along with God’s declaration of the spiritual condition of kings. 1 As we are told the name of her son in this genealogy, Boaz, would it be wrong to attribute something of his godliness to the influence of his mother and thereby understand something of the change that occurred in her character?
In contrast to her people, Rahab was willing in simple faith to, ‘humble [herself] . . . under the mighty hand of God’, 1 Pet. 5. 6. God has truly exalted her to be an example of God’s grace, and one who proved her faith by her actions. May she be an example we are stirred up to follow.
1 E.g., 1 Kgs. 15. 2, 3; 2 Kgs. 14. 2, 3; 15. 2, 3.