NOT TOO LATE
RAHAB THE HARLOT
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
January 13, 2019
Text: Joshua 2
How many of you like to do genealogy? While I have never done any work on my genealogy, I am fascinated by stories I have heard growing up, about different people in my family tree. For example, on my mother’s side, I am the 3rd cousin of that famous baseball player Babe Ruth! And on my father’s side of the family, my Great-Grandfather wanted to escape the Kaiser in Germany, so he stowed-away on a boat leaving for the United States, back around 1890 or so. I got to thinking, in a way, he was like an illegal immigrant. But when he arrived in America, he changed his last name and became a citizen of the United States.
When Greg and I moved to Illinois, we discovered that Greg has a 2nd cousin who does a lot of work on genealogy – and she has discovered a few interesting tidbits on the Fitch family tree. One of Greg’s relatives came over on the Mayflower and that was William Bradford! And another one of his relatives was actually among the witches of the Salem Witch trials, back in 1693.
I am guessing, if we had the time, all of us could share all sorts of stories of people in our family trees.
But for now, I want you to imagine that you are looking over your family tree and you run across the description of one of your female ancestors. And it reads like this: “She was a prostitute – a streetwalker. She was known to hide enemies of the government in her house. And when she was confronted by the authorities, she lied about it.” What would you do about her? Would you brag about her or would you try to hide that sordid part of your family history away from anyone inquiring? I must admit, I think I would be tempted to not mention her when talking about my family tree.
Well, as we come to our spiritual family tree, there is one such woman who is known as Rahab. And her story is found in our Scripture reading for today in Joshua 2. I invite you to get your Bibles out and turn to Joshua, somewhat near the beginning of the Old Testament. And while you are looking for that, let me give you some background on Rahab. The beginning of Rahab’s name – “Ra” – is the name of a false Egyptian god that represents the sun. Rahab was raised in a pagan, Canaanite environment, that did not know the true God of Israel. And she lived in the red-light district of Jericho. Her home was in the city wall, perhaps near the city gates. Some have suggested that her home was an inn, where travelers coming into the city could find lodging. But we know by Rahab’s title, that she operated the inn as a brothel. Rahab really had nothing going for her. She lived on the edge of society – and made a living selling her body. We could say her life was a mess. But it is not too late for her. God takes the mess in her life and makes it a great message and testimony!
As we begin our story, we find that the Israelites have come to the eastern side of the Jordan River and are poised to cross over the river and walk into the Promised Land. Remember, the Israelites had escaped Egypt through the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. But because they didn’t trust in the power and providence of God, they were condemned to have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years after that.
Now, as we come to Joshua 2, there is a new generation of Israelites who are ready to enter Canaan. But they needed to know about the lay of the land and this city they are about to overthrow. Look at Joshua 2:1 and follow along with me:
2 Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove.[a] He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So, the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night. 2 But someone told the king of Jericho, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: “Bring out the men who have come into your house, for they have come here to spy out the whole land.”
4 Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. 5 They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” 6 (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.) 7 So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut.
Now why would Rahab care about these 2 spies who were obviously enemies of her own government? And why would she lie to the king’s men and protect the spies? Well, I think Rahab made the radical decision to go against her culture and help the spies because she believed in the true God of Israel. Let’s continue reading, at verse 8.
8 Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. 9 “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. 10 For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. 11 No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.
For 40 years, the people of Jericho had heard about the people of Israel. Most of the people living in Jericho were fearful hearing these stories. But Rahab was different. She had heard all the marvelous stories about what God had done – and she believed! And she was even willing to risk her life in order to protect the lives of the spies – because of her belief in God.
She knew somehow that God was going to take the land of Jericho…so she asked the spies to protect her and her family. Verse 12 says:
12 “Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that 13 when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.”
Rahab knows Jericho is about to be destroyed and she wants to be delivered. And what is interesting is her choice of words, “Will you be kind to me?” In the Hebrew, the word “kind” is the word “Hesed.” Hesed is a one of the most common words to describes our relationship with God. It means: “loyal love” and refers to God’s covenant covering. Rahab is asking to be covered by God’s love – protected by His grace and lovingkindness. The spies promise to protect her. They make a plan for Rahab to hang a scarlet rope from her window as a sign to the Israelites when they invaded the city of Jericho. When they saw the scarlet rope, they would pass over that part of the wall and not destroy it. And she and her family would be safe.
So, Rahab let the spies out through the window of her home, on that same scarlet rope and then she kept the rope there as a sign. The spies were able to escape back to the camp of the Israelites. Eventually, the Israelites come to attack Jericho. The battle is described in Joshua 6. You might remember the story. They follow the instructions of God, and march around the city 7 times without speaking. It was a silent army waiting on the Lord. On the last day of the battle, Joshua told all the people who had encircled Jericho, to shout – and suddenly all the walls of Jericho collapsed. The Israelites charged right into the town and captured it. And they completely destroyed everything in the town with their swords. And right in the heat of the battle, notice what Joshua does, in Joshua 6:22: “Meanwhile, Joshua said to the two spies, ‘Keep your promise. Go to the prostitute’s house and bring her out, along with all her family. The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers and all the other relatives who were with her. They moved her whole family to a safe place near the camp of Israel.
The Israelites saw the scarlet rope in her window and Rahab’s house was passed over. Protected. Delivered. She and everyone that was in the house with her were saved from death because of the sign of the scarlet rope.
Does that sound familiar? That scarlet rope – the color of blood – worked for Rahab much like the blood that was put on the door frames during the Exodus from Egypt. Every home marked with the blood of the Passover lamb would be covered and protected when the angel of death passed over their home. And they both point to the red blood of Jesus - that scarlet cord that flows from Calvary and covers us and still saves us today.
The sins of Rahab the Harlot’s were deep scarlet. She didn’t have a godly husband; she didn’t have a religious background; all she had was a shameful past – but it was not too late for her! As she put her faith and trust in the living God - she was covered with His grace and God used her to help Israelites enter the Promised Land.
And that is the good news for us! God’s grace is bigger than all our mistakes – all our failures – our soiled reputation. Tony Evans says: “No matter how dirty or degrading your past may be, it doesn’t have to determine your future.”1 As we put our trust and faith in God – God can cover us and protect us, even when everything is falling down around us – like the walls of Jericho. We can trust in His blood, shed for us at Calvary, to cover us and to give us strength from day to day.
You know, Rahab’s story does not end there in the book of Joshua. Rahab is mentioned 3 times in the New Testament. Turn over to Hebrews 11, that chapter that is called the hall of fame for the great heroes of faith. The chapter begins by talking about righteous people like Noah and Abraham and Moses. People who, through their faith, earned a good reputation. And then you get down to verse 31 and it says: “It was by faith Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Notice her previous occupation is still connected to her name. When Moses is mentioned, it doesn’t say “Moses the murderer” or “Abraham the liar”. But Rahab is still known as “the prostitute”. And then, look at the next verse. This is so amazing: “it would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barack, Sampson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets.” Isn’t that amazing – the writer didn’t have time to talk about David, the greatest king of Israel, that he did have time to tell about a prostitute named Rahab! I think God wanted us to know that He can do incredible things through even the worst of sinners. I think God is also saying that he doesn’t look at how important or significant you are, He looks at your faith. Regardless of what our past is, our circumstances or problems are – it’s not too late! God can use us to do great things, like Rahab!
Rahab’s faith was also lifted up in James 2:25. In this passage James is showing how important it is to show your faith by your actions. Verse 25 says “Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely way by a different road.” Rahab didn’t just talk about her faith, she acted it out by helping the spies escape. So, God declared her righteous because of what she did with her faith!
But really, the best part of Rahab’s story is her family tree! We learn in Joshua 6:25, that after the walls came down in Jericho, Rahab went to live among the Israelites. Along the way, she runs into a man named Salmon. Now some believe that Salmon was one of the spies that first met Rahab. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that. But what we do know of Salmon is found in I Chronicles 2:51. There we read that Salmon was the founder of the town of Bethlehem. He was the city father – the city leader who gave birth to the town.
And then as we go over to Matthew 1, we find there is a family tree is recorded. Now this is a chapter a lot of us just kind of skip over. There’s just a bunch of names listed there. But if we are careful to read it, we can find some interesting information – like verse 5 that tells us that Salmon marries Rahab. They gave birth to Boaz and then Boaz and Ruth gave birth to Obed … and Obed was the father of Jesse … and Jesse was the father of David – the famous King David! And from the lineage of David comes – Jesus Christ! Can you believe it? Jesus has a prostitute in his family tree! And He didn’t hide her or leave her out because of her background and her sordid past. Why? Because her situation changed. Her life was turned around.
And Pastor Tony Evans says, “If God can recognize somebody with Rahab’s background and still make her useful, He can still turn you around and make you useful for the kingdom of God and for the advancement of what God is doing in history.”2 It’s not too late!
Pastor Steven Furtick of the Elevation Church shared about a conversation he had with his young son. He said, “I hear people say all the time that “when I get to heaven, I want to see Jesus”. But have you ever thought about how long the line is going to be? (They had just been to Disneyland, so he had that on his mind) The son went on to say: “I wonder if you could get someone to hold your place in line to see Jesus and then go around to see some of the other characters in the Bible.”3
So, Steven thought about it and wondered – you know, there might be some people you could see that wouldn’t have a long waiting line – maybe someone like Jonah or maybe Bartholomew. The Apostle Paul or the Apostle John would probably have a longer wait time.
Well, Jewish legend says that Rahab was one of the 4 most beautiful women that ever lived. Maybe you would want to go see Rahab. So, you go over to the front desk and you say…can I see, Rahab the Prostitute? Sounds kind of bad doesn’t it? He shouts – “Rahab the Prostitute?” Well, we have a Rahab, but she doesn’t have the name prostitute. You see we don’t call people up here what they were…we don’t call people by what they did or what they were labeled. Up here she doesn’t go by that name. You see you need to call her by her new name, “Rahab the Righteous”. You see the blood of Jesus covered her past.
Thank God Almighty that the blood of Jesus covers my past. I’m not who I was – I don’t have the old reputation. “I’ve got a new name. A new reputation. I am the child of God. God is doing a new thing in my life.” And He can do the same in your life. It’s not too late!
So, when you are tempted to think it’s too late or when that condemnation starts to run in your mind – and you think of all the reasons God can’t use you, remember Rahab who had nothing to offer except faith.
1Pastor Tony Evans, “It’s Not Too Late. Video Two.” https://my.lifeway.com/media-content/rentals
3Pastor Steven Furtick, “Reputation Rehab”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8msxTG908w