God’s program for the world and for history can be succinctly summarized this way: He intends an earthly, physical kingdom where His image-bearers from every people group and nation worship Him exclusively, love one another deeply, cultivate His world faithfully, and glorify Him unreservedly in all things. His intent has always been to have a kingdom on earth; the Fall did not ruin that. This kingdom was initiated through Israel, idealized in the reigns of David and Solomon, promised in the prophets, inaugurated through the church, and will come to fruition in the consummation of the millennial kingdom and the new earth. The whole point of Jesus’ kingdom parables in Matthew 13 is to explain that the eschatological kingdom promised in the OT would be established progressively, beginning in a previously-unrevealed dispensation known as the church age. This is important because it deals directly with the salvation promised to Gentiles in the OT.
God has always meant to have Gentiles among His people. Israel’s salvation and covenants were never meant for her alone but were to be shared with Gentiles, who were supposed to see the blessings and privilege afforded to those under the rule of the true God and be drawn to Him. Israel will not fulfill this role until the 144,000 witnesses are sealed during the Tribulation and Israel is restored as a nation prior to the Millennium. But the eschatological intent is very clear: Messiah will save Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1-6, 49:1-8). Because the dispensation and institution of the church was a mystery, the precise means of kingdom inauguration and Gentile salvation was not known. But that God would do it was abundantly clear for those who had eyes to see the OT.
The Pentateuch, then, deals with the establishment of Israel as God’s people and witness to the world. Joshua discusses God’s judgment of unsaved people polluting His land and keeping His promises to His chosen people. But, given the emphasis on wrath and retribution through military conquest, will God still prove Himself a saving God to Gentiles? Or does He hate them because they are not His chosen people? The Rahab pericope gives a beautiful answer to those questions.
A. A Saving Alliance (vv. 1-7)
The spies were entering Jericho as God’s representatives and on God’s mission, to scope out the city that they might find the best way to implement the capture of the land. It is likely Rahab was an innkeeper; inns of the era were often run by women, who would also offer prostitution services to the male patrons. The rabble of society that would gather here, and conspiracies were as common as the sun’s rising and setting. Indeed, this was so frequent that innkeepers served as a kind of informants to the government and would be executed if they did not turn conspirators in. The Jewish spies went here because it would be a good place to learn about the land and to pick up necessary intelligence, and Rahab’s duty to report their plot influences her plea for mercy later in the narrative.
Her willingness to align herself with the spies’ mission and thereby enable them to do what God required in the execution of His program is a massively significant choice. Surely Rahab knew why the men where there and what their plans would mean for Jericho and Canaan. But she still helped them. One could say she identified with them. She switched sides. She joined the opposing team. Her willingness to aid and ally with these men—even withholding the entirety of the truth so as to protect them—evidenced a comprehensive turning of her back on her past, her culture, and everything it stood for. She cast in her lot with God’s people and enabled their success to the detriment of her own wicked, ungodly society. Here we see the beginnings of a committed heart that will soon blossom into saving faith (v. 11).
B. A Saving Faith (vv. 8-14)
The biblical notion of faith is to receive a word from God and to believingly embrace it, evidenced by obedience. For those of us who are currently alive, the content of our faith is a closed, sufficient Biblical Canon—far more than Rahab or even the Jewish spies had. During the days when Biblical revelation was ongoing, people were responsible to believe whatever amount of revelation had been given up to that point, including what was given through divinely-commissioned prophets.
We do not know exactly how Rahab received the knowledge she expresses in these verses. Moses’ hymn after the Exodus indicates that news about Yahweh’s display of power and judgment in that event had spread quickly by word of mouth (Ex. 15:14-18). What is interesting is Rahab has seen these men are emissaries of the True God and has embraced what little she does know about Him. Her fear of the power and might of this God (vv. 9, 11) has not deterred her from embracing Him. Clearly, she sees He is the Supreme One and it is in her best interests to align herself with Him. This explains her aiding the spies; she knows they are on God’s side and she wants His protection and deliverance from the wrath that is coming. So she makes a deal with the spies: She will not expose them to the Canaanites (implied, v. 14) if they protect her from the coming destruction. This is in many ways an expression of helpless faith, mirroring her fledgling trust in the true God. If God’s people do not come through for her, she and everyone she loves is dead!
C. A Saving Covering (vv. 15-21)
There are interesting—and I think intentional—parallels to the Passover in this section. In both cases someone is coming to render judgment on God’s enemies; in both cases arrangements are mercifully made for certain people to escape those judgments; even a similarly-colored marker is posted in a visible spot so that when the destroyer(s) see it they will know to “pass over” the people in that home.
The cord is more than just a covering; it is an indicator that those under it are set apart for God’s purposes. They are His possession and useful to Him. We mustn’t read too much into the symbolism, of course—it is debatable how much Rahab knew of God’s claims on her, much less what her friends and family packed into her home did (it is altogether possible they were more entrenched into Canaanite idolatry than she). Still, it is most interesting to note from a completed-Canon, whole-Bible perspective what the scarlet cord meant—a covenant into which God entered with Rahab and her loved ones, promising to protect and do good to them, and in response they would be His possession and exist to serve, glorify and obey Him.
D. A Saved Future (vv. 22-24)
For the real end to the story we must turn to 6:23-25. The spies have returned to Joshua thanks to Rahab’s aid, and they tell him of the projected success of the conquest (2:23-24). During the conquest of Jericho and the slaughter of the inhabitants to cleanse and set apart the land for God’s purposes, Joshua commands the two spies to go back to Rahab and rescue her family and her possessions. They took her, all of her relatives, and all she had outside of Jericho, even outside the camp of Israel (I take this both as a protective measure, as it would have been the furthest distance from the destruction, and as a temporary ceremonial separation, as they would have still been unclean pagans). Rahab, and presumably her family, were welcomed into the nation of Israel (this implies all of them became Jewish proselytes, though we know only Rahab certainly was saved) and lived there at least until the book of Joshua was written in the late 1400s B.C.
Most interestingly, a former prostitute and pagan married a godly Jewish man, Salmon (Matt. 1:5), and was Boaz’s mother (or at least an ancestor)—Ruth’s husband and King David’s grandfather (Ruth 4:21-22). The implications and applications of this narrative are many. First is that God can use anybody to accomplish His purposes and further His program—and that our past need not limit an omnipotent and sovereign God into what service He might call us to in the future. Second, the blessing that comes from obedience. Rahab was undoubtedly a true convert, and her faith, though small at first, clearly bore good fruit (James 2:25). And God mercifully blessed this woman—in this life, not merely in heaven—beyond her wildest imagining: Her whole family and even everything she owned was spared. Her house, which was on the wall of Jericho, would have been the only part of the wall still standing—and unmistakable display of the omnipotence of God directed towards her personally. She was welcomed into the nation of Israel, where she was a recipient of covenant blessing and the fullness of God’s revelation. She was even given the gift of redeemed sexuality through godly marriage and the gift of motherhood—in the Messiah’s line, no less! God is undoubtedly a lavish Savior—and that same Savior is ours too!
But certainly the loveliest part of the story—second only to her being an ancestor of Messiah—is the picture she paints of God’s mercy to church-age Christians. Just as Rahab was welcomed into the midst of Israel, on equal footing with them, so church saints—though members of an institution organizationally and functionally distinct from national Israel—are by God’s mercy welcomed into a standing of complete equality with God’s Jewish covenant people (Eph. 2:11-22). We even share in their covenants and embrace the same kingdom hope. Rahab is a foreshadowing of what God would do with Gentiles in the mystery age between Christ’s two advents. He has called us, too, out from our ungodly pasts and has set us apart to be His instruments in the advancement of His rule and program. He has lavished us with much blessing in this life as we obey Him, not merely waiting for Heaven. And He has made us the very bride of His beloved Son, enjoying Christ in the most intimate of relationships. O may we ever spend ourselves for the glory of this God, who has shown the utmost mercy to repentant whores!
N.B.: Once again I remain indebted to Dr. Kyle Dunham for his background information about the “innkeeper culture” of Rahab’s day.