God Uses a Prostitute

Joshua 2

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2019

We are studying the Book of Joshua.  Today, we will be studying one of the most amazing stories in the whole Bible.  We will look at one of the most famous women in the Bible.  The first chapter of the book is about a man.  The second chapter is about a woman.

Joshua 1 is all about Joshua and God preparing him for leadership.  Joshua 2 is all about Rahab.  She is the main character.  The spies are not even named.  They are anonymous.

Rahab is the only woman in the Book of Joshua who has a whole chapter devoted to her.  There are four other women who are mentioned in the book but none of them has a chapter devoted to them.  In fact, they only have one verse (Joshua 17:3).  Rahab gets a whole chapter.

Joshua 2 is a story all about a prostitute, a Canaanite prostitute.  The Bible does not encourage prostitution.  It prohibits it (Leviticus 19:29; Deuteronomy 23:18) but Rahab is the hero of this story.  She saved the life of the two Jewish spies.  They would have been killed if it were not for Rahab

Rahab also happens to be one of the greatest women of faith in the Bible.  She gives one of the most incredible displays of faith in the Bible and she is not even Jewish or moral.  She is praised by two religions: Christianity and Judaism.  The NT mentions her three times (Matthew 1; James 2; Hebrews 11) and all in a favorable light.  She is honored in each passage.

She is included in the list of some of the greatest men and women of faith in the Bible.  We have a Hall of Fame on earth.  There is one in Canton, Ohio and one in Cooperstown, New York.  There is also one in the Bible.  God has a Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 and Rahab is on the list.  She is mentioned right next to Abraham and Moses and Noah.  Not everyone got on that list.  Joshua is not even on the list.  Only sixteen people are mentioned by name and Rahab is one of them.

Rahab does something in this chapter that is unexpected.  She does something that is radical.  She does something that is bold.  She does something that is courageous.  She is compassionate.  He asks the spies to save her family, not just herself.  She thinks of others and she has incredible faith.  She was a Gentile, but she had greater faith than many Jews of her day.  She had greater faith than many have today.

What takes place in this chapter?  A basic summary of the chapter is as follows: Joshua sends two spies on a mission.  They in Jericho.  They stay at Rahab’s house.  The king finds out about them and asks for them.  She hides the spies, lies the king and send him in the wrong direction.  She helps the spies escape, gives them some advice but also makes a deal with them before they leave.  The spies return safely to the other side of the river and give Joshua what is called by the military today a debriefing report.

What does this story say to us today?  What lessons can we learn from it?   How are we to be like Rahab?  How are we to imitate her?  How is she a model for us today?  How should we to imitate the prostitute?  Today, we want to look at five things this story tells us today.

Five Powerful Lessons

1. The story of Rahab tells us that God can use absolutely anybody

The chapter begins with an undercover spy operation (Joshua 2:1).  Joshua was a good military leader.  Before he does an invasion, he needs some intelligence, so he sends two spies into Jericho.  It is a CIA operation.  Spies are sent secretly.  It was a top-secret mission.  No one knows about it, not even the Israelites.  If you know Jewish history, this had happened before.  History is repeating itself.

Moses sent some spies out and now Joshua is sending some spies.  Moses sent TWELVE SPIES and Joshua was one of them.  They were gone for forty days and came back with a report to the whole nation (Numbers 13).  Now Joshua sends out TWO SPIES (Joshua 2). They are only gone for three days and come back with a report, but they give their report only to Joshua.  It is highly classified.

We do not know much about these spies but we do know that they were young men (Joshua 6:23). They were also godly.  Joshua sends two of his best men on this mission.  What do the two men do?  They cross the Jordan River (which at this time was at flood stage).

Once they crossed it, these two young men headed into the red-light district of the city and spend the night with the local prostitute.  We might start to wonder about these two young men.

Why did they go there?  What are they doing in a brothel? God sent them.  How is that possible?  Why would God do that? What about verses that say avoid the appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:2 KJV)?  What about verses that say do not go near the house of a prostitute (Proverbs 5:8).  They did not avoid the door of the prostitute’s house.  They spent the night there.

Why would they go there?  Why would God send them there?  You need to keep several things in mind.  Neither of those verses had been written yet.  They really did not have any other option. There was no Holiday Inn at Jericho for the spies to lodge in.  There was no Motel 6.  Rahab took everybody.  She was used to taking in strangers.  It would be easy for them to blend in.

God sent them to the one person in the city who had faith in the true God.  They happened to go to the one woman who would not turn them in.  They went to the one woman who would protect them.  Her house happened to be on the wall of the city (Joshua 2:15). That gave an easy entrance and an easy exit for the spies.  Her house had a strategic location in the city.

Who did God use to protect the spies?  Who did God use to give the spies the intelligence information they needed?   The spies did not talk to a hundred people to get that information.  They only talked to one person in the city and she was a prostitute.

God could have use anyone to do this, but he used a PROSTITUTE.  He used a GENTILE PROSTITUTE.  She wasn’t even Jewish.  She was a Canaanite.  He used a FOREIGN PROSTITUTE.  She was an outsider.  He used a LYING PROSTITUTE.

Rahab was not only a prostitute; she was a liar.  She was a good liar.  She told, not one, not two but three lies in this chapter (Joshua 2:4-5).  God used this lying prostitute to be King David’s great grandmother.  How would you like to have a prostitute for your great grandmother?

She was in the line of King David, Israel’s greatest king.  God also used her to be the ancestor of Christ.  Jesus had not one but two prostitutes in his ancestry (Rahab and Tamar).  In Joshua 2, God used a prostitute to accomplish His purposes.

If God could use Rahab to do this, He can use anybody.  If God can use Rahab, He can use us.  God can use people who are not perfect.  He can use people whose lives are messed up.  He can use people who have a past or who have had a bad reputation.  Anytime you think that God cannot use people who messed up, look at Rahab.

2. The story of Rahab tells us that God can save absolutely anybody

Rahab was an immoral woman.  She is a picture in the Bible of sin.  If Paul is the chief of sinners in the NT, Rahab is the chief of sinners in the OT. In both the OT and in the NT, she is called “Rahab the Harlot.”  She is called “Rahab the Harlot” twice in the OT (Joshua 6:17, 25).  She is called “Rahab the Harlot” twice in the NT (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).

That is a little embarrassing.  How would you like to always be known or identified by your sin?  Rahab was a woman with a past.  The Bible does not hide her past and Rahab never forgot her past, but she was also a woman who did not let her past control her future.  She did not let her past stop her from doing and achieving great things.  She did not let her past stop her from being used significantly by God.  She went from harlot to hero in the Bible.

Not everyone believes Rahab was a harlot.  The first century Jewish historian Josephus calling her just an innkeeper,[1] as did some Rabbinic sources (Jonathon Targum).  According to this view, she was not a harlot but a hotel owner.  Some modern Bible translations have followed this tradition (TLB).

A prostitute sounds too scandalous, too embarrassing, so some people try to clean it up and change what the text says.  That is what cults do with the Bible.  If they don’t like what the Bible says, they just re-write it.  They re-translate it. That sounds a little better.  It makes Rahab a little more respectable. People do not want to come to church and hear a story about a seductive prostitute.

There’s only one problem.  The Hebrew word (zonah) means prostitute.  In fact, if the word meant innkeeper, it would make nonsense of the text.  Genesis 34:31 would read, “Shall we deal with our sister as an innkeeper” (instead of as a harlot).  Genesis 38:15 would read, “When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an innkeeper (rather than a harlot) because she had covered her face.”  Proverbs 6:26 would read, “by means of an innkeeper a man is brought to a piece of bread.”

It almost becomes laughable.  Leviticus 21:14 would prohibit OT priests from marrying innkeepers, rather than prostitutes.  The Hebrew word means prostitute and the Greek ἡ πόρνη also means “female prostitute.”  It refers to sexual sin.  We get our word pornography from the Greek word.

We have to accept the fact that Rahab was a prostitute.  She was perhaps the most famous prostitute in history.  She was a sex worker.  She sold her body for money.  She slept with thousands of people.  She had a house of ill-repute.

She was not a temple prostitute.  She was a commercial prostitute.  She had a business.  It was a popular business.  Everyone knew about it.  She had a reputation for sin.  She was the most famous prostitute in town.  She is a picture, not of respectable sin but of shameful sin but Rahab gets saved.  We will see Rahab in heaven.

Joshua 2 is about the harlot who went to heaven.  If Rahab can get saved, anybody can get saved.  If Rahab can get saved, we can get saved.  There is hope for us.  God can forgive the worst sexual sins.  Rahab was the scarlet lady with the scarlet letter but the Bible teachers, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

That does not mean that all people ARE saved.  Paul said, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will NOT inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived. The sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10).  They will not be there.  God’s wrath will fall on them.  The sexually immoral includes harlots.

In fact, Paul uses the same Greek word for the sexually immoral that he uses for harlots.  It is the same word (πόρνοι) in the plural masculine form. John says that “No murderer has eternal life abiding in them” (I John 3:15).  They are not saved but they can be saved.  Murderers can get saved.  No sins are too bad.  God can save anyone.  In fact, Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10).

3. The story of Rahab tells us that God saves people only by grace

Some do not think there was any grace in the OT, but Rahab was saved by grace.  God did not save this woman in Jericho because she was a good person.  She was a harlot.  She was a Canaanite.  She was not supposed to be saved.  She was supposed to be killed.  God did not give her what she deserved.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy. (Deuteronomy 7:1-3 NIV)

Everyone in Jericho was supposed to be killed: every man, every woman, every child, every animal.  The city was cursed by God and targeted for destruction.  Rahab was under judgment.  The whole city was under judgment, but she is spared.

Only one house in the city was safe.  Only building in the wall was spared.  Only one family was spared.  It was the family of Rahab.  They were saved by grace.  None of them deserved to be saved but God saved them.  Rahab and her family become the sole survivors of Jericho.

It would be like if one person was saved from the flood in Noah’s day which killed everyone.  It would be like one family being spared from the flood.  What is interesting is that God did not save the best one in the nation.  He could have saved the most moral and respectable person in the country.  Instead, he saved the most immoral person in the country.  He saved the lowest of the low (a Canaanite prostitute).

Why did God choose to save Rahab out of all of the other Canaanites? Why are we saved?  Why are our eyes opened to the truth and other peoples are not?  It was sheer grace.  We are just like Rahab.  Everyone of us who are saved are just like her. None of us deserve to be saved.  We are not special.

4. The story of Rahab tells us that God saves people through faith

Rahab was saved by faith.  That is how we are saved today.  Rahab gives an amazing confession of faith to these two spies.

“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. 10 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. 11 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 2:9-11 ESV)

Rahab knows who the true God is.  She says, “the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”  She does not say that he might be God in the heavens above and on the earth below.  She says that He IS God.

She knows who the one true God is and knows that He rules everywhere.  She knows that He is the God of heaven and earth. Pagan deities were limited to certain areas. Rahab knew about the PERSON OF GOD.  She calls God by His name (Yahweh).

She knew about the POWER OF GOD.  They did not just cross the Red Sea in their own power.  God supernaturally dried it up. She knew that this god was incredibly powerful

She also knew about the PROGRAM OF GOD.  She says, “I know that the Lord has given you this land.”  She does NOT say “I think He has given you this land” or “I believe He has given you this land” but “I KNOW that her has given you this land.”  She was certain about it.  Rahab does not just believe in God.  She has a fear of God.  She has fear, as well as faith.

That brings us to an interesting question.  If she had faith, where did it come from?  Rahab was not surrounded by believers.  She did not live in a Christian country.  She lived in a pagan country.  She was not reared in a Christian home.  Her parents where not believers.  They were idol worshipers.

Rahab did not grow up in church.  She never went to church.  She never heard a Christian sermon.  She never heard a preacher.  She had never read a Bible and yet she had faith.  The two spies did NOT have to witness to her.  She was ALREADY a believer in Yahweh.

Where did she get her faith?  Her faith was based on evidence.  She was convinced by the evidence.  Here we learn something about faith.  Faith is NOT blind.  It is NOT a blind leap in the dark.  Some preachers say that faith is believing something WITHOUT reasons or evidence.  Biblical faith is rooted in historical events.  Rahab had evidence.

What was her evidence?  Apparently, Rahab kept track of what was going on in the world.  Not everyone does that today.  She kept track of current events and recent history.  Apparently, Rahab was a news junkie.  She also kept track of what God was doing in the world.

Where did she get her information?  She did not have FOX news or the Internet.  She learned by word of mouth.  She learned from her customers.  She always ran into people from different places and they would say things to her.  She had all kinds of connections.  Powerful people visited her.

They said to her, “Did you hear about the Hebrew slaves all escaping from Egypt after four hundred years?  Did you hear how the Red Sea was split in half and the Jews walked across it on dry ground?  Did you hear how Egyptian armies were killed in the Red Sea?”  Egypt had the most powerful army on the face of the earth at that time.  “Did you hear how Israel defeated the kings Og?  Did you hear how the Israelites defeated the King Sihon?”

The Red Sea miracle took place forty years earlier but she remembered it.  The other events happened more recently and they made a big impact on Rahab.  It made her open to the God of Israel and open to the spies.

If she knew that God had given them the land, then she also knew that their doom was certain.  Judgment was imminent.  The clock was ticking.  There were two million people on the border across the river.  You cannot hide two million people.  It was only a matter of time before they entered the city of Jericho.

Rahab didn’t know much.  She didn’t have a lot of revelation, but she responded to the revelation she was given.  She did not just hear these reports; she believed them.  Apparently, she was the only one in the city who believed in the God of Israel.  The irony is that Rahab was a Gentile.  She was a Canaanite and yet she had more faith than some of the Jews.  She had way less light and less revelation and yet had far more faith.

Rahab just HEARD what God did and had FAITH.  She heard about some of the supernatural miracles and believed.   Some of the Jews saw with their own eyes what God did right in front of them and had didn’t believe, just like many Jews saw the miracles of Christ and did not believe.  Some saw God dry up the Red Sea and kill the Egyptians.  They heard the audible voice of God on Mount Sinai.  They witnessed the Ten Plagues and many of them wanted to go back to Egypt.

5. The story of Rahab tells us that true faith translates into actions

Saving faith changes your life.  Rahab’s life was radically transformed.  She changed her NATIONALITY.  She became an Israelite.  She changed her RELIGION.  She began worshipping Yahweh.  She went from being a polytheist to being a monotheist. She changed her GEOGRAPHY.  She moved out of Jericho.  She changed her OCCUPATION.  She did not continue to be a harlot when she became an Israelite.

She changed her MARITAL STATUS.  She did not have a husband or kids.  She only asked for her mother, father, brother and sister to be saved, not her husband or kids. She was single and unmarried when the spies came but eventually got married when she became an Israelite.  She went from harlot to bride sand from bride to mother.

This is where it gets very interesting.  Rahab shows us what saving faith looks like and what it does not look like.  In the American church, many look at faith as just mental.  In the American church, faith is seen as an intellectual thing.  Believing in Jesus is no different from believing that George Washington was the first President.

Some think if they just believe the right things in their head, they are saved.  They can live like the devil.  The truth is that faith does involve believing some things with your mind.  The lie is that faith is passive.  True faith will completely change your life.  Our faith should call us to action. It should produce works. Rahab put her faith into action.

James says that faith without works is dead.  If you make a profession of faith and there is no change in your life, you are not saved.  Even Satan believes Jesus is the Son of God.  He believes He rose from the dead.  That is not biblical faith and we see that from Joshua 2. Rahab put her faith into actions.

Rahab wasn’t perfect.  Many criticize some of the things she does in this chapter.  She tells some lies. She lies to the king more than once.  The Bible does not necessarily excuse her lies.  It just records them but we need to keep some things in mind.  Rahab was a Canaanite.  She was a new believer.  She came out of raw paganism.  She had never even heard of The Ten Commandments.  The Bible focuses on her faith, not her lies.  Her faith involved works.

She took a stand for her faith.  She endangered her own life.  She risked her life.  She risked her life for two strangers that she just met.  When the spies knocked on her door, she had a choice.  She could turn them in or she protect them.  She did not just say that she believed in the God of the Jews and then send the two Jewish spies to their deaths.  instead, she proved her faith by her actions.

She proved it by identifying with and protecting God’s people.  Moses identified with the Jews instead of with the Egyptians.  Rahab identified with the Jews instead of with her own people the Canaanites.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:25-26 NIV).

Does our faith demonstrate itself through works?  How does our faith work itself out in our lives on a daily basis?

[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, V.1.2.

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