Her Name is Rahab
I prefer not to call her “Rahab, the prostitute.” I’m not particularly eager to reduce her merely to one of the ways she made money. Rahab was a very hard worker. So why do we reduce her life to this one aspect, as if it was the only thing noteworthy about her? Her actions, those of a strong, spiritual woman, changed the course of her family members’ lives. Her story is pretty incredible.
Rahab: we know her as the prostitute of Jericho. Her story starts in chapter 2 of Joshua and doesn’t go much further than Chapter 7. After that, we hear of her in Matthew, Hebrews and James. She married Salmon (one of the spies she hid?), was mother to Boaz, Great Great Grandma to King David and is one of four women listed in the direct genealogy of Jesus.
I prefer not to call her “Rahab, the prostitute.”
Her actions, those of a strong, spiritual woman, changed the course of her family members’ lives. Her story is pretty incredible.
I prefer not to call her “Rahab, the prostitute.” I’m not particularly eager to reduce her merely to one of the ways she made money. Rahab was a very hard worker. From where she hid the spies, we know that she also worked flax, which I’ll come back to a little later.
So why do we reduce her life to this one aspect, as if it was the only thing noteworthy about her? I have heard it said that knowing what Rahab chose as a profession makes it all the more incredible that she is part of Christ’s line. Did she deliberately pick her profession of prostitution? I don’t think many sex workers would tell us they chose it as their living.
Did Rahab have responsibilities that meant she had to turn to this line of work? We know she had a family, and she continued to care for them when she made her deal with the spies. Was sex work just another occupation she had to support those she loved?
When I look at Rahab’s story, I think of all the women being taken advantage of on the city streets today—not forgetting that were it not for men’s desires, these women wouldn’t need to charge for sex to put bread on the table. Society tends to look at the great things men “do,” but only on what women “are.” Some treat men like verbs and women as nouns.
This idea is something we should take a moment to pause and reflect on. Does our Christadelphian community have a similar thought pattern? We know the incredible impact Rahab had. Rahab did great, incredible things, as can women in our modern day ecclesias.
Note, they chose to lodge with Rahab. Was this because she was also an innkeeper with her family? She was a woman of many talents and side hustles. Josephus mentions her role as an innkeeper but does not expand on whether she also kept a brothel. Rabbinic texts refer to her only as an innkeeper.
Rahab was a woman of many talents and side hustles
Given Rahab’s possible dual role as an innkeeper and sex worker, it is easy to consider she may have been privy to many confidences from tired soldiers and weary travelers. This could be why the spies chose her particular house to lodge in.
Her house was also upon the city walls, suitable for a swift exit, as we see later in the story. Are the stories told by those passing through her house how Rahab first heard of the God of Israel? It’s clear she knew of Him, as we read in Joshua 2:9. It’s possible that travelers shared stories and soldiers feared the God who could part water.
Rahab must have been affected by the tales she heard. They had awakened a whisper in her. Because of what she had heard, she was able to utter the words:
What an incredible declaration to hear from a Canaanite! When the spies arrived at Rahab’s home, they hadn’t done a great job, as instructed, of being secret. The news of spies in the land had reached the king, who knew exactly where they were and commanded Rahab to hand them over! Thus, Rahab found herself at a crossroads in her life.
She knew she was in a good position, whichever path she chose. I’m sure the king would have rewarded her richly for turning in the spies, and yet she remembered all the stories she had heard of the God of the spies. This God is powerful and able to exact many miracles. Rahab chose to commit treason and turn her den of sin into an ark of safety. I find this incredible.
Rahab was as strong in character and brave as were the wonderful midwives in Egyptian captivity. She put her life on the line, going against her king to reach for life as one of the Israelites. This deed is such an example for us all.
Rahab stepped up with a solution to the spies’ dilemma. They were at risk of being captured and taken to the king. Thus, the first lives Rahab saved were those of these two spies when she said:
Her action makes me ask myself how I can step up more and provide solutions to other people’s problems. Rahab inserted herself into the fabric of Israel and, in doing so, became part of a kingly line. She wasn’t a quiet, timid girl in the story. She took action to change life for herself and her family. If we are listening, is it still possible for us to take up challenging acts to do good and protect the gospel? Am I learning to speak up for change where it is needed?
A WOMAN OF VALOR
The account then takes us to Rahab’s deal with the spies, hiding them from the soldiers. She took them to her roof and buried them under the flax. Here is evidence of another of Rahab’s jobs— she was a worker of flax, the product required to make linen.
Proverbs 31, a book often attributed to Rahab’s great-great-great-grandson, Solomon, talks about a virtuous (various other translations: noble, capable, beautiful, chaste or excellent) woman who works flax. Interestingly, a more accurate translation of “eschet chayil,” is “woman of valor.”
This is the female version of “gibbor chayil”—“mighty man of valor.” If this woman’s description is merely as virtuous, the point of just how formidable she is is lost. The virtuous woman is a strong, powerful woman and so is Rahab. Proverbs 31:10 to the end could well have been written about Rahab.
Proverbs 31:13 shows that this valiant woman works with flax. Rahab is the only other woman in the Bible attributed to this work. When I read this chapter, I can see the rest of the story of Rahab beyond the Book of Joshua. The valiant woman of Proverbs 31 provides a place of safety for her husband. He knows he can trust her.
The virtuous woman is a strong, powerful woman and so is Rahab
Salmon, Rahab’s husband, was possibly one of the spies who entered her house. If this is the case, he certainly knew he could trust her—she had saved his life by her actions. I talked earlier about Rahab’s work as an innkeeper. Proverbs 31:13-14 speak about a woman providing food and caring for her household. This work is something Rahab would have done— with plenty of hungry mouths passing through her home.
Verse 16 tells of her buying a field, reminding us that Rahab’s son, Boaz owned a field, and his relationship with Ruth (remarkably, another woman described as valiant!) blossomed there. Verse 21 tells us how she is not afraid for her family—for they are clothed in scarlet, the color of the rope which Rahab boldly hung out her window during the attack on Jericho. My favorite link is verse 30:
Compare this thought to Rahab’s former life, where looks and being desired were valuable properties for a woman—something society still tells us today. I find it interesting that the fact she worked with flax is given just as much weight as her title as the harlot. Yet, we cling to the harlot wording and include it in her name wherever it is mentioned.
The good news is that God can take any circumstance we find ourselves in and turn it into something good. I look at this Proverb as describing Rahab. No doubt her story was passed down by word of mouth, and so her descendant, Solomon, could write about her in such glowing terms. Her family didn’t think of her as Rahab, the prostitute, but as a woman of faith who belonged to God.
BY FAITH RAHAB
Rahab was a Canaanite woman. She was someone the Israelite spies should have stayed well away from. Yet, they didn’t hesitate to help her. The spies had no idea how the city would be overtaken, but they trusted that the covenant they made with her would be recognized and honored by God.
I believe God saw faith in Rahab (Heb 11:31). He saw past her job title and into her heart. He saw the virtue and valor in this woman. Rahab chose to put her heart with God and His people. She wanted to know more about the God who parted water and tore down cities. Like many stories about women in the Bible, I am astounded by the faith and trust Rahab placed in God.
Rahab had no proof that this God could save her and her family through the spies and the red chord. She hadn’t personally seen any of the miracles spoken about as people passed through her home. But she listened; she opened her heart and found God. “Whoever is of God, hears the words of God.” (John 8:47).
We can learn a lot from how the women in the Bible behaved and heard God. There is trust and peace in so many stories, a quiet acceptance that God works in their lives. Rahab’s home became an ark for her family. They were the few saved from the entire city and what a story that goes on to become!
Like Mary, when told of Jesus (Luke 1:29; 2:19; 2:51), Rahab heard the accounts of the Israelite God and allowed them to work on her heart. When the opportunity came to accept Him openly, she took him in without reservation. I don’t need any more incredible an example of how God grafts sinners into the branch than myself; I know how good God is because he’s even saved me!
Rahab being a prostitute doesn’t make her story any more remarkable than if we just knew her as a worker of flax. She is famous to us, not because of her occupation, but because of her faith.
Glasgow South Ecclesia, UK
Thanks for your article! The story of Rahab is really interesting, and one of my favorites (I find it especially fascinating when you contrast her character arc to that of Achan in the next chapters).
I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on whether we should think of her as “Rahab the prostitute:”
I think it is definitely important to understand that Rahab was a complex character with a lot more to her than just her occupation, however I don’t believe that we are doing her a disservice by referring other the same way the inspired New Testament authors did. James 2:25 calls her “Rahab the harlot” when commending her for her faithful works, and when Hebrews 11:31 highlights the great faith she demonstrated in receiving the spies in piece, it refers to her as “the harlot Rahab”. In both cases the greek word translated ‘harlot’ is G4204 – ‘porne’, which Thayer’s defines as “a woman who sells her body for sexual uses.” These New Testament commentaries specifically memorialize Rahab as a prostitute who became an amazing example woman of faith and virtuous action. I believe this is emphasized precisely because it is one important part of her legacy that God wanted us to remember. Feelings of shame and overwhelming guilt can be very debilitating to our discipleship, so the fact that God has recorded examples in scripture of great sinners who were saved by his grace can be a real beacon of hope. The stories of the redemption of Judah, Samson, David, Gomer, and Rahab are precious to myself and many others who can easily be brought to despair over the weight of our sins.
A further note regarding Rahab’s flax:
I believe there is at least one other woman who is referred to as working with/for flax in the Old Testament: Gomer, the unfaithful wife of Hosea. Hosea 2:5 records of her
“For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.”
This passage indicates that flax was actually one of the forms of payment this particular biblical harlot received from her ‘lovers’. I wonder if it’s possible that the flax laid out on Rahab’s roof had been her payment in the barter economy of the time?
I fully agree that God saw past Rahab’s job and saw a heart full of faith and virtue – and the way she committed to God and latched on to the hope of Israel is truly inspiring!
Love in our hope,