The Bible's Call to Imitate the Prostitute
The Bible includes a fascinating cast of characters, if you want to call them that. They’re not “characters” in the novel sense. They’re real people, with real lives and real sins, who experienced real grace or real judgment. So let’s call them people, for that’s what they are. These people come in all shapes and sizes, they’re of every profession. Some are of no profession at all—nomads following God through the world. And there are, of course, legitimate professions and illegitimate professions. Prostitution falls in the illegitimate column. That’s why it’s a surprise that the Bible presents a prostitute as a model of faith.
Rahab first appears in the Bible’s pages as we turn from the desert to the Promised Land. Moses’s eyes fall upon the land as he draws his final breath. His servant Joshua fills the void of leadership and walks toward another body of water in need God’s miraculous separating. He leads God’s people out of their wandering and into the promise. But first, they meet a prostitute.
A Friendly Welcome
Joshua sends a set of spies to gather information about Jericho, the city they must conquer first. Sneaking through the gates, the spies enter a prostitute’s house. There is no indication they’re visiting her. They’re just visiting, in the normal sense. Where better to get information on the city than a chat with one who had intimately seen many of the top men?
Rahab has heard of these Israelites. The whole city has. Israel makes them nervous, with their God in their midst and the miraculous things he’s done. Israel’s fame goes before them, racing ahead as the wind before the storm. Not one to turn men away, Rahab opens her doors to Joshua’s spies. But the king of Jericho hears of their arrival. So he goes to see what he can see. “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But Rahab is closed for business. Another force has already invaded her home, one compelling her to take a risk. “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” Hiding on the roof were the spies sent to view the land, and from their perch, they saw the city God was giving into their hands. How did they get there? Rahab the prostitute, the woman of faith, put them there.
The king and his men run off to chase imaginary men in the hills. Rahab risks her life for spies she just met—spies sent to see how difficult it will be to destroy her city. And it’s this friendly welcome that prevents her perishing with those who were disobedient (Hebrews 11:39).
Rahab Outside the Camp
In his presentation of Old Testament examples of men and women of faith, the author of Hebrews presents Rahab as the final example. Carl Mosser, in his contribution to The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology entitled “Rahab Outside the Camp,” argues Rahab is the center-point of the entire chapter. A prostitute, the center of the Hall of Faith!
His case is compelling. In Hebrews 10:39, the author encourages his readers, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” From there, he runs through the Genesis and Exodus narratives in rapid fire: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. Who comes next? The reader expects Joshua, but he gets Rahab. I’m afraid this doesn’t shock us nearly as much as it should. The author steps outside the pattern. He abandons Israel for Canaan. He drops Jew for Gentile. There’s a kind of faith that doesn’t shrink back, a kind of faith that conquers, a kind of faith that preserves the soul, and that faith is found in Rahab the prostitute, a Gentile, Canaanite woman. Joshua, as great as he was, is overshadowed by Rahab.
As Rahab stood firm in her faith, so too must these Hebrew readers. So too must we. In the face of persecution, with the temptation of withdrawing to an easier life, leaving Jesus is like Jericho closing its walls to Israel. Better to stand and let them plunder you than close your gates to God. Better to welcome the spies inside than kill them in the square. God will ransack the heart open to him. But in mercy, the slaying God does is the kind that saves. Rahab is proof. Of all the people listed after the author’s encouragement not to shrink back and be destroyed, Mosser points out Rahab is the lone example explicitly said not to have been so. “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” No shrinking. No destruction. A friendly welcome saves the soul. A prostitute is the model to follow.
Imitate the prostitute is not a familiar cry. But the Bible is not an ordinary book. Christianity is not a run-of-the-mill religion. The claims of Christ are sweeping, gathering up prostitute and eunuch alike. Only the God whose power to save the worst of sinners can use those sinners as examples for the faithful. God’s ways are not our ways, and his call to us is as broad and deep as his saving of us. Rahab lived in the city wall, but God calls us out further. He calls us outside the city, to walk the path Jesus walked. We must go outside the camp and bear the reproach of Jesus because that is where he suffered and sanctified us (Heb. 13:12-13). Outside the camp is the place of blessing. Rahab saw the camp contaminated with unbelief. So she left it all to follow God. With God, the road away from perceived safety is the road to eternal safety.
Many of our spiritual problems are problems of location. We live in the city of man when we should live in the city of God. We hold firm to things of the past while God calls us to glories of the future. For the readers of Hebrews, it was the Jewish temple and sacrificial system that was so appealing. But we too must abandon former things God pushes aside for the present and future things he is providing. You cannot hug a shadow, and who would want to try when the person finally rounds the bend? Let’s go outside the camp to meet him.
Saved from Death
A few chapters later, in Joshua 6, Israel marches around the city, blows some trumpets, does some shouting, and the walls come tumbling down. The city is plundered, conquered, annihilated. All except Rahab and her family. Amid the battle, she is remembered and saved. Her actions proved her faith, and her physical salvation confirms her spiritual salvation. The family of God welcomes all. Even prostitutes. Especially prostitutes.
In every reference to Rahab throughout the Bible—in Joshua 2, 6, Hebrews 11, James 3—her profession follows her name, “Rahab the prostitute.” But there is one exception: Matthew 1:5. The prostitute produces the Savior. The path to the Savior goes through Jericho’s destruction. And when he comes, the shame is dropped from the name. All is forgiven. Grace is here.
“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. 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. 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. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” (Joshua 2:9–13).
God delivered Rahab’s life from death, both in the days of Jericho and in the days to come. Imitate the prostitute.