We know very little of the personal history of Rahab, but what we do know is not very flattering. The occupants of Jericho at the time were the Canaanites. Canaan was the son of Ham, who was cursed by Noah. The Canaanites were idolaters; what is more, they were bitterly opposed to Israel. In Exodus 23:23, God promised that He would destroy the Canaanites.
Not only was Rahab a Canaanite, but of the eight times her name is mentioned in the Bible, five times she is described as “a harlot.” It has been contended that the Hebrew word may have the idea of “a female innkeeper.” However, the Greek word in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 definitely means “harlot.” Possibly the two ideas go together. In idolatrous societies, it likely was not unusual that an innkeeper provided this extra service. This would account for the spies’ finding their way to Rahab’s house, that is, an inn. That Rahab had been a woman of ill repute is without question.
Joshua sent two men to spy out Jericho. They came to Rahab’s house to lodge. Somehow the presence of the spies in Rahab’s house had been detected, and the information had been conveyed to the king of Jericho, who sent men to arrest the two spies. At great personal risk to herself, she hid the spies and claimed that they had already left the city. The searchers sought as far as the river Jordan, but failed to find them.
Merchants regularly travelled between Egypt and Canaan and would have been aware of Israel’s miraculous escape through the Red Sea. They would also know of their progress through the wilderness and of events along the journey. This information would have been conveyed to the inhabitants of Jericho. In her appeal to the two spies, Rahab indicated that it was common knowledge amongst the inhabitants of the land, and also that the inhabitants of the city were filled with fear (Jos 2:9-11). In addition, she said, “I know that the LORD hath given you the land” (v9).
While the knowledge of the success of the Israelites filled the inhabitants of the city with terror, they were determined to defeat the Israelites. Rahab, on the other hand, knowing that the LORD had given them the land, had an altogether different response. She confessed to the spies, “And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (v11). The whole city was in fear as the Israelites approached Canaan. But the overwhelming majority failed to acknowledge what she readily confessed: “The LORD [Jehovah] your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” She recognised that Jehovah was God to the exclusion of every other god. Hence, she sought assurance from the spies that they would spare her life and that of her family.
They agreed to save her and her family on three conditions. First, she would not betray them. Second, she would bind in the window the scarlet cord by which she enabled their escape over the wall. Third, she would make sure that she and all her family were in her house at the time of Israel’s arrival in the land. Rahab’s faith is not only seen in that she hid the spies (Heb 11:31), but in the fact that she did exactly what they told her to do. The only guarantee of her safety and that of her family was that they stay safely inside the walls of the house, identified by the scarlet cord.
When Joshua and his army crossed over Jordan and miraculously conquered the city, the only part of the wall that was left standing was where Rahab’s house was located. The whole city had the same information as Rahab, but only Rahab responded in faith. Consequently, only Rahab and her family experienced deliverance from judgment. No doubt her family shared her faith; else they would not have taken shelter in her home.
The last thing we read of Rahab in the Old Testament is this: “Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Jos 6:25). Rahab and her family were integrated into Israel and became respected members of the community. Not only so, Matthew informs us that Rahab became the wife of Salmon the father of Boaz the great-grandfather of David, King of Israel and ancestor of Christ (Mat 1:5-6).
The story of Rahab illustrates for us the fact that faith always produces works, and the absence of works is a denial of faith (Jas 2:25). When Rahab made her appeal to the spies, she had no idea how far-reaching the effect of her decision would be. God always provides us with much more than our expectations. This principle is taught in these words: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1Co 2:9). When we first trusted Christ as our Saviour, we rejoiced in the knowledge that our sins were forgiven. But that was not enough for God. He has far greater plans for us. The Lord Jesus told His disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (Joh 14:3). Paul informs us, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people” (Psa 113:7-8). Only eternity will reveal how much we have in having Christ.
 All Scripture references in this article are from the KJV.