Rahab and the Spies
1 Joshua the son of Nun secretly sent two men out of Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, including Jericho.” They went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and slept there.
2 The king of Jericho was told, “Behold,* men of the children of Israel came in here tonight to spy out the land.”
3 Jericho’s king sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered into your house; for they have come to spy out all the land.”
4 The woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I didn’t know where they came from. 5 About the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, the men went out. Where the men went, I don’t know. Pursue them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof, and hidden them under the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. 7 The men pursued them along the way to the fords of the Jordan River. As soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate. 8 Before they had lain down, she came up to them on the roof. 9 She said to the men, “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 to Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 As soon as we had heard it, our hearts melted, and there wasn’t any more spirit in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath. 12 Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a true sign; 13 and that you will save alive my father, my mother, my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death.”
14 The men said to her, “Our life for yours, if you don’t talk about this business of ours; and it shall be, when the LORD gives us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you.”
15 Then she let them down by a cord through the window; for her house was on the side of the wall, and she lived on the wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the mountain, lest the pursuers find you. Hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward, you may go your way.”
17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless of this your oath which you’ve made us to swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, tie this line of scarlet thread in the window which you used to let us down. Gather to yourself into the house your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 It shall be that whoever goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood will be on his head, and we will be guiltless. Whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand is on him. 20 But if you talk about this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless of your oath which you’ve made us to swear.”
21 She said, “Let it be as you have said.” She sent them away, and they departed. Then she tied the scarlet line in the window.
22 They went and came to the mountain, and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had returned. The pursuers sought them all along the way, but didn’t find them.
23 Then the two men returned, descended from the mountain, crossed the river, and came to Joshua the son of Nun. They told him all that had happened to them.
24 They said to Joshua, “Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands. Moreover, all the inhabitants of the land melt away before us.”
Text from: http://www.parentandchildbiblereading .com/
Rahab, (Hebrew: רָחָב, “broad,” “large”) was, according to the Book of Joshua, a prostitute who lived in Jericho in the Promised Land and assisted the Israelites in capturing the city.
The Hebrew אשה זונה, used to describe Rahab in Joshua 2:1, literally means “a woman, a prostitute”. Rahab’s name is presumably the shortened form of a sentence name rāḥāb-N, “the god N has opened/widened (the womb?)” The Hebrew zōnâ may refer to either secular or cultic prostitution, and the latter is widely believed to have been an invariable element of Canaanite religious practice. (There is a separate word in the language that could be used to designate prostitutes of the cultic variety, qědēšâ.)
The 1st century AD historian Josephus, mentions that Rahab kept an inn, but is silent as to whether merely renting out rooms was her only source of income. It was not uncommon for both an inn and a brothel to function within the same building, thus going into Rahab’s building was not necessarily a deviation from Joshua’s orders, and, as Robert Boling notes, “where better to get information than a bar?” A number of scholars have noted that the narrator in Joshua 2 may have intended to remind the readers of the “immemorial symbiosis between military service and bawdy house”.
In the Christian New Testament, the Epistle of James and the Epistle to the Hebrews follow the tradition set by the translators of the Septuagint in using the Greek word “πόρνη” (pórnē, which is usually translated to English as “harlot” or “prostitute”) to describe Rahab.
William L. Lyons has observed that biblical interpreters have viewed Rahab as a model of hospitality, mercy, faith, patience, and repentance in her interaction with Joshua’s spies. Thus the harlot of Jericho became a paragon of virtue.
In the Hebrew Bible
According to the book of Joshua (Joshua 2:1-7), when the Hebrews were encamped at Shittim, in the “Arabah” or Jordan valley opposite Jericho, ready to cross the river, Joshua, as a final preparation, sent out two spies to investigate the military strength of Jericho. The spies stayed in Rahab’s house, which was built into the city wall. The soldiers sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring out the spies (Joshua 2:3). Instead, she hid them under bundles of flax on the roof. It was the time of the barley harvest, and flax and barley are ripe at the same time in the Jordan valley, so that “the bundles of flax stalks might have been expected to be drying just then”.
Rahab told the spies (Joshua 2:9-13):
I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.
After escaping, the spies promised to spare Rahab and her family after taking the city, even if there should be a massacre, if she would mark her house by hanging a red cord out the window. Some have claimed that the symbol of the red cord is related to the practice of the “red-light district”.
When the city of Jericho fell (Joshua 6:17-25), Rahab and her whole family were preserved according to the promise of the spies, and were incorporated among the Jews. (In siege warfare of antiquity, a city that fell after a prolonged siege was commonly subjected to a massacre and sack.)
Michael Coogan claims the book of Joshua contains short etiological narratives that explain the origins of religious rituals, topographical features, genealogical relationships, and other aspects of ancient Israelite life, and that the legend of Rahab is such an example. The story of Rahab would therefore provide an answer as to how a Canaanite group became part of Israel in spite of the Deuteronomistic injunction to kill all Canaanites and not to intermarry with them (Deut 20:16-18)(Deut 7:1-4)
In rabbinic literature
In the Babylonian Talmud, anyone who mentions Rahab’s name immediately lusts after her (Megillah 15a). Rahab is said to have converted at the age of 50 and repented according to three sins, saying:
Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things [with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach]. By the merit of three things pardon me: the rope, the window, and the wall [pardon me for engaging in harlotry because I endangered myself when I lowered the rope for the spies from the window in the wall].” (Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 116a-b).
A similar tradition has Rahab declaring,
“Pardon me by merit of the rope, the window, and the flaxen [the stalks of flax under which she concealed the spies].”
The rabbis attested that Rahab married Joshua following her conversion; their descendants included the prophets Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Seraiah, Mahseiah, and Baruch, and the prophetess Hulda. However, there is no report in the book of Joshua of the leader marrying anyone, or having any family life. Rahab often is mentioned alongside Jethro (Yitro) and Na’aman as “positive examples” of the converts, and another midrash has Rahab acting as an advocate for all nations of the world.
In the New Testament
In the New Testament, Rahab (Greek Ῥαάβ) of the Book of Joshua is mentioned as an example of a person of faith (Hebrews 11:31) and good works (James 2:25). Rahab is referred to as “the harlot” in each of these passages.
Possibly a different woman, Rachab (as transcribed in King James Translation of Greek Ῥαχάβ) is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 1:5). (She supposedly married Salmon of the tribe of Judah and was the mother of Boaz.) Most other English Bibles transcribe her name as Rahab.
- Rahab is depicted as a virtuous soul (in The Third Circle of Heaven) in Dante’s Divine Comedy of Dante (Paradiso 9.112 ff.)
- Rahab is a figure in the mythos of William Blake. She is pictured as a harlot, akin to the whore of Babylon, and figures alongside Blake’s character of Tirzah, as representing materialism, false religion, and fallen sexuality. Rahab’s embrace of Urizen, who loosely represents fallen reason, is seen as the consolidation of error necessary to bring about the Final Judgment.