Exposition of Hebrews 11:31

In close connection with the destruction of Jericho, and the faith of the people of God exhibited in the taking of this city, the writer to the Hebrews now turns our attention to one of the citizens of Jericho. This person is a woman, a public woman, a harlot. However, at the time of the fall of Jericho she was an erstwhile harlot because the Lord had been merciful to her and called her from the darkness of her sin-steeped life into His marvelous light. She was beloved of God and must serve the counsel of God and the redemption of Israel in a marvelous and unique way. That she is later still called “the harlot? was not to dishonor her, but was intended to magnify the grace, the sovereign grace of almighty God! 

Hebrews 11 shows us true faith which revealed it self in works of faith. Faith here too is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Without this faith it was impossible to please God at Jericho. That was true of Israel and is also true of Rahab and of her household. Both must believe that God is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek Him. This was true of Abraham and his faith in the sacrificing of Isaac. He was justified by a faith that revealed itself in works, the fruits of faith. And thus we must be. We must not falter in the hour of battle, which is a constant and life-long struggle.


(Hebrews 11:13James 2:25

Interpreters have tried to tone the epithet down and try to explain the term in the Hebrew (zanah) as referring to the hostess of an inn, an inn-keeper. However, the term means exactly what the KJV translates: harlot. It means a public woman, who sold her body and services for money. This was adultery in its worst, depraved form. It was fornication for the profit of money. She sold her body, which should have been the temple of the Holy Ghost, for money. So we will let this stand and remember this dear saint in Christ as one who was once “Rahab the harlot.” But such is ever the merciful dealing of the Lord. He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy. The Lord Jesus came to save His people from their sins. And harlots and sinners enter into the kingdom rather than the self-righteous. We think of that beautiful word of the Gospel, “and all the publicans and sinners came unto Him.” And we think of the harlot, who, after she had received mercy and faith and confessed her sins, was forgiven so very much, and who was also thankful for so very much, (Luke 7:37-45). Such are the gracious dealings of our sovereign God, who sent his Son. 

God could have chosen a “better” woman by the standards of a moralist, a self-righteous legalist. But the Lord would magnify His grace in her. She was the fit vessel for His purpose. He claimed her in grace and she became of the party of the living God of Israel. She was a friend of God and an enemy of the world. And all this by God’s grace and mercy was she! 

She now no longer sells her body for lust and monetary gain. She is no longer a harlot. She is reborn, called; faith is a gift of God to her; and she is justified by faith and now walks in sanctification in the hope of glory and of dwelling with Israel in the land of Promise. Her liberation is now at hand that she may dwell with the thousands of Israel. She is concerned about her father, mother, brothers and sisters. She is far different from Lot’s wife who will not leave Sodom. This Rahab will deliver the entire city into the hand of the Israelites. She does this by faith in God who had exhibited his power and faithfulness to Israel in bringing them out of Egypt with his outstretched arm some forty years before, and who had now slain Og king of Bashan and Sihon king of the Amorites before Israel!


(Hebrews 11:31Joshua 2:1-3

The reception was “with peace.” (met’ eireenees) This was no mere formal nicety, a social friendly greeting, a reception of a well-paying customer. She recognized these men for what they were: They were “messengers” of Joshua. They were representatives of a force which was hostile to the inhabitants of Jericho and of the land. They were come as scouts to case the city, to see its walls and ramparts, and to keep their ear to the ground to determine the fighting morale of the people. However, man ponders his way but the issue is of the Lord. He directed their path to the house of Rahab. And she receives them with peace. She gives the “spies” of the enemy a friendly and peaceable reception. She is wholly on their side. And she has a deep inward peace in her heart. Her heart does not “melt” within her as does the heart of all the inhabitants of the land. God is also on her side; Israel’s God is really her God. 

And she receives them once-and-for-all. There was no hesitancy on her part in this matter. She sees the entire plan and purpose of the Lord with Israel, and in faith she is a harbinger of good things to come for Israel, so that the spies can return and report joyfully and confidently “Truly the LORD hath delivered into our hands all the land: for even all the inhabitants of the land do faint because of us,” (Joshua 2:24). For Rahab did not say that the LORD “would give the land to Israel,” but she said in faith “that the LORD hath given you the land,” (Joshua 2:9). Such was the reception “with peace” which was afforded the spies of Israel by this “harlot” of Jericho. This is the wondrous way of the LORD for God’s people. Most sinful weaklings are used for God’s powerful purposes of redemption. His strength is fulfilled in our weakness! 


(Joshua 2:5-16

Night has fallen upon Jericho. The spies will retire for a while before they will be let down by the window over the side of the wall of Jericho. But now this wondrous woman, full of the power of faith which removes mountains, will utter the deep secret of her heart. No, it is not a confession of her past way of life. That she must have truly confessed to the LORD who had mercy on her. She speaks of the SECRET of the LORD for Israel and of her confidence in the salvation of Israel’s God. She discloses the secrets of the hearts of the Canaanites, the fears of a people whose “iniquity is full,” (Gen. 15:16). It is the heart of those who are fat for judgment; they upon whom the LORD is about to blow the trumpet of the coming of His great Day, and the pouring out of the vials of His wrath. It is an anticipation of the song of Moses and the Lamb, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of the nations in behalf of the saints,” (Rev. 15:3). This was already echoed in the Song of Moses in Deut. 33:29, “Blessed art thou, O Israel. Who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the LORD, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency. And thy enemies shall be found liars (be subdued) unto thee, and thou shalt tread upon their high places.” 

In staccato tones Rahab foretells of the destruction of Jericho and of the land. One can see in his mind’s eye the walls tumble, the defenses crumble in a land of men who are doomed to die. Forsooth, the land will not be utterly under the heel of Israel till the time of David the King, when God shall have placed His king on Zion’s hill, in the city of God. Hear her relate it to the spies, 

1. The LORD hath given you the land. . . . 

2. The terror of Israel is fallen upon the Canaanites. . . .

3. The people are utterly demoralized and paralyzed by fright. . . . 

4. The heart of the peoples melts within them. . . . 

5. When you come save me and my house. . . . 

Here is a faith which speaks that overcomes the world!


It is a remarkable thing that the Bible passes over this in utter silence, this “deception,” while both Hebrews 11:31and James 2:25 speak only of Rahab’s faith. Now I suppose that a people which are doomed to perish and are worthy of perishing because their “iniquity” is full, ought to have been informed against the “messengers” of the LORD!! Only a shallow moralism can reason thus. Rather than blaming Rahab for lack of faith we had better believe that her penetrating insight into the lot of the enemies of the Lord, their just deserving it in their “disobedience” caused her to misdirect these messengers. And the LORD Himself wrought with her in this deception. Had she done otherwise she would have “perished with the disobedient.” But now in this trying hour her faith shines forth like the sun in the heavens! ! 

It is rather hard to explain to children, (whom we tell that they must never tell a “lie,”) what Rahab did here. Yet, I believe that when we see that the LORD was going to destroy them one and all — not one lived after the destruction of Jericho — matters are different. The city and all who were in it were “devoted” to the Lord. Nothing could possibly save them from destruction. Even her walls could not be rebuilt with impunity. Is it impossible to tell this to children? Tell them that it was the justice of God and that it is the fulfillment of the Song of Moses and the Lamb. And set this “lie” of Rahab in that setting and you will see that even children, to whom the Holy Spirit is promised no less than to the adults, will understand and in holy awe look at this faith of Rahab . . . and worship!


Rahab and her family did not perish with the “disobedient,” those who would not bow before the Mighty God of Jacob in reverence, even when they heard of His mighty deeds. They had seen and heard it now for forty years. They will not repent but “fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased,” (Exodus 15:16). Rahab will pass over with the people into the rest of the LORD! 

She receives a place in the number of God’s people in the very center of Judah in the holy line that reaches to Christ. Here is history! It is the unfolding of the counsel and promise of God. She marries Salmon, gives birth to Boaz who becomes the redeemer husband of Ruth the Moabitess. And from this Rahab come Jesse and David, the king! And from this David comes the Son of God, the Christ. Thus was the “Genesis” of Christ into this world. Rahab does not perish with the disobedient but she has a place in Israel and no middle-wall of partition severed her from the grace of God. She, in her generations, has a place in the tabernacle of the LORD; yea, in thousands of generations of those that love the LORD. 

She dwells no longer with her people “outside of the camp” but she is circumcised with the circumcision without hands of Christ. Rahab the “harlot,” a mother in Israel!