I was just reading Joshua 2 this morning and it set me to thinking about women who have, for whatever reason, made really poor life choices. Choices that have come back not just to haunt them but to rob them of their sense of hope and self-worth.
The Bible does condemn such choices (Hebrews 12:4, to cite one of many places). But it doesn’t stop there. It holds out to women like that a hand of hope and grace, of recovery and redemption. Rahab is introduced matter-of-factly as a harlot (quite early in the Bible’s storyline, 18% of the way through). The Bible brings up her name again, right near the end of the story (96% of the way through), to highlight her remarkable example of faith. What happened to her?
As Israel stood on the threshold of the land God had promised to give to them, Joshua dispatched some men to reconnoiter and collect intelligence on the area and its inhabitants. They entered Jericho and lodged at an inn run, it seems, by Rahab. Somehow their mission was discovered and word of their whereabouts leaked out. When the king sent soldiers to apprehend the Israelis at Rahab’s house, she did what probably came quite naturally: she lied, reporting that they’d already left and if the soldiers hurried they just might be able to catch those dirty spies. Why?
It’s not hard to imagine she’d done that sort of thing before. She was a businesswoman who knew which side her bread was buttered on; and when word gets around that someone like her can’t be trusted to keep secrets and protect her clientele, business dries up. But this was different. She was a harlot. But she wasn’t just a harlot. She was a person, and a woman in whose heart God was working.
Once she’d gotten rid of the threat, she hurried to the housetop for an urgent conversation with these unusual visitors. “I know that the Lord has given you the land,” she blurts out (2:10). What an astonishing thing to hear from her! We don’t know exactly how she knew this, though she goes on to relate that news of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and ominous approach was being widely circulated (2:10). All we know is that she heard it, understood it, believed it, and acted on it. As a result, she rescued not only herself but her whole family as well.
Rahab experienced God’s gracious deliverance from God-appointed destruction because of her faith in God’s promise … to Israel (Deuteronomy 1:8). That’s what makes Rahab’s example so remarkable: she put all her trust in a divine promise that was made to someone else and against her! Rather than fighting it or protesting how unfair it was, she believed it and submitted to it and pled for mercy on the basis of it.
Decades ago I heard Elisabeth Elliot say something on a radio interview. I’m sure it wasn’t original with her but it was the first time I’d heard it and it stuck with me: you can never recover your virginity, but by the grace of God you can recover your chastity. And it seems clear that Rahab was never the same woman after that. Her faith in God’s words transformed her, and altered her destiny dramatically. God’s rescue and redemption from our past is gracious beyond our imagination. Who could have guessed that God would providentially lead a guy from Judah to marry her, that they would have a kid named Boaz, who in turn (through another story of God’s grace, this time to a foreign widow named Ruth) would have a kid named Jesse, who then fathered a kid named David. Rahab is redeemed from being a harlot to becoming an ancestor not only of David but of Jesus the Messiah (see Ruth 4:18-22 and Matthew 1:3-16).
If you want other examples of how God treats women who have made poor life choices (sin is always a poor life choice)—choices that have left them broken, dispirited, hopeless, even useless— read John 4 and (my personal favorite) Luke 7. Anyone who, like these women, comes in faith and confession and submission to Christ—the glorious Descendant of a rescued harlot named Rahab and the Savior who already knows all things you ever did (John 4:29)—will find in Him, and in Him alone, the unconditional love and acceptance, the rescue, the restoration, and the renewal for which you have always thirsted.