Inside the walls of Jericho lived a woman who has forever been nicknamed by those who know of her as Rahab “the prostitute.” History has a strange way of remembering people, but in Christ, Rahab “the prostitute” would eventually become Rahab “a daughter of Zion,” and we can be confident that in heaven she is known by that better name. But the transitions from life in sin to salvation often happen on dramatic stages, and Rahab is no exception.
Hebrews 11:30 actually records the destruction of Jericho before the salvation of Rahab. Jericho was something of the Las Vegas of the known world in Rahab’s era. The inhabitants of Jericho were violent, murderous, and idolatrous in the extreme. The evil of the city’s inhabitants was such that God had placed the entire city under His punitive ban; the whole city was to be destroyed. Joshua 6:17 says, “The city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.” This particular type of judgment was the most severe. The Hebrew phrase behind “devoted to destruction” is used of cities in which everything living was to be put to death. It was to be a dramatic display of hell on earth. The judgment of God would roll through like a wave, and everything and everyone in its path would be put to death—everyone, that is, except for Rahab and her family.
The plan of attack God gives to Israel might make a military strategist scratch his head. The Israelites had already sent in spies on something of a covert intelligence mission, assessing the city’s strengths and weaknesses. It ought to be remembered at this point that this is not the first time we have watched this movie. An entire generation earlier, the same reconnaissance mission took place, with Joshua and Caleb among the spies. Only in that context, despite the confidence of the spies to overtake the inhabitants of the land, the Israelites chose to shudder in fear rather than to walk by faith—and that generation perished in the wilderness. The sad irony is that in their effort to preserve their lives (through unbelief), they lost their lives. This new generation, however, with Joshua at the helm, was ready to follow God’s battle plan no matter how puzzling it might have appeared.
Israel was to walk quietly around the city once a day for six days with no military engagement; no noise was to be made but the sound of the priest’s trumpets. The ark of the Lord and the priests were to join them, signifying that the battle belonged to the Lord. The use of “sevens” was conspicuous. Seven priests with seven trumpets were to march with the people for a total of seven days. On the seventh day, they circled the city once more as before, only this time they circled it seven times, and then with one loud voice, they shouted—and the walls of Jericho fell down. Scholars note the intentional parallel to the creation days; only in this case the emphasis is upon de-creation. There was to be no Sabbath rest for the enemies of God at the end of this sabbatical week, but for Israel, it was the climactic beginning of their entering into the Sabbath rest of the land of Canaan (Heb. 4). God was bringing judgment and the wages of sin (death) upon the people of Jericho who, in their idolatry had declared themselves the enemies of God. There was no mercy, no grace, no hope for any of them—except for Rahab the prostitute.
When the walls came tumbling down, the Israelite spies whom she had previously hidden and protected were not sent in to bring her and her family out alive. Salvation for Rahab and her family came dramatically and just in the nick of time, while the rest of the city and its inhabitants were devoted to destruction. One can only imagine the conflict of emotions she might have experienced as the city and its inhabitants were devoted to destruction while she and her family were drawn out of the city of destruction by the scarlet cord of redemption. God’s mercy and judgment are as unsearchable as they are glorious, and to those who receive His mercy, it is the greatest treasure of all.
Why Rahab? Hebrews 11:31 says that she was saved by faith, and that her faith was displayed in her willingness to hide the spies. True faith is living, active, and obedient. While there is nothing we (or Rahab) could do to earn our salvation, true faith displays itself on the stage of living obedience. Thus, Rahab was saved by grace alone through faith alone, and with her we ask, “Lord, why me?” Why should a prostitute in a pagan land inherit salvation and be everlastingly known as one who lives as a daughter of Zion rather than as one who perished under the rubble of Jericho? God’s grace is unsearchable, and His justice is nothing to be trifled with. Many people are troubled that God would destroy an entire city. But perhaps the problem is that we think too highly of ourselves and too lightly of the justice of God. The truly baffling part of this story is not that Jericho experienced such extensive judgment and destruction but that Rahab and her family receive such extensive mercy and grace.
This is the lot of every Christian—to receive mercy and grace instead of judgment and destruction because God has saved us by the redemptive judgment that is far more dramatic and glorious than the events of Jericho that day. It is at the cross of Jesus Christ where God’s justice and mercy ever so sweetly kiss, and His grace trickles down from heaven upon each of us undeserving and unlikely recipients. Here, at the foot of the cross, we continue to wonder not at why so many receive God’s just judgment but at why so many of us receive the Lord’s undeserved mercy and grace. It is because of Jesus, whose salvation is far greater than any hope Joshua could muster for the people of God. It is Jesus who washes us clean and makes us a part of His family, just as Rahab “the prostitute” would become an ancestor in the lineage of Jesus. She is our great-grandmother in the faith, because Jesus is our Savior. United to Him, we, too, have been snatched out of the city of destruction and made inheritors of the Celestial City. And we cannot help but wonder why. The only answer is the love of God that sweetly complies with His justice as we, too, are saved through redemptive judgment.