The nature of this situation – the love of God that included this woman in the ancestry of his Son – is remarkable enough of itself, so we sometimes overlook the details of the faith of Rahab. We may know that Hebrews 11 – the Bible’s great “Faith Hall of Fame” chapter – includes her in its list of believers of great faith, but have you ever thought about the details of Rahab’s mention in that chapter?
Setting out its list of the most important examples of faith in the Old Testament, Hebrews 11 details the faithful lives of the greatest patriarchs: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. The stature of these patriarchs is self-evident. It’s hard to argue that there are greater biblical figures than Noah, Abraham and Moses, and the importance of these patriarchs in the biblical narrative is such that the list could well have stopped there, and it almost does.
A few verses after discussing Abraham, the writer of Hebrews tells us: “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets …” (Hebrews 11:32). It’s as though even the spiritual greatness of King David (Acts 13:22) and the prophet Samuel (Jeremiah 15:1) are almost glossed over when compared with the faith of the patriarchs. The later characters, those coming after Moses, are simply listed as greats in the “also mentioned” category.
But there is one exception: Rahab. After describing the faith of Moses, Hebrews adds one more person to its list of patriarchs whose exploits of faith are actually detailed – and that person is Rahab (Hebrews 11:31). While it might have been completely natural to conclude the detailed list of the faith “greatest of the greats” with Moses, and then to include Rahab in the list of “also mentioned,” Rahab is the final person listed with details – the final member of the Faith Hall of Fame’s inner circle of greatness.
Think about this for a minute. If we were asked to list the greatest individuals in biblical history, would we include Rahab alongside Noah, Abraham, and Moses? Would we give her precedence over David, Samuel, and the great prophets? And think about another aspect of this situation. If we were asked to list the greatest female counterparts of the patriarchs we would immediately think of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel – but Rahab? As it is, Hebrews 11 does not mention any of the female matriarchs – not one of them – only Rahab. In fact, Rahab is the only woman mentioned by name of the fourteen greats listed in this chapter.
So, what is it about Rahab? What makes this woman stand out above the crowd of later biblical greats and from all the Bible’s named women? The answer is obviously her faith. That may not be easy for us to understand because the only details Hebrews gives us are the facts that “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31).
Simply “welcoming” a group of spies may not sound like an act of particularly great faith, but there was clearly something about this situation that meant Rahab truly risked her life in accepting the Israelite spies and in helping them to escape the city of Jericho. Doubtless then, as now, if they are discovered, those who aid spies often receive the same penalty as the spies themselves. In fact, in the ancient world, the penalty of death would probably have been more than likely for Rahab.
We know from the biblical record that many other individuals risked and lost their lives in the Old Testament era because of their beliefs, but apparently none exhibited more faith in this situation than that shown by Rahab. There is no other reason that can account for Rahab’s inclusion with faith’s greatest of the great. This is all the more remarkable considering that from the Israelite perspective Rahab had three strikes against her: she was a Canaanite, a woman, and a prostitute.
In that sense, Rahab reminds us of the woman in the New Testament account who led “a sinful life” (polite-speak for “prostitute”) who Luke tells us anointed the feet of Jesus, was forgiven by him, and who Jesus told: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). It was faith that saved Rahab physically, but the extent of her faith must have been great indeed for her to have been given the place of honor she holds in Hebrews 11.