Rahab Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: Broad, spacious, vast. The first part “Ra” might come from the Egyptian god Ra.
Ancestry and family life: Joshua 3:12-13. Rahab lived in Jericho. From these verses it is evident that many of Rahab’s family were alive at this time including her parents. Yet she appears to have her own house (2:1). She cared much for her family and made sure that they would also be spared. As a citizen of Jericho, she grew up in a pagan environment in a place where everyone worshipped idols and false gods.
When and where she lived: She lived at the time of Joshua when the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land. This was around 1400 B.C. Although a citizen of Jericho, she had heard about God’s miracles on behalf of the Jews. Perhaps she knew this because of her entertaining and hiring herself out to visitors to the city.
Events surrounding birth: No info.
Training and occupation: Rahab is identified as a harlot (prostitute) multiple times. Joshua 2:1, 6:17, 25, James 2:25, Hebrews 11:31. Many scholars/teachers/pastors have tried to argue that the word for Rahab could mean “innkeeper.” They argue that she was a business women who ran a simple business perhaps a lodge and restaurant. Why do they argue this? Do you think Rahab was an innkeeper or a prostitute? Why?
The Hebrew word Zoonah is used, which means harlot. In Greek (in the New Testament), “porne” is used. These words make it very clear that Rahab was a harlot. We don’t need to try to brush over her sins or her history. It should not be surprising that she was a prostitute. Even a “holy” nation like Israel often had prostitutes. A pagan place like Jericho would surely have many. This likely was considered a “necessary evil.” Rahab would have had a low social status like prostitutes do even today.
Because she had her own house, she could have had a duel business, both running an inn and also hiring herself out to sleep with visitors. The spies may have wished to find a quiet night’s rest out of the public’s eye in this “shady” area of town and rented a room at her house.
God is in the business of saving sinners. Her sinful past makes her faith in God and subsequent life transformation even more amazing.
Place in history: Matthew 1:5. Rahab is one of only four women listed in Jesus’ genealogy. Batsheba and Tamar both were similar in that their sinful and impure lives were recorded in the Bible. Ruth was a Moabite. It is interested that all four of the women listed in Jesus’ genealogy would be looked on negatively because of their sins or nationality. It is like Matthew is showing us that Jesus was born of sinners and took on our own sin in order to save us from sin. At the same time it shows us the hope that even the worst sinners can be restored and used of God. Indeed the Savior of the world was descended directly from Rahab. He can redeem and transform the worst of sinners as well as turn their lives around and use their lives for His own glory.
In addition, Rahab was the mother of Boaz by Salmon (Matthew 1:5). Jewish tradition says that Salmon was one of the two spies. The spies were likely leaders of households, so Salmon would have been a very respected leader in the community. Rahab’s staunch faith in God and life transformation evidently won his heart so that like Boaz later on, he willingly looked past her nationality and past life and took her as his own.
Special traits: None
1. Prostitute – Rahab is identified in the Bible five times as a prostitute. Here are a few verses on this issue. Deuteronomy 23:17-18, Proverbs 6:20-7, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. Harlots were social and moral outcasts in Israel. They were the lowest parts of society. This is someone who routinely on a day to day basis sold herself for money to gratify others’ sexual lusts. As 1 Corinthians 6 shows, this life is incompatible with a life following after God. This lifestyle is never necessary either. God will always provide for His followers if they seek Him first. No believer has to turn to this life or any sin in order to provide for himself/herself. Unless we think we are better than her, see Matthew 5:27-28. Yes, Rahab was a sinner. But so are we all. We can’t reach God’s standard anymore than she could.
2. Liar – In which verse or verses did Rahab lie (2:4-5)? What do you think about this? Did she have a good reason? Was her lie acceptable? Are there times when we should lie for a good reason? 1 Timothy 1:10, Colossians 3:9-10, Proverbs 12:22, Exodus 20:16. Lying is sin with no exceptions. It is not surprising that she lied considering her environment and lifestyle. She was beginning to show a faith in God, but that didn’t mean her choices were all immediately right or she would be perfect right away. What could she or should she have done instead?
3. Did she betray her people? If so, was she wrong or right to do this? Why? Is there anyone else in the Bible that might be considered a “traitor?”
1. Putting others first – She took a great risk in sheltering the spies and hiding them. Although her lying wasn’t the right way to handle it, it shows that she was willing to die for her belief that God would give victory to the Israelites over her own people.
2. Shrewd – This character quality can be either good or bad, depending on how we use it. In Rahab’s case, she was able to discern that the only hope for her family was with the Jews. She hid the spies in a stack of flax, where no one would think to look. Then she let them down by a rope out of her window (her house was on the city wall). This was likely her idea/plan. She knew the best way to avoid the soldiers hunting for them and make it back safely.
3. Concern for her family (shows a kind and compassionate heart) – Rahab helped the spies and could have asked for a lot of things in return. She could have asked for money. She could have asked for a new home, or money, horses, and a wagon (so that she could go wherever she wanted.) But her request was that her entire family could be spared.
4. Faith – This is what she is most famous for. Read her statement of faith. Joshua 2:8-14. Did Rahab have special information that other Jericho-ites did not have? No, they all heard of what the LORD had done for the Jews in Egypt. Her knowledge of the Lord was united with faith while the rest of the people in Jericho hardened their hearts and made up their minds to stubbornly resist until the last.
5. Good mother – She did an admirable job raising Boaz who turned out to be very righteous and considerate.
Important acts and events:
1. Sheltering the spies
2. Her statement of faith
3. Helping the spies leave
4. Saved from destruction
5. Marriage and assimilation into the nation of Israel
How she died: Unknown.
Lessons from her life:
1. Place your bet on the winning team – Rahab correctly believed that the Jews would defeat Jericho because of God’s power. Basically it was good against evil, the one true God against false gods. She believed that the power of the one true God who had already done miracles would prevail. We must realize that God’s victory over Satan is assured. Good will prevail. The world may look and bleak at times, but ultimately all of God’s prophecies will come true and He will finally judge all people who do not obey His Word. We can choose to follow God or the world. Following God will probably not be the popular choice, but it is the right choice and those who make the choice to follow Him with their lives will be rewarded.
2. One person’s faith can have a huge impact on others’ lives. Rahab’s faith effectively saved her entire family from destruction. Their new life with the Jews gave them a chance to know about God and for their lives to be transformed as Rahab’s was. When whole families are saved, it normally starts with one person believing. His/her belief can influence the whole family. When we are saved our thoughts should immediately turn to our family’s salvation just like Rahab’s did.
3. God is in the business of saving even the worst sinners – To most people Rahab was a nothing. But to God, her soul was valuable. He loved her from creation even in the middle of all of her sin. He chose to save her, Rahab, from before the beginning of the world. When Jesus came, He spent a lot of time and effort on these types of people, so much so that the Pharisees often criticized Him for it. Mark 2:13-17. What are applications we can make from this? There are several applications:
a) Thank God that He saved you in the midst of your sin. Thought our exact sins may be different from Rahab’s we are equally guilty. All of us have given in to the lusts of the flesh and eyes and the boastful pride of life. God loves us and redeems us anyway. Righteous people don’t need saving.
b) God can save any of your relatives or friends no matter how bleak it looks. Maybe you write a list of unsaved friends who you want to pray for. When you get to one person you think, “There is no need to write down their name. They will never change.” Don’t give up on them. God can save anyone no matter what they have done or how disinterested they seem to be.
c) No matter what bad habits you have now, there is always hope (1 Corinthians 10:13). If Rahab could change, you can change. It requires faith in a big God (Joshua 2:11). He is the God of heaven, meaning He has all power. And He is God on the earth, meaning He sees everything we do. He sees what we do and He cares about us as individuals and He wants to see our lives transformed.