03 Rahab


Frymer-Kensky, Tikva   Reading the Women of the Bible: A new Interpretation of their Stories.  (Shocken Books, New York, 2002).



  • Moses led the people out of Egypt
  • Moses and the people make a covenant with the LORD at Mt. Sinai
  • The people sin – golden calf, grumbling.  AND – Moses sent out spies who didn’t trust the LORD.  The LORD punishes them – none of this generation will enter the Promised Land
  • 40 years of wandering in the wilderness
  • As they approach the Promised Land / Canaan finally Moses dies, Joshua takes over
  • Genesis – promise of descendants as numerous as the stars fulfilled
  • Exodus – promise of a land flowing with milk and honey fulfilled
  • Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy (much later) all focus on the Laws / 613 commandments.
  • The Book of Judges and Joshua detail how the occupation of the land came about.
    • Was it a battle-filled march from city-state to city-state?
    • Was it more of an “infiltration” with very little violence?


The Heroine Harlot – Joshua 2:1-7

1 Then Joshua, son of Nun, secretly sent out two spies from Shittim, saying, “Go, reconnoiter the land and Jericho.”  When the two reached Jericho, they went into the house of a prostitute named Rahab, where they lodged.  2 But a report was brought to the king of Jericho: “Some men came here last night, Israelites, to spy out the land.”  3 So the king of Jericho sent Rahab the order, “Bring out the men who have come to you and entered your house, for they have come to spy out the entire land.”

 4 The woman had taken the two men and hidden them, so she said, “True, the men you speak of came to me, but I did not know where they came from.  5 At dark, when it was time to close the gate, they left, and I do not know where they went. You will have to pursue them quickly to overtake them.”  6 Now, she had led them to the roof, and hidden them among her stalks of flax spread out there.  7 But the pursuers set out along the way to the fords of the Jordan. As soon as they had left to pursue them, the gate was shut.


Faith and Hesed Joshua 2:8-14

8 Before the spies lay down, Rahab went up to them on the roof  9 and said: “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that a dread of you has come upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land tremble with fear because of you.  10 For we have heard how the LORD dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan, whom you destroyed under the ban.  11 We heard, and our hearts melted within us; everyone is utterly dispirited because of you, since the LORD, your God, is God in heaven above and on earth below.  

12  Now then, swear to me by the LORD that, since I am showing kindness to you, you in turn will show kindness to my family.  Give me a reliable sign 13 that you will allow my father and mother, brothers and sisters, and my whole family to live, and that you will deliver us from death.” 14 “We pledge our lives for yours,” they answered her. “If you do not betray our mission, we will be faithful in showing kindness to you when the LORD gives us the land.”


The Scarlet Cord: Joshua 2:15-24

15 Then she let them down through the window with a rope; for she lived in a house built into the city wall. 16 “Go up into the hill country,” she said, “that your pursuers may not come upon you.  Hide there for three days, until they return; then you may go on your way.”  17 They answered her, “We are free of this oath that you made us take, unless, 18 when we come into the land, you tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you are letting us down.  Gather your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family into your house. 19 Should any of them pass outside the doors of your house, their blood will be on their own heads, and we will be guiltless.  But if anyone in your house is harmed, their blood will be on our heads. 20 If, however, you betray our mission, we will be free of the oath you have made us take.”  21 “Let it be as you say,” she replied, and sent them away. When they were gone, she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They went up into the hill country, where they stayed three days until their pursuers, who had sought them all along the road without finding them, returned.  23 Then the two came back down from the hills, crossed the Jordan to Joshua, son of Nun, and told him all that had happened to them.  24 They assured Joshua, “The LORD has given all this land into our power; indeed, all the inhabitants of the land tremble with fear because of us.”


In the Midst of Israel  Joshua 6:20-25

20 As the horns blew, the people began to shout. When they heard the sound of the horn, they raised a tremendous shout.  The wall collapsed, and the people attacked the city straight ahead and took it.  21 They observed the ban by putting to the sword all living creatures in the city: men and women, young and old, as well as oxen, sheep and donkeys.

22  To the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out the woman with all her family, as you swore to her you would do.”  23 The spies entered and brought out Rahab, with her father, mother, brothers, and all her family; her entire family they led forth and placed outside the camp of Israel.  24 The city itself they burned with all that was in it; but the silver, gold, and articles of bronze and iron they placed in the treasury of the house of the LORD.  25 Because Rahab the prostitute had hidden the messengers whom Joshua had sent to reconnoiter Jericho, Joshua let her live, along with her father’s house and all her family, who dwell in the midst of Israel to this day.


Herem in your midst: Joshua 7:13

13 Get up, sanctify the people.  Tell them, “Sanctify yourselves before tomorrow, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: That which is banned is in your midst, Israel.  You cannot stand up to your enemies until you remove it from among you.


Gibeon’s approach: Joshua 9:6-11

6 Thus they journeyed to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal, where they said to him and to the Israelites, “We have come from a far-off land; now, make a covenant with us.”  7 But the Israelites replied to the Hivites, “You may be living in land that is ours. How, then, can we make a covenant with you?”  8 But they answered Joshua, “We are your servants.” Then Joshua asked them, “Who are you? Where do you come from?”  

They answered him, “Your servants have come from a far-off land, because of the fame of the LORD, your God. For we have heard reports of all that he did in Egypt 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan, Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth.  11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our land said to us, ‘Take along provisions for the journey and go to meet them. Say to them: “We are your servants; now make a covenant with us.”’




Once again men are the leaders, women have to rescue them and the Divine Plan.

F-K p. 34 “Male generals, first Joshua and then Barak, lead the troops.  Nevertheless, femaile saviors mark both the beginning and the end of the war with the Canaanites.  The wome are not all members of Israel: Rahab is a Canaanite and Yael a Kenite.  But from their marginal position, they move center stage to initiate and terminate the conquest of Canaan.”


The Heroine Harlot – Joshua 2:1-7

F-K p. 35: “Rahab is a familiar anti-type in folklore, the prostitute with the heart of gold. …  But at the beginning, Rahab is a triply marginalized woman.  From Israel’s point of view, she is an outsider; from Canaan’s point of view, she is a woman; and even from the Canaanite woman’s point of view, she is a prostitute, outside normal family life.  Rahab is smart, proactive, tricky and unafraid to disobey and deceive her king.  Her allegiance to God and Israel make her one of Israel’s early saviors.”

Moses had sent out spies also in Numbers 13

17 In sending them to reconnoiter the land of Canaan, Moses said to them, “Go up there in the Negeb, up into the highlands, 18 and see what kind of land it is and whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many.  19 Is the country in which they live good or bad? Are the towns in which they dwell open or fortified?  20 Is the soil fertile or barren, wooded or clear? And do your best to get some of the fruit of the land.” It was then the season for early grapes.

26   Proceeding directly to Moses and Aaron and the whole community of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran at Kadesh, they made a report to them and to the whole community, showing them the fruit of the land.  27 They told Moses: “We came to the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit.  28 However, the people who are living in the land are powerful, and the towns are fortified and very large.  Besides, we saw descendants of the Anakim there.

30 Caleb, however, quieted the people before Moses and said, “We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly prevail over it.”  But the men who had gone up with him said, “We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us.”  They spread discouraging reports among the Israelites about the land they had reconnoitered, saying, “The land that we went through and reconnoitered is a land that consumes its inhabitants.  And all the people we saw there are huge.  33 There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakim are from the Nephilim); in our own eyes we seemed like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.”


F-K p. 36: “It is not surprising to find Rahab acting as the “midwife” of the embryonic Israel.  The book of Joshua tells the tale of the entry into Canaan as a mirror image of the Exodus from Egypt, filling the account of the events of the entry with allusions to the Exodus.  God promises to be with Joshua as with Moses (Josh. 1:5); flint knives are used in circumcisions (Josh. 5:2-3); Joshua and Moses – and only they- are told to remove their shoes because they stand on holy ground (Josh. 5:15).”    + when crossing Jordan River it parts for them  …   “When Moses’ mother saves Moses “she hid him,”  wattispenehu.  Rahab hides the Israelites spies just as Moses’ mother hid her baby.  The women of the Exodus have met their successor.”


Faith and Hesed Joshua 2:8-14

F-K p. 37: “Rahab begins by declaring her faith in God’s intentions and might, I know that the LORD has given you this land.  With this statement, the would-be savior acknowledges God and becomes the oracle of Israel’s occupation of Canaan, the first of the female oracles who appear throughout the historical books.  Rahab is also the first of the inhabitants of the land to declare her allegiance to God, and she is the first to join Israel.”

F-K p. 37: “Rahab’s speech is couched in language familiar to readers in ancient Israel.  She uses special terms, ‘eimah, “dread”, and namag, “melt away”, from the vocabulary of Israel’s holy war to conquer Canaan.  These phrases allude to the great song of Israel’s sacred history, the Song of the Sea: “All the dwellers of Canaan are aghast, terror and dread descend upon them” (Exodus 15:15-16).”

In return for saving the men Rahab asks for protection for herself and her family.  The 2 men promise it.  There is a hidden problem though – ALL are to be killed per God’s command.


The Scarlet Cord: Joshua 2:15-24

F-K p. 39   Interesting parallels between this story and that of Sodom and Gomorrah:

  • 2 strangers lodge in the city
  • The host defies a demand to “bring out the men”
  • The city is destroyed
  • The host who saved the men is saved and his descendants named
  • The host is marginal to the city’s power system
  • Both stories take place in the Jordanian plain
  • There is an “escape to the hills”
  • The same word is used “hammalakim” for the 2 men and the “angels” of Sodom
  • Part of the point of both stories – the cities “deserved” to be destroyed.  Same sin? Inhospitality

F-K p. 40  “On the night of the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt, the Israelites marked their doors with lamb’s blood and stayed inside.  Rahab’s family, inside the house marked in red, is to be rescued from Jericho as the Israelites were from Egypt.”


In the Midst of Israel  Joshua 6:20-25

F-K p. 40:  “The family of Rahab reenacts the drama of Israel, and this resourceful outsider, Rahab the trickster, is a new Israel.  All has ended happily: Israel has been enriched by the family of a heroine, and the conquest has begun.”

F-K p. 41: “in the light of herem, it seems strange to see Rahab and her whole family joining Israel, and one might conclude that the first thing the Israelites did on entering Canaan was break the rule of the herem.”


Herem in your midst: Joshua 7:13

So, in ther intervening text, what is the herem in their midst?  (forbidden, illicit, contaminating).  Not Rahab and her family!  Achan took booty / plundered the city of Jericho despite the prohibition going in to it. (a cloak,  200 silver shekels, a golden thing).  As punishment Achan and all his family and all his stuff are buried, burned, and stoned.  This is certainly counter-intuitive or at least counter-expectations.

F-K p. 42: “Israel has clearly not angered God  by AGREING TO SAVE Rahab.  When Achan ignored the herem for selfish reasons, all of Israel was punished and could not conquer Ai until he was found and executed; when the men of Israel ignored the herem as an act hesed to repay hesed, then God reacted by miraculously conquering Jericho.  The juxtaposition of the stories implies that the herem is not an absolute, and is superseded by issues of justice and mercy.”

Gibeon’s approach: Joshua 9:6-11

The Gibeonites are NOT from far away.  They know, somehow, that Israel should not make a treaty with them.  BUT they trick Israel by suggesting that they are from far away.  Israel DOES make a treaty with them and despite the herem – God honors this treaty also.

F-K p. 43: “The Rahab and Gibeon stories may represent an old tradition that remembered the conquest as a process during which many inhabitants of the land survived, became aligned with Israel, and ultimately joined it.  According to this tradition, herem applied only to those nations or kings who actively opposed Israel.  The battles of conquest were “defensive.”  These stories show that there was an alternative to resisting the Israelites; those who were convinced by the reports of God’s might were assimilated rather than destroyed.  Such a view of the amalgamation and incorporation of local inhabitants is strikingly like the account of the settlement of Israel that is currently accepted by archeologists and historians.”


F-K p. 43: “The book of Joshua is part of the Deuteronomistic history, and Deuteronomy does not trust foreign alliances and foreign women.  To Deuteronomy, the very purpose of the herem is to prevent the introduction of ‘foreign” ideas into Israel, and the nations that remain are sources of danger.  From this point of view, the rescue of Rahab would look like Israel’s first act of apostasy, committed immediately upon Israel’s entry into the land.  The Deuteronomist does not make any direct negative statements, but the repeated use of the verb herem in Joshua insinuates the suspicion that saving Rahab contains the first seeds of the nation’s destruction.”



F-K p. 44: “She is a trickster outsider, like Jacob in Laban’s house, one who survives by her wits, and comes to God by her faith.  Rahab the whore is also the outsider’s outsider; the most marginal of the marginal.  She is the quintessential downtrodden with whom Israel identifies.  Just as her pious behavior reverses expectations of how prostitutes act, so her elevation is a reversal of the normal expectations for a prostitute’s future.  The LORD interrupts normative societal expectations by exalting the prostitute just as the LORD interrupted expectations by choosing the younger sons and freeing the slaves.  The saving of Rahab is part of and an example of God’s nature and Israel’s mission.”

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