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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Joshua 2

Verse 1

A NOTABLE WOMAN

‘An harlot … named Rahab.’

Joshua 2:1

We are to travel back into that remote past in order to study a woman who holds a unique place in Bible history, one whose story is a romance, and whose character is an enigma. The facts are sufficiently distinct to make a complete narrative, but we may be pardoned if we admit a certain element of conjecture to fill in an occasional gap; and it is almost inevitable that a modern writer should draw certain inferences which a Biblical writer never thought of expressing. The Fathers treated these characters and stories as types of the Gospel; we are tempted to treat them as examples—singularly typical examples—of human character.

I. If we assume that the Psalmist (Psalms 87) meant by Rahab the same woman whom the Epistle to the Hebrews celebrates in its roll of the martyrs of faith, how appropriate and beautiful it would be! Here is the first convert to the congregation of the Lord from the licentious heathen world. Here is a brand plucked from the burning indeed. Here is the first suggestion of our Lord’s eternal truth that the publicans and harlots may enter the kingdom of heaven. She, if ever man or woman was, has been born in the mystical Zion. She is the pivot on which the Canaan of unnameable abominations, the Canaan exposed to the curse, and blotted from the face of the earth, becomes the Canaan of the promise, the land of the world’s desire, the symbol of the heavens.

With our eyes fixed on Rahab the harlot, hope springs in our hearts for all the lost and outcast world. Surely nowhere has God left Himself without a witness. The heathen may be turned unto Him, for even in such polluted hearts the cry after Him is not silenced, the possibility of faith and love is not quenched. And with this notable example of a woman rescued from shame to become the noble mother of the world’s salvation, we have an impressive command of God to revise our hasty and pharisaical judgments about the forlorn sisterhood of fallen women.

II. We cannot, of course, argue from the tone of the Old Testament in touching upon what we call the ‘social evil,’ to any Divine condonation of it; for moral ideas are the growth of the ages and of broadening revelation. The profession of Rahab is mentioned without comment of praise or blame. It is assumed as part of the constitution of society, but not condemned. There is no hint of surprise in the ancient author that such a woman should be susceptible of religious aspirations, the one potential follower of Jehovah in the corrupted land. While polygamy was recognised even for patriarchs and chosen kings, while men like Judah—a very noble type of man—could commit what the New Testament denounces as a sin without a twinge of conscience, and while the right of a woman to her own soul was not yet admitted, it was inevitable that men should treat lightly the sin which, in the light of Christ, we have learnt to regard with repugnance. But it is that very light of Christ itself which shows that the form which our repugnance takes is unjust, selfish, and uncharitable. No one is so severe as He upon impurity. It is He who has taught us to aim at purity of thought and intention, and to regard impurity in the heart as equivalent to impurity in act. It is His Spirit that fills us all with a holy horror of the unclean books and papers, the alluring sights and suggestions, the inward passions and desires which are the first movements towards the vice which we call in a special sense immorality. It is fallen man that is severe on fallen woman. It is unfallen man that is stern to fallen man. Christ in His utter purity allowed the harlots to approach Him, and to love Him. And the seven devils went out of them at His touch, and they were pure as in the days of their childhood. And if we read the story of Rahab with the eyes of Christ we may possibly arrive at a somewhat startling conclusion. For almost every fallen woman some man is to blame; for the perpetuation of her fall and the trampling in the mire men are always to blame.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Rahab had no scruple in telling a lie. Probably there are even Christian women who would tell such a lie to save those whom they loved. We cannot therefore pause to censure this untruth in a Canaanitish woman of the thirteenth century b.c.; and we may lay aside at once the charge of treason against her country and her town, not only on the ground that such a woman is a kind of outcast from her own society, but also because she was supernaturally convinced that the doom of her country was sealed, and her only hope lay in the direction of saving her own beloved family. She unblushingly assured the officers that the two men who lay concealed on her house-roof had gone out just before the city-gate was closed, and could be overtaken by a rapid pursuit.’

(2) ‘It might be asked, was not Rahab a very sinful woman? Yes. Did she not lie to the king of Jericho? Yes. How then could such a one be saved? She was saved by faith, not by her own righteousness. God saved her, not because she was good, but that she might become so. It is not to be supposed from Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 that God commended Rahab’s falsehood any more than he commends her other sins. These passages point out her real living faith, which was manifested by her works which followed. In the same way the thief on the cross was saved by faith, and not by works; and he abundantly proved the reality of his faith by his works which followed—namely, confession of his own guilt, public confession of faith in Christ’s power to save, his fear of God, rebuking sin, etc., all seen in his few words as he hung on the cross.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Joshua 2". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/joshua-2.html. 1876.