Theology in 3D

Grace for a Prostitute?

Layton Talbert | December 6, 2017
New Testament, Old Testament, Theology

Reading Joshua 2 set me to thinking about women who have, for whatever reason, made really poor life choices. Choices that have come back not just to haunt them but to rob them of their hope and self-worth.

Granted, the Bible does condemn such choices (Hebrews 12:4, to cite one of many places). But it doesn’t stop there. It holds out to women like that (and men) a hand of hope and grace, of recovery and redemption.

The words “Rahab” and “harlot” are virtually inseparable. Joshua 2 introduces her matter-of-factly as a harlot. When the Bible brings her up again near the end to highlight her exemplary faith, she’s still referred to as “Rahab the harlot” (Hebrews 11:31Jas. 2:25). That’s not a tag of perpetual indignity, a scarlet mark of unforgiveness; it is a badge of grace, an earthy reminder that the mercy of God rescues sinners wherever it finds them. Her story is a compelling one.


For the second time, Israel was encamped on the threshold of the land God had promised to give to them. (To see what happened the first time, see Num. 13-14.) When Joshua dispatched two scouts to reconnoiter and collect intelligence on the area and its inhabitants, they lodged at an inn in Jericho run, it seems, by Rahab (Josh 2:1). Somehow their mission was discovered and word of their whereabouts leaked out (Josh 2:2). When the king of Jericho sent soldiers to apprehend the spies at Rahab’s inn (Josh 2:3), she did what probably came quite naturally: she lied to protect her clientele (Josh 2:4-7).

It’s not hard to imagine that she’d done that sort of thing before. She was a businesswoman who knew which side her bread was buttered on. When word gets around that someone like her can’t be trusted to keep secrets and protect the privacy of her customers, business dries up. But this was different. She was a harlot, yes, but she wasn’t just a harlot. She was a woman made in the image of God in whose heart God—Israel’s God—was working.

After diverting the king’s soldiers onto a false scent, she hurried back to the housetop for an urgent conversation with her visitors. “I know that the LORD has given you the land” (2:9). What an astonishing thing to hear from her! We’re not told exactly how she knew that, but reports about Israel’s spectacular deliverance from Egypt had been circulating widely (cf. Exod 15:14-1723:27Deut 2:2511:25Josh 9:9-10), perhaps beginning with Jethro (Exod 18). Rahab’s people had heard all about the Red Sea incident four decades earlier, and the more recent destruction of their powerful eastern neighbors by this little nomadic nation (Josh 2:10). Now this landless multitude, trailing miracles in their wake through the wilderness, was ominously poised on Jericho’s doorstep, gateway to Canaan. And she was one of the few who were prepared to acknowledge that “the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Josh 2:11).

Rahab experienced God’s gracious deliverance from God’s appointed destruction because of her faith in God’s promise. What promise? “I know that the Lord has given you the land.” But here’s the amazing thing: what she believed was not a promise to her, but a promise God made to Israel (Deut 1:8). And yet, inherent in that divine promise to give Israel the land of Canaan was the eradication of the Canaanites themselves—Canaanites like Rahab.

That’s what makes Rahab’s story so extraordinary: she put her trust in a divine promise given to someone else and against her! Rather than rebelling against God’s sentence against her, rather than fighting it, rather than protesting the unfairness of God’s promise to give these Jews her land, she chose instead to believe it, to submit to it, and to plead for mercy on the basis of it. As a result, she rescued not only herself but her whole family as well (Josh 2:12-13).


Elisabeth Elliot once remarked in a radio interview that you can never recover your virginity, but you can recover your chastity. It’s clear that Rahab was never the same woman after her encounter with those Jewish emissaries; they came to her as the savor of death unto death and became to her the savor of life unto life because of her faith (2 Cor 2:15-16Heb 11:31). Her faith in God’s words rescued her, transformed her, redeemed her, and radically altered her destiny, making her part of the people of God.

Who could have guessed that “Rahab the harlot” would end up marrying into the tribe of Judah and having a child named Boaz who, in turn (through another story of grace to another foreign woman named Ruth), would have a son named Jesse who fathered a boy named David? Rahab was redeemed from prostitution to become the ancestress not only of David the king but of Jesus the Messiah (Ruth 4:18-22Matt 1:3-16). God’s ability to redeem our past and grace our future exceeds our imagination.

The Bible includes other examples of how God treats women with a history of poor life choices (sin is always a poor life choice)—choices that leave them feeling broken, dispirited, hopeless, even useless. Read John 4 (a woman who’d had five husbands) and Luke 7 (“a woman in the city who was a sinner”).

Jesus himself was the glorious Descendant of a rescued harlot. He is the Savior who already knows all things you ever did (John 4:29). And he accepts anyone who comes to him with faith in His promises and submission to his sovereignty. Christ alone offers the unconditional love, rescue, restoration, and renewal that broken people need.

Photo Credit: Isaac Talbert

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared at

2 responses to “Grace for a Prostitute?”

  1. Tawnya Morse says:

    Wow. Thank you, Dr. Talbert, for that beautiful view of God’s grace. I never considered that before, that Rahab’s faith was in a promise that was completely opposite to her (from the world’s perspective) well-being. It’s pretty amazing to see her story that way, and to realize just how transformative her faith through God’s grace really was. Only God can do such miracles in hearts and lives.

  2. His grace really is amazing. Thanks for reading and sharing.

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