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Hebrews 11 list a number of people that Hebrews 12:1 calls a "great a cloud of witnesses". Among them are the usual suspects: Noah, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. But there are also some lesser names, including Abel, Enoch, and Rahab:

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.—Hebrews 11:29-31 (ESV)

Joshua 2 gives an account of how Rahab welcomed them. (By the way, there's little evidence she offered them sexual favors.) She was afraid for her life because of the Hebrew's military victories and betrayed her home town when she hid the spies. Is that really a sign of her faith? Why isn't it the spies that are honored? Why was Rahab listed?

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2 Answers 2

Let us consider first the merits of Rachab:

She was an outsider, a non-Jew, yet she recognized the God of Israel as true. It's hard enough for members of a community to act on their faith sometimes, and yet she did it from outside, without any of the usual societal support. And aligning with the people of Israel due to faith in God is quite novel at this time, perhaps not seen since Avraham. (I'm not counting people with personal or family connections like Yitro.)

She helped the spies at risk to herself and her family. It would have been safer to ignore them, and perhaps meritorious (in Jericho) to report them. She'd be being a good citizen by doing that and maybe earn some points with Jericho's leaders. Instead, without anything but the spies' word that they'd protect her, she placed her lot with Israel and God.

Rachab placed her faith in God and in God's representatives.

The spies, on the other hand, were military men just doing their job. They bore no more risk than any other soldier and, so far as we know, demonstrated no more faith than any other Israelite. Even if all Israel had high levels of faith, so in the abstract they deserve commendation, we usually only call out the ones who are above the norm.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Good points all around. I do think however that the spies were in a more hazardous position than most of the army. But they did what they did under orders from Joshua, which is a very different situation than Rahab's. –  Jon Ericson Aug 30 '12 at 18:24
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The job may well have been more hazardous than usual, but it probably wasn't as dangerous as, say, Reuven and Gad going as shock-troops to conquer the land, and the text doesn't tell us (or seem to hint) that the two spies were particularly driven by faith. I'm not trying to diss the spies; I'm just saying that they were within the bounds of normal. :-) –  Gone Quiet Aug 30 '12 at 18:29
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I think this is a superb answer so I do not intent to supplant it, but perhaps supplement.

Rahab has a couple of notable mentions in the New Testament: Hebrews 11 (which you've identified) and James 2. James 2 is almost more shocking than Hebrews 11 since she's held on par with Abraham as an example of saving faith.

Looking back at the actual story in Joshua 2, I'm inclined to understand Rahab's inclusion in these two accounts as a function of her response. We see in vv. 8-13 that the fame of YHWH had spread to Jericho. The way the story is constructed, Rahab is the only one of the city who both trusted (had faith) that YHWH could achieve the results that YHWH expects and responded in a manner that accented to what YHWH was going to do - and assisted.

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don't forget she is in the line of David, and therefore Christ, too –  warren Aug 31 '12 at 13:42
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but how is that a demonstration of faith? –  swasheck Aug 31 '12 at 14:06
    
it isn't necessarily - I was merely pointing-out she's included elsewhere and prominently, too –  warren Aug 31 '12 at 14:18
    
I can't speak to the accuracy of this, but apparently there might be two Rachabs. –  Gone Quiet Sep 2 '12 at 2:47
    
Fascinating. I wonder who this RK Phillips character is. I can't find him anywhere and the link in Wikipedia is dead so I can't evaluate the source. –  swasheck Sep 2 '12 at 3:54
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