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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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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
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 13:42
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    but how is that a demonstration of faith?
    – swasheck
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 14:06
  • it isn't necessarily - I was merely pointing-out she's included elsewhere and prominently, too
    – warren
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 14:18
  • 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
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 3:54
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Her faith is that she changed sides, at a time when that was very risky.

  • She disobeyed the king of Jericho and lied to him (v4-6), which would have resulted in a sticky end if she had been caught.
  • She knowingly acted against her own people.
  • And made a covenant with the enemy. (And we have the curious situation where she could save as many relatives as she wanted, but had to convince them to change sides too – none of them could tell outsiders or the deal was off.)
  • It seems that their imminent defeat by Israel was common knowledge in Jericho (v9-11), but Rahab acted on what everyone knew. That is faith.
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  • Nice job in marshaling the scriptural evidence, Russell. Welcome to the forum.
    – Dieter
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 2:29
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Perhaps a better question would be, "Why was Rahab included in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus Christ (in Matthew 1)":

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac,Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

In addition to all the reasons given by providers of the above answers, I suggest that Rahab's mention is Hebrews may be because she figured to prominently in the genealogy of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

If I were Matthew, and I also happened to be the author of Hebrews, I guess I'd have included Rahab in my Hall of Faith instead of the spies, as full of faith as they likely were. Moreover, given a limited amount of space, the author of Hebrews by selecting a limited few stalwarts of faith was at the same time deflecting the names of other stalwarts. He included them, to be sure, but collectively, not individually, as in the following verses:

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—-the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:35-40 NIV, my italics).

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After almost a decade, I think I can add some words.

I have noticed it is usual in some cultures and places to allow "white lies", lies with a good intention, or lies said under duress, or any such circumstances.

However, many people with some contact with Philosophy of Ethics can readily quote some serious philosophers that defend the idea that lying is always intrinsically wrong, from the Thomistic tradition to the Kantian one, and reject the former, more utilitaristic approach.

This obviously generates a problem similar to that we find here: how is it possible that Rahab is being listed at the Hall of Faith, and even figured in the genealogical tree of the Messiah when she obviously committed the sin of lying?

The most readily available answer, Rahab lied but because of her noble intentions and her tremendous faith she was forgiven, is a cheap solution and can be valid, however it is not satisfactory, because in a certain sense it would make God (the One really interested that the people abide to the moral law) a bit utilitaristic, defeating the whole premise of rejecting utilitarism.

The other possible answer that I will defend here is that Rahab was skillfully employing a misleading truth (a statement true in and by itself, but ambiguous to the extent that it can be possibly interpreted in a misleading way). In other words, she concealed the truth by speaking truths.

First, the word employed in Joshua 2:4 for hid is 6845 Strong, whereas in the verse 6 the word is 2934. 6845 is employed in Exodus 2:2, describing way Moses was hidden by his mother, whereas 2934 is employed in Exodus 2:12, describing the way Moses hid the men he slew. Certainly the two words are synonym, however synonym words are not the same as identical words. We can compare and trace parallels between these two events (Moses and Rahab). Rahab and the mother of Moses was hiding something important and favourably to the people of Lord of Heaven. To be even more accurate, she hid the truth with a smart, sexually-loaded wording.

In Joshua 2:4-5 the word translated as know is Strong 3045 usually employed in a context of intimacy, especially sexual intimacy. As we know the event happens in a burlesque house, it is entirely plausible to say Rahab was telling that she did not know where the spies were from the usual way harlots "know" men. Indeed, if ex hypothesi she had sexual intimacy with these men, she would know a plethora of things about them, especially their circumcision, and she would know where they were from.

Knowing (intelectually) that Rahab's house was in the side of the wall, it was likely a place with a great flow of diverse people, therefore it is perfectly plausible that her services would be negated, especially if these men came and gone. (We should also remember Rahab lived there with her family too.)

Joining all the pieces, we can conclude with a high degree of accuracy that Rahab was concealing the spies while denying that she sexually engaged with them.

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  • That's an interesting thread of reasoning. I haven't heard that before.
    – mbomb007
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 18:11
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The author of Hebrews wrote this as the introduction;

Heb 11:1 - Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NIV)

Why is Rahab included in the "Hall of Faith"? It is because she met the above criteria. Note she demanded the spies gave her a promise in the name of the Lord. Joshua 2:12-13 read

12 “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign

13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.” (NIV)

A grace from her faith, she was an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5)

Why the spies not?

Note when Rahab asked for a promise, she did not need the spies gave her a pledge, just need them to swear in the name of the Lord. However, before the spies left, they gave her a disclaimer, Joshua 2:17-20 read

17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us

18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house.

19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them.

20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.” (NIV)

These two spies had put the assurance on the scarlet cord.

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