Is it ever okay to lie? I recently read the account in Joshua about Rahab who hides the spies. Ironically, just a couple days after reading that, I heard an interview on a Christian radio program with an author who wrote a book about lying. As part of their discussion, they brought up Rahab.
The story about Rahab is found in Joshua, chapter 2. Moses has died and Joshua was chosen to be the new leader of the Israelites. He was the one to lead them into the Promised Land. They would have to cross over the Jordan River and take the land God had promised their forefathers. The first city in their path was Jericho. It had very high, thick walls around it, so Joshua sent two men to spy out the land before they would plan to proceed.
“So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.” (v.1) This story is used a lot to point out that God can even use someone like a prostitute for His purposes. I often wondered why the men of Israel decided it was okay to stay with such a woman. I know that when it was getting dark, cities of that time would close their gates to keep people from going in or out at night. In their wandering, the sun must have started setting and the people of Jericho must have begun preparing to close the gates. I suppose needing a place to hide for the night would have led them to stay among the “outcasts” of society.
Even though these outcasts were probably lesser known, word got to the king that Rahab had let two Israelite men into her home. The king sent to Rahab – I assume via a messenger and/or some guards – commanding her to bring the men out. Instead of obeying, she took the men and hid them on her roof with her stalks of flax. Then, she didn’t lie about the men coming to her house, but she said she didn’t know where they were from and that as the gates were closing, they went out. So the king’s men started pursuing down the road and went out of the city gates to see if they could find and overtake them.
When the king’s men were gone, Rahab went to the Israelite men and explained to them that she knew the Lord has given them the land and that the city had heard of the conquests they already had made and the people were afraid of them. In her speech, she says, “for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (v.11) I believe her acknowledgement and understanding of this is key. I don’t know how she got that revelation, but the fact is that she knew and that she respected God.
The story goes on that she asks the Israelite men to spare her life and the lives of her family because she protected them. They give her a scarlet cord to tie in her window as a sign to the Israelite army to not destroy her home or anyone in her home, unless she tells their business to anyone.
The narrative mentions that Rahab lived in the wall of the city. She let the men down by a rope to escape.
Later, in chapter 6 of Joshua, we read about the destruction of Jericho. This is when the Lord had given Joshua instructions on how to bring Jericho down. The Israelite army marched around the walls of Jericho one time, each day for six days. On the seventh day, they were to march around Jericho seven times and then shout at the sound of the trumpet.
“And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city! Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.'” (vs. 16-17)
“And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat.” (v. 20)
I’m assuming that maybe the wall that was in front of the Israelites fell down flat, and not all four walls of the city. Rahab lived in the wall, so for her and her family to be safe, the wall they were in could not have fallen down flat. God protected her.
Joshua told the men who had been spies to go in and bring out Rahab, her family, and all that she had. They did so and then burned the city.
“And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” (v. 25)
So with this story, we see Rahab lies to her government authority. Yet she is spared because she hid the Israelites. We all know that lying is wrong, so why does the Bible include a story where someone seems to be rewarded for lying?
First, we should remember that the world at the time was very corrupt and immoral. The Ten Commandments had been given to the Israelites. The rest of the world basically was so corrupt as to have no moral standard. Over and over again in the Old Testament, God says how detestable worship of idols and other gods is to Him. The people in Canaan were practicing these things.
Second, Rahab acknowledged that the Isrealites’ God was Lord and ruler of all. I believe that is key. So she wanted to protect God’s people. She probably feared God, having heard what battles they had already won.
Third, God’s promises and purposes will stand. Through this story, we see God’s sovereignty, His justice, and His faithfulness.
Not only did God promise this land to these Israelites’ forefathers, but earlier, in Deuteronomy 9, God reviews Israel’s rebellions. There, God made a point for them to know that it is because of the wickedness of the nations in Canaan that God is driving them out via the Israelites.
“Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deut. 9:4-5
God rules over all and what He wills He will make happen. God fulfills His promises. God’s justice was to get the nasty, wicked nations out of the Promised Land and give it to His people as His covenant stated. Rahab was far from the picture of purity, but she at least recognized God for God, which was probably more than the rest of her city. For that, she helped God’s people, and despite a lie, she lived.