Many are confused regarding the story of Rahab who, although she lied when she hid Israel’s spies, was described as being “justified” (James 2:25; cf. Hebrews 11:31). How does one harmonize this with biblical ethics?
The narrative regarding the Canaanite, whose name was Rahab, in no way sanctions lying. There are several factors that must be taken into account in examining the Old Testament record.
First, one would not even know of this event were it not for the fact that it is revealed in the biblical documents. This is a clue as to the candidness and integrity of the sacred account. Scripture makes no effort to conceal the episode.
Second, Rahab’s lie is never condoned anywhere in the Bible text. The New Testament writers certainly do not claim that she was “justified” by her misrepresentation of the facts regarding the Hebrew spies.
Third, lying is uniformly condemned throughout the Bible (see Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 6:16-19; Ephesians 4:25; Revelation 21:8). The fact is, apart from divine revelation it cannot be proved that lying is wrong. Atheists certainly do not, and cannot (consistent with their philosophy) condemn lying as an evil that is universally wrong.
The case of Rahab is an example of God honoring a person due to her obedient faith — in spite of a personal character flaw. Reflect upon the following facts in connection with this incident.
Rahab was a Canaanite, an ancient body of pagans that inhabited Palestine at the time Israel entered the land in the 15th century before Christ. They were a grossly wicked people, steeped in idolatry and immorality. They even sacrificed their children on occasion as offerings to their gods. By profession, Rahab was a “harlot,” and the scriptures make no attempt to hide that unsavory lifestyle. Without question, this woman needed considerable refinement.
In spite of her sordid background, Rahab had generated in her heart a growing faith in the God of Israel. Read the narrative recorded in Joshua 2:9-11.
... and she said unto the men [the spies], I know that Jehovah has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how Jehovah dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, neither did there remain any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath....
This woman had come to believe in the true God and his power to deliver. She was of a different temperament than her heathen neighbors. Accordingly, when the spies from Israel approached her, she was not “disobedient,” as the others of Jericho who would perish in their pagan corruption. Rather, she, through faith in Jehovah, received the spies in peace (Hebrews 11:31), hid them, and sent them out another way (James 2:25).
It was by these works of faith that she was delivered. Later, she was even incorporated into Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5).
Admittedly she lied in the process of hiding the spies, and that was wrong. But her faith and obedience allowed her to obtain pardon from her blemished history. It is for the former that she is commended; the latter was never sanctioned.