The context of this is Joshua 2:1–16, when the Israelites were spying out the land that the Lord has promised them. Rahab gave refuge to the spies, hid them, and sent their pursuers off in another direction while directing the Israelites elsewhere. During her discourse with the pursuers, she lied about where the men were. The passage reads:
Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.
After she hid the spies, she sent them off:
And she said to them, “Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way.”
This was a different direction from where she sent the spies’ pursuers. This is where the relevant passage in James 2 becomes important:
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that nowhere in this verse is any inclination of Rahab being praised for lying about the spies. Also in Hebrews 11:31, Rahab’s faith was praised for receiving the spies in peace. But again, there was no praise for lying. Rahab was not righteous for lying but for her other deeds:
- giving lodging to the spies
- sending the spies in a safe direction
These were the things James considered her righteous for. So, God, who inspired James to write this, never said Rahab’s lie was just—only her other actions.
Lying is a breach of the Ninth Commandment and is never condoned by God, regardless of who does the lying or what the circumstances might be. There is no such thing as a “righteous lie.” Nonetheless, Rahab acted with integrity based on the limited understanding she had of the God of the Bible at the time. There is evidence here of a changed heart and a changed life. A former prostitute who was once a child of Canaan has become a daughter of Zion.
The most remarkable aspect of this whole story is that Rahab, a Gentile and a common harlot, marries into the family line of David the King, giving birth to Boaz, the husband of Ruth, and becomes showcased as a mother in Israel. What a picture of the incredible condescension of our God, whereby the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11).