Rahab in the Old Testament and Lydia in the New are separated by thousands of years and by thousands of miles. Despite different cultures and different circumstances, there are some intriguing similarities between these two women who are mentioned in the pages of Scripture.
Rahab’s and Lydia’s Work
Rahab was an independent businesswoman. As well as being a sex-worker, it seems that Rahab worked with flax (Josh. 2:6). Working and weaving with flax was labour intensive but it was an honourable trade.
Lydia was also an independent businesswoman and she was also involved with textiles. Lydia was a dealer of expensive purple cloth (Acts 16:14).
Rahab’s and Lydia’s Families
Rahab wasn’t married, but she did have a family: a father, mother, brothers and sisters. Rahab cared for her family, and they were saved by her actions (Josh. 2:13).
There is no mention that Lydia was married, but she was the mistress of her own household. The other members of her household probably included some family members as well as slaves who worked in the business. Following Lydia’s lead, all of her household was saved (Acts 16:15).
Rahab’s and Lydia’s Faith Communities
Rahab was the first Gentile to join the community of Israel in the Promised Land, and God used her to play a pivotal role in helping Israel have the faith and confidence to enter the Promised Land and conquer Jericho (Josh. 2:11 cf. Josh. 2:24).
Lydia was also a Gentile and she was the first Christian in Europe who was converted through Paul’s ministry. God used Lydia to play a pivotal role in establishing a church at Philippi.
Rahab’s and Lydia’s Faith in Action
Before the spies arrived at her door, Rahab had already heard about the God of Israel, and God had caused Rahab to have faith in him. She was ready to make a life-changing commitment to the God of Israel and to put her faith into action. God had strategically provided the Israelite spies with a courageous ally in Rahab.
Before Paul and Silas arrived at Philippi with the Good News about Jesus, Lydia had already come to believe in the Jewish faith and their God. In Acts 16:14, Lydia is referred to as “a worshipper of God.” This expression means that she was a Gentile adherent or convert to Judaism. Lydia was with other women at a Jewish place of prayer (“prayer house”) when Paul found them and told them about Jesus. “The Lord opened her heart” to Paul’s message (Acts 16:14b). God gave her faith, faith that she put into action by persuading Paul and Silas to stay in her home (Acts 16:15, 40).
Rahab’s and Lydia’s Hospitality
Rahab seems to have been the mistress of her own home and she is honoured by the Jews for her hospitality (cf. James 2:24-26). She willingly risked her life by committing treason against her own people when she welcomed, sheltered and protected the two spies in her home.
Lydia was the mistress of her own home, and she welcomed Paul and his team into her home (Acts 16:15, 40). It is likely that the first Christian congregation in Philippi continued to meet in Lydia’s home, probably led by Lydia, when Paul and his co-workers left to continue their mission elsewhere. These acts of hospitality were not without dangers for Lydia, especially considering that Paul and Silas had been beaten, imprisoned, and asked to leave town.
Rahab’s and Lydia’s Salvation
Rahab wanted salvation for her entire household and she astutely secured this by making a deal with the spies (Josh. 2:12-14; 6:17, 22-23).
Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day. Joshua 6:25
Rahab later married Salmon. They had a son called Boaz who married another Gentile woman—Ruth. Both Rahab and Ruth are ancestors of Jesus (Matt. 1:5).
Because of Lydia’s faith, her whole household was saved and baptised. This household formed the base of the church at Philippi. Paul later wrote to the Philippian church and referred back to their beginning.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:4-6
God used these two faith-filled women for his purposes, to bless the community of his people. God could have chosen men, but in these cases he chose women. Perhaps he saw in them a readiness for true faith and action. God is still choosing to use faith-filled women who are courageous, capable, and ready to bless his people.
 Rahab is consistently referred to as a “prostitute” (Hebrew: zanah; Greek: pornē) in both the Old and New Testaments (Josh. 2:1; 6:17, 22, 25; Heb. 11:31; Jas 2:25).
Was Rahab an innkeeper? Her home is referred to as an inn or lodging house (katagōgion) by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities 5.1.2 (line 7). And in the Aramaic Targum (Aramaic translation/interpretation) of Joshua, Rahab is referred to as an “innkeeper” (pundeqita). However, cognates of this word are used, perhaps as a euphemism, in other (Aramaic) verses where the context clearly indicates prostitutes (e.g., 1 Kings 3:16; Ezek. 23:44).
The Hebrew Bible does not plainly say Rahab was an innkeeper, but in many cultures, inns offered sexual services as well as bread and board.
The Bible only says good things about Rahab. The biblical authors do not judge or condemn Rahab in any way for being a prostitute, whatever that looked like for a Canaanite woman living in the bronze age.
 If Lydia didn’t lead the fledgeling church, who did? Another member of her household? The unnamed jailer? Or a member of his household? Lydia is the only Philippian convert who is named, and we know that the first few meetings of the Philippian church were held in her home, so she seems to be the most likely person to have led or coordinated the first congregation at Philippi. Some speculate that “Lydia” was a kind of nickname showing her place of origin but that her real name may have been Euodia or Syntyche (Phil. 4:2).
 Rahab was the great-grandmother of King David; Ruth was the grandmother of King David (Matt. 1:5-6). More about these great-grandmothers of David and of Jesus here.
I am grateful to Adele Hebert for pointing out to me a few the similarities between Rahab and Lydia mentioned in this article.
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Lydia and the ‘Place of Prayer’ in Philippi
Mary and the Women in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders at Philippi
Saving Faith in Action: James 2:14-26
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