A COURAGEOUS WOMAN WHO VISIBLY DISPLAYS HER FAITH | Advent Devotional Series: Joshua 2 & 6, December 8, 2020
Introduction | The Christmas story begins with Jesus’ family tree. And over these next few weeks of Advent, we are looking more closely at the four women highlighted in Jesus’ lineage as recorded by Matthew in his gospel: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…” (Matthew 1:1). If you’re new to this devotional, we encourage you to read the Introduction to this series that explains both the structure and purpose of Matthew’s genealogy. The overall focus of this devotional is addressed as well. You can find the Introduction to this devotional series by clicking here.
Reflection | Today, we’re looking at Rahab, the second woman in Jesus’ family tree of Matthew 1. Rahab’s story begins in the book of Joshua, chapter 2. Living in the city of Jericho, Rahab, unlike Tamar who we looked at last week, is identified as an actual prostitute, and not just pretending to be one. Let’s set the stage a bit more in terms of her story.
An entire generation of Israelites led by Moses has wandered off for 40 years into oblivion because of their distrust and disobedience towards the God who had freed them from slavery in Egypt. And now, the next generation under the leadership of Joshua was poised to take the land promised long ago to their ancestor, Father Abraham.
This Promised Land, which today is the same area held by modern Lebanon and Israel, plus parts of Jordan and Syria, back then was known as Canaan and it was occupied territory. In fact, the land got its name from those who populated it – the Canaanites. The inhabitants were descended from Noah’s grandson Canaan, who was a son of Ham. They are described in the Bible as a large and fierce people, not easily defeated. Part of the reason the previous generation had ended up meandering to death in the wilderness was due to their inability to believe that even divine help would be enough for them to be able to take the land.
But Joshua and his peers were different. They believed the Lord was with them and would continue to be so in the battles ahead. Therefore, the first city of Canaan they had in their sights was Jericho. Joshua sent two spies into the city who then went into the house of Rahab. Rahab’s house was strategically located as her home was on the walls that defended Jericho. It provided easy access both to spy on the fortifications of the city as well as to get out quickly once this strategic survey was completed.
It is important to understand that the house of Rahab was not a brothel in the way we might understand the term today. Unmarried and yet, as we learn later (see 2:13), having a father, a mother, brothers and sisters, Rahab seemingly was doing what she had to do to provide for her family. While there is no denying that she also was providing carnal comforts to some of her guests, as the mistress of her own home, Rahab is perhaps better viewed as an innkeeper – offering food, drink, and a place to sleep for weary travelers. The mixture of these two professions for women actually was common in the ancient world, driven more by economic need than design. Hence, the two Israelite spies came to stay at the house of Rahab not because they were looking for physical companionship but rather because they needed temporary lodging.
Apparently, word spread quickly about the Hebrew spies that Rahab had taken under her roof. But when the king of Jericho commanded that Rahab to turn over both men, she defied his orders. Hiding the two spies under stalks of flax up on her roof, Rahab lied to the authorities, telling the king’s men that the wanted men already had fled the city. More than this, she falsely led the pursuers of the spies on a wild goose chase beyond the gates of Jericho thereby buying time for her two guests to escape under the cover of night.
Something interesting about this story that might be easily overlooked is the fact that before the spies arrived at her door, Rahab appears to already have learned about the God of Israel.
In other words, Rahab’s efforts were motivated by her belief, her faith in the Lord – a God she knew by reputation but now sought to follow through her actions. She testifies to her conviction as she tells these two spies “I know that the Lord has given you this land…” (see 2:9). As Rahab goes on to declare Jericho is utterly helpless and hopeless before the strength of the God, she confesses and yields herself to the Lord’s mercy and protection.
Significantly, Rahab does not bargain for her life and the life of her family. Her sheltering and safeguarding of the Israelite spies during their reconnaissance mission are not conditioned upon being spared later. Rahab takes the initiative trusting that the Lord will be gracious to her. Again, this is faith. She recognizes that only the Lord God can rescue her and her loved ones. From a posture not of negotiation but of complete surrender, Rahab cries out, “Save us from death!” (see 2:13). And this is the promise she is given – the promise of grace – of salvation, of life from death.
The two spies vow to safeguard Rahab and her family. They give her a scarlet cord and tell her to hang it from her window. She and her loved ones are instructed to remain inside the house and not to come out during the battle that would later commence. We’d be remiss if we didn’t perceive some allusions here to the night of the first Passover when the Hebrews were covered by the blood of the lamb that marked their doors and caused the angel of death to “pass over” their homes. Much like the liberation of Israel from Egypt, Rahab is about to experience her own personal exodus to freedom.
After this making covenant, Rahab guides the two spies out of the city of Jericho and directs them to the hills – away from encountering their pursuers. Days pass. The citizens of Jericho wait in fear for the impending attack on their city. Their anxiety only worsens when the Israelite army shows up and then just silently marches around their walls again and again.
Rahab, however, continues to walk by faith. She displays the scarlet cord out of the window of her house, in the plain view of her own people. Unbeknownst to all of them but understood by Rahab, this piece of twine serves as a public token of her new allegiance – that her lifeline is found in God alone.
Finally, on the seventh day of the Israelite armies’ marching, they break their prolonged silence with a tremendous shout and all of the walls surrounding Jericho implode, falling to the ground. Every square inch of the city is destroyed. All of its buildings are leveled to the ground. All of its residents meet their end. Everything and everyone – except the house and the family of Rahab. In Joshua, chapter 6, we are told “the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel” (verse 23).
As with the tale of Tamar, Rahab’s story is often reduced into an affirmation of God’s power to redeem a sinful and shameful life for the glory of His purposes. But once again, this is a superficial and frankly, erroneous interpretation of Rahab’s journey. It is certainly true that Rahab had three strikes against her in terms of the society of her day – the emerging nation of Israel. She was a foreigner. She was a woman. And she was a prostitute. On the surface, Rahab appeared to be a social outcast. But that doesn’t mean that’s how we ought to represent her – especially in light of this story!
It is easy to simply label Rahab as a “prostitute.” However, a more comprehensive study of prostitution in the Bible reveals that, much like today, many, if not most of these women were victims of sexual slavery borne of crippling financial need or debt bondage. With few protected rights and therefore limited options for survival, a life of prostitution was much less of a voluntary choice and more of an economic need – especially if one had a family for which to provide. Therefore, we ought to see Rahab less as a woman living in sin and more as someone who had been forced to sell her body as a victim of desperate circumstances.
Despite everything seeming to be against her, Rahab exercises great faith in believing in the One who was for and with her. Defying the king of her own country by harboring fugitives, Rahab takes the initiative to become one of the first Gentiles to profess belief in and show loyalty to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Keep in mind up until the book of Joshua, the default posture of the Lord’s own people was to mistrust their Deliverer. This was the case even though they had personally experienced God’s presence and seen His power at work!
On the other hand, Rahab’s courageous faith was based solely on stories. Through various travelers who frequented her home and likely shared reports of the wonderous works of God in Egypt and through the wilderness journeys of Israel, the Lord gave Rahab faith in Him. On this basis alone – not first-hand information but secondhand accounts – Rahab exercised this faith when the opportunity came. She believed in the One whom she had not yet seen.
One could even argue Rahab’s conviction proved to be infectious, if not somewhat prophetic. Again, let us remember this was the second time spies had been sent into the land of Canaan to survey territory that the Lord already had assured them was theirs. When Rahab declares Israel will successfully take over the land of Jericho, she is foretelling something the Israelites still have yet to believe.
But when the Israelite spies take her word back to camp, Joshua moves into action. Rahab’s mustard-seed of faith did indeed move mountains as it contributed greatly to both the survival and history of Israel. This is why Rahab is listed among what is often called the “faith hall of fame” in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews (see Hebrews 11:31).
Rahab’s story doesn’t end with the Battle of Jericho. Not only did she save herself and her family, but she joined the newly formed nation of Israel. As first recorded Gentile convert, Rahab eventually married into the royal tribe of Judah, marrying a man named Salmon. Interestingly, Salmon is not mentioned in the Book of Joshua. He’s not talked about anywhere in the Bible outside of the genealogies mentioned in Matthew and Luke’s gospel accounts. If it wasn’t for Rahab, we never would have heard of Salmon.
Everywhere else, when scripture mentions Rahab, she nearly always referred to as Rahab, the prostitute or harlot. That is, except for Matthew. In Matthew’s genealogy, Matthew calls her “Rahab, mother of Boaz.” Rahab’s marriage to Salmon begat Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer who married Ruth – by sovereign grace, all a part of the lineage of Christ.
Perhaps Matthew drops the label so often associated with Rahab to underscore her transformation by faith. God didn’t leave Rahab on the outside looking in. The Lord grafted her into the family of Israel. God placed her smack dab in the heart of Jesus’ family tree as one of the progenitors of the Messiah. Rahab’s story reminds us the Lord not only has a place for the socially outcast, but that, by faith, God also raises them up to do great things – to herald a nation into its new, promised land, to become a bearer of a divine message of God’s redemption of the world.
Maybe we can identify with a sense of being walled in with some impossible circumstance – especially in the age of COVID-19. Maybe with each prolonged week and month of this global pandemic and its effects, we are beginning to wonder if we have enough faith to hold on. The witness of Rahab encourages us to remember it is not the quantity of our faith this is the most important. From the little Rahab knew about the Lord when she encountered the Israelites spies, we are further reassured that it is not even the quality of our faith that matters. What matters, what is most important is believing in the One who believes in us – trusting in the One who is “God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
Consider & Discuss | We learn from Rahab that faith is not the pursuit of a reward but believing that God is who God says He is. Walking by faith is trusting in what God has done and yielding to God’s power and authority over one’s own life. Is this your understanding of faith? How has the witness of Rahab shaped your own walk of faith? In what situations do you need to express faith this week, both verbally and in action?
How has the Lord provided and protected you in the past? Are there any areas of your life right now where you are struggling to have faith in the Lord’s provision and protection?
Rahab was able to use the scarlet cord as a reminder that the Lord was going to provide protection for her. What are some ways that we can remember the Lord is with us in struggles of our own?
Prayer Focus | Lord, we know You are with us every step of the way and yet we still lose faith, because of fear of the outcome. Give us the mustard seed faith of Rahab that hears and remembers Your mighty works, that believes and trusts that You are the God of Heaven and of Earth. Embolden us to respond faithfully to the grace You have given us. Teach us to mark our days and to be mindful of the work You have given us to do. In all the weakness of our faith, reveal the strength of Your faith in us. Create in us a clean heart—a willing heart—to do Your will. Lead us in how to walk boldly by faith relying on Your provision and protection. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!