We turn now to the second woman mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy at the beginning of Matthew: Rahab. Like Tamar, she was not an Israelite. Like Tamar, she had a rather shady reputation. Why on earth would Matthew include this woman in the Messiah’s ancestry?
Rahab’s story comes from the beginning of Joshua; you can read about her in chapter 2 (and a little bit in 6:22-25). When the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan and begin their conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua sent two spies to scope out the first city they had to conquer: Jericho. The two spies “entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there” (Joshua 2:1). The first thing we know about her, indeed the only information we’re really given as to her character, is, shall we say, less than stellar!
However, her next actions begin to paint a different story. She hid the two spies, sent the king’s men off in the wrong direction, and declared that she knew that the Lord had given the Israelites the land of Canaan. Later, after the Lord brought the walls of Jericho down, Rahab and her family were spared, and she was allowed to live among the Israelites.
Just like Tamar, Rahab’s actions seem, on the surface, rather dishonourable. She lied to her King and deserted the people of her town! Plus, she was a prostitute! The biblical account makes sure to mention her profession several times – they want no doubt left at all. However, when we dig a little deeper, we see a hidden gem in all of this roughness: a woman of great faith and extraordinary courage.
Rahab made no secret of the fact that she was afraid. Her people had heard of the Israelites; what God had done for them in the plagues of Egypt, and how they had defeated the Amorites to the east of the Jordan. But Rahab took her fear and turned it into reverence: she acknowledged that God was ‘God in heaven and on the earth below’, essentially forsaking the false gods of her people. And she stood before these invading spies and made them promise that her entire family would survive the fall of Jericho. She was commended for her faith twice in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25). She took her fear and turned it into faithful action that saved her family and made her name ring through Jewish history.
She is mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy as Boaz’s mother; it’s hard to tell if this is literal (she probably would have been at least 50 when she gave birth to him) or what they call a truncated genealogy – skipping generations was a common practice in ancient genealogy writings. Either way, the difference is marked – she is known as and frequently called ‘the prostitute’, but both Salmon and Boaz were known to be righteous, upstanding men; her reputation within the Israelite community obviously changed for the better after her display of faith in Jericho.
There are a couple of things that come out of this story for me. It can be easy to judge Rahab based on her profession, just as it is easy for us to make snap judgements of others based on what they look like, where they live or what they do for a job. But despite her outward appearances, Rahab had such faith that she saved her family and blessed the world with a son as remarkable as Boaz. Rahab proves that God can redeem anyone, can use anyone, can see the faith of anyone, no matter who they seem to be.
The second is the incredible courage it would have taken for her to turn away from the gods of her people and follow the Lord – one whose name struck fear into the hearts of everyone in Canaan. Rahab heard the call of God in her heart, and chose to follow it, despite her fear, despite what her people and her upbringing would have taught her. Rahab was flawed, with a past full of sin, but her courage and her faith saved her family and set her apart as a true woman of God, worthy of being included in the genealogy and promise of Jesus Christ.
SONG: The Potter’s Hand by Hillsong – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TleYjvNqKGo