The immortal words of the Backstreet Boys could have been written from God for Rahab: “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love me…”
Rahab is one of my favourite characters from the long list in Matthew 1, which I first wrote about here. Her presence in the genealogy of Jesus reminds me that God is primarily interested in my faith and my attitude, not my past, and she inspires my faith to move mountains – or indeed, walls.
She is the second of the three women in Jesus’ genealogy who were not Israelites; itself perhaps a suggestion that one day there will be “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus is not of purely Israelite heritage. And not only is Rahab not an Israelite, the first biblical reference to Rahab pulls no punches: she’s a prostitute.
Given that sexual promiscuity was a punishable-by-death offence among the Israelites, you would think that Rahab would not be the first choice of person to be an ancestor of Jesus. Except that Jesus associated with everyone, especially the marginalised of society, thus making her an ideal part of his lineage. Her previous career is mentioned regularly, a reminder perhaps that the line from which Jesus came was incredibly, undeniably human and a marker that any past will be welcome in this kingdom of God, if we believe.
Rahab is not her past, she’s all about her future. And the reason I love Rahab’s story is that she is also a feisty woman of faith.
While Rahab has not grown up as an Israelite, she has heard the stories of their God and she’s made up her own mind. All those around her in Jericho are terrified of the Israelites, yet she wants to know more. Perhaps because of her position in society, Rahab is able to welcome the Israelite spies to her home to hear more about the God of the Israelites. She declares to them: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror and dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted in despair because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan on the east, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted in despair, and a fighting spirit no longer remained in any man because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2: 9-11).
She has not seen and she’s not experienced, yet she’s heard and she believes; as Jesus said: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). What greater favour to have than to be an ancestor of the Messiah himself? “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” (James 2:17) and Rahab puts her faith into the unseen God of the Israelites.
She has absolute confidence that the God of the Israelites will crumble the walls of Jericho, and that the two Israelite spies will honour their oath and rescue her, without ever having met an Israelite or seen first hand the miracles they had witnessed. She places a rope in her window, and waits as the walls crumble around her and she and her family are rescued. Such faith inspires me to be bolder, to dream bigger and to know that I am more than whatever my past failures are.
Rahab, to me, is a wonderful example of not letting our past define us, but rather ensuring our faith and actions mark who we are. I recently heard a Premier Radio interview describing how some people’s non-negotiables in a marriage partner included having not been married before, or to not having too much past: Rahab would have been discounted. She’s a prostitute. Everyone knows.
But my word, she has faith that moves mountains: “By faith Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed along with those who were disobedient, because she had welcomed the spies [sent by the sons of Israel] in peace.” (Hebrews 11:31).
Rahab: the prostitute; the woman of faith; ancestor of Jesus.