“Matthew lists Rahab as one of the ancestresses of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5), and that may be one reason why there was something about free-wheeling ladies with warm and generous hearts that he was never quite able to resist.”
― Frederick Buechner,
One of the most amazing features about the Bible that always has perplexed me is this: God chooses the most unlikely people to be in relationship with Him. The people we would consider to be God’s people ironically enough are the people God would not choose. Likewise, the people that God chooses are usually not the people we would choose. This is because God doesn’t look at outside appearances, but rather he judges the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). This never ceases to amaze me. Especially when I read about the “outsiders” in the biblical narrative who God elected to be “insiders.”
One such story that reminded me of this pattern was the story of Rahab found in the Book of Joshua. In this part of the Bible, the Israelites were wandering the desert for 40 years for their disobedience in not attacking the promise land because it was full of giants (Numbers 13).
40 years later, Joshua who was now leading the Israelites sent in spies to the city of Jericho to scout the land and to assess what was the value of the land. In the previous passage in Numbers, the spies brought back crops and they described Canaan as a land flowing with milk and honey. But interestingly when you look at the spy story in Joshua 2, the spies sent do not find anything of value in the land of Jericho and present it to the people–or do they?
Rather, there was only mention that was considered valuable: Rahab. What I am arguing is that on the basis of the text, the spies do in fact find “someone” in the land of Jericho that demonstrates the value of the land. God attacks Jericho for Rahab the prostitute.
It’s especially even more shocking when you realize who Rahab is. Rahab was part of a corrupt, depraved, pagan culture. So bad that the Canaanites would often practice child sacrifice to appease their gods. Rahab’s name is like the English slang word “broad” when applied to a female who is sexually experienced. In the Hebrew, she’s called a zanah or a prostitute. She is the most unlikely person to be chosen by God. She was in that society at the bottom of the social ladder. She was tantamount to social trash and was considered less than human. But when we actually read the story in Joshua 2, we learn there is more to this woman than her cultural stereotypes. When the Israeli spies were on the run in Jericho, they hid in Rahab’s brothel. When the city guards came to her brothel looking for the spies, Rahab managed to convince them that the spies weren’t in her establishment.
We have to appreciate the great courage this woman had displayed. If she was caught, she almost faced certain death. After she got rid of the guards she went up to the spies and said, “I know Yahweh has given you this land.” This prostitute knows the personal name of God. Most people during that time who weren’t in relationship with the God of the Bible only knew Him as Elohim (or the God at the top of the ladder). But she uses the personal name Yahweh which was only used by people who were apart of the ancestral promise (Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, etc.). In short, this woman personally knows the God of the Bible and is in relationship with Him. What is also astonishing is when she tells the Israeli spies, “I know Yahweh has given you this land.” The irony is this woman was apart of a pagan culture and knee deep in sexual sin shows more confidence in God making good on His promises than the Israelites do. Why else would Joshua send spies into the land if he knew without a doubt that God was going to deliver? She then provided a way for the Israelite spies to escape after the swore to her that when they attacked the city, they would spare her and her family? Rahab displayed incredible bravery and faith. There wasn’t someone with faith like this in Canaan or in Israel. She was a remarkable woman.
So what was God’s response in the story? Later on in the story (5:13-15), Joshua (the guy leading the Israelites) was confronted by a man. Joshua wanted to know what side this man was on– was this man on Joshua’s side or his enemies? In response, the man standing before Joshua simply replied, “Neither one…I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” Joshua’s response is incredible. He falls to the ground and worships this man as God. This is alarming since only God can accept worship; this is no mere angel or man. It’s even more so surprising when the man later on is identified as Yahweh himself (Joshua 6:2). I would argue in light of the New Testament, we can conclude this man is Jesus Christ himself coming down to take charge of the armies of Israel. The book of Revelations describe Jesus as God’s commander of his army (Revelation 19:11). Joshua obeyed God, attacked the city, and because of that, Rahab was redeemded and saved.
Why is this important? How does this all relate to Rahab? I think the reason why Jesus comes down to take over the army and to have them attack Jericho was because God looked at Rahab and essentially said, “I want that woman in my family. I would do anything to get that woman in my family.” Don’t you see, when God looks at one of his children crying out to him he moves literal whole armies for them? God’s commodity isn’t the riches of the land but it’s people. God didn’t wait for Rahab to come to him. God found Rahab to be irresistible. He moved heaven and earth for her.
God loved Rahab. He knew what was going on in her life. He was able to do something about it. When she stepped out in faith, He met her there. She trusted Him to rescue her, and He did. God judged her by her heart—the inward woman, not by her lifestyle—the outward appearance. He not only saved her life, but He forgave her past and gave her a new future. Incredibly, this woman ends up being apart of the ancestral line of the Messiah. God looks at this prostitute and says, “my Son, the one enthroned in glory, righteousness, and who’s going to save the world, he’s going descend from you.” Rahab is a ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Why does God do that? Is it because God roots for the under dogs? No. This is a picture of the gospel. We are far worse than we could dared ever imagine. While at the same time, we are more beloved and accepted by God than we could have ever imagined. That’s how the God of Israel operates. Moralistic religions says it’s the person with the good moral background, who goes to church, reads their Bible, and pays their dues that is accepted by God. But the God of Israel operates differently. He doesn’t look at our outward appearances but rather he judges the heart. God operates under the principle of grace–God gives everything so that we owe him everything. Romans 3:23 says that all have fallen short of the glory of God, that none are good or righteous. In other words, there is no moral difference in God’s eyes between the priest and the prostitute. In order for you to get into God’s story, He has to come into your story and intervene by utter grace.
The story of Rahab, Joshua, and Jericho is an incredible rescue story. But this story, like all of the biblical stories, is pointing to a greater rescue story. God sends Joshua to lead an army, to rescue Rahab, and trample over his enemies. But years later, God sends Jesus, to be a servant, to die for his enemies, so that he could rescue us–the real and true Rahab’s. Jesus is the greater Joshua because Joshua comes in strength and tramples the enemies of God in order to save one life. But Jesus comes in weakness. He was trampled upon in the place of his enemies so that they could be spared. He bore the judgement and wrath meant for us and because of that, God doesn’t look at us as the prostitute but as a beloved child of God–spotless and blameless in His sight.