Advent Series: The Surprises in Jesus’ Genealogy: Rahab

Like Tamar last week, the second woman in Matthew’s ancestry of Jesus will also raise some eyebrows.  Here is how Matthew introduces her, “Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5). 

For us, her story begins during a reconnaissance mission.  The exodus of Israel is now 40 years past, and they are trying the reclaim their old country, now called “Canaan.”  To understand the curve and bend of this strange land, two spies slip into Jericho, a strategic and significant crossing point at the River Jordan. 

Well-fortified and defended, Jericho stands sentinel at a grouping of three roads leading intoCanaan’s mountainous interior.  From the desert, or preparing to cross the Jordan to some destination elsewhere, this city offered provisions, which one also needed to pass by unharmed.  So no one can control Canaan without controlling this gate keeper.

So, from whom can these two unknown and alien agents acquire the mindset of this vital center?  Though not part of the elite, men from all strata of society often pay a visit to a prostitute.  So, these spies do the same.  Not for sexual favors, but to learn what they lack and, hoping, they can do so while remaining well-hidden and cloaked.  

This meeting is of considerable importance. For these infiltrators do not sneak into this bastion at winter’s end when food stocks are meager, when these urban dwellers are hungry.  No, they draw nigh during the height of the spring ingathering of grain. 

So, foreign men stop at a prostitute’s house built into the wall surrounding the city.  In they tiptoe, they think, to visit a woman of the night, Rahab, as stalks of flax are drying on her rooftop.  Harvested in spring, these will soon be woven into linen after they dry out in the hot sun.

So, if an attack is to take place, the enemy’s food supplies will be filled with the first crop, similar to the winter wheat of today.  The people of Israel will need an extra measure of faith, for they will be assaulting a city, prepared well to survive a siege. 

Now, if this is true for Israel, what of Rahab? For if she chooses to help these foreign agents, she will do so with a reduced chance of success.  For the spies don’t visit when the city’s people are hankering for a feast and famished for another harvest.  No, their larders are starting to rise, and they can wait out an encircling army for a long time, being well-fortified by both food and fortress.

All this Rahab realizes.  Though she is a lady of the evening, she is not stupid, and she understands the ways of men all too well.  So, what will she tell these inquisitive emissaries?  Well, she doesn’t want to upset them, in case they kill her.  The best bet is to say something elusive, to dangle something but not obligate herself, lest she angers her Canaanite king or these Israelites.

“The Lord will give you this land.”  Now, this is a surprise, with her words going way beyond non-committal.  This seasoned prostitute doesn’t sway orsaunter to detect which way the wind blows. No, she comprehends who they are and who is their God, using His name, Yahweh, translated to us as “the Lord.”

Recognize the One she says is responsible for God’s people gaining theirterritory—God.  A foreign woman perceives enough to discern the power of God at work among this unfamiliar people.  Not all the Israelites are as astute. 

Pay heed to what else she tells.  “A fear of you now descends upon us and everyone living in the land trembles in terror because of you.  For we received how theLord dried up the water of the Red Sea right in front of you as you came out of Egypt” (Joshua 2:9-10).  Pricelessintelligence. 

On their own, Rahab fathoms, they did not traverse the waters or crush their enemies.  No, the almighty God is the source of their strength.  How did Rahab receive this news?  For she did not listen to the writings of Moses, nor did she tremor at Israel’s God performing some mighty miracle. 

In her trade of providing sexual services, men passing through Jericho share bits of news about what takes place in the region. These reports included a word about a group of people, and the God they served, and the things He did. 

Oh, Rahab, the enthroned ruler of Jericho also deploys spies.  So, this region’s version of HomelandSecurity informs him of infiltrators inside in his city, and whom they visit.  The order goes out for Rahab to turn in the men.  Now, she’s in a spot, needing to use her mouth and tongue as unlike before.  “Oh,” she decoys them, “they left through the gates of the city,” while they hide in the flax covering her roof. 

The story unveils further.  A harlot is willing to trust her life and her family’s lives to foreigners.  Why? On a promise made to her in the name of their God, of whom she learned secondhand.  An oath sounds forth from her lips, “Our life for yours,” she vows. These scouting Israelites are now under her curse of death if anyone from her close family dies during their conquest of her city. 

Though these outsiders may be unscrupulous, she puts them in her position—they will live or die together.  The information collectors realize this and promise to help if Rahab will hang a red cord on the window of her house.  Evident to all on the outside, this will allow them to identify her later, so they will make sure no injury will come her way. 

Now, she is all in, and she expects the same of them.  “Go into the hills,” westward, Rahab directs, the opposite direction of Jericho’s gates. Off they flee to escape as the king’s search party travel eastward into the night. 

Sucha risk she takes.  For if the king discovers her ruse, Rahab, with her family, will die by cruel torture.  Still, she remains unwavering, hanging an all-too-visible red twine from her window—not for a day or two, but a couple of months, inviting suspicion and possible death. Like crimson blood streaking the doorways of Israelite homes at Passover, the red on her window will serve as a sign her deliverance. 

All the while, further harvests fill the city’s storehouses.  A few months pass.  At last, those previous strangers return with the Israelite army.  Though they will defeat Jericho, Yahweh, the personal name of God which Rahab invoked, is the real conqueror. 

Through Joshua, God sets up a ridiculous, nonsensical strategy, as military men might think.  The soldiers surround the city and march around its walls with the Ark of the Covenant, the place of God’spromised presence to His people.  For seven days, they do this, while their enemy mocks and ridicules them.

To make sure His chosen realize their victory is because of Him, God will also use trumpet blast and quake to topple set-in-stone defenses.  Through these events, God is trustworthy, keeping His pledge to Abraham, but also showing mercy by protecting both Rahab and family from destruction.

Think about all the uncertainties Rahab faced. First, she is a Canaanite, not an Israelite—and don’t forget, a working girl, selling her body to gratify others. Like today, the approval of this profession hovered near the bottom. 

A convenient alliance can take place, suitable for a short time, but those don’t change the heart.  The Israelites despised prostitutes as others did.  So, once she carried out her betrayal, why should they still care for her? 

Despite her past, her newfound people accept her—and not by putting up with her as some burden because she helped them win a victory. The once-scarlet woman is no longer a mere sexual object, for she becomes the beloved wife of Salmon.  Now, this Salmon isn’t some bumpkin who can’t marry a respectable woman to be his wife.  For His father, Nahshon, led the tribe of Judah, the largest of all Israel (Numbers 2:3). 

The ending of her story is still yet to come. For the highlight of her life is not marrying a prominent Israelite.  No, for Salmon crosses over the Jordan and settles in a one-donkey town called Bethlehem.  The former Canaanite woman will birth a son who will play a significant role in Israel’s transformation into a nation, Boaz, who marries Ruth, next week’s sermon. 

Nevertheless, being an ancestor of Christ doesn’t mean she merits a mention on the Scripture’s list of faith-filled saints, but she does!  “By faith, Rahab, a prostitute, greeted the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed” (Hebrews11:31).  Through the assurance of an enemy, Rahab trusted God to protect her and her family, in contrast to so many in the Old Covenant who “broke faith” (Joshua 7:1).

In his epistle, James writes, “The prostitute Rahab is considered righteous.  For she welcomed Israelite spies and assisted their escape by sending them in a different direction” (James 2:25).  Now, this doesn’t sound like much.  Think again, for James mentions Rahab next to Abraham as part of his closing statement. So, he is honoring her as someone who lived out the faith, who revealed herself to be upright regardless of her checkered past.

Though Rahab didn’t begin with much understanding in the matters of faith, she stillbelieved—and acted on—the Word she received. Though an outsider, she walked and lived as a true Israelite.

From this woman, we learn the truth of our lives. For Scripture doesn’t shy away from calling out her sin—but God doesn’t dwell on those.  The once purveyor of pleasure, Rahab, now is honored for being faithful, courageous, and wise, a grandmother of coming kings and the King of kings.

Now, we go back to the beginning, to Matthew’s first chapter and what these ancestors of our Lord mean to us.  For he refers to Rahab without calling her a harlot. The other writers did, remembering Rahab’s past profession.  Ah, but Matthew also focuses forward, expecting you to be aware of her history, but focusing more on how the birth of Jesus changes everything. 

The supreme lesson for you is this.  FromGod’s eternal perspective, your past doesn’t matter, though you sold your body for someone else’s sexual pleasure.  Oh, doing so is sinful, which is why God washes away a lifetime of such sin.  United to Christ and purified by His righteousness, you are as pure as Rahab. 

A prostitute reminds us of what God can do with and through a person who is made holy by His Son.  Through this same Messiah, Rahab finds herself in the genealogy of her future Savior.  Amen.


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