Just when the story of the family tree of Jesus can’t seem to get more “icky” (as Chris called the situation with Tamar last week), we turn today to look at the account of Rahab.
We are only five or six verses into the New Testament in Matthew chapter one, and here we encounter again a very awkward and seedy situation and character – another veritable skeleton from the back of the closet. A prostitute.
Matthew 1:5-6 — Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
All of this is in the family of Judah, through whom the promise had been made that a king would come, ultimately through the line of David.
Matthew’s gospel was written to a Jewish audience initially, and for them to accept his argument that Jesus was the Messianic King of Israel, he would first, before anything else, have to establish that Jesus’ lineage was appropriate for such.
There are generations that are skipped in these genealogies, and that was acceptable at the time. The two verses above account for about 400 years of history. But Salmon was married to Rahab, and from their family came Obed, the father of Jesse who was the father of David.
So here today in Joshua 2 is the story of Rahab and the two Jewish spies who scouted out the fortified and walled city of Jericho.
Rahab and the Spies
2:1 – Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
God often accomplishes his work through the most unlikely people, who, in the course of time and life circumstances – all under the sovereign control of God – work together to bring them to a place of great faith and service. This is apparently what was happening in the life of Rahab. Though a person of sin and wrongdoing, she looked at the world around her and the hideous Canaanite culture … seeing also the greatness of God through his work with the Israelites … and in faith she came to believe that this God was the only, one, true God.
So, the spies coming to her house amounted to a divine appointment for the individuals involved, as well as for the plan that God was accomplishing with the nation.
2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 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 Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
In these verses we hear the work of God in the heart of Rahab. The easiest and most expedient thing that she could have done was simply turn the spies over to her local authorities. She would have been a heroine. But Rahab was impressed by what she knew of God, believing that a God who dried up the Red Sea (that was 40 years before this time) and who enabled a nomadic people to defeat Sihon and Og – the biggest, baddest boys on the block – was to not only be feared, but worshipped.
12 “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”
14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”
17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”
21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.”
So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them.23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”
As the spies returned to Joshua, it was clear to them and to the leader of the nation that God was strongly with them … that they could have confidence in defeating this powerfully entrenched foe who stood in the way of their destiny and pathway into the Promised Land. It was all by divine appointment.
As we trust God and prayerfully seek to walk with him in obedience in the daily events of the ebb and flow of life, our lives too are filled with divine appointments. We often don’t see them as such at the moment they happen; and it may take years for us to look back upon life encounters and realize that God was in the midst of the most mundane facts and circumstances.
A part of the story may also be that we understand how God, in his grace, works to redeem our worst moments and failures. When we confess those and yield them and ourselves to him in faith and trust, he uses them for our good – though it may take a long time before we are able to see his faithful hand.