The Women of Jesus’ Lineage: Rahab

Scriptures: Joshua 6:15-25; Matthew 1:4-6a

We continue our sermon series today on the women in the lineage of Jesus. And I want to remind you from last week, although it’s pretty evident from the reading today as well, the Bible is not a safe book. It is not a children’s story. It is not a book with pat answers. It is not a book that is an easy read.

It is something that recounts the history of God’s people and of the God who chose them. It shows the nature of God throughout the entire Bible, as we see the grace and mercy that He shows, particularly to his people. And it shows His people as they are, real people.

Not cut-out figures, not comic book superheroes, but real people with real issues. And they have their faults as well as their strengths. Last week we talked about Tamar and how she found her peace, and the justice that she was owed. Though an outsider, and a widow twice over, she was put into the line of Jesus. She had to do it in a rather unorthodox manner that we don’t condone, and she acted the prostitute in order to do it. And remember, she was a Canaanite.

Today we get to the second woman, and that woman is Rahab. She is also an outsider – not only a Canaanite like Tamar was, but she is originally an enemy of the Israelites. She is a citizen of the city of Jericho. Matthew is very kind. Matthew simply calls her Rahab. Everywhere else in the Scriptures that Rahab is mentioned, she has added on “the prostitute.” While Tamar acted the prostitute, it was just a one-shot deal. Rahab was apparently the pro.

And in fact, it’s very likely that she was a madam and ran the whole brothel – a whole household of women. There’s an involved story that is referred to a couple of times in the reading today, about how when the spies first came in to scout out Jericho (which was, again, another Canaanite city). They got spotted, sneaking around. (I’ve always thought that when you’re spy you’re supposed to blend in, but…)

They ran and they hid in the brothel, which was probably actually a multi-sectioned household that had a restaurant and entertainment in the front, and then it had a more private thing in the back. It may have even had an inn for casual travelers, and if you wanted extra services, why then you just paid for them.

She was obviously well-respected in Jericho. She was a person of consequence, or at least she entertained people of consequence, because when the guard were looking for spies, they knocked on her door and asked her if the spies were there, rather than simply charging in and doing a search. They didn’t need warrants like we do.

And when she misdirected them saying, “I didn’t know who they were” and “but they left, out the gate, right before the gate closed,” they all took off on her word, and so this prostitute had saved the spies. We see she had credibility. She had a reputation among the people of Jericho.

Now, she did this for a reason. She wasn’t a turncoat traitor. They didn’t pay her either. She wasn’t doing this for profit per se. When she speaks to the spies, she tells them that she is hiding them because of their god. And she calls him Elohim, which is God of gods, the God over all other gods, the greatest of gods. Remember, she’s not Jewish. She’s Canaanite. They have multiple gods.

The city of Jericho, as the liturgist intimated in her reading, had walls that were very thick, with both an outer wall and an inner wall. They also had a fresh spring water well inside the city, so they could withstand siege for a long time. Archeologists have found grain there, so it was either right after harvest, or else they had stored grain in the city.

Yet because of the works of God – notice, God, not the Israelites – the people in Jericho were apparently already terrified. They recognize, those people in Jericho and everywhere in that country, that it was God who was giving the Israelites their victories,

I want to say that they were given a chance to leave, before they were conquered. The Israelites always gave them the opportunity to leave. They said, “We’re going to take the city, but you have one chance. You can surrender to us,” and the people said no.

So then they suffer the consequences, and the Israelites usually had a scorched-earth war policy. Now Rahab had heard of this god, and she said, “because your god is the God of God, because of all the amazing things He’s done, I am sure you’re going to win. And I have a request of you. Please don’t kill me and my family and all my servants.”

So the spies made a deal, which they honored, as we heard in the Scripture reading today. She hung a red cord out of her window (the same red cord, probably, that was used for the spies to climb down, because she happened to be on the wall), so that they knew not to attack that house. By the way, I don’t think that actually just “happened” – I think that the house being against the wall was planned that way when it was built. The Israelites spared that house and all that were in it (all of her relatives, all of her servants, and everyone else). The rest of the city was destroyed.

Rahab is also mentioned elsewhere, besides Jesus’ genealogy and in Joshua. She is mentioned as one of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews, one of only two women. Sarah is the other one, and we can understand, perhaps, why Sarah was called a hero of the faith.

She went with Abraham when she didn’t have the call of Abraham. She was ninety-one when she had Isaac. She had her doubts about God, when she snickered when He said “I’m going to give you a child,” but she was always faithful, and she was always trying to do what the husband had said needed to be done, following his vision from God. We have no indication that she was given her own vision except in the single conversation that God has with her about her laughing.

Sarah had an advantage over Rahab. She was with someone who had had a definite call. She was with someone who had an experience with God, was called a friend of God.

Rahab didn’t know this God at all. She had no support, no knowledge. She only had hearsay, from an invading army and the people who survived and ran, about what God had done in Egypt, and then as the Israel began to enter into the Promised Land.

She didn’t know this God at all. She wasn’t familiar with their rituals, wasn’t familiar with their worship. She didn’t know the name of God, Yahweh, so she called him Elohim – which, while it’s a very high honorific is a more generic term.

Despite that uncertainty,she believed in that God, and His power. And she had hope that if she served Him and His people, that He in return would show mercy on her and her family, that the God that she had never seen, and never knew, would save her.

Now, particularly for those of us that been raised in the faith and in this quasi-Christian nation that was definitely a Christian nation at one point, it may be hard for us to imagine not knowing of and about God. And yet, even knowing God, somehow frequently we seem to doubt who God is, what He has done, and because of that, what He will do one day.

Rahab, based on her hope of what God would do for her, essentially committed treason. She turned on her own people, and everyone that she had respected, in order to hide these spies. It was because she had faith in a God she had never seen, faith that He would do what He promised, and faith that the people who represented Him would also keep that promise.

Advent is a season of preparation. It’s a season of waiting – a pregnancy, if you will – for the birth of the new world. We wait for when Christ comes again in the second coming. Yes, we celebrate the birth of the King, the first time Jesus came, as the incarnate God. But the focus of the early church, and the purpose of Advent, was actually on the second coming. Which means it includes all of us. It’s no longer just the Jews who were waiting for the birth of their messiah. It’s no longer folks like Rahab who were hoping in a salvation from the people of God.

Because that’s already happened, as far as it goes, with the birth of Christ, His death on the cross, which was to save us from our sins, and His resurrection, so that we might have new life and have access to the Father in heaven so that we might bear no condemnation for our own sin nature. But there is more to come. And we need to have hope.

Hope deals with what is yet to come. So on this day, we focus on hope, and the fulfillment of God’s promises on the day of the Lord. We have hope because God has done great things for us in Jesus Christ, in his death on the cross and in his resurrection. We have hope because of what He is doing now, in blessing our lives and giving us so many things. And we have hope for the future, no matter how dark it gets.

In this world today, with so much despair that is out there, so much anger, so many terrorist activities, so many wars, and so many issues going on in society, like the opioid epidemic and things like that, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to begin to give up hope. It’s easy to get lost in all of the negative. And we want to be realistic. But we need to never forget about hope. We have a hope that will never fail.

Through Jesus Christ, we have been given a promise – the same promise, by the way, that was given to Rahab. The promise of salvation, the promise of life with the family and people of God. You notice how that passage ended? “And Rahab lives with the Israelites to this day.”

She married one “Salmon.” She became, presumably, a convert, and she became a part of the people of God. She participated in the life of that community. And in honor of that – in many ways, I believe – she was put into the lineage of Jesus. She was put in there to keep us aware.

Tamar was an outsider. Tamar was someone who was oppressed. As a widow, she was not given due justice by the family of Judah. We have another outsider here, and someone who has a sordid past; but her past was set aside, based on her faith, and she was allowed to join and participate in the community and family of God.

God wants to use us, and our pasts don’t matter. Not when it comes to the power of God being able to flow through us and to impact the lives of others. We are part of the people of God. We have that same hope – that when that day comes, that same day of judgment that came to Jericho, that will come to the entire world, we too will be spared.

We too will receive salvation, and we too will get to live for eternity with the people of God. It’s a hope that should be a rock for us in those times of storm. It should be an anchor for our ship as we are floating across the sea of life. So many metaphors that are out there, and they’re all true in their own way.

That hope is the one core thing. It is that trust in the faithfulness of God to His promise that will get us through all of life’s trials and tribulations. It is that hope that allows us to know the peace that Tamar had. It is that hope that allows us to have joy, which we’ll discuss next week, even in the worst of times.

We may not be happy, because happy is a feeling, and these come and go. We can however still know joy and peace at knowing we are chosen by God, loved by God and saved by God. Because we have the assurance of our place in the kingdom. This is the promise of God.

So I would encourage you during this Advent season. Remind yourself of hope. That hope brings peace with our past, peace with who we are in God, and gives us joy in the present, which will happen with the story of Ruth which we’ll talk about next week. It gives us joy, that springs up within us like the wellspring that was in Jericho.

Look at the woman who embodies it. Someone who was an outsider – not just a Canaanite – but the enemy of God’s people. Someone who is a professional prostitute, whose life, then, was changed, and everything that was in the past (although she was still known as “the prostitute”), everything that was in the past was set aside, so that she became one of the people of God and became part of the family and lineage of Jesus, the Savior of the world. God’s eye is always so much broader, His intent so much deeper. May we celebrate His plan for each one of us.

Reflect that same love of God to the rest of the world, so that they too come to know Him. There is no better time than the present, especially during this season.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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