Rahab the Harlot
by Sharon Betters
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Psalm 62: 1-2 ESV
As we journey to Christmas with the Midwives of the Messiah, Rahab the Harlot joins us. Surprised to know that a woman of such “ill repute” shows up in the genealogy of Jesus? Probably not, since you have met Tamar. What gifts that cannot be broken does Rahab’s story offer? Rahab’s story shines with hope for anyone who longs for the courage to stand alone, or thinks her sin disqualifies her from knowing the forgiveness of Jesus or serving Jesus.
Rahab, often called the Harlot in Scripture, is the second woman mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Rahab is one of the most unlikely women whose “legal” family blood would flow in the veins of the Messiah, yet God unapologetically includes her. Her inclusion demonstrates God’s grace that extends to us in a remarkable way.
Rahab was a harlot (or prostitute) who lived in Jericho. She ran a whorehouse - there is no other way of saying it. Her community respected her because her culture revered prostitutes as a necessary part of worship of their gods. Maybe prominent men even feared her because she knew their secrets. I imagine power and influence flowed from her interactions within the community. Not only the well-placed city officials, but also traveling businessmen frequented her "ladies" and likely even Rahab herself.
The strategic location of her business on the wall of Jericho exposed her to happenings outside of Jericho. Stories shared by travelers included the unbelievable escapades of the Israelites whose God intervened in miraculous ways. Rahab’s heart warmed to the stories about the God of Israel so much so that when the Israeli spies stopped by, she declared to them that "He is God”. Rahab uses the same name for God that we saw in Tamar’s story: Yahweh. To the spies she declares: “He is Yahweh” (Covenant-Keeping God, God in Heaven and of the earth below). In this brief statement Rahab proclaims her complete transition from trusting the gods of her culture to trusting the one true God, Yahweh. (Read Joshua 1-6 for the whole story.) She follows that declaration with dangerous and risky action.
I love Rahab. She reminds me not to expect instant holiness from believers, especially those who have just met Jesus. God’s unconditional love for her reminds me of His unconditional love for me. She also reminds me of that beautiful abandonment to Jesus that new believers often experience. When Chuck and I were working on our book, Treasures of Faith - Living Boldly in View of God's Promises, I tried to get inside Rahab's skin so that we could adequately tell her story. What emotions flowed through her soul when she saw the Israelite spies enter her business? Was it shock, fear, confidence, joy? When did she decide to help them? Immediately? Had she been waiting for this moment? Unbeknownst to Rahab, God was putting together an incredible mosaic just in time to preserve and protect His chosen people. Rahab’s response to Him was a critical piece of the strategy. In Rahab, God prepared a safe place for the spies before any of them knew of their need. She believed in God's faithfulness and power, she hid the spies in exchange for her life and the safety of her family. Rahab is one of God’s means of keeping His promises to His people.
With this one moment, Rahab, respected business owner, powerful and influential secret-keeper and a harlot, adds liar and traitor to her resume. Yet, she is not only included in the genealogy of Jesus, she is listed with Sarah in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. In addition, James says she is an example of a faith that works (James 2:25).
Don’t miss the remarkable thread of hope that ties Rahab the Harlot to the baby in the manger, our Messiah, Jesus. Rahab marries Salmon, son of Nahshon, head of the tribe of Judah (from Judah’s line came kings). Together they give birth to Boaz. Boaz married Ruth, a Gentile. Boaz and Ruth give birth to Obed, the father of Jesse. Jesse is the father of King David, from whom would flow the legal blood of the Messiah.
There are so many life lessons we can learn from Rahab’s story but for today, consider carefully her unwavering faith, a faith that naturally flowed into action, an ability to stand alone, even in the face of incredible danger. Is this the gift that you long for this Christmas? Are you facing frightening decisions that are forcing you to stand alone? One of the meanings of Boaz is “in him is strength.” Did Rahab and Salmon give their son this name as a reminder that only in the Lord is the strength required to stand alone, that Rahab’s act of faith in helping the Israelites was fueled by the strength of the Lord, not her own strength? Review Today’s Treasure verse and imagine Rahab whispering this prayer as she held her baby Boaz, acknowledging that no matter what life threw at her, she would find rest and refuge in her God. That kind of rest comes from choosing trust in God instead of fear. As we travel closer to Christmas, Rahab reaches back to grab your hand and eagerly tell you that the same redeeming love and life transformation that emboldened her to risk everything can be yours, too.
Father, thank you for including Rahab in the genealogy of Your dear son, Jesus. Thank you for the hope each of us gains when we see Your grace displayed in such a remarkable way in the life of this woman. Show us how Your grace covers us as well and emboldens us to step out in faith even when we should be afraid.