At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel there is a long genealogy of Jesus. There is also a genealogy in Luke’s Gospel, but the special thing about Matthew’s (compared to Luke’s, and every other genealogy of the time, and the rest of scripture) is his inclusion of five women.
Women didn’t usually get a mention in those kind of lists, because they weren’t considered important enough to warrant it, so it’s pretty significant that they’re featured there. But, as well as that, these women are not the kind of ladies that a good First Century Jewish chap would necessarily want to be associated with, never mind a good Jewish chap who’s claiming to be the Chosen One.
They’re unexpected ladies to feature in such an esteemed list, but then, Jesus is a pretty unexpected Saviour too.
The second of the five is Rahab.
“…and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab...”
I sometimes feel like these ladies in Jesus’s genealogy are friends of mine, or sisters even. But, Rahab is the one I don’t know so well: the second cousin, or the friend of a friend. I want to know her better, but she’s still a bit of a mystery to me. So this week is as much about getting to understand her more, as it is about introducing her to you.
Last week we had scandal – Tamar, the childless widow, dressing up as a prostitute, sleeping with her father-in-law, and getting pregnant. How could it possibly get worse than that?
Rahab: foreigner (of the very worst kind); prostitute (for real this time, not just playing dress-up). That, in the grand, Messianic-genealogy scheme of things, is not good at all.
You can read the story of Rahab for yourself in Joshua 2, but allow me to set the scene:
The book of Joshua is all about God’s people, Israel, finally arriving in the land He promised them. Last week we were dealing with Judah (one of Jacob’s 12 sons), and perhaps you’ll remember that Judah’s brother Joseph (he of technicolour dreamcoat fame) had just been sold into slavery in Egypt. Eventually Joseph becomes the big man in Egypt, and when there’s a famine back in Canaan (where Jacob and the rest of the family live) this growing nation of Israel pack up and move down to Egypt, to settle there.
Now, the family grow, many years pass, a new Pharaoh takes control of Egypt, and Israel end up as slaves. The book of Exodus tells us about Moses being raised up and confronting Pharaoh, before being used by God to lead the people out of Egypt and across the desert to the Promised Land. That place that they’d left during the famine hundreds of years previously was going to be given to them again, and so they just needed to follow God across the desert and into the land.
Unfortunately, they do not follow very well, and eventually the entire generation who left Egypt are informed that they will never see the Promised Land. Instead, they spend the next 40 years wandering around the desert until they’re all dead and gone, at which point God is ready to give, to their children, this land that he promised to Abraham (Tamar’s great-great- grandfather-in-law). And that’s where the book of Joshua begins, with Israel getting ready to go into this land, but, of course, the land they’ve been given isn’t just sitting there, empty and available; people live there.
As an aside: perhaps it’s worth acknowledging that there are some difficult questions to deal with regarding what looks very much like God-ordained genocide. Cop-out, maybe, but although the issue is there, it’s not really what I want to talk about with Rahab. Sorry. This post from Dave Bish is really helpful, so why not have a wee read.
So back to the story. Joshua is getting ready to lead an army into Canaan/Israel, but first he sends in a couple of spies to have a look around and work out what they’re up against. These unnamed spies make their way into Jericho (the first city they come to) and find themselves in some sort of pub or inn, which is the home of Rahab. The prostitute.
Perhaps they’re not terribly good spies, or perhaps the Jericho security services are particularly top-notch, either way, news that they’re in the city makes its way to the king, and so, to save their lives, Rahab hides them from the soldiers who come looking. Then she tells them that she knows who they are, and, more importantly, who their God is, and she strikes up an agreement with them: she will continue to hide them from the soldiers, if they will guarantee her safety in the upcoming destruction.
They agree, and tell her to hang a red cord out of her window, and to bring all her family into the house with her. The promise is: everyone in the house with the red cord will be saved.
The spies escape (down a rope from her window), and later, when the battle comes, Rahab and all of her family are saved. The end.
Great story, but why does it matter?
Two reasons: firstly, because Rahab is, in the book of Hebrews, commended for her faith; and secondly, because she’s mentioned in that all-important genealogy.
Despite the fact that she is the most unexpected person to be held up as an example, the author of Hebrews does it anyway.
- She’s a woman.
- She’s a foreigner.
- She’s a prostitute.
One of those would be enough to have her sidelined, but all three? And yet, she’s held up as a great example of faith. She hides the spies the first time with no word of any promise or agreement, and she is as clear as can be that all have heard that God is on the side of Israel, and that she knows she’ll only be safe if he’s on her side too. In the end she trusts in their word and that means rescue for all of her family.
It’s interesting to think about her family. We don’t know anything about them, other than the fact that they are saved when they take refuge with Rahab. But I do wonder: what did Rahab’s mother and father and brothers and sisters think of the fact that she was a prostitute? Was it accepted by them as a necessary evil in order that she might live? Or was she shunned by them? Did they come to her house that day easily? Or grudgingly? Were they reluctant to have their rescue in the hands of the whore?
Because that’s what she was. There’s no getting away from that fact – and for the Jewish audience of Matthew’s gospel it’s important that we understand that they would have been appalled by someone like her: not just a whore, but a foreign whore.
So why on earth is her name in that list?
Because Jesus’ rescue is big enough.
Whatever you think about that red cord in the story, and however much weight you do or do not give it, you have to at least acknowledge that there’s something going on here.
One family rescued, while the rest of the city is destroyed around them, and the only sign to distinguish them from the others is the red cord. I don’t know about you, but it reminds me of the beginning of Exodus, when many families are rescued, while others around them are destroyed. There they take refuge under the sign of some lamb’s blood painted over their doors, and that is pointing us forward to when we are offered a perfect rescue from destruction, if only we take refuge under the blood of the perfect Lamb: the Lord Jesus.
Rahab is rescued on that day, and it show us a wee glimpse of the bigger rescue that’s coming. A rescue that’s not just offered to fine, upstanding, Jewish men, but to a woman, a foreigner, a prostitute.
And she’s not just saved from destruction. No. She is saved and brought into Israel. She lives among them, she marries one of them, she has kids, and eventually, her descendants will be kings of Israel, and then the King of Israel.
His sacrifice is big enough for all of that. Not just to rescue unlikely people but also, to bring them into the family.
In summary: rescued.