Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 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. 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. 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.
‘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 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.’
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.
Sometimes it feels strange to tell people that one of my biblical heroes was a prostitute. It feels even stranger to tell them that this prostitute appears in Jesus’ genealogy. But that is the case with Rahab, the second woman to appear in Matthew 1.
As a prostitute, Rahab was the lowest of the low – especially according to Israel’s laws. And yet when two Israelite spies appear in her city, trying to work out how they can conquer it, she helps them. Instead of obeying Jericho’s king, she hides these men in her house and lies to the authorities, sending them on a wild goose chase across the desert.
Then comes the best bit. Rahab goes up to the men that she’s hidden on her roof, risking her own life by doing so, and says this:
‘I know that the LORD has given this land to you … For the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’ (Joshua 2:9, 11)
For these words to come out of the mouth of a non-Israelite is completely unprecedented. The wording of this confession of faith in Joshua 2:11 is matched in only two other places in the whole Old Testament: the confession of Moses in Deuteronomy 4:39, and the confession of Solomon in 1 Kings 8:23. This woman, this prostitute, this ceremonially unclean, broken woman of the world has just made a confession of faith in the Lord which puts her up there with the likes of Moses, friend of God (Exodus 33:11), and Solomon, the wise King (1 Kings 3:12).
Not only that, but by bravely hiding these Israelite spies from the authorities and preventing them from being captured and killed, she is behaving in a way that chimes with the very heart of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. Her actions are completely in line with the deeds and quality of life that was supposed to distinguish the Israelite people from people like her. These actions and this confession lead her whole family to safety and result in her joining the Israelites after Jericho falls.
Rahab is a curveball in the story of Israel; another example of God’s plan deviating from what we might expect. But it is also a reminder – that God was at work in the most unlikely of places, and in and through the least likely of people. And he still is today.