Rahab and her experience of peace
This Advent, Terry Young is placing two themes side by side: four women listed in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, alongside four Advent calls
Rahab is the only woman to make it into Matthew’s genealogy and onto that famous list of heroes (Hebrews 11:31) in faith, so perhaps the two are connected and, in turn, maybe the connection sheds some light on the theme of peace.
A few years ago at church, we ran a series on families and households. As well as capturing the Bible’s teaching on family life, we wanted to explore the way in which God’s family came to embrace unlikely outsiders. As it happens, many (perhaps most) of the families the Bible describes are highly dysfunctional, so we had a mandate in reaching out beyond the well-regulated couple with 2.4 children.
However, the outside speaker who was given the topic that day could not really get beyond the fact that Rahab was a prostitute. He was wedded to a clear story of repentance and forgiveness before restoration, but he had to construct most of that, because it is not in the narrative. I can’t remember whether he agonised over the way she lied to the king’s men, but having filled his sermon with sound theology and rather poorer exegesis, he had no time to explore the passage itself, nor the theme of family. Like Ruth after her, Rahab makes difficult choices very quickly; she was resilient and formidable at the bargaining table, as was Tamar before her. Of course, there was also the magnificent matter of the faith she exercised.
In Joshua chapter 2, the eponymous narrator commissions two spies to recce the city of Jericho. Presumably one of the pair is the tribal chief of Judah, Nashon, or perhaps his son Salmon, whom Rahab later marries (all three names are on Matthew’s list).
Her biography comes in two hermetically sealed compartments. Up to the fall of Jericho, she was a nobody – perhaps running a slightly dodgy inn, perhaps as a chambermaid in the family firm and graduating from there, I really have no idea. After the fall, she marries the tribal chief and becomes anchored into the national elite, a woman of substance. At first sight, it is hard to imagine either existence as particularly peaceful, the din and sweat of whatever establishment she was part of, the continuing danger as a war bride. Of course, that isn’t the question. The question is whether she was at peace, and whether she exchanged an uncertain lifestyle for one of security.
The irony is that within the protection of the city walls, everyone lived in fear (Joshua 11:9). How much Rahab lived to see of the pastoral lifestyle described in the book of Ruth, I do not know, but rather like the pioneers who went west in covered wagons, my guess is that she felt safe in a hope that she and hers were moving into better times. It’s tricky to follow this terrain because there are so many aspects of this story that worry us as modern readers, but these factors are simply not addressed in the narrative, and we will fail to see what it says in its own terms if we chase every one of them down.
As we shall see when we come to Ruth, Rahab makes the most of the choices in front of her and she makes the critical decision when she has least time to focus and consider her options. Everything is in uproar – two spies appear at her door and a search party is out for them – when she decides that there can only be one winner in the conflict spreading across the land. Yahweh is going to win this one and from there on she stakes all on that premise. Everything she has goes into a plan over the next few hours: ensuring her family will survive the invasion, calculating how long the pursuing guards are likely to sustain their chase for the spies, and later, by binding herself to the deal she negotiated by tying that same scarlet chord in her window that she used to let the spies down outside the city wall.
Advent reminds us that God responds to faith in a spectacular way. Hers wasn’t a particularly evangelical faith, reached in a well-structured way, but it was faith in the God evangelicals worship. That faith seals off the past and opens up a very different future, where foreign breezes blow across the land where she was born.
And that faith brings her peace.
Image | Rahab Helping the Two Israelite Spies |
Illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us: Containing 400 Illustrations from the Old and New Testaments: With brief descriptions by Charles Foster | Wikimedia Commons
Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.
After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and move to Datchet with a position as a university professor
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