Rahab the hospitable
Perhaps you have heard Rahab referred to as a ‘shady lady’. After all, she was a prostitute. However, overwhelmingly the Bible’s presentation of her is one of faith and righteousness. In Matthew 1, we encounter her in v.5: Salmon bore Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). In the Old Testament, we find her in Joshua 2 and Joshua 6.
At this time, the Israelites had come out of Egypt and are beginning their conquest of the promised land, starting with Jericho, Rahab’s home town. Joshua sent two spies into Jericho do some reconnaissance, but when they reached Jericho they went straight to the home of a prostitute, Rahab. Immediately we know that these spies have not done as they were instructed. Instead of doing their spy work, they go off to see a prostitute (v.1). Hardly the actions of good Israelite men.
Meanwhile, the King of Jericho is looking for them. Rahab hides the men and misdirects the king’s messengers (v.4), but why? She tells us in her own words why she helped them: ‘I know that God has given you this land’ (v.9). She puts her faith in God’s promise, and she asks them to promise her that they will remember her when they attack Jericho. Then she helps them to escape and return to the other Israelites.
When you first see Rahab it is normal to think of her as an unfaithful person — a prostitute and a person from Jericho — but as we continue to read, we see that she is a person of God because she hears and obeys his plan. The climax of this story is not her profession; it is that she recognises the work of God, and plays her part in response. It is so easy to look at promiscuous women and for that to be all we see, but the Bible doesn’t allow us to go there here. It redirects our attention.
When they destroyed Jericho, the Israelites saved Rahab and she lived among them as a foreigner because she hid the spies. She received her reward, yet this reward matches her own actions and the actions of her God. God is a God who receives sinners and foreigners. When Rahab received and helped the spies, she acted like God, so she is also received into his people. She gave hospitality, and she received it.
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, welcoming the stranger is an important theme. From the star gazers from the East who are included in the birth of Jesus, to the refuge Jesus and his family received in Egypt, to Jesus’ own kindness in healing a Roman commander’s son, this theme of welcoming the stranger permeates much of Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 15, Jesus’ disciples turn a Canaanite woman away as she insists that Jesus help her and Jesus is amazed at her faith. It’s like the faith of Rahab who did not have a right to belong to the people of Israel according to her clan and work, but who knew that God loves the marginalised.
We are all like Rahab in that none of us have a right to belong in the family of God. We are cut off by our own sin and failure. Yet, because of the blood of Jesus Christ, the grandchild of Rahab, we have received the hospitality of the Father.
Are we also like Rahab in how we extend hospitality to others? The action of a person who knows God The Welcomer is to welcome others. It is to include those who are without family because we have been included in a family to which we have no right.
My parents’ church has lots of international students at it, and at Christmas they try to hook each of these students up with a family to join in their festivities. When this possibility came up in our family a few years ago, there was some anxiety. What if they didn’t like our food? How could they be expected to join in our family’s favourite games, all language rich, like charades or Taboo? What would be the expectations around presents? Wasn’t it all just a bit too much awkwardness and pressure?
Welcome is costly. It means letting someone in to the intimate and precious parts of family life, not just on the surface. It’s about allowing in people who might not ‘get it’, or who might be disruptive in some way even if they don’t mean to. But the call of God is to welcome those who are different from us, foreigners in our midst. Our family remembered The Foreigner Jesus who was a stranger among us, that he might welcome we strangers into his Father’s family. So we hosted three international students from various Asian countries for that Christmas. It was different from how it would have been if it was ‘just us’ of course, but I think back on that Christmas often, and remember that we gave nothing more than Rahab, who so beautifully reflected the character of her God.
Tamie comes from Adelaide and lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with her husband and two sons. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES). She and her husband blog here