“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever,” so speaks an American Indian proverb. God well knows the power of story. So when he rescued his chosen people from slavery in Egypt ready to birth them as the nation Israel, he did so with events so extraordinary they would be sure blood their veins with the oxygen they would need to keep their faith alive for all time.
And God instructed his people to tell the story of the Exodus to their children and all generations that followed, and to re-enact it yearly through the Passover meal, so they would not forget God’s love for them, and the extraordinary miracles he performed to rescue them from the hell of Egypt and plant them in the heaven of the Promised Land.
And held within the tension of this tale — before Jericho’s walls come crumbling down and the Promised Land finally claimed — we find the story of Rahab.
The story of Rahab…
When we read ‘Rahab’ what instant replay of her story flashes through our imaginations? Rahab the sinful sex-worker saved from destruction by the brave spies and graciously offered a place within God’s chosen people? What take home do we then jump to? God loves the worst of sinners like Rahab? Grubby outsiders find welcome in the people of God?
Well… to use a useful bit of Aussie slang “Yeah but Nah.”*
Why don’t we go back and hear her story again and really listen. Listen without the preconception that prostitutes need to be the lowly, degraded, and grateful characters within their stories and daring to remember that God loves turning the events of salvation history upside down and shaking them until his glory bursts from all the cracks. For every story in God’s living Word is a chance for us to be seeded and soaked by the Holy Spirit and our lives exploded with Jesus fruit. Let’s listen with open hearts and not miss out.
Imagine you are young Israelite listening to your Dad tell your history across many dinnertimes. It has not been a pretty story, for while the records of most ancient civilisations whitewash weaknesses and embellish accomplishments, Israelite history is set apart for its awkward and painful honesty. The night before you have listened in humiliation to the tale of how even after God bended the laws of nature to pull Israel out of slavery, they had so little faith God would give them the land promised to Abraham that they sent spies into Canaan to case out their opposition. When these spies reported the Canaanites to be large and numerous, did they keep calm and carry on? No, they panicked. And for their faithlessness God cursed them to wander the desert for forty years, to try again with the next generation.
So now you’re waiting for the next chapter. Can Israel redeem itself, storm Jericho, and take the land God so long ago promised? Yet how does the story begin… the Israelites sent spies into Canaan to check out the opposition. At this point you are tempted to bang your head against the dinner table. Spies! Spies sunk Israel the first time. Spies are symbols of a lack of trust in God. Israel had learnt nothing! And things go downhill from here. Things go downhill … When the spies enter Jericho, are they described investigating the guard stations or sabotaging the armoury? No, they went and entered the house of Rahab… a prostitute. At this point your little sister pipes up “What’s a prostitute?” and Mum’s coughing loudly down the end of the table, and your eyes are getting wider and wider. Meanwhile, the Israelite spies have entered the city and made their way to Rahab’s establishment with such brilliant stealth that Jericho’s king knows exactly where to send his soldiers to apprehend them. But these soldiers do not find the spies because Rahab chooses to hide them. Rahab chooses … Why hide the spies? Rahab has everything to lose hiding the spies. She does not act from a wretched position; she is clearly a woman who wields substantial wealth. The hilly-billy band of Israelites matched against Jericho’s formidable walls is not much to fear. A traitor’s death waits her if she is found hiding the enemy, and the king has sent soldiers to find them. Why hide the spies? Because unlike the embarrassingly faithless Israelites, Rahab is faith personified. Rahab has heard stories of all God has done to rescue the Israelites from Egypt and is both awestruck and terrified. These stories have her believing God’s plans are unstoppable, and so she switches her allegiance from the king of Jericho to God. Listen to her remarkable testimony to the Israelite spies as she seeks to secure salvation and a future for herself and her family, “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.” (Joshua 2:9-13, NIV) The Israelites saw God as small. Rahab saw God.
Rahab saw God …
Rahab risks all on the stories she’s heard — and wins. Rahab plots the spies escape. Her house is in the city walls and she casts a scarlet rope out her window and they climb to safety. Later, when the Israelites attack Jericho, Rahab gathers her extended family into her house and again throws this scarlet rope from her window as a sign which saves them from slaughter. And for her faith God not only rescued Rahab but welcomed her into his people so completely that she is included in the line of David which culminated in Jesus Christ.
Often accounts of Rahab focus on her profession — Rahab the prostitute welcomed into God’s people. This is not an untruth, there is no wall God will not smash to offer us his love. But to focus on Rahab as a depraved sinner is to distort her story. In this event the shamefaced lost son is not Rahab but the nation of Israel. While the spies quiver beneath bundles of flax on her roof, Rahab wonderfully enacts the faith they lack. She rescues the spies because she believes whole-heartedly that God will bring ultimate victory to Israel. Rahab is faith in action, she boldly and unwaveringly acts in light of God’s character and God’s grand future plans despite the dangers besieging her in the present, and God doesn’t disappoint, but meets her faith with gracious and unimaginably generous love and blessing. Faith in action … In the New Testament Rahab is not only honoured in Jesus’ genealogy, but both James and the author of Hebrews offer her as an example of faith in action. For Faith is seeing God and being so awestruck we transfer loyalties, transfer kings, and transfer kingdoms. Faith doesn’t keep old allegiances or sit neutral. Faith is so convinced by God’s power and goodness it passionately obeys his words and pursues his ways. Is this us? Or are we with the spies, lukewarm in conviction God can do all he promises? Salvation from sin is a refused gift if we wall ourselves off with distrust. What holds us back? Do we not believe God is good, not trust God will deliver on his promises? We need to put on Rahab’s eyes—tell ourselves the stories of salvation history and marvel at God until we fall back in wonderstruck love. Salvation history … Why didn’t God simply fold up history within a generation of Adam and Eve? Why inflict four hundred years of slavery on the Israelites before giving them the land he promised? Because quick fixes do not heal hearts. The sheer depth and breadth of the story God has been spinning since the fall says a great deal about the depth and breadth of our heart wound. It also says everything about the depth and breadth of God’s love. God loves us. God desires to be loved. We are fearfully and wonderfully made to revel in God’s love. This is why we exist. This is who we are.
*“Yeah but Nah,” is an Aussie slang phrase which means something like “yes… sort of… but no,” or “I hear what you’re saying but I must disagree.”
Hello, I’m Laura Tharion, and I am passionate about spreading the joy and wonder to be found in living a resurrected life inside Jesus Christ. I enjoy tea, cake, history, hammocks, wild bushland, gardening, reading, and gifting my favourite books into the hands of others. I had the pleasure of studying at Sydney Missionary and Bible College before my three lovely little boys arrived to fill my days. Here I picked up the pet soap-boxes of mission advocacy and teaching the Bible as one unified story. I have a heart to write—sermons, studies, articles, meditations, poetry, and epic novels, all which aim to explore theology and encourage everyone to fully realise all they have been given and commissioned in Christ.