"What Can We Learn from Rahab?"
Text: Joshua 2:1-21
Hebrews 11:1-3, 30-31
Here’s what I’ve been told of my pedigree. On my dad’s side of the family, my grandfather Lawrence was born in the village of Pacentro in Central Italy. My grandmother Margaret was born in America, but her father immigrated to the U.S. from the city of Sulmone, just a few miles from Pacentro. On my mom’s side, things are a little less clear.
My grandparents George and Lula were both from a long line of American-born ancestry; George bearing the strong Scottish name of Ogilvie; Lula bearing the equally strong German name of Donch. So what does that make me? A mutt I suppose. When people ask me what I am [boy is that a loaded question], I generally claim 50% Italian, 25% Scotch, and 25% German. I’ve wondered, though, what I would learn from one of those Ancestry DNA tests which are all the rage these days. What if I found that -- genetically- speaking -- I’m not what I’ve always thought I was? It would be cool to discover that my pedigree is purer than I knew, with maybe even a little nobility in my family tree.
The first seventeen verses of Matthew’s Gospel provide Jesus’ genealogy. Janet Baker in her article “In-laws and Outlaws in the Messianic Family Tree” wrote this: “Jesus of Nazareth has a startling pedigree. One would expect that the Son of God would come from an untainted line of thoroughbreds. His ancestors should all be kings, chiefs, faithful servants of God. Not a knave or a scalawag should be among them.” But the fact is, in reading the human family tree from which Jesus descended, his pedigree is not as pure as one might expect. Among the names recorded by Matthew are evil kings, adulterers, murderers, even a prostitute by the name of Rahab, wife of Salmon and mother of Boaz. Let’s read about her now.
(Read Joshua 2:1-21)
In addition to being a harlot, Rahab became a mother whose children’s children eventually bore the Savior of the world. On this Mother’s Day, can we learn anything about mothers by looking at Rahab? I believe we can learn at least three things.
The first thing we learn from Rahab is that mothers make mistakes. Who on earth doesn’t make mistakes. Here’s a little mistake story you might find interesting. Back in 1886, a pharmacist by the name of John Pemberton cooked up the first batch of Coca-Cola syrup in his mother’s back- yard. The basic formula of the number one consumer product in the world remained unchanged for almost a century. In 1985, many considered the new Coke a major blunder, and just a few years later, “Classic Coke” returned to the market. According to David Frost’s Book of World’s Worst Decisions, Coke made an even bigger blunder earlier in the 20th century when it was offered the young, twice bankrupt Pepsi-Cola Company for a mere one thousand dollars. But since Coke had a monopoly on the soft-drink business, it rejected the offer, missing the opportunity to eliminate what would someday become Coke’s archrival. Coke made a mistake – but a mistake seen only in hindsight; not discernible when it was made.
Rahab, too, made a mistake like that. From our vantage point of 21st century Christian culture, we would certainly say that Rahab made a mistake; moreover that she was a sinful woman. But we need to keep in mind that Rahab was a product of her time and culture. She lived in the ancient culture of the Canaanites that worshiped many gods, and had few moral values. There was no such thing as a ten commandments for Canaanites. Many of the gods worshiped in that context were fertility gods, who were imagined to cause crops and flocks to increase. There were both women and men functioned as Temple prostitutes. Their nefarious work was considered at that time a vital part of worshiping these fertility gods, and a way of influencing these gods to bless the land with a bountiful harvest. Prostitution in Rahab’s day was valued as a necessary and honorable profession in that ancient culture, and remains so in some pagan cultures in our day. Rahab was likely such a temple prostitute. It can be said in hindsight that Rahab’s mistake was the result of ignorance of a better way. What mother – then or now – has not made mistakes; perhaps not of the same type as Rahab’s but mistakes nonetheless; mistakes of youth; mistakes of ignorance; mistakes of passion; mistakes of misguidance. In hindsight, how many mothers [or people in general] have regretted mistakes, errors, sins of the past which can’t be undone. But there’s a second thing we can learn from Rahab: mothers can change and be redeemed. Rahab did not remain a prostitute in Jericho. The story we read from Joshua 2 tells us how Rahab saved the two Israelite spies from her own people in her own hometown. She acted to spare them from death because she had heard of the mighty things the Lord had done for the Israelites. She recognized, and accepted, that their God was the one true God. Rahab and her family were in turn saved from death when Jericho was later destroyed.
The lesson is that people can change. Good can come out of bad. Rahab was transformed from a harlot to a protector; just as Matthew was transformed from a tax collector to an apostle; just as Paul was transformed from a persecutor of the Christian faith to a champion of the Christian faith; just as Charles Colson was transformed from a hatchet man for Richard Nixon to a Christian writer doing prison ministry. Even though we all make mistakes, commit errors, engage in sinful behavior – sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally – no mother, no person, is beyond the pale of transforming grace; not one of us is beyond the capacity to change when we recognize and accept the power of the one true God; when we come to know a better way.
A third thing we learn from Rahab is that mothers can be heroines of faith. While this may not be such an earth-shaking thing in our day when – I daresay – there are more women practicing the faith than men, back in Bible times, culture and religion were very patriarchal, ie. very male-orien- ted and male-dominated. Women frankly didn’t account for much in that day beyond their capacity to bear children. So when we come to that passage in Hebrews which was read for us a little earlier, often termed the “roll call of the heroes of the faith,” it’s a roll call of fathers: “Abel,” “Enoch,” “Noah,” “Abraham,” “Isaac,” “Jacob,” “Moses.” But late in the list, we read this: “By faith, Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.”
So what is this great faith of Rahab which qualified her to be part of this roll call? She could have ratted on the two spies to the King of Jericho, who knew they had come into her house. But instead – at great risk to herself -- she hid them and saved their lives. Rahab could have trusted in the fortified walls of Jericho within which she lived. Rather, she put her trust and faith in the God of the Hebrews.
An anonymous author has written, “Without any disrespect, it must be said that Christianity is pre-eminently the gambler’s religion. In no other religion are the stakes so high and the choice so momentous.” Rahab rolled the dice in a manner of speaking, gambling her life on the Lord God of Israel instead of on the walls of Jericho which later fell flat. Rahab didn’t just raise her hand at a revival meeting or come forward at a crusade. Rahab risked everything. She made a total commitment of her life and the life of her family, and showed her commitment and faith by her deeds. She didn’t slam her door in the spies’ faces saying, “I believe in your God, but I don’t want to get involved.” I believe James in his New Testament letter articulates as well as anyone why Rahab is worthy of the roll call of faith, and deserving of the title heroine of the faith. James writes in chapter 2: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” In a nutshell, Rahab didn’t just talk faith, she walked faith. That is a feature of heroism.
Being a heroine of the faith does not necessarily require risking one’s life as Rahab did. But it does require faithfulness to God and family. Being faithful can mean such mundane things as moms wiping runny noses, changing dirty diapers, laundering clothes, preparing nutritious meals, reading Bible stories aloud, and giving lots of love. Faithfulness in such tasks which mothers do every day makes such mothers heroines of the faith, and worthy of any roll call of honor.
Why is the story of Rahab in the Bible? A pagan prostitute becoming a noted ancestor of Jesus and a heroine of faith shows the incredible grace of God. Yes, mothers make mistakes. Yet there is always available opportunity for change, transformation, and redemption. That’s the essence of God’s grace. And at the end of the day, the Lord raises up transformed and redeemed women and men, mothers and fathers, to become the heroines and heroes of faith in God, and in Jesus His Christ. Isn’t it good to know that we have these heroines and heroes in our pedigree?
Thank You, O God our heavenly Parent, for stories such as Rahab’s; stories of transformation and redemption; reminders that Your grace is always at work among us and within us. Thank You for our mothers, who are heroines of the faith, and heroes to us. Bless them, in the name of Christ. Amen.