For Joanne, it was a seven-year period that pushed her to the limits of what she could handle. The high point was the birth of her first child. The lows were a miscarriage, the death of her mother at age 45, divorce from her abusive first husband, and a downward spiral into poverty. In her darkest moments, Joanne contemplated whether life was worth living. Her dream was to be a published author. She submitted a manuscript to 12 publishers and was rejected 12 times, pushing her deeper into depression.
Finally, the 13th publisher accepted her manuscript and gave her a book deal. That breakthrough moment began a rapid ascent for Joanne, better known as JK Rowling. Over the next decade, her Harry Potter books propelled her worldwide fame and billionaire status. Talk about a rags-to-riches story!
However, JK Rowling’s rags to riches story is nothing compared to our featured character today. JK Rowling went to poverty to wealth. Rahab went from darkness to light. She went from lost and condemned to saved and grafted into the family tree of Jesus Himself.
Rahab started out about as far from God as a person could get. Her name is recorded eight times in the Bible. Five of those times she’s called Rahab the prostitute. Her lifestyle was a blatant violation of God’s intent for the union of man and woman. As a resident of Jericho, she was a citizen of the Amorite kingdom. The Amorites were notoriously wicked. A woman with a sinful past from a godless culture is the last person you’d expect in Jesus’ family tree.
Of course, if that’s the case, you and I are in trouble, too. Each of us has a track record of sinful living. Your sins may not be the same as Rahab’s, but sin is sin. Any sin separates us from a holy God. And just as she was a product of her culture, we, too, are products of our culture. You might not describe our culture as godless like the Amorites were. But many people see our culture moving farther from God, a trajectory that is moving more toward godlessness all the time.
But God likes to surprise us with His grace. He did in Rahab’s story, and He does in our stories, too. Rahab’s story began its upward ascent when she encountered two Israelite spies inside the walls of Jericho. In a risky act of kindness, Rahab hid the spies in her home. In return, the spies ensured that she and her family were spared when the walls of Jericho came down. She not only survived but lived among the Israelites and eventually became one of them. She gave birth to Boaz, who married Ruth. Rahab was King David’s great-great grandmother.
Rahab is a lesson in faith. Aside from the genealogy, Rahab appears twice in the New Testament. Her name appears in Hebrews 11, the great chapter on faith, which we studied earlier this year. She’s one of only two women in the chapter. Every person listed in Hebrews 11 is an illustration of the chapter’s opening thesis verse: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Rahab believed in what she did not see. She didn’t see the miracles God worked in bringing His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. She didn’t see, but she believed. She said to the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you the land. … The Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:9, 11) Somehow she received word of God’s mighty acts of deliverance, and she believed the words spoken to her.
Her faith foreshadowed the faith of another young woman. When the angel appeared to Mary, her faith led her to believe the words he spoke. She had not witnessed miracles. The prophets went silent 400 years before. She had every reason to doubt that she, a virgin, would conceive and give birth. But by faith, she said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
The other New Testament reference to Rahab is James 2. The second chapter of James declares that authentic faith expresses itself in good works. Following the verse about Rahab, the chapter concludes, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) By housing the spies, Rahab acted on her beliefs and was saved.
In both New Testament passages, Rahab is commended for her attitude toward the spies. Hebrews 11 says she “had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” (Hebrews 11:31) James 2 says she “received the messengers and sent them out by another way.” (James 2:25) Rahab’s faith was strong and well placed. She trusted God and the ones He sent to her.
Our faith is well placed when it is in God and the One He sent for us. Scripture says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5) God sent the spies to save Rahab and her family. God sent Jesus to save you and me. Jesus stepped into our godless world. He was victim and victor. He suffered the destruction we deserved on the cross. Rising from the grave, He is the conqueror who gives pardon to all who trust in Him.
Rahab was commended for receiving the people God sent to her. Does God send people to you and me? Of course He does. God is a sending God. He sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior, and He sends people to help one another in the needs of this life. The person who comes alongside you to comfort you in your time of sorrow – God sent that person to you. Likewise, the person who speaks a hard word that you didn’t want to hear but needed to hear – God sent that person to you, too. Everyone God sends into our lives to help us in any way – those people are demonstrations of God’s grace toward us.
Do you, like Rahab, welcome the people sends to you? Or do you reject them, failing to see God’s hand at work? When someone speaks a word of correction to you, do you receive it as a gift of God, or are you defensive? Through two spies, God saved Rahab from destruction. Through the voice of someone in your life, God might have an important message for you. Do you welcome the people God sends your way?
Out of all the people in Jesus’ lineage, Rahab is at the same time the most improbable and the most suitable member of the family. She’s a surprising addition because of her background. She was a prostitute from a godless culture. At the same time, no one is a better fit for Jesus’ family than she is. God doesn’t determine our place in the family based on our record of sins. He includes us in His family based on Jesus’ perfect record, His sacrifice for us, and our faith to believe in what He has done for us. When it comes to faith, Rahab’s faith was as strong as anyone’s. And the God who delivered her is just as strong to be our deliverer, too!
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