A reflection on Joshua 2:1-4a, 6: 15-17, 22-25 & Matthew 1:5a for Sunday, January 17, 2021 at Mosaic Baptist Church
Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there. The king of Jericho was told, ‘Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.’ Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.’ But the woman took the two men and hid them…
On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers we sent…
Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, ‘Go into the prostitute’s house, and bring the woman out of it and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.’ So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel. They burned down the city, and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. But Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
Joshua 2:1-4a & 6:15-17, 22-25 (NRSVA)
…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab…
Matthew 1:5a (NRSVA)
Rahab was epically brave.
It looks like her motive was fear, self-preservation, or even some spiritual insight into the state of her hometown. Jericho is clearly in a state of fear. Rahab – somehow – believes they are not in a place to fend off the Israelites.
And so she sides with two enemy spies over her own cowering people.
The repeated description of this remarkable woman throughout the Bible is ‘Rahab the prostitute’. Obviously this is a reference to her profession – and a derogatory one at that.
It seems like a strange title for one who becomes such a strong and exemplary hero. Her brave action that allows two fool-hearty Jewish spies to escape with their discoveries about Jericho.
Of course, it leaves us with one big question: What are these men on a mission to spy out enemy territory doing in a prostitute’s home?
Clearly it was a risky place to get sidetracked. This is only highlighted by the fact that they are seen, recognised, and reported. Now the king’s soldiers are in pursuit – beginning with the last place they were sighted – a whore-house.
And ‘Rahab the prostitute’ hides Israel’s finest – putting her life at risk to save her unwise enemies.
It is almost comic!
Of course, Rahab’s motives are not perfectly pure. She wants to make a deal. All the evidence is pointing to Jericho’s certain defeat and so she asks for clemency – a sparing of her life and those who belong to her.
Her life for theirs.
It is a good idea for the spies to agree. Their escape and the communication of their gathered information will save their entire nation. They make a pact and are enabled to leave.
And so the spies and – in turn – their commander Joshua keep their word. In the heat of battle soldiers are assigned exclusively to the protection of the brothel-come-home of Rahab. She is saved, recognised, and welcomed among the people of God.
So much so that she marries into God’s people – and gives birth to a son Boaz – in what becomes the line of the Messiah.
Matthew is the only one in scripture to refer to Rahab without her undignified title. It stands out. The tax-collector-come-gospel author clearly likes her. Maybe, given his own questionable past, he even identifies with her. At the very least, in including her in this list he recognises her bravery and her complete adoption into the lineage of Jesus.
And in including her here Matthew preempts the unexpected in the unfolding story of Jesus. The author has subtly prepared us for Jesus’ God-inspired – and controversial – welcome of the Gentiles into the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. He has also prepared us to hear Jesus’ radical welcome of sinners.
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise. After all, as the story of Rahab insists, this is what God has been all along!
What accounts in Matthew can you think of that highlight the welcome of the foreigner and the sinner into the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’?
Would you describe Rahab as a ‘woman of faith’? What might make you reluctant to do this? What makes you keen to embrace this title for her?