Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below. Now then, since I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal kindly with my family.
Full story here! Worth a read.
Here is a heist story, an Ocean’s 11 kind of story, a James Bond spy thriller with hookers and spies and presidents that somehow know the hooker (wink, wink) and spies for the “good guys” that still end up at the hookers house (wink, wink). We’ve got a scrappy underdog invasion from a rag-tag army of liberated slaves, and they sneak into a city to scout it out and get help from a prostitute from the other team who helps them in exchange for them helping her. And it all ends with people hiding under flax and escaping down ropes over walls and Rahab hanging this scarlet cord out so that when the army comes through, they won’t hurt her. And then, shocking us all, Rahab ends up in Jesus’ genealogy, an ancestor of Christ and one of only four women mentioned by name at all.
That’s a movie I’d pay $4 bucks for at AMC North Dekalb.
Preachers through the ages, though, have found that while “that’ll sell” as a movie, it’s been harder to say “that’ll preach.” Preachers and commentaries have historically have fudged Rahab – it won’t preach, so we don’t preach it. Too much sex, too much cheating, too many lies. My roommate said that growing up Southern Baptist, she’d never even heard of Rahab.
What we’re missing as a Church when we leave Rahab out of our story of Jesus, though! We try to smooth her over, and when that doesn’t work, we paint over her name in Jesus’ family tree, blast it out like Sirius’ name in the Black family tree in Harry Potter – you don’t belong in this line, you don’t fit in our Advent story. We can’t get rid of you, so we’ll ignore you.
But my dears, Rahab is a professional badass.
There are a lot of things that you maybe didn’t notice about Rahab. The first thing is simply that she had it going on.
She’s not just an ordinary prostitute. This woman is powerful, and this woman is connected. The king knows her. The sends message to her, because he knows her, and he knows that she’s a woman who knows things. She’s got the pulse of the town, knows who is who, what is happening where. And she is so good at this that the king himself turns to her when he needs help tracking down spies. Rahab will know about this, the king thinks. Which also means – the king and Rahab had it going on, too.
She has her own small kingdom there, and she was doing really quite fine. She has a place in the old kingdom that is stable, that is powerful, and she knows the right people and has the right connections.
And two men come with rumors of a new kingdom.
And, inexplicably, Rahab bets it all on the new kingdom. Rahab bets it all on a rumor of something else that was coming.
This is particularly bizarre when we really look at just how successful Rahab was in Jericho. She had a lot of lose, betting on these strangers that showed up in the middle of the night. She had no way of knowing that even if she survived the invasion that she’d have anything, or be anyone, in that new kingdom. In the new kingdom, she was an outsider, she was a woman, she was a hooker. She would be an immigrant in her own country. She would be an exile and foreigner in her own house. In the new kingdom she wasn’t guaranteed any of the success or power that she’d picked up on the way in her old world. While I was reading this story, I thought about dear sweet Bree, from The Horse and His Boy – Bree the Talking Horse who can finally go to Narnia, but realizes that he won’t be as special in Narnia as he was in his old kingdom. “You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses,” the hermit tuts at him. “Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia.”
But Bree still went to Narnia, because Narnia is worth risking our own small kingdoms for.
Or, like the Psalmists say, “better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”
I’d rather be an outsider in the true kingdom than have it all in the old one.
And this risk, this enormous risk of losing her success and her identity as successful, makes Rahab’s bid for welcome so bold, so brave, so fierce. She stands on the outside of this new kingdom looking in, and she says to herself, no. I want in. I want to get in here no matter what it costs me. If it costs me everything, it is still worth it.
She gave everything up for a rumor. She risked her kingdom for a Kingdom she had no way of knowing if she’d succeed in. She demanded that she be let in, and then she didn’t wait patiently for a gatekeeper to open up the door for her, but cleverly lied and cheated her way into the new world.
It’s too easy at this point to just say that what Rahab did was “permissible but not beneficial.” She not really a “good guy,” she just she accidently ended up in the story of redemption and God made do with what God had.
But Scripture won’t let us get off that easily.
Because not only is Rahab in the line of Jesus Christ, not only is she in the book of Hebrews in the “great cloud of witnesses” who followed God by faith, “not knowing where they are going” –
Rahab fills the roll of a prophet in this text.
Let’s start with her name.
There is a bit of a play on words, a joke, in the text – Rahab in Hebrew is usually translated as broad, wide, and because the Hebrew Bible is so much dirtier than we give it credit for, there’s no reason to think the author wasn’t chuckling.
But there is another way to translate this word. When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:8, and first made God’s promise that these people would be taken out of slavery to a new land, God says “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Good and spacious land. The original promise to Moses, that they would dwell in a land of milk and honey, a land that is good. That is spacious. A land that is rahav.
That is the same word in Hebrew. רָחָב, rahav, spacious. רָחָב, Rahab. Spacious.
In case we miss this echo of the promise of God, hear Rahab’s declaration of faith to the spies – “The Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” And there, in Rahab’s declaration, is a echo of Moses in Deuteronomy, beginning his declaration of the Law to the people of God – “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other“ [Dt 4:29].
And then Rahab goes one further – “I know that the Lord has given you this land.”
The Pulpit Commentary says that “to speak of the future as past fulfilled is the language of the Hebrew prophets.”
To be a prophet is to declare in faith that what God has promised to do in the future is as solid and real as what has already occurred in the past.
The Lord has given this to you, declares Rahab. That which is not seen yet is still real. The coming kingdom is as solid as God’s wonders in the past.
Rahab gives up her power in the old kingdoms for a rumor of a new kingdom, and she refuses to believe that it’s just a rumor, because she is standing in faith on the Lord God who is in heaven above and earth below, who has promised a spacious place, who has given them the land. Rahab risks everything to declare that what God has promised will come about.
Rahab stands in between the old kingdom and the new kingdom and calls the new one into being, names it, believes that it is coming, and believes that even if she is nothing in it, even if she is an ordinary horse like Bree, even if she is a doorkeeper in the new kingdom like the Psalmist, that it is better to have nothing in the New World than be everything, have everything, in the old one.
And then – my friends – and then – Jesus.
Rahab had no way of knowing how much her “yes” to the new kingdom would be part of God redeeming the whole world. She had no way of knowing that she would be one of the mothers of Jesus, a holy mother who births into the world redemption and a more beautiful kingdom than the Israelites brought with them into Canaan.
And here is Rahab. Hiding spies on the roof, and here she is, letting them down with a rope through the window, and here she is, giving everything up for a rumor because she believed that God’s future is as firm as God’s past.
Rahab, this in-between, unconventional prophet, saying yes to God. And her risk, her yes, gives birth to Jesus, an unconventional, in-between King. Her “yes” grew to encompass and redeem the world.
By risking, Rahab. By faith, Rahab.