Rahab vs. Modern Conventional Wisdom

Posted on August 23, 2011 by

There’s a catch phrase that has become common when discussing women and relationships. I’ve heard it uttered more in real life than I have seen it on the ‘net in fact. I know you’ve heard it, too:

You can’t turn a whore into a housewife.

Or can you? Ever since Alte offered her post on Proverbs 31 women I’ve contemplated exploring the way God used more scandalous women to advance His agenda in Scripture. We love to focus on the seemingly perfect, pure, faith-filled women and pretend we can relate to them when in reality, most of us are probably more like the manipulative Rebekah than the wise, straight-talking Abigail.

I want to look at Rahab because the right-leaning, conservative blogosphere loves to look at the statistics and use them to gauge what to expect from a person’s behavior. There’s certainly something to be said for looking at “just the facts, ma’am” and extrapolating a potential outcome. But the moniker of this site is Traditional Christianity. It implies that most of us understand that once God enters the equation, you never know what is going to happen. We first meet Rahab in Joshua chapter 2:

Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jehrico.” So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there. Joshua 2:1

The leaders of Jehrico were fully aware of the Hebrews’ presence outside their city and that war was imminent. They were carefully watching the comings and goings at the city gate and notice the strangers who have lodged at Rahab’s house for the night. The king sets out to find out who the men are:

And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.”
So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.”
Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.”  (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) 7 Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate. Joshua 2: 2-7

This is what the website Women of the Bible has to say about Rahab:

Many “Bible Story” pictures showing Rahab demurely dressed, standing in the foyer of a cheery little cottage, a cozy fire warming the room and sweet little flowers to enliven the room. Unfortunately, from what we know of prostitution realities then and now, that scene is misleading. Instead we should envision a small cramped area–a place of outcasts. This isn’t a woman dressed in Sunday best, but for a Saturday night special. Only by facing the reality of Rahab’s life, can we truly learn from her.

I agree with their assessment of the situation. The Bible is nothing if not real about these issues. So here we have prostitute who risks her life and that of her family by assisting these strange men who have come to spy out her country with the intent of overthrowing it. Why does she do this? She did it because she had heard of the wondrous miracles God had done on behalf of the children of Israel and her faith was ignited that their God, Yahweh, was indeed the true and living God:

Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof,  and said to the men: “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.  For 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 the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.  Therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token,  and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.”
So the men answered her, “Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you.”

The men kept their word, and Rahab and her family was spared when the Hebrews invaded the land. I’m sure Rahab was more than satisfied with the outcome of her act of faith, but God decides to bless her even more richly by including her in the lineage of the Messiah. She is even mentioned in the famous “roll call of faith” in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Here we seethe two New Testament references to Rahab. The first is in the lineage of Jesus Christ:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram.  Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king.

David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife[ of Uriah.

I’ll note here that there are only four women mentioned in the above lineage and all of them behaved in ways considered scandalous in their time. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. I’m not exactly sure what God is attempting to convey here but it’s a curious contemplation given the harsh admonition the Scripture reserves for immorality and immoral women.

I can only conclude that Scripture intends to present to us what is possible in the heart, mind and life of a person who has genuine faith in Him. I can think of no other reason why a Hebrew was allowed to marry this foreign prostitute (which violated the Mosaic law) and be rewarded with the eternal legacy of this union’s offspring being in the lineage of the promised Messiah.

Which brings us to our original question: Can a whore become a housewife? Conventional wisdom says no, and I agree. I understand the rationale behind past behavior being the best predictor of future behavior.  However as a Christian, I am reminded to never write anyone off, no matter how bad they appear to be. Where faith is, conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply.