A remarkable woman

This is the fourth post in Jean’s series on women in the Bible. (Read the first, second and third.)

I met a remarkable woman the other day. To be honest, she’s not the kind of woman I normally feel comfortable with. She’s had an immoral past, a pagan background, and a life of change and crisis. She’s brave, shrewd and outspoken. I might as well come out and say it: she was once a prostitute. But I reckon she knows more about God than any number of women from safe Christian backgrounds (like me).

Her name is Rahab. You might have heard her story—how she opened her doors to two Jewish spies (try explaining that choice of accommodation to your mum!), and hid them when the king’s men came to call. The spies saved her life because she saved theirs: when Jericho fell to the Israelites, she and her family huddled safe inside her house, protected by the sign of the scarlet cord hanging from her window (Josh 2, 6).

It’s a story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. But until you’ve spent a couple of weeks in Rahab’s company (the way I did, because I wanted to introduce her to our women’s Bible study), you have no idea how impressive she really is.

Her fear of God outshines us all. God’s people saw him divide the Red Sea, destroy Pharaoh’s armies, bring water from the rock and rain food from the sky. But when they got to the borders of Canaan, they shook in their shoes because of a few overly large soldiers! Rahab had only heard rumours of Israel’s victories, but every other fear—fear for her family, fear of a gruesome death if her treachery was discovered—was insignificant compared to her fear of God. Here’s what she told the spies:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away 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 who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Josh 2:9-11)

Amazing, isn’t it? And here’s me not telling my friends about Jesus because I’m more scared of offending them than of displeasing God (Luke 12:4-7)! I could do with a dose of Rahab’s kind of fear.

If that was all, it would do neither her nor me much good: she’d be dead, buried under the rubble of Jericho. But she not only feared God like there was no tomorrow, she had greater faith in God than anyone else I’ve met. She didn’t just cower behind those walls; when she got the chance, she reached with both hands and threw herself on God’s mercy! No wonder she’s become a byword for faith: our Bible teacher James (who is always one for vivid illustrations) used her as an example of true faith—a faith that doesn’t just believe, but also acts (Jas 2:17, 25). I could do with more of that kind of faith—particularly when I say I believe but don’t want to give up my comforts!

Another of our Bible teachers once gave us a great list of men and women of faith (actually, I’ll be honest, they were mainly men), and yes, you guessed it: it included Rahab the prostitute alongside all of those mighty men, heroes, patriarchs and kings (Heb 11). If faith is being “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1 NIV), then Rahab has got it in spades. This woman never saw God’s salvation in Jesus, but she knew exactly where to seek mercy. She’s an inspiration to me—a reason to persevere through the weary days as I keep my eyes fixed on the saviour I’ve never seen.

You should hear her testimony! You won’t find a clearer picture of the gospel. We often think of fear and faith as opposites, but Rahab shows us how the gospel brings them together. She escaped God’s judgement by throwing herself on God’s mercy, hiding in her house as destruction came to all around her; similarly, we hide in Christ to escape God’s anger. It’s fear of God’s judgement that drives us to faith in God’s salvation. Furthermore, we don’t lose this fear of God when we trust in him; fear of God is itself an expression of faith.1

One final thing: did you know that Rahab was one of Jesus’ great-great-grandmothers? Brother Matthew shared the genealogy of Jesus with us, and there she was, along with Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba—an unprepossessing bunch of women (Matt 1:1-16)! I guess it shows that God has little interest in using the self-satisfied do-gooders of this world (that is, I have to admit, somewhat uncomfortably, women like me) and more interest in using the downtrodden, dirty sinners who throw themselves on his mercy (that is, women I tend to scorn. But not any more, I hope! 1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

Fear of God: a fear so great that it defeats any fear of man. Faith in God: faith that trusts in the unseen and obeys. The gospel: fleeing from God’s anger into the arms of his love. Rahab represents all these things to me. I can imagine Jesus saying of her, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9b). I only hope and pray that God will give me a tenth of her faith.

1 Christian fear is the fear of a son for a father, not a slave for a harsh master (Rom 8:15). Tim Chester says rightly that “To fear God is to respect, worship, trust, and submit to him” (You Can Change, InterVarsity Press, Leicester, 2008, pp. 92-93). I would add the word ‘love’. Honoria Lau borrows from Hebrews 12:25 to define the fear of God helpfully as “not daring to refuse him”. See also Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Exodus 14:31; Psalm 2:11, 115:11, 130:4; Acts 9:31; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Peter Hastie’s interview with Jerry Bridges; and my posts on the fear of God.

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