By Rick Ezell
Have you ever noticed that God seems most interested in people who are unpretentious—those who are hopeless, those who have their share of desperation and defeat, those who are flawed and wounded, those whom most of the world has given up on, those with nowhere to turn? God seems to have a soft spot in his heart for people who pray desperate prayers, who hold onto shattered dreams, who are trapped by wrong choices, who are estranged from society, often rejected.
Case in Point: Rahab
Joshua, before leading the Hebrews into the promised land, needed some military intelligence about Jericho. Jericho was one of the many city-states in Canaan, each one ruled by a king. Jericho was a strategic city in Joshua’s plan for conquering Canaan. After taking Jericho, Joshua could then cut straight across and divide the land; and then it would be much easier to defeat the cities in the south and then in the north.
While Joshua knew that God had already given him the land and the people, he wanted to know how the citizens were reacting to the arrival of the people of Israel. He sent two young men disguised as foreign travelers to the ancient fortress stronghold. Archeological evidence indicates that double walls 15 feet apart protected the city. Between those walls was the house of Rahab, an innkeeper, where the spies found refuge. Rahab’s house was better known as a house of ill-repute.
Rahab had three strikes against her: She was a woman. Women were at best second-class citizens. She was an Amorite, not a Jew. The Amorites, one of many people groups occupying Canaan, were hated by virtually every culture and nation that surrounded them. They were corrupt, vile people, even sacrificing children in their depraved religious practices. And she was a prostitute, using her body to earn a living. Like prostitutes in all cultures, she was marginalized by society. Living on the fringe of society and in a home that backed up to the protective city wall, she provided harbor and safety to the two spies.
Rahab would be the last person one would expect God to use in a significant way. Yet God used her. God sometimes selects the most unexpected people to work with. He specializes in using those who are rejected from society—the broken and flawed.
Consider the fact that God used Noah, a drunk; Abraham, a liar; Moses, a murderer; David, an adulterer; Jeremiah, depressed and suicidal; Elijah, burned out; Peter, the denier; Saul/Paul, a killer. The list goes on and on. God seems to work through the most ordinary and unlikely people who were on the very edge of social respectability.
This fact, however, is reassuring. It gives me hope. It gives me possibility.
I’m on the List
I could be on that list also. I, too, have a story. While I am not a prostitute, my story is similar to Rahab’s: I am flawed. I am a sinner. Every time Rahab’s name is mentioned in the Bible, two words follow it, “the prostitute.” Just as Rahab had those infamous two words follow her name, I have my own set of words that follow me. Rick, a fallen person. I am broken and bent. I am a wretch, an outcast. My sinful condition is like a splash of ink in a glass of water; my flawed state permeates my whole being.
But I’m loved. God knows my flawed condition. He knows my fallen state, and he loves me anyway. My ragged condition is no longer the most important thing about me. I was not created flawed. I was created in such a way that God said of me, just as he said of Adam, “Very good.”
So, too, was Rahab. While society marginalized her, women shunned her, and men abused her, God loved her. God looked on her, not as the tramp of Jericho, but as a child whom he loved.
There is a wonder about Rahab, about me, and about you. Our identity is not found in our fallen and flawed status. Our past is not our destiny. We may be unlovely, but we are not unloved. We have hope. We are not washed up. We are usable.
Now, the Rest of the Story
Joshua 2, reads like a sidebar. It is not needed in telling the story. If you read chapter 1 then skipped chapter 2 and picked up with chapter 3, you wouldn’t miss anything in the progression. So what is the purpose of Joshua 2 and the story of Rahab, the prostitute? Was it so we would be grateful for the past? Was it so we could look back with amazement at what God did?
The purpose of Rahab’s story is not to tell us just what God did. The purpose is to tell us what God does.
This is a historic moment in which a real God enlisted the help of a real person to bring real hope to his people. In spite of the three strikes against her—a woman, an Amorite, a prostitute—Rahab had at least one thing going for her: she was a woman of faith. Rahab was the only person in Jericho who trusted in the God of Israel. She took her life in her hands when she welcomed the spies and hid them, but it was evidence of her faith. “I know that the Lord has given you this land,” she said (Joshua 2:9). Her faith was based on facts, not just feelings; for she had heard of the miracles God had performed, starting with the opening of the Red Sea. No doubt she had heard of the Israelite exploits from the men who frequented her establishment.
But that is not all.
Rahab started a new life. Not only did she survive the battle of Jericho, she became a member of the Israelite community. She packed up and moved on with the people of God following the defeat of Jericho. She started completely over. She later married a nice Jewish man named Salmon and raised a family of her own. She gained respect in the community.
Rahab established a godly lineage. Matthew 1 chronicles the ancestors of Jesus Christ. Guess who’s on that list? Rahab. “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab” (Matthew 1:5). Her husband was Salmon. Her son: Boaz. Her daughter-in-law: Ruth. Her descendants became the kings of Israel and Judah. The Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, was from a former prostitute’s lineage.
Rahab confirmed a legacy of faith. Jewish tradition holds that Rahab was one of the four most beautiful women who ever lived. She’s renowned as a hero of Israel even today. She is listed in Hebrews 11 among the people set apart for their great faith: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31). Her faith became a model for all people to follow.
Rahab is just one in a long line of folks who allowed God to use them. Scripture has quite a gallery of ordinary people who made themselves available to God. History is replete with examples of people whom society overlooked but God lifted up to accomplish his purpose and his plan. God specializes in taking the flawed, the broken, the worn out, the despised and filling them with his power and his presence to make an eternal difference. These people believed in a big God. They made themselves available to him. And God used them.
Here’s the good news: If God can use Rahab, he can use the likes of you and me. God has always used the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary, the common to perform the uncommon, the flawed to fulfill the phenomenal. If God can use Rahab, then he can use us too.
Rick Ezell is a pastor and author who is married to Cindy.