“This week we are considering the theme of marginalised people in our society because when we read Matthew 1 and the lineage of Jesus Christ, we see several women who are on the margins of Israel but at included for our benefit. Today we will consider Rahab. We encounter her in v.5: Salmon bore Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Rahab comes from Joshua 2 and Joshua 6.
At this time, the Israelites had come out of Egypt. They’d had wandered in the desert for many years. Moses had died and Joshua was leading the people into the promised land. The first city to be conquered was Jericho, Rahab’s home town. Joshua sent two spies into Jericho do some reconnaissance, but when they reached Jericho they went straight to the home of a prostitute, one Rahab. Immediately we know that these spies have not done as they were instructed. Moreover, they went to a prostitute — we know what they were planning to do there! These are not the actions of good Israelite men. They have gone to see a prostitute instead of doing the job they were given.
They end up staying with Rahab because the King of Jericho is looking for them. The king’s messengers come to Rahab but she tells them the Israelites have already left and she doesn’t know where. Of course, she’s lying. She’s hidden them on her roof. Why has she done this? She helped the Israelite men because, in her words, ‘I know that God has given you this land.’ She has heard the amazing things God has done and she asks them to promise her that they will remember her when they attack Jericho. After securing their promise, she helps them to escape and return to the other Israelites.
So, what do we know about Rahab from this incident? First, we know that she’s a prostitute — obviously not a particularly righteous profession. Second, Rahab is from Jericho — not from the people of God. Third, Rahab receives the Israelites in her home and protects them even when it endangers herself. Fourth, she recognises the plan of God to give the Israelites Jericho. Fifth, she reminds the Israelites of this plan of God which they seem to have forgotten. Sixth, she fulfills her promise to help the two Israelites.
Of course when you first see Rahab it is normal to think of her as an unfaithful person — a prostitute and a person from Jericho — but as we continue to read, we see that she is a person of God because she hears and obeys his plan. The climax of this story is not her profession; it is that she recognises the work of God.
Rahab’s conduct is not at all like the two spies. Rahab comes from an unholy people and a sinful profession, but she acts righteously. The Israelites spies come from the people of God and yet at the first opportunity they act like pagans. Who is righteous? It’s Rahab. She is not an Israelite by lineage but she is by action.
When they destroyed Jericho, the Israelites saved Rahab and she lived among them as a foreigner because she hid the spies. She received her reward, yet this reward matches her own actions and the actions of her God. God is a God who receives sinners and foreigners. When Rahab received and helped the spies, she acted like God, so she is also received into his people. She gave hospitality, and she received it.
This week we are considering the women on the margins in Matthew’s gospel and Rahab is an excellent example. Her clan and her work separated her from the people of God. She was outside of the people of God for two reasons – because of her nationality and her work. She is not just on the margins – she’s outside entirely! However, she is accepted into the people of God on account of her faith and her actions which show that faith. In her faith and actions, she acts like a true Israelite, and she even shows up the other Israelites.
To return to the gospel of Matthew, welcoming the stranger is an important theme. For example, after the birth of Jesus he receives visitors who are not Israelites. They’re star gazers from the East. Later Jesus and his family flee to Egypt where they live as foreigners. When Jesus returns to Israel and starts his ministry, he heals a Roman commander’s servant and the daughter of a Canaanite woman. This theme of welcoming the stranger permeates much of Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 15, Jesus’ disciples turn the Canaanite woman away as she insists that Jesus help her and Jesus is amazed at her faith. It’s like the faith of Rahab who did not have a right to belong to the people of Israel according to her clan and work, but who knew that God loves the marginalised.
We have all been welcomed like Rahab if we are Christians. We all come from different countries. I’m not a Jew; neither are you. We are all sinful. Yet we are all welcomed in the family of God. Because of the bloog of Jesus Christ, the grandchild of Rahab, we have received hospitality. Let us fulfill this hospitality with our acts of God. Like Rahab we have been received in the family of Jesus Christ.
So, do we welcome others? The action of a person who has been welcomed into God’s family is to welcome others who are on the margins. Here on campus, we have lots of different people. We come from many tribes and clans. A few of us come from different countries! Many have left families or villages or countries while they are here at St John’s University. Many students are here on their own. They are on the margins of our college. They enter classrooms but they feel that they are foreigners even there because they do not have a community.
Do you have a community? If you have family here, or friends or a home, let me encourage you to welcome those who do not have family, friends or home. If you are an Mgogo, welcome an Mluguru. If you are Mchaga, welcome an Mhaya. If you’re Tanzanian, welcome a white person. It’s fine to enjoy the kinship of tribe and clan, but the call of God is to welcome those who are different from us, foreigners in our midst. As you do this, you are like Rahab the righteous, and her God who welcomes us all.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.