Rahab: Jesus’ Gentile ancestor

Five unique women mentioned in a list of Jesus’ ancestors.

In Jesus’ ‘royal’ lineage recorded in Matthew’s gospel we find five women mentioned. That women are mentioned in a list of ancestors is fairly unique, but these were unique women.

Tamar (Matthew 1:3) became pregnant by her father-in-law Judah; Ruth was from Moab (Matthew 1:5); Solomon’s mother had been Uriah’s wife but David took her (Matthew 1:6); Mary was thought to have become pregnant by being unfaithful (Matthew 1:16); and then there is Rahab (Matthew 1:5). We are introduced to Rahab in Joshua 2.

“Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.”(Joshua 2:1 NIV)

When you read that the two Israelites deliberately went to the house of a prostitute, that raises eyebrows. Various suggestions have been made over the years to defend the Israelites or to defend Rahab’s reputation. It could be that she ran a ‘hotel’ of sorts and they were innocent in going there, or perhaps they knew what type of establishment it was and were trying to blend in. It could be that it was a place they could go and not be discovered but also gain information as to what the people were thinking.

Others suggest that the word translated ‘prostitute‘ should be understood simply as a woman living with no male support or one who conducts friendly dealings with foreigners. But when she is mentioned in the New Testament the Greek word used for Rahab only has one possible meaning: she was a prostitute. So others have suggested that by this time was a former prostitute and was gainfully employed in the weaving industry, as is seen by her drying flax on her roof.

Despite how she is described, we find that she is sympathetic to the two Israelites. When she is ordered to turn them over as spies she hid them and put the authorities on the wrong path. She had arrived at the conclusion that the God of the Israelites was the true God who should be served.

“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 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 Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’” (Joshua 2:8-11)

She helped the two men escape by letting them down from her window in the wall of Jericho. The men promised that if she were to leave a scarlet cord tied in the window then she and her family would be spared when Jericho was attacked and conquered. And this is exactly what happened: she and her family were rescued and became part of Israel, with Rahab marrying an Israelite by the name of Salmon. They had a son named Boaz who married Ruth and eventually Ruth was the great-grandmother of David, who became king, and ultimately she became the ancestor of Jesus the Messiah.

Although Jesus was a Jew he died and rose again to unite all people, both Jews and non-Jews. His lineage reflected this, having female ancestors who were Gentiles but chose to follow God. Their faithfulness shows us that no matter what our background is, we are acceptable to Jesus.

Photo of Jericho archaeology by Jon Galloway.

Readings for next week: Revelation 9-20


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Author: Forthright

Jon serves the East Kilbride congregation in Glasgow, Scotland, as an elder and teacher. He is on the leadership team of the British Bible School.