The Ultimate Picture of Grace

Our discussion of Joshua 2 has now considered all the knotty problems in interpretation. We have come to some conclusions as to what really happened, and we have reached a verdict on whether the main characters in the story acted properly. Now we are now ready to explore the spiritual meaning in the story. The salvation of Rahab from the otherwise total destruction of Jericho is one of the prime examples in Scripture of divine grace. Aside from Paul perhaps, no other figure in Bible history has been lifted from such depths of unworthiness to such heights of blessing. Consider how low Rahab was when God, in His sovereign mercy, called her to Himself.

  1. She was a prostitute, and very possibly she offered her services in conjunction with pagan religious practices.
  2. She has no connection to the people of God. She was not reared in the house of Israel as a beneficiary of the covenant promises to Abraham. Thus, she has no right to live in the land and no right to enjoy God’s favor.
  3. Not only is she an alien to Israel; she belongs to a nation that God especially hates. She is a Canaanite, a member of a nation that God has slated for destruction, and she is essentially no better than other Canaanites.

Yet see how God greatly exalted Rahab.

  1. He fulfilled her plea and saved her life, and not hers only. For her sake He spared her whole family.
  2. He allowed her to marry an Israelite (Matt. 1:5) and to take a possession in the land of Canaan (Josh. 6:25).
  3. Twice in the New Testament she is singled out for praise (James 2:25; Heb. 11:31). Only such major Old Testament figures as Abraham and Moses stand higher in commendation. No other woman outranks her except Sarah.
  4. As a result of her marriage, she became an ancestor of Christ (Matt. 1:5). From her defiled body sprang the line of descent that culminated in the One who was holy and undefiled.

The Genealogy of Christ

The genealogy of Christ recorded in Matthew 1 is a remarkable document. Unlike ordinary Jewish genealogies, it mentions several women, and these make up an extremely interesting group. None of His godly grandmothers near His own time are mentioned. Instead there is Thamar (v. 3; that is, Tamar), Rachab (v. 5; that is, Rahab), Ruth (v. 5), the wife of Urias (v. 6; that is, Bathsheba, wife of Uriah), and of course Mary (v. 16).

What is it that the women in this list have in common? All of them would seemingly lack the credentials to be the Messiah’s ancestor. Ruth was an outsider to the nation, a Moabitess—like Rahab a member of a nation under divine judgment. God had forbidden anyone with a Moabite ancestor within the last ten generations to enter into the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:3-4). This severe restriction was meant to punish Moab for conspiring to corrupt the nation of Israel as it prepared to enter Canaan. The Moabite women drew the men of Israel into sexual immorality, and ever afterward the women of that nation were seen as tainted with this kind of sin.

Three other women in the list were actually immoral. Rahab we know. Bathsheba became the wife of David only after they had committed adultery. Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law (the story is in Gen. 38). She married two sons of Judah in succession, but both died without any issue. Many years later, because Judah did not keep his promise to give her his third son, she veiled her face and disguised herself as a harlot, then sat beside the road and offered herself to Judah as he passed by. He consented and the result was that she bore twin sons, Phares being the one who continued the line of Christ.

The last woman in the list, Mary, was not immoral, but she was widely regarded as immoral because she became pregnant before marriage.

The peculiar mention of these five women must have a didactic purpose. And indeed their inclusion in the genealogy underscores several profound truths. The first two are sources of encouragement to us all.

  1. If a sinner repents, he need not think that his past disqualifies him from being useful to God. However much his life has unraveled, God can restore him to wholeness and create places of ministry for him. When David repented, no doubt Bathsheba did as well, and God allowed her to rear the next king.
  2. God can even reconstruct the shattered family life of a sinner. Rahab was a harlot, but after her repentance, God made her a respectable mother in Israel.
  3. The third truth illuminated by the genealogy of Christ is that He was made in likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3). He did not come from a race of superior people, excelling in righteousness. By no means. He came from a race of people just like you and me, and thus He was fully and truly human, although He Himself remained altogether free from sin. To show the humanity of Christ is a main objective of the genealogy.

Getting Practical

The leveling effect of sin

When we consider how gracious God was to Rahab, we should not infer that she was an exceptional case. She is a picture of every believer. We are all the chief of sinners, as Paul said of himself (1 Tim. 1:15). Anyone who feels that he is better than Rahab needs corrective lenses for his spiritual eyes. Except for the grace of God, there go I. If we have not slipped to such depths, it is only because the circumstances of our lives have protected us from the full expression of our sinful natures. Like Rahab, we have been saved solely by the undeserved grace of God. Also like Rahab, we have nothing in ourselves that can win God’s favor except faith, and even faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). As God exalted the harlot of Jericho, so God intends to exalt us (Eph. 2:7; Rom. 8:30).

Getting Practical

Secret to a healthy church

The church is healthiest and most vibrant when it includes some like Rahab who have been saved out of deep sin. Such people are keenly aware of how much God has done for them. Like the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, they love much because they have been forgiven much (Luke 7:36), and their fervor enlivens the whole church.

Getting Practical

A wrong self-image

Second-generation Christians from good homes or first-generation Christians from a background of conventional morality easily become full of spiritual pride. Instead of being humbly grateful to God for His grace in sheltering and protecting them from deep sin, they may credit themselves, thinking themselves better than common sinners. But pride goeth before a fall. God generally lets Christians of this sort slip into sin through degrees of worldliness and spiritual apathy until at last they are far removed from the ways of righteousness. He is hoping that when they begin to reap the consequences of their sin, they will humble themselves and turn back to Him.