ONCE A HARLOT…
You know her as Rahab the Harlot. In fact, you will rarely read her name in the Bible – Old Testament or New Testament – without her personal tagline of “the harlot.”
Rahab’s story is told in Joshua 2:1-21 and 6:22-25. I know that some people say that she was maybe just an inn keeper. But the Hebrew word used for “harlot” tells me otherwise. The Greek word used for “harlot” in the two passages in the New Testament where she is listed is also very clearly defined as prostitute. Seems like she was, in fact, a harlot.
Rahab is listed in the faith chapter – Hebrews 11 – along with the likes of Enoch and Noah and Abraham. In verse 31 it says “By faith the harlot, Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”
Her faith in a God she had never known or whose laws she had never been taught, should have put the Israelites to shame. She simply heard what God had done and said something like “I’m going to trust this God and the people who serve Him.” She put her life on the line to save the Israelite spies and she faithfully obeyed their command to put the scarlet rope in her window. That is a great deal of faith and guts. She saved her whole family – “her father’s household.” The family trusted her enough to do what she said by remaining in the house with her while war raged outside their doors.
She is listed as an example of faith, again with Abraham, in James 2:25 – “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent the out another way. Her faith accompanied by works is given equal treatment in James 2 with the patriarch Abraham and she is still “Rahab the Harlot.”
Rahab married an Israelite and through their children she is in the lineage of David and therefore, also, of Jesus Christ. And STILL she is “Rahab the Harlot.” Really?
Abraham is not labeled Abraham the liar (he lied twice by presenting Sarah as his sister). We don’t see King David listed at “David the Adulterous Murderer,” do we? Even “Doubting Thomas” is never actually called that in the Bible. He is “Thomas the Twin” when he is given a tag line.
I have no idea why Rahab cannot get a break on this – why she is forever “Rahab the Harlot.” Where there really that many Rahabs around that she had to be differentiated this way?
Do you ever feel defined by your past? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I mentally torture myself by remembering something that I’ve done that just seems dreadful and maybe unforgiveable if God wasn’t so generous with His forgiveness and certainly barely forgivable by the person I have wronged.
I believe there are two lessons we can learn from Rahab and her tagline.
First, I think the thing that Rahab teaches us is that we don’t need to fear that others will define us by that one – or many – thing we have done so publically that everyone knows about it. We don’t have to fear that God defines us by that. We know that though the authors of the Bible stayed consistent with that tagline, she is also clearly given given the position and accompanying praise of “Rahab the Faithful” in Hebrews 11 and “Rahab the Worker of Good Works” in James 2. We might even call her “Rahab whose example of faith equal to Abraham’s” since she appears with him in both examples and she is the only one who does.
Second, we can own our mistakes and still be a faithful Christian. Being a faithful Christian does not require that I deny that terrible sin that haunts me. I don’t need to convince others that my life has been spotless or even “not that bad.” Rahab did not stay a harlot and I am not allowed to stay in my sin either. But acknowledging that what I was before God called me (no matter how terrible that might be) does not take away from what I am now. It simply proves the greatness of an all-forgiving God and the power of the sacrifice of Christ and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit to change even the worst sinner into a faithful servant.
I hope to meet Rahab in the kingdom. I will call her “Rahab the Faithful,” and ask her how it is that a woman so seemingly far from God came to have the guts to risk it all to rescue her family and place such trust in God.
My sisters, we must own our pasts, but we should never, never let them define our future because God does not.
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About this N.E.W. Church Lady – She is just an average middle aged woman who has been a believer and church attender all her life. She is married with three grown children. She lives in a small town and works in sales. Her hobbies are fitness, reading, cooking, writing and travel.