The Second Sunday of Advent: Rahab

Rahab – A Sprig of Courage

Behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. – Zechariah 3:8b

The second Sunday of Advent has already arrived! Isn’t that amazing? Once again I’ve been challenged to remember the purpose and the wonder of anticipating Christmas. Just like the day that Jesus was born, Christmas has a way of drawing people together. As a family, we have made plans for the Christmas holidays to see people that we rarely spend time with. Why is it that we have a whole year to plan something together, but somehow Christmas is the time when we actually make this happen? I also anticipate time spent with family – when time seems to slow down as we spend more than just a few hours together in one home. It is life-giving to me – not every Christmas gathering has celebrated an easy season, but each gathering is life for me.

As I have been thinking about Rahab, the second woman mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, I have come to realize that she also experienced a life-giving family gathering of sorts. Her family gathering was not one that would have encouraged warm memories or nostalgia as they all milled about her home. Rather, her family gathering was a matter of life or death. Life if they remained in her house – which took courage – or potential death if they didn’t believe that what Rahab said was truth. I’ve often wondered what words she would have used to convince her family that they were in danger and that the only way to save themselves was to hide away in her home. The amount of courage she would have needed to pull off and devise the scheme that she did? More than what she possessed on her own.

The story of Rahab happens shortly after Joshua takes over the leadership of the Israelites from Moses. The Israelites have been anticipating the promised land for 40 years and with Moses having passed on, the time had now come to conquer the land that was to be theirs. The Promised Land was not just handed over to them but rather the Israelites were getting battle-ready to fight, and Joshua was forming a plan that would ensure that Jericho was taken down. Prior to their campaign, God spoke to Joshua multiple times and told him to be strong and courageous – fascinatingly, because Joshua already knew going in that the Promised Land would be theirs.

Joshua sent two spies to Jericho to learn more about the land and the people. Through circumstances that we don’t know, these men end up at a prostitute’s house named Rahab. Rumours must have spread quickly through Jericho, because it did not take long for the King of Jericho to realize that two Israelite spies had come into the city and were staying at her house. With incredible speed and presence of mind, Rahab courageously hid the men on the roof. When questioned, she stated that, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” Mercifully, this got rid of the king’s men.

Rahab, in another moment of courage and faith, came up with another plan to return the men to safety in exchange for her protection, as well as that of her entire family, when the Israelites inevitably returned to attack and defeat the city. After professing a remarkable faith in Who the God of Israel is, the men swore an oath to protect her and her family if she followed their strict instructions. Knowing that her family’s life depended on these instructions, Rahab let down a scarlet rope to help the men escape and then, as per their arrangement, left it there so that these men would know where to find her home again.

What happens next, is one of the most familiar stories of the Bible. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho – and yes, after seven days and marching around and around the walls, the walls came tumbling down. And Rahab’s courage and faith was rewarded. Joshua did not forget about Rahab the prostitute and her family and sent the two men that had spied on Jericho to bring her entire family to safety outside of Jericho.

I have never thought about the craziness that must have been going on inside those walls. Rahab’s home was on the outer wall of Jericho, so she and her family would have seen the Israelites march around their city for seven days! I keep thinking about what it would be like to be “locked” in a small stone house with my large family under duress – my guess is there would not have been comfort food and a friendly game of cards being played.

The courage that Rahab would have needed to stay the course would have been supernatural indeed. Opportunities to fear would have met her everywhere she turned: fear of discovery for her subterfuge; fear of whether or not the Israelites would keep their promise; fear for her family; fear for her future. Her own human courage would surely have failed – but God was at her side, and through His empowerment, she would have been able to extend and offer sprigs of courage to those around her. Courage through overwhelming circumstances is frequently meant to be shared. There are times when I feel courage, not risingup in me but flowinginto me from God Himself, and I’m able to offer this gift to those around me. The times when courage eludes me gives me the opportunity to receive courage from others through God’s empowerment of them. Courage through community – how comforting!

Rahab also had the courage to leave her past and start a completely different life. Isn’t that so beautiful? All of us have stories or incidents from our pasts that we would love to get rid of. But it takes courage! It takes courage to walk away from what is familiar, and usually quite comfortable, to begin something new. And usually our own courage is simply not enough.

God extends to us a sprig of courage from the Branch – the source of all life – just as he did to Rahab. Because of her courage and faith, Rahab was grafted into a new family – the family of Israel. Despite Rahab’s sordid past and status as a foreigner, God’s plan for the Saviour was being fulfilled! With great courage, she leaves her crumbled past and enters into a fresh beginning. She marries an Israelite and has a son named Boaz. Boaz marries a woman named Ruth. Jesus’ genealogy continues…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9