Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Rahab's Place In Matthew's Genealogy Points
Up God's Faithfulness To His Faithless Bride

by Rev Clarence C. Bouwman

Sermon by Rev C Bouwman Preached: Sunday Morning December 19, 1999
Text: Matthew 1:5a "Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab"

Scripture Reading:
Matthew 1:1-6
Joshua 2:1-15
Ezekiel 16:1-3; 15,16; 30-34
Revelation 17:1-6

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

We opened the word of our God today to the very first words of the New Testament. The passage gives us a series of names that does not really grab our imagination. Yet the Lord tells us that every Scripture is inspired, and profitable for instruction, for correction, for reproof and for training in righteousness. That in turn means that God would teach us something in the names we read. And thatís why we need to listen carefully to this list, to study each name in turnÖ.

Matthewís list mentions the ancestors of our Saviour, from father to son to grandson, and so on. In the verses we read, the list of fathers and sons and grandsons Ėthereís 14 generations mentioned- is broken in four places with references to women who became the mother of the next generation. Vs 3 mentions Tamar, vs 5 Rahab and Ruth, and vs 6 "her who had been the wife of Uriah". We notice: not for every generation is the mother named, but only in some cases. By definition that must have significance. That reality drives one to the big question: why has the Lord seen fit to include the names of these mothers in this list? The answer can only come after research into who these women were. Today I want to open with the Scriptures to learn from them what the Lord says to us when He includes Rahabís name in the list of Jesusí ancestry.

What weíll learn? This: the Lord our God gave to Rahab a place in the ancestry of His Son in order to spell out something about this Son of God. Specifically, Rahab is presented as a symbol of the churchís faithlessness, and therefore becomes the black background against which the glory of the Lordís unchanging faithfulness stands out in sharpest relief.

I summarise the sermon with this theme:


  1. The place of Rahab in the Old Testament
  2. The place of Rahab in the New Testament

The Place of Rahab in the Old Testament

Matthew mentions nothing about this woman Rahab other than that she was the wife of Salmon Ė of whom he also mentions nothing. Yet for his readers this was not a problem. For Matthew wrote his gospel for Jews converted to Christianity, in other words, for people who knew the Old Testament. And Rahab is, of course, well known to all familiar with the Bible as the harlot of Jericho, the woman who gave refuge to Israelís two spies.

Rahab: by her vocation as a harlot she was a symbol of what made the Canaanites tick. The Canaanites of the Promised Land, we should know, served the Baals and the Asherim, and that was a religion that circled fully around sex. These Canaanites knew nothing of faithfulness to the marriage partner; they knew instead much about promiscuity. Within the confines of Canaanite culture, Rahabís occupation was nothing surprising; she, like the prostitutes of today, lived off of the restless drive of the men of a sexualised society.

She had in Jericho a motel of sorts. Travellers through the city could get from her a bed for the nightÖ, and more than a bed. It was to her house that two men of Israel came one afternoon, spies sent out by Joshua to search out the lay of the land. Why they ended up at Rabahís house need not detain us now; let us simply say that God in His providence led them there. We do not know either whether or not the two spies immediately entered into a conversation with Rahab. We know only this: Rahab hid the two men. And when the city police knocked on her door and demanded from her in the name of the king to surrender her guests to them, she told them a lie and sent them on a wild-goose chase down the road.

We need to notice, congregation, that as a citizen of Jericho Rahabís duty was surely to hand over her guests to the police. For allegiance to oneís own people is expected before allegiance to foreigners; else one is a traitor. On top of that (as Rahab also testified), it was commonly known that Israel intended to invade the land of Canaan. If Jericho was to survive the danger, the people of town surely had to stand together against the threat of the Israelites. But see: Rahab shows no faithfulness to her city. And we need to be honest here; unfaithfulness was the very essence of her chosen profession. It was her habit to dote her love now on one, now on another, on any who drifted into her vile establishment. By maintaining such an establishment and such a life-style, Rahab displayed how deeply the concept of unfaithfulness was embedded in her very being. As she hopped from man to man, so she hopped from people to people and from god to god. Given such a pattern of behaviour and so of thinking, it was for her no big thing in itself to betray her own people. Listen to her lying words to her cityís protectors:

"Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them."

And the city police Ėone time customers of hers?- are taken in by her deception; in a city of unfaithfulness one is no longer tuned in to unfaithfulnessÖ.

Once the police were gone, Rahab took the opportunity to speak with her guests. She admits that she as well as the rest of Jericho had heard about that which God had done in drying up the waters of the Red Sea, destroying those two kings Sihon and Og. The result of the reports was that fear filled the hearts of the Canaanites; "all the inhabitants of the land are faintheartedbecause of you." Those reports about Godís activities led Rahab to this conclusion: "the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath."

Are we to read this as a confession of faith? Or are we to understand that Rahab was as impressed with this God as she was impressed with muscular men coming into establishment? Whatever it was, it is a simple fact that Rahab took an enormous risk in lying to the police and hiding the two spies. Had the police searched her house Ėand what guarantee did she have that they would not do that?- and had they found the spies, it would have cost her her life: treason. But now that she sends the police on their merry way, and admits to the spies the fear that lives in town, and expresses too her own conviction that the Lord alone is God of heaven and earth, we surely need to see in this faithless harlot the seeds of true faith. No, she did not yet know all that there was to know of the Lord. She did not yet understand the ins and outs of the gospel proclaimed through the sacrifices in Israelís tabernacle. But she had heard something, and by Godís grace and working came to believe that Israelís God was different, was the only true God, sovereign. She heard it, she believed it, and now put her life in His hands.

The test of her young faith came, of course, in the days that followed. We donít know how many days passed between the events of Joshua 2 and the beginning of Israelís assault on Jericho. But one can imagine with what feelings Rahab and her family looked out the window of her house to watch Israelís army approaching the city. And we can imagine too something of the disappointment that must have enveloped Rahab when she saw Israelís soldiers do no more than Ö march once around the cityÖ, and the next day once moreÖ, and the next day againÖ. Is that how you fight?! Isnít that method of attack a joke? Really, Rahab, does it make sense to align herself with a people that canít do more than walk around a city? But see: now she did not waver in her hope in Israelís God; though what the armies of Israel did outside the walls of her city was obviously foolish to the minds of all who knew anything about warfare, she remained faithful to the God in whom she had begun to believe. So it is that the author of the letter to the Hebrews could write, ĎBy faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe" (11:31).

And now think on it, brothers and sisters. Rahab the harlot, a woman whose life and career is characterised by unfaithfulness, comes by Godís grace to faith in God and persists in being faithful to Him. What this is? Surely, congregation, here is nothing short of a miracle! Here is God calling into existence that which did not exist; where there was no faithfulness, God created faithfulness. God chooses the weak, the corrupt, the impossible from the world, and from that forms vessels to His glory. Here, congregation, is the sovereign election of God, His good-will extended to undeserving sinners. God does the unexpected, God uses the down-and-out for His purposes. A prostitute Ėby definition faithless- is made into a faithful soldier in Godís army. Behold the power of your God; behold too the mercy of your God!

That brings us to a further question. Israel was ready to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. Why did God at this point in their history confront His people with a woman as Rahab, a faithless woman made faithful by God? Why must Israel meet, at the door of the Promised Land, this harlot-become-holy?

There is, beloved, a very clear reason for that. Rahabís life of harlotry and faithlessness was a picture of Israelís own history of harlotry and faithlessness. Recall Ezekielís description of Israel. The prophet says that God had taken Israel from the land of Egypt, a hopeless and helpless maiden. God loved her, delivered her, made His covenant with her, married her. God showed faithfulness to Israel, consistently supplied all her needs in the desert, even brought her to her new home in Canaan. But always Israelís behaviour was one of unfaithfulness to God; she played the harlot, worshipping now the gods of the Moabites, then of the Canaanites. Scarcely was the wedding day at Mt Sinai history when Israel built for themselves a golden calf. After some more time in the desert, the people longed for the land of Egypt; at least there the gods supplied cucumbers and melons instead of despicable manna her boring Husband came up with every dayÖ. Some years later, when Israel was close to receiving the Promised Land, "the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab" (Num 25:1). In the face of the faithfulness of Israelís Husband, Israelís conduct stands out as most unfaithful. They are what Rahab also was!

But, as God called Rahab to Himself and made her His, so the Lord held on to His faithless bride. According to the law God had given Israel, He had every ground to destroy the people of Israel. I think of Dt 22:

"If a man is found lying with a woman married to another man, then both of them shall die" (vs 22).

Israel, through the covenant God established with her, was married, was the wife of the Lord God. Through her spiritual harlotry she earned for herself the death sentence. Yet God did not destroy His faithless bride. He did not because He was faithful to the covenant He made with this people, faithful to His marriage bond. Instead of divorcing or even killing His faithless bride, He promised to send His Son to earth to pay for Israelís sins of harlotry, Israelís unfaithfulness. Meanwhile, for Jesusí sake, God mercifully remained faithful to the faithless. Faithful, because He made the covenant.

At the door to the new home God prepared for His bride, He placed a prostitute who had come to know Him, a prostitute who had proven herself faithful to her new God. Rahab the converted harlot stood before Israel at the entrance of the Promised Land as a reminder to Israel that Israel too was inherently a harlot, and as such did not deserve any good gift from her Husband. Rahab stood before Israel at the entrance to the Promised Land as a living reminder that Israel can receive the Land by grace alone. Though Israel has been repeatedly faithless, God has been always faithful - and that is why Israel receives a new home, despite her fornication.

At the same time, Rahabís history was a lesson to the people of Israel about how they were themselves to live. In the house of her Husband there was room only for faithfulness. As Rahab clung to the God who delivered her from her bondage to immorality and unfaithfulness, so Israel was to be faithful to her God and Husband Ė to the point of total self-denial.

But see, once Israel was settled in the Promised Land, Israel did not show much evidence of having learned much from Rahab. Scarcely was Joshua dead when Israel ĖI read in Judges 2- "played the harlot with other gods and bowed down to them" (vs 17). God sent judges, but Israel persisted; after Gideon died, "the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals" (Judg 8:33). And thatís how it stayed throughout the centuries. The entire history of Israel may be characterised as a limping between men; she has God as her Husband, and many other men on the side. That is why Ezekiel made no bones about Israelís behaviour as bride for the Lord; in words too blunt to be misunderstood he labels her a whore. Rahab, the harlot-become-believer, accuses the bride of the Lord in the Old Testament of being her opposite: the believer-become-harlot. So on the Day of Judgment, it is Rahab who will arise in judgment over IsraelÖ.

The Place of Rahab in the New Testament

This is the woman, now, whose name receives a place in the genealogy of our Saviour in that first chapter of the New Testament. By having her name added, the Lord reminds the readers of this gospel of His boundless mercy; He was pleased to take none less than a prostitute and give to her the gift of faith and repentance and regeneration. More, because Rahabís lewd past was a picture of Israelís behaviour, her inclusion in this list becomes a picture of Godís boundless faithfulness to Israel. There was no essential difference between Rahab and Israel; God was pleased to include Rahab in the ancestry of the Son of God, yes, God was pleased to let the Son of God come to earth in the midst of Ėmore, out of- that lewd and abominable and fornicating people known as Israel! How wonderfully, then, does the mention of her name in this list point up the unbounded mercy of God Most High! Godís bride of the Old Testament deserved to perish on account of her unfaithfulness, and yet God was pleased to spare her! Rahab certainly did not deserve to be saved from the destruction of Jericho, and yet God was pleased to spare her. How marvellous, congregation, is the mercy of this God! Rahab: she symbolises the harlotry of Israel, her faithlessness to her husband. Rahab: she symbolises, more, she demonstrates, the gospel of Godís merciful faithfulness. Undeserving, faithless Israel receives from her Husband by covenant a Saviour, one who shall die for the sins of Godís people. He shall die, shall bear the load of Godís intense wrath, also against that sin of adultery, harlotry. And so the sins of Israel shall be forgiven. Forgiven out of grace alone. Thatís the marvel of the gift of Jesus Christ, a miracle underlined by the inclusion of Rahabís name into this genealogy.

Thirty-three years this descendent of Rahab lived on the earth. In the course of those 33 years, the evil one did all within his power to make the Saviour unfaithful to the Lord His God. It was Satanís hellish intention to make Christ Jesus guilty of that same sin that Israel was guilty of: playing the harlot with strange gods. To just the smallest degree, Christ should be made to act unfaithfully to the Lord God. Just once, just a little bit, He should bow the knee to another godÖ. As long as He sinned just once!

But, thank God, Satanís efforts were vain! On the cross, the full load of Godís wrath was directed against the Saviour. All that jealousy of God against His faithless bride was poured out on Jesus Christ; for Christ God showed no mercy, no faithfulness any more. But Christ remained faithful. Rahab was never forsaken by the God in whom she learned to hope. Israel was never forsaken by her Husband either Ė not even when He in the exile gave her a bill of divorce; even then the purpose was to compel Israel to return, to repent (cf Jer 3). But God did forsake Christ, something Israel deserved long ago. On the cross Christ Jesus was rejected, and yet He remained faithful. And precisely because He remained faithful is the justice of God satisfied and our sins washed away! Thatís to say: because He remained faithful, God has accepted His bride once again!

That bride is the Church of the New Testament. Not only is that church comprised of so very many people who have a physical history of immorality and infidelity as lewd as Rahabís (cf I Cor 6:9ff), but time and time again that bride of the Lord gives herself to acts of unfaithfulness. Gods of so many colours have been served over the centuries of church history and still are being served. The god of good works, the god of self-righteousness, the god of pride, of complacency, even the god of worldliness: all have received favours from the bride of the Lamb. The apostle James does not mince his words when he labels the saints addressed in his letter as "adulteresses" (4:4). And itís not for nothing that Jesus Christ shows to John on the isle of Patmos "the great harlot" in Rev 17. That harlot is not else than the bride of the Lamb, the bride-become-whore, the church-become-false. On the fornication of this church-become-false lies the judgment of God Almighty; God divorces those who call themselves by His Name but give themselves unrepentingly to other lovers. He divorces into the third and fourth generation of those who take liberty with His commands, and casts into the bottomless pit. Here is call for us today not to give ourselves to others, be it gods of money or sex, gods of strength or sport. God brands idolatry as adultery, harlotry, and on adultery rests His divine punishment. To be bride of the Lord demands that we be holy, that we do not play the harlot with other gods. Yes, here is need for self-examination, need for honest reflection as to whether or not we are in any way unfaithful to the heavenly Bridegroom who bought us.

Israel was met at the doors of Canaan by a harlot-become-believer. The first Christians of the New Testament church were given a gospel that reminded them of this harlot; Matthew mentions Rahab, mentions her as one whom God was pleased to graft into the line of Jesusí ancestry. Thatís to say: Rahab continues to stand before us as a symbol of human unfaithfulness, and therefore as a symbol too of Godís unending faithfulness. Jesus Christ, Son of Rahab the prostitute-claimed-by-God, is faithful not only yesterday, but also today and forever. That gives encouragement for the bride who knows herself to be so sinful, so prone to harlotry. That confession of sin, that return to God in brokenness of heart, is greeted by the Groom with joy. Though the New Testament church, ourselves included, is guilty of harlotry, even so vile a sin as that is forgiven, washed away by the blood of the Lamb.

So it is, brothers and sisters, that though we today defile ourselves with harlotry and so, as it were, loose our virginity, the Saviour promises that at the marriage feast of the Lamb we shall not be dressed in beige; on that day we shall be clothed in white. As if we had never had nor committed any harlotry....

Truly, how infinitely merciful is our God! 


(c) Copyright 1997, Rev. C. Bouwman. Clarence Bouwman is the Pastor of Smithville Canadian Reformed Church in Smithville, Ontario. He has also been the minister of the Yarrow Canadian Reformed Church, the Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott, Western Australia, churches in Byford, Western Australia, and Chilliwack, B.C. As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.

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