“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30
The Bible gives us some powerful examples of what “a woman who fears the Lord” looks like in real life. I’m thinking of one woman in particular. A woman whose fear of God made her incredibly brave — FEARLESS — and full of faith. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to start our Women of Valor Wednesdays than with her story…
Of course, if we had known her back then, I’m not sure that you and I would have seen in her what God saw. Okay, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t. We probably would have tried not to see her at all. We would have crossed to the other side of the street, avoided eye contact, said nothing to her or about her – if we were being nice, that is.
Because Rahab was a prostitute.
We don’t know how she came to be one. But we know that then as now, even in cultures where it’s tolerated or accepted, the world’s “oldest profession” is not highly regarded. Women who practice it are outcasts – despised and rejected.
Rahab lived in Jericho, a wicked city God told His people to destroy. The Children of Israel were finally taking possession of the Promised Land. They’d sent spies to go on ahead and check things out. Two of them arrived in Jericho, slipping in among the riffraff on the seedier side of the city. They ended up staying at Rahab’s house.
Somehow the King of Jericho heard about these men, and sent soldiers to arrest them. But Rahab had already hidden them on the roof of her house, which was built along the wall of the city.
At first we’re not sure why. Why would this woman risk her life for these men, these strangers? Why would she defy the king? Betray her own country, her own people?
This is what she told the spies, after she sent the soldiers on a wild goose chase:
“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 Seafor 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 melted 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)
Her countrymen heard what God had done and they were terrified. Rahab heard and she was filled with awe and wonder. Reverence and worship. When the spies came to her door, she knew it was her chance to declare herself to be on the Lord’s side – and to seek His favor and protection.
“Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you….” (Joshua 2:12-13)
Though she was the “enemy,” a foreigner, a woman, a prostitute (and every one of those things could have been considered a huge strike against her) – she wasn’t afraid to speak up. She wasn’t afraid to ask, to make her request known. She had such faith in God’s justice, in His goodness, in His mercy and grace. A faith His own people rarely displayed.
She feared God, and because she feared God, she feared nothing else. Not her own king or countrymen, not the risk to her own life, not the possibility of rejection or ridicule from the Israelites, not the difficulties of surviving and starting over, trying to find a new life.
No fear. Just faith.
Of course the spies immediately agreed to Rahab’s request. And that night, she tied a scarlet cord at her window to lower them down outside the city wall. The men asked her to leave the cord hanging there, to mark the place where she and her family would take refuge. And she did. That scarlet cord was a symbol, a witness, a testimony to her fear of God – and her faith in God.
Little did she know that all along, God had been setting a plan in motion, not just to lead His people to victory over Jericho, but to rescue her – in every sense of the word. To redeem her and restore her.
In the same way that centuries later, Jesus would go out of His way to encounter the Woman at the Well, God went out of His way to reach into the city of Jericho and draw Rahab out – because she feared Him. She belonged to Him. She was His.
By hiding His spies and hanging that scarlet cord, Rahab may have thought she was making a deal with God, but God wanted to make an even better deal with her:
“’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘ Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’” (Isaiah 1:18)
God gave her so much more than she bargained for. He gave her a new life. A new country, a new people, a new faith. A new love….
Rahab teaches us that we fight fear with fear. We conquer fear with fear. We overcome unhealthy fear, tormenting fear, paralyzing fear with healthy fear, righteous fear, holy fear. The fear of the Lord.
Rahab reminds us that it doesn’t matter where we’ve come from or where we’ve been, what mistakes we’ve made, or how we’ve sinned. It’s not about our successes or failures, what we’ve won or lost. It’s not about whether the world or the church or own families admire us or despise us. It doesn’t matter whether we’re even close to “enough” – by anyone’s standards, including our own.
What matters is our heart’s condition. Do we fear God? Do we love Him? Do we trust Him?
If we do, then we know:
“Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered in shame.” (Psalm 34:5)