Rahab’s Lie

Rahab is such a fascinating person in history. Her part in helping the Israelite spies scouting out Jericho was full of bravery, discernment, and faith. We later see Rahab’s name, we’re talking about a Gentile women—ex-prostitute—here, in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Sure, there’s a whole list of sinners saved by grace in that genealogy. But genealogies in ancient Mediterranean society were patrilineal, tracing the offspring through the fathers. Rahab isn’t the only woman listed in this genealogy. I’ve already written about how she represents God’s openness of his covenant community to the Gentiles—a Canaanite who openly professed her faith in the God of Israel, and was then welcome to become a member of God’s household. 

But there’s something in Rahab’s heroine story that was pivotal for the spies’ escape, the takeover of the land, and her own salvation—she lied. Her lie was a result of her faith in these men being from God, her belief that he was going to give them the land, and her own desire to be a part of that as well. Now, if we look at the genealogy of Jesus, we see that it is full of redeemed sinners. I mean, David was an adulterer and a murderer; surely Rahab can be forgiven for a lie that saved God’s people. But I always stub my toe on this lie because it is told as if it were part of her faithful act. At least we have David’s repentance recorded so beautifully for us in Scripture. But there’s no hint of sorrow over this lie. It’s practically celebrated. Clearly Rahab’s faith was strong enough to take this risk of hiding the spies and lying to authorities. So, why wasn’t it strong enough to tell the truth and trust God? I happen to think lying is pretty serious. I mean, Satan is called the father of lies. So what do we do with Rahab’s lie that led to the birth of our Savior and a foreshadowing of his blessing to all nations?

Over the summer, I was doing some research on ancient siblingship. The central relational priority in Patrilineal Kinship Groups (PKG) was sibling solidarity. Honesty within the family was a vital aspect of familial duty. But this also was an aspect that revealed allegiance when it came down to family honor and loyalty. Joseph Hellerman discusses this in his book The Ancient Church as Family:

The fascinating issue of truth and lying in PKG culture represents and expression of PKG solidarity that is quite foreign to most Westerners. Much evidence suggests that, as the family related to outsiders, preservation of honor was a value held in higher esteem than truth telling in situations in which one or the other had to be compromised…

…One may lie to outsiders, if necessary, in order to preserve family honor, but one must tell the truth to members of the PKG. (45-46)

This made me think of Rahab’s lie in a more virtuous way. The fact that she lied to fellow Canaanites to preserve Israelites reveals a change of allegiance. But it wasn’t merely another race that she was aligning with; it was a family. Her solidarity with the Israelites was in a sense a sibling solidarity. The lie itself made a statement about familial duty. What’s fascinating about this is that her status as a prostitute is also changed. Her whole identity is changed. In fact, she was living a lie before and she has finally found the truth! Much later, the early church builds on this idea of sibling solidarity in God’s household. And there she is, listed in the gospels in the family of Jesus.

I still stub my toe over it some. But this sibling solidarity thing really helped shed light on Rahab’s lie.