Few people hang skeletons on their front doors. But that's exactly what the New Testament does. The book of Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus, which includes five women, four of whom many would consider skeletons before kept in the closet. One of these woman is Rahab. Salmon, destined to become King David's great-grandfather, married Rahab, who gave birth to Boaz, who became the husband of Ruth. These people form part of the royal genealogy of Jesus Christ and demonstrate how God's magnificent grace knows no limits.
Who was Rahab? She first appears in the book of Joshua. After 40 years in the wilderness, Israel was ready to take possession of the Promised Land. Jericho was the first target Joshua, Moses' successor, sent two men to spy out the city secretly; and they "came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there" (Josh 2:1).
When the king found out about them, their lives were in danger. So Rahab hid the two men among the stalks of flax on her roof. When asked about their whereabouts, she lied: "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where t hey were from...Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you many overtake them" (vv.4-5).
Based on what she told the spies, it seems she had come to believe in the God of Israel: "I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you...for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and...spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.“
So the men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the Lord has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you" (vv.9, 11-14). The Isrealites kept their promise. After ordering Jericho's destruction, Joshua spared Rahab and her entire family. In fact, Rahab married into the most prominent family of Judah. Yet we see three challenges with her prominence in the New Testament-reasons why she would seem like a skeleton in a closet.
Rahab was a prostitute. Some commentators seek to resolve this issue by noting that the Hebrew term "bayith-ishshah," which translated "harlot" could indicate a woman having legitimate commercial associations with men. However, this would be the only such meaning of the term in the entire Old Testament. All of the other nearly 100 occurrences of the "zanah word family clearly mean physical or spiritual harlotry. The New Testament associates the word "porne" with Rahab, which means "prostitute," settling the issue for those of us who accept the authority of the New Testament (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25).
How does a person with such a sordid past end up in the genealogical line of Israel's royal family? The answer is the grace of God. For the last 6,000 years, God has taken great delight in transforming lives. He loves to display His glory by manifesting His grace in the least likely of candidates.
Imagine the pure joy of the apostle Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners (1Tim 1:15), when he wrote that God "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved" (Eph 1:4-6). We should rejoice over this transforming grace every day.