Once, in a moment of supreme confidence, I decided to balance a gallon of milk on my head. I was young, and I was trying to make the oh-so-boring task of putting away the groceries a little more interesting. And it did get interesting, as my talents do not include balancing bulky beverage containers on my noggin. A beverage container that quickly made its way to the floor. A beverage that is a lot of work to clean up.
To clean up a lake of milk, you get down on your knees and sop it up, but you know the horrible truth: There are cracks in any kitchen floor where the milk will remain forever—dried lactose, sticky and (for awhile) smelly.
I wonder if some of us, when we consider what it means to “have faith,” think of someone doing a task comparable to cleaning up a gallon of milk. It’s a lot of work, and you’re never sure you got it all. You constantly wonder, Is that it? Have I gotten it? Or is there a little more out there yet?
Odd Woman Out
The author of Hebrews tells us what faith is: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV). The author goes on to give examples of people who lived by faith: Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph—the list goes on, tracing the faith history of the Hebrew people.
But there’s one name on that list that is seemingly out of place. Of the two women named in Hebrews 11, one is Sarah, wife of the patriarch Abraham. The other, Rahab, is a Gentile. The author of Hebrews records: “ By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (verse 31).
Yet when we examine the account of Rahab and the spies, what we uncover about faith may deeply challenge our assumptions. Not only is Rahab a prostitute, but in the account she never verbally proclaims her faith in God. In fact, she calls the spies’ god “your God” in Joshua 2:11. Nevertheless, she’s in the lineup. She joins the patriarchs of Hebrews 11.
Hebrews isn’t the only place Rahab’s faith is heralded in Scripture. In James’s epistle, she is listed alongside Abraham as an example of one whose faith expresses itself through works. Cue the old Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the others. . . .”
Imagine with me: Rahab is a prostitute, probably driven to her state in life by poverty. Her family, parents, brothers, and probably children live with her in a location that’s convenient for male travelers.