The story of Rahab’s protection of the spies who came to Jericho has always touched my heart. In order to risk her life to protect these strangers, she must have sensed a profound presence of God upon them. Had her duplicity been discovered by the government officials, she could have been incarcerated or even put to death for her crime. I have always admired her discernment and her courage. However, more recently, I have come to realize that I actually identify with her in her life of prostitution.
In a spiritual sense, all of us have been harlots to some degree. We struggle to consistently honor Jesus first in our hearts and reject the innumerable distractions of our busy lives. Sometimes we inadvertently allow other people and other concerns to shove Him off the throne of our hearts. We are easily consumed by the pace and intensity of our responsibilities and routines, only to temporarily forget the One Who is the Giver and Arbiter of true peace in our soul. Mercifully, He stands always ready to receive us back to Himself when we acknowledge our missteps and repent.
However, only recently have I realized that, but for His unfathomable and boundless mercy, I could easily have led the life of a real prostitute. As it was, God blessed me with parents who emphasized the importance of education and even paid for me to earn a university degree. They taught me that I had value and abilities waiting to be tapped. They taught me to set my goals high and to have confidence in the dreams of my heart. They also taught me to love Jesus. After college, I married my husband, who has proven to be a generous man with a strong work ethic and a heart for God. He has loved me, encouraged me, listened to me, and believed in me. He has been a wonderful father to our five children. The fact is, however, that I am increasingly aware of the blessings I have always enjoyed but never deserved. Had I been born to a family rife with incest, addictions, ignorance, and indolence, I would not have been equipped for the very basic demands of life. If no one had taught me to value what God put in me, no amount of intelligence or talent could have pulled me out of the mire of generations of torpor. In fact, I shudder to think what I would have been willing to do to put food on the table for my children in the absence of a loving husband and without the advantages of higher education. I must confess that I would doubtless have been willing to steal, lie, and even prostitute myself for the sake of my children. That is the truth.
Therein lies the key to compassion — not simply getting a taste of someone else’s sorrow and feeling sad about it (“Those poor people!”), but actually identifying with them and understanding that you or I could quite easily have been in that person’s situation, given a simple shift of circumstances or opportunities. I could readily make the same wrong choices anyone else has made. Without Jesus, I am fully capable of all manner of wrongdoing, bad choices, and wickedness. The fact is, even WITH Him residing in me, I have made some not-so-stellar choices, and He has been faithful to cover me and heal me!
Compassion that identifies with the one who is the object of compassion is the essence of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t just feel sorry or sad for our sin and cooperate with His Father’s instructions to save us. Instead, He actually BECAME sin for us; He identified with us sinners and paid in full for our sins with His own blood. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
As a result, I realize that Rahab’s story of redemption and inclusion in the line of the Messiah is actually my story as well. She responded to truth, and God was ready to make room for her. Her name in Hebrew actually means “road,” “path,” or “room,” as in “making room for.” God made room for the harlot in His royal line, and He thereby made room for me as well. As I recognize myself in her, I confess my own potential for waywardness and realize God has had mercy on and redeemed the Rahab in me. I look forward to meeting the Rahab who hid the spies in person one day, for her song of redemption is mine — our merciful God has made room for me, and His banner over me is love!