A frigid wind struck me head-on as I climbed out of the car and turned to face the door of a century-old church building. Trying to keep from spilling myself on the freshly powdered snow (and whatever lay beneath it), I tightened my coat around my neck with both hands as I ran for the entrance.
Linda, a woman at least a decade my senior, had been expecting me, and I felt warmth in her welcome from the moment I set foot in the door. After brief introductions, she escorted me to her office and held an open hand toward an overstuffed couch encompassed by pillows in a dimly lit room. Immediately, I noticed the contrast from the elements I had just escaped. I found myself surrounded by beautiful pictures and momentos and as we began to converse, I was touched by Linda’s sincerity in seeking to know me.
Linda sat across from me and offered a warm smile. She was curious about who I am and about what motivated my heart to be there. For forty-five minutes Linda asked questions, thwarting every attempt I made to reciprocate her curiosity. However, I felt absolutely no sense of inquisition. She was not the least invasive, judgmental, or threatening. What I felt from her was the love and peace of God. She was seeking to understand me in a way few people have done.
All around me, my eyes met modest furnishings in an outdated building that could stand to be loved and resourced back to life. The type of setting was not unfamiliar to me, but the stories I was to learn were more foreign than I had imagined. While my honest reason for visiting Linda may have been ministry networking, I sensed God had something important for me to learn, and that I must stay long enough to take a turn as listener and inquirer that day.
I’d always considered myself a product of a humble upbringing. My mother was a latch-key kid in the 1940s, growing up in a single-parent home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My father grew up on a family farm, where the changing face of American agriculture found us forever struggling to make ends meet. We lived below the government-determined poverty level, drove whatever car my dad could “tinker” himself, and qualified for the free lunch program at school.
But our kind of poverty was not the kind of poverty Linda faces daily as her mission. After nearly an hour in her office, Linda finally opened up about the women and children to whom she is devoted. An intelligent and well-educated woman, Linda could land a high-paying job and a beautiful home. Instead, she chooses to situate herself in a neighborhood where drug addiction and sexual abuse run ramped over its vulnerable population.
Linda and her team of ministers educate and love the people surrounding that shell of a church building. In her warm, loving nature, Linda listens as women come to her to be mothered. She offers hope as she hears stories simply because people need to be heard. She offers dignity to the unloved, under-resourced, and abused. She loves them with the heart of her Heavenly Father.
We understand God’s heart through the life of Jesus who is the exact representation of His likeness (Hebrews 1:13). Jesus healed the sick, forgave the sinner, cleansed the unclean, and even raised the dead! His earthly life was completely dedicated to carrying out the Father’s mission of love.
We also understand God’s compassion throughout the text of the Old Testament. One prime example is found in the story of Rahab, a prostitute who harbored Israelite spies and aided their escape from the king of Jericho. Here is the setting from Joshua 2:
“Before the spies lay down for the night, Rahab went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the LORD has given you this land and that the fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who dwell in the land are melting in fear of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites across the Jordan, whom you devoted to destruction. When we heard this, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth below.
Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD that you will indeed show kindness to my family, because I showed kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will deliver us from death.’
‘Our lives for your lives!’ the men agreed. ‘If you do not report our mission, we will show you kindness and faithfulness when the LORD gives us the land.’ Then Rahab let them down by a rope through the window, since the house where she lived was built into the wall of the city. ‘Go to the hill country,’ she said, ‘so that your pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there for three days until they have returned; then go on your way.’
The men said to her, ‘We will not be bound by this oath you made us swear unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother and brothers and all your family into your house. If anyone goes out the door of your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head, and we will be innocent. But if a hand is laid on anyone with you in the house, his blood will be on our heads. And if you report our mission, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.’
‘Let it be as you say,’ she replied, and she sent them away. And when they had gone, she tied the scarlet cord in the window.”Joshua 2:8-21, BSB
From her interaction with the Israelite spies, we see a shrewd woman who courageously faced dire circumstances in order to provide for her family. Although the Scriptures don’t specifically cover the details of Rahab’s back-story, I think it’s fair to reason that Rahab did not sell her body as an act of rebellion or materialism. Most likely, it was for survival. Did her family live in abject poverty? Had she been trafficked? It’s likely she felt a deep sense of humiliation and shame at the way she survived. Perhaps the days become months, and even years as Rahab cried out for salvation. Yet, as she waited, she kept an alert mind and an open heart.
Despite hardship, Rahab cared for her family. When the spies came to her for help, she struck a deal with them that her parents, siblings, and their households would be spared as war came to the land. Her motive may have been love, honor, or both, but either way, her family was included in her salvation. As a result of her shrewd bravery, we see Rahab honored in Hebrews 11, the Bible’s “Hall of Faith,” and we find her named in the lengthy preamble to Matthew’s gospel for her place as the mother of Boaz in the line of Messiah.
God clearly honored Rahab, despite the difficult circumstances she found herself under. Isn’t it beautiful that God, who set our moral codes in place, and who is Himself the source of virtue, did not condemn, but rather honored Rahab for her courage and faith in dire circumstances? Rahab was praised for welcoming the spies and her life was spared, along with that of her father’s entire household. She displayed bold faith in the God she would later come to know. In turn, God honored Rahab’s faith by securing her story for all time in the line of the Messiah, and through the pages of his written Word.
Why did God choose Rahab for such an honored place in His story? Many have written about the grace of God and His love for honoring the seeking heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Rahab and her family were certainly recipients of that grace! It is also noteworthy that God was willing, and indeed chose to use someone the world considered “unclean” in the line of the Messiah. In this act, we come to deeply understand that it is not from our righteousness but that of Jesus Christ whereby we are used of God.
So, the question presents itself: What does God’s compassion for Rahab tell us about our own values and the way we respond to those in need? We have much to learn from people like Linda, who daily give their lives to listen, love, and nurture the vulnerable in desperate circumstances. Yes, as we build God’s Kingdom in the world today, there is much to be learned from God’s compassionate heart for people just like Rahab.