After my sister passed away from cancer last year, I began to grieve deep and hard. I quickly realized how little I knew about grief, and how new it all felt. I recognized that to live courageously and faithfully through grief, I needed Jesus and needed him desperately. Learning to grieve with Jesus turned me to the Bible.
Often in our search, we instinctively run to the most familiar stories. I, too, sat in silence with Job, watched broken Eve bury her Abel, sobbed with King David, and worshiped a good God with Joseph. I felt Naomi’s angry sadness, followed Ruth’s glorious commitments, and read through Jeremiah’s cries, imagining his “fountains of tears” (Jer. 9:1).
While these known biblical models shaped my theology of grieving, I found some refreshing teachings in an unexpected place. It’s in the life and faith of a prostitute from Jericho. Rahab is a woman of a tremendous loss that involves her entire community. It turns out, this Rahab of Jericho is more than just a harlot living in a wall. She surprised me with her theological knowledge and trusting faith in God even when life turned painful on her.
Here are four lessons on grief Rahab taught me.
- Remember Your Testimony in Grief
Rahab’s story reminded me of God’s wonderful grace. Here is a woman grafted into the messianic genealogy, passed from prostitution to redemption by faith. I can almost hear her heartfelt worship, sung in Middle Eastern accents, echoing one hopeful redemption: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound to save a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found…” Like Paul’s once self-righteous “gains”, the shame of her profession, too, was counted as loss for the sake of knowing Yahweh. Her sin-infested world received the merciful salvation of the covenant God who sent grace even in a forsaken, godless, adulterous wall of Jericho.
I’m not that different from Rahab, when all is said and done. I, too, lived a life of rebellion against God. In describing the unfaithfulness of His people, God chooses to employ the exact same Hebrew word used to describe Rahab’s profession as a prostitute—zanah. “Whoring” (zanah) is the brutal description of God’s people who fornicate or play the harlot with foreign idols in detestable passions of flesh. Not a word I like to hear or let alone use to describe my spiritual state before becoming a Christian. I may not have exchanged passions of the flesh with men for money, but I’m as guilty as Rahab in spending my love and adoration of God on everything else but Him. I, too, lived an immoral, zanah life. But then Jesus found me. In my own godless, prideful, idolatrous Romanian wall, God’s Spirit redeemed me.
Watching Rahab respond in faith ministered to my pain. Grief turned me back to my testimony, to my first love, to the first encounters with my Lord. To remember Jesus’ gift of salvation when life is assaulted is to stand in faith no matter what.
- Keep Knowing God in Grief
Rahab’s story also encouraged me to keep pursuing God in the heart of my trial. Her knowledge of God, though small, was impactful. She made deep strides, not wide ones. Her process of knowing God was an active, ongoing growth of faith. We find her speaking short, simple, and to the point statements about the God of the Jews: “I know that the Lord has given you the land […] we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt […] for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11)
Rahab knew little of God. But what she did know was enough to anchor her faith through the painful season she was already beginning to face. The bullet-points about God’s mighty work in the world, the latest news her guests gossiped about in the city—these were sufficient tidbits of information to throw her into the arms of the sovereign Lord of the Jews! Rahab’s faith bloomed from small seeds of true information, and grew enough to hang on a scarlet rope flouting from her window.
So, I opened my Bible and continued to study God’s Word in small leaps. My theology didn’t need more information, it needed deep, intimate conversation. I lingered on the same passage for days. In my grief, I needed impacting divine treasures, so I began to dig up the fields of the Scripture. One word, one lesson, one chapter at a time. I resolved to stay tied up to God’s Word because I craved His rich, meaningful fellowship.
- Praise God in Grief
Rahab’s world was falling apart and fear began to settle in the city. Her townsmen were hearing rumors of destruction coming, and the natural response was fear. Fear of people, fear of God, fear for their lives, fear of the future. We know Rahab felt the same fear because she confesses it four times to the spies. Her fear, however, did not drive her away from God but surprisingly, it neared her to Him. And she turned her fears into proclamations of praise: “for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She began to praise God for all she knew God was and became to her. The stronger the fear, the louder the praise.
I struggled with praising God at first. Thanksgiving in the journey of loss and grief is counter-intuitive. Where would I start? What would I thank Him for really? But I remembered Rahab’s simple worship. She made baby steps in praising God. She voiced true and short statements of all that God was doing in their lives: “I know that the Lord has given you the land…” (Joshua 2:9). She listed traits from God’s character she came to personally taste and see over time. God is sovereign. God is a provider. God leads His people. God keeps His promises. God saves. God is trustworthy. God is good. God cares. God is near.
- Think of Others in Grief
Though her profession meant selling herself for money, Rahab had the makings of a woman turned towards her family. She stood in the wall for her kin when the danger swept over Jericho. Her other-ness in the midst of the imminent destruction kept me from growing too isolated and self-minded through it all. She faced Joshua and the spies with bold requests. She pre-mediated her kin’s welfare with words of assertive plea. Rahab demanded an oath from the Israelite men, fully trusting that “the Lord will deal kindly and faithfully” with her and her family, “and deliver their lives from death.” (Joshua 2:14).
Rahab asked for a sign of rescue and the people of God gave her one—a red chord to be hung from the window. A visual covenant offered to her as a trust, representing the God-infused-Word of deliverance and protection. Their entire livelihood rested in this wind-swayed scarlet rope in the sinful wall of Jericho. Is this enough? Is it true? Is the God of this promise going to keep His Word? As the wall began to crumble, God’s invisible yet powerful arm remained stretched, as He had promised, over the prostitute’s home. The stones fell while the red rope fluttered in the wind. Not one inch of her home was touched. Can you grasp this picture’s splendor and grace?
Rahab and her family were saved because of a merciful, Word-keeping God. It was faith, but not of her own making. It was of God, and God alone. It was a red rope, not a cutting sword. No matter what season I find myself in, but especially during trials and sufferings, her story always points me to my own red rope—Jesus Christ. He’s my scarlet Savior who rescued me from the destructive ways of my own sin when I was 18, in a small Romanian town. His blood has atoned for all my adulterous ways. And His promises have provided in every season of my life without fail.
Rahab’s testimony, though not as popular as others, anchors my grief simply and powerfully inside the gospel of Christ. It humbles me to see the glorious Messiah in my own redemption story. It inspires me to continue to center my whole self—grief and all—on the Word of God. It encourages me to turn my fears into praise based on God’s character. And it reminds me to live out my faith, bringing others into the gospel story, too. Like Rahab, my faith stands because every single stone of my wall has the marking of my own scarlet Savior’s presence and deliverance.