Life for prostitutes is usually difficult. In the minds of most they inspire some form of the question, "What kind of person becomes a prostitute? What has them in that line of work?" And the hypothesized answers are rarely flattering.
The truth is, they are as human as any, but usually dealt a difficult hand in life. Rahab had no husband. She did have an extended family, though whether they supported her or she them or some combination is not known. We do know that in the ancient world, career options for single women were limited. She ran the local inn and that kept her going.
Her life had little hope. Men will use women like her. But no men want to marry women like her. They don't want harlots to be the mothers of their children. Wives and mothers will tolerate harlots, but little more. Hers would have been an isolated life, with friends and companions coming from outside the "mainstream" of society. And the older she got, the harder life would become. Hers was a life of little hope.
And then everything changed. The God of Israel accepted her faith and worship. The God of Israel saved her family from wrath. He cleansed her of all shame. And he had for her hope and a future.
He had a husband picked out for her. And not some "loser who would put up with an ex-harlot for wife.” He destined her to be married to the son of the ruling family of the tribe of Judah. Her son became the head of that tribe. She became a matriarch.
This meant that she went from a socially isolated harlot to full acceptance in Hebrew society. She was not just mainstream - she moved to the heart of that society. And to their eternal credit, they cooperated with the grace and will of God, welcoming her into the heart of their nation. The people of God embodied the salvation of God.
We can never qualify the perfection and sufficiency of God's grace. She had known many men. So what? She was destined to be a mother in the line of the king. When God takes over a life, his holiness and purity cleanse all. We are new creations. And Rahab, and her DNA, is mingled into the line of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of the tribe of Judah, after the flesh.
It is tempting to say, "If God could even cleanse Rahab, he can cleanse us." But it might be closer to the mark to say, "If God can cleanse self-righteous, religious, mainstream movers of society, he can cleanse us as well." Which cleansing is more miraculous and complete?
And we can never minimize the unexpected directions of God's unfolding plan for the redemption of the world. A Canaanite prostitute in a condemned city. Who could have guessed that one? His wisdom and pleasure are so far above anything we can think or imagine. We do best when we walk humbly with him, waiting and watching.
This doesn't inspire spiritual laziness in us. The worship of God remains ongoing in Israel. Spies are sent out. Preparations are made. The stuff of life continues. Israel will embrace Rahab, disciple her, and draw her into fellowship. They will cooperate with grace.
But hope springs ever fresh and unexpected.
[It should be noted that there is no mention of Rahab's marriage into the royal line in the Old Testament. We do not know where Matthew is getting his information. For that matter, there are many names in Luke's genealogy of Jesus that have no mention in the Old Testament. Unless we are to suppose that they are making this stuff up - which is hard even for a secular historian to maintain, it is likely they are referencing the records of the familes of Joseph and Mary. Genealogical records are of great importance, and immeasurably more for royal families. It would be beyond belief that Jesus' family had no such records. Later Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud, celebrates Rahab as the wife of Joshua son of Nun, and a relative of the prophet Jeremiah. Could this be a reaction to the Christian tradition recorded in Matthew?]