Rahab, a Dog, and The Great Commission
April 13, 2017
A while back, I wrote a post about the places in Scripture where the female voice dominates, sort of interrupting the androcentricity of Scripture in a complementary way. Richard Bauckham’s fascinating book, Gospel Women, is one that I keep returning to for discovery. He has a great section where he elaborates on the Gentile foremothers of the gospel. Rahab is one of the Gentile women Matthew names in the genealogy of Jesus. Why did he include her? Bauckham insists that it is because Rahab represents God’s openness of his covenant community to the Gentiles. Rahab was a Canaanite who openly professed her faith in the God of Israel, and was then welcome to become a member of God’s household.
Interestingly, Matthew gives us a screenshot of another Gentile woman in his gospel. In Matthew 15:22 we have a Canaanite woman who persuades Jesus to change his mind.
And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
This would be another example of what Bauckham calls a gynocentric interruption in Scripture. He highlights a parallel with this Gentile woman to the Gentile foremothers mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy---“Like Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, she acts with initiative and resolution and, in difficult circumstances, attains her end” (43). He explains this encounter between Jesus and the Cannaanite woman as “a new Rahab encountering a Messiah who could be a new Joshua”:
“Her address to Jesus, ‘Son of David,’ is equivalent to Rahab’s confession of the true God that is inseparable from her recognition that this God has given the land to his people Israel (Josh. 2:9199). Like Rahab she takes initiative and asks boldly for the kindness she so desperately needs (Josh. 2:12-13). Like Rahab she receives the mercy for which she had asked (Josh 6:22-25). Finally, and very importantly, like Rahab, because of her faith she is a first exception to the rule about Canaanites. (44)
Here is the rest of the interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman:
But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. (Matt. 15:23-28)
It’s almost as if Jesus is throwing her a softball. Matthew is certainly throwing one to us as readers. He just opened his Gospel with some of these supposed “dogs” named in the ancestry of Jesus. In a footnote, Bauckham reminds us “that Jesus cannot ultimately reject this woman for her ethnicity without repudiating two of his ancestors in the genealogy.”
“…What the Canaanite woman does, with the clever twist she gives to Jesus’ own saying (Matt. 15:27), is persuade Jesus that he can act compassionately to her without detracting from his mission to Israel. Like Rahab, with her exceptional faith she secures an exception that can set a precedent…By placing Jesus briefly in salvific relationship to many Gentiles, Matthew seems to be indicating that the Canaanite woman’s precedent is not to be an isolated exception but the beginning of the messianic blessing to the nations.” (44-45)
Matthew ends his gospel with Jesus the Messiah authoritatively proclaiming this “precedent constituted by the Canaanite woman” at “a universal scale” with his Great Commission:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
The discernment, initiative, and resolve of these women are a model of faith for us all. The first led to the birth of our Savior, and both are a foreshadowing of his blessing to all nations.