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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Who is the Rahab mentioned in Psalm 89:10?
Don’t get confuse the name of the woman from Jericho (Joshua 2) with the same English term in this psalm. The two names are spelled differently in Hebrew (Rāchāb for the woman and rahah in the psalm.) Rahab is employed several times in the Old Testament to designate an evil power of chaos as well as a particular country.
1. Identity of Rahab: The meaning of the noun Rahab is not certain. It is derived from the Hebrew verb rāhab, whose meaning is also uncertain. It is generally translated “to storm, assault,” or “be proud/arrogant.” The noun could perhaps be translated as “the arrogant/proud/stormy.” In this psalm it describes a demonic figure defeated by God in primordial times. The religions of the ancient Near East had myths describing a primordial war between the gods of chaos and the creator gods. However, in none of those myths is the term rahab or its linguistic equivalent used to designate those enemies. Besides, in the Old Testament Rahab is not a deity. This power is closely associated with the dragon (Isa. 51:9) and with the “fleeing serpent” (Job 26:13, NKJV), a phrase used to describe the Leviathan (Isa. 27:1). Most probably Rahab and Leviathan designate the same demonic power (see, Adventist Review, May 11, 2000, p. 27).
2. Battling Rahab: Psalm 89:6-15 is a hymn praising God’s cosmic dominion. He is particularly praised because He “crushed Rahab like one of the slain” (verse 10, NIV). Job 26:5-13 is another hymn praising the cosmic power of God. He is described as the cosmic Lord who has dominion over the realm of death (verses 5, 6), the skies, the earth, and the clouds (verses 7-9), and over the whole structure of the world (verses 10, 11). The same cosmic interest is found in verse 12, with its reference to Rahab: “By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces” (NIV). The Lord, not the Babylonian Marduk or the Canaanite Baal, confronted Rahab and was victorious over it. But this demonic power was not acting alone. Job 9:13 speaks about “the cohorts of Rahab” (cf. Ps. 40:4, the plural rehābîm, “proud ones”). The Hebrew plural participle translated “cohort” (cāzar) means “the ones who helped/supported Rahab,” and in the context of war it designates supporting troops (cf. Rev. 12:7).
Since the biblical passages do not explicitly state the moment when that battle took place, it would be incorrect to read into the text the common ancient Near Eastern idea that the battle among the gods occurred during Creation. The most we can say is that the conflict between God and Rahab happened in primordial times. The biblical Creation account recorded in Genesis 1 does not contain a hint of creation through conflict. The serpent already active in the Garden of Eden suggests the conflict had taken place before Creation week.
3. The Defeat of Rahab: The association of Rahab with the sea/waters confirms the fact that it belongs to the sphere of evil. The sea is often a symbol of the forces of oppression and death (e.g., Dan. 7:3; Rev. 13:1), and Rahab seems to embody all of them. The Lord is the only one who could defeat this power, and He did it. He “cut Rahab to pieces” (Heb. māchats, “to smash”; Job 26:12, NIV; cf. Isa. 51:9), “crushed Rahab” (Ps. 89:10, NIV), and He “scattered” His enemies, the supporters of Rahab (verse 10, NIV); they “cowered at his feet” (Job 9:13, NIV). This is the language of total victory during the primordial battle.
4. Rahab Is Active in History: Although the language of defeat may suggest that Rahab was exterminated, that is not the case. This evil power reenacts the original battle in the history of the people of God. The name is used in a pejorative way to designate Egypt as unreliable (Isa. 30:7; cf. Ps. 30:7). Isaiah 51:9, 10 uses the language of the primordial battle to describe the conflict between God and the Egyptian armies during the Israelite exodus from Egypt. God defeated Rahab during the redemption of His people from the oppressive and arrogant Rahab-like power of Egypt.
The figure of Rahab gives us important information concerning the origin of the cosmic conflict and its expression in our world. The description of the conflict as well as the strong language used to depict God’s victory should bring comfort to those who are involved in the great controversy.