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Rahab: We have a name for people like her

I find I don’t much care for the way God is portrayed in the Old Testament – violent, wrathful, demanding unquestioning obedience, he certainly doesn’t seem much like a loving father, but he does bear a strong and disturbing resemblance to the Hebrew warriors that worshipped him, so much so, sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.

This God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, which is an iconic moment in the Bible, the Exodus, the Great Liberation, and he promises to settle them in a land flowing with milk and honey. Sounds great, except for one tiny detail – there were already people living in that Promised Land. “Easy fix,” God says. “Kill them. All of them. Wipe them out – every man, woman and child…and their animals. Obliterate them. And then the land is yours.”

That this happened, I have no doubt. That this is what God wanted? I have grave reservations. A god who says in one breath, “Thou shalt not kill,” and in the next says, “Go commit genocide,” seems a bit conflicted to me. Is that really what God commanded? I don’t know, but I will say this: until this modern technological age of ours, history wasn’t written as it happened. It was written years afterward, sometimes many years afterward, when historians, particularly religious historians, could give the events some interpretation. If a battle was won, then God must have been with the victors. And if God gave the army victory, then God must have wanted them to go to war in the first place. And if the losers were wiped out, obliterated, then that must have been what God wanted too…because that’s the way it happened. And if all that was God’s will, then surely he must have told someone that this was his will, some military leader or prophet. And that’s how it gets written down, that God said ‘This is my will. Go do it.’

At least, that’s my theory. And that’s why I’m very cautious when I read the Old Testament. I will not obey and I will always question a god who says, “I love you, but I hate them. So you go and kill them and take everything they have.” That doesn’t sound like God to me, but it does have a very human ring about it.

In our lesson today, we hear about Joshua who was the successor to Moses, and whom God had chosen to lead the people into the Promised Land. He was also the general who was to lead his warriors against all the peoples who stood between him and that Promised Land. Like any good commander, he planned his strategy preparatory to leading the invasion forces into the land of the Canaanites. He sent ahead two spies to scout out the land and gather information, especially about the city of Jericho. Without a doubt, these two spies have got to be the worst spies ever! Joshua says, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And the very next verse reads, “So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there.” An interesting interpretation of their orders.

Now let’s consider for a moment, the possibility that all these men did was take a room for the night. These men were on a mission. They weren’t supposed to take a room anywhere. Joshua said, “View the land,” not “Check in somewhere for the night.” And let’s just remember where this room was located. There’s a fair degree of consensus about Bible scholars that the home of Rahab the prostitute was not just her place of residence, but her place of business, in other words, a brothel. Plus, the expression “spent the night” literally translates as “they laid down there.” I mean, come on!

Sometimes, when Biblical heroes are portrayed behaving badly, like here, commentators will try to put the best possible spin on it. Some have said that if you were on a mission to scout out the land you were preparing to invade, one of the best places you could go would be a brothel. And why? Well, they said, you could ask questions there; you could listen in on conversations, gather intel. Uh-huh. Did these spies ask any questions? No. Did they listen in on any conversations? No. What did they do? They laid down there. I think they were like two kids let out of school, just giddy with freedom. “Wow, we must be pretty special if Joshua chose us for this mission. He could have picked anyone but he chose us for our military expertise and superior intelligence-gathering skills. Oh yeah, we are ‘special ops!’ We’ll sneak into the enemy’s encampment and learn their plans and numbers. We might even bring back a prisoner or two and make them talk. Our mothers will be so proud. We’ll be heroes! They’re going to write songs about us! There’s going to a parade and…oh look! A brothel! You knoooow, we could do all that stuff tomorrow. Why yes, yes we could. And I’m feeling kinda tired. How ‘bout you? Oh I could lie down there, you betcha!”

Bad enough they went “off mission” but almost immediately the king knew that two Hebrew spies were in his country, where they were, and what they were doing. Turns out a brothel is a good place to gather information…if you’re the enemy! These two spies had no idea they were being spied on.

Three verses – verse 1 – Joshua says go scout out the land; verse 2 – the spies scout out a brothel; and verse 3 – the king of that land is sending soldiers to said brothel to capture said spies.

Worst. Spies. EVER!

(And I know what you’re going to do when you go home today. You’re going to go straight to your bibles thinking “Oh, she’s gotta be wrong about this…oh my Lord! There it is! Verse 1, 2, and 3! She wasn’t making it up this time!”)

No, not this time.

Luckily for these guys, the brothel was run by an intelligent, compassionate and courageous madam named Rahab. She goes to the spies and says, “You know, you guys are the best spies ever! Oh yeah. We hope the rest of your army is as smart as you two. But here’s the thing – there are soldiers on the way here to arrest you. I know, right! How did that happen? Now I know you have a plan for this contingency, master spies that you are, but I’m going to suggest that you hide on my roof under the flax stalks until they’re gone…you know, just for fun. What do you think?”

Well, they thought was a dandy plan, and hid out on the roof while Rahab sent the soldiers off in the opposite direction. Then she sounds the all-clear and says to the spies, “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” An astonishing proclamation of faith. Was Rahab a believer? Some commentators think she was, but I have some serious doubts. Who would have evangelized her? Who would have taught her about the one true God of the Israelites? I don’t it’s likely she was a believer at all. Then why is she speaking like this? How does she know to say all the right things? Because she’s a prostitute! It’s part of the job description to say what men want to hear. “Oh, you big strong Israelites you! You’re so good! No wonder God loves you! And my people are so wicked. No wonder God wants you to wipe us off the face of the earth. But before you start your God-sanctioned rampage, I’d like to remind you that I did just save your lives and it would awfully nice if you would return the favour.” She says, “Deal kindly with my family…spare my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them.” And they agree, whereupon she helps them escape back to their camp. Now what do you think the spies would have done to this woman, after they spent the night with her in her brothel, after she helped them evade capture, twice – what would they have done to her if she hadn’t elicited this promise? In spite of all she did for them, they’d have slaughtered her. They would have had to. That’s what God wanted. Evidently.

So she gathered all her relatives into the brothel with her and waited while outside the Israelites “devoted to destruction by the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” We call this ethnic cleansing today. Extermination. Holocaust.

Once they were done the slaughter, the spies brought out Rahab and her kin, and what did she think when she beheld the devastation of her city and the butchered bodies of her friends and neighbours? And if that wasn’t enough, the Israelites then burned down her city and everything in it – except for the gold and silver. That went into the “treasury of the Lord.” What’s the Lord going to do with it? God doesn’t need money. Divine credit is good. And who manages this treasury of the Lord? I’m betting it’s not an archangel.

Scripture says that Rahab and her family lived among the Israelites from then on. Did she convert? Don’t know. A far more interesting question I think is, did she give up the business? We might like to think she did, but again I have doubts. Her life after the massacre of her people would not have been easy, living among the killers of her race. She would have been a constant and shameful reminder to the Israelites of why they were not able to carry out a complete ethnic cleanse – because a couple of their guys listened to their glands and “laid down” at her brothel, where they had no business being, and ended up needing her help to escape. So they had to let her live, and live with them. If she opened up a bakery or something, I don’t think she’d get a lot of customers. I don’t know what she had to do to survive, but it couldn’t have been easy.

One of the commentators suggested that perhaps she married one of the Hebrew spies. Give me a break! She was a prostitute. She wasn’t stupid.

The next we hear of Rahab (and I just love this!) is in the genealogy of Jesus. Yep, the second woman named as an illustrious ancestor of the most holy Son of God is Rahab, the prostitute. You just can’t make this stuff up! It’s too wonderful! She is the great-great-grandmother of King David. How did that happen?! And just what is her name doing in Christ’s bloodline? After all, we have a name for people who do the kinds of things she did. We have a name for people like her – we call them saviours!

When Rahab saved the lives of the two Hebrew spies, she did so at the risk of her own. If she had been discovered, she would have been executed as a traitor. Then she interceded for and won the lives of her family. People who put the lives of others ahead of their own, who would give everything and anything that others might have life, and life in abundance, even eternal life, they are saviours. At the end of the Second World War, some of the Jews who were saved by Oskar Schindler, gave him a gold ring with the inscription “Whoever saves a single life, saves the world entire.” Rahab saved the world. And that’s what she’s doing on that list, the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and descendant of Rahab the prostitute, Rahab, the saviour.

Let’s bow in prayer…

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