Monday, January 2, 2012

Joshua 2:3-9, 15-16, 22-24
They said to Joshua, "Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands; moreover all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us."
—Joshua 2:24

2. Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, 3. "Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land." 4. But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, "True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. 5. And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them." 6. She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof. 7. So the men pursued them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. As soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
8. Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof 9. and said to the men: "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. . .."
15. Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the outer side of the city wall and she resided within the wall itself. 16. She said to them, "Go toward the hill country, so that the pursuers may not come upon you. Hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned; then afterward you may go your way."
22. They departed and went into the hill country and stayed there for three days, until the pursuers returned. The pursuers had searched all along the way and found nothing. 23. Then the two men came down again from the hill country. They crossed over, came to Joshua son of Nun, and told him all that had happened to them. 24. They said to Joshua, "Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands; moreover all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us."

Scarlet is a word that carries certain connotations. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel, the scarlet letter identifies Hester Prynne as an adulterous woman, having borne a child out of wedlock. In the book of Revelation, the color scarlet is tied closely to other negative associations. The Beast is scarlet, and the woman who represents Babylon wears scarlet and purple. Finally, scarlet is referred to along with the riches of the corrupt world.
On the other hand, the lambs' blood smeared on doorposts during the Passover in Egypt is scarlet. The robe Jesus wears after his scourging is scarlet. This color, associated with worldliness and sin, is also associated with salvation of the people. The scarlet cord hanging from Rahab's window may well identify the home of a prostitute, but it is singled out for salvation, not judgment. Rahab makes herself and her household conspicuous for the sake of salvation. The cord that Rahab hangs from her window signifies her trust in God's protection, just as her words recognize God's power and authority.

The name Rahab means to "open up." Rahab "opens up" the land of Jericho for the men; or better said, God opens up the land of Jericho through Rahab the prostitute. Rahab uses her profession as an alibi against any charge of harboring spies. Rahab lies about the men's whereabouts, and it is believable to the king that the spies would visit and then leave. Rahab sends the "pursuers" off track; they leave as it gets dark. Then the gate to the city is shut.
With the gate shut, the spies are in a vulnerable position with Rahab: They cannot escape from the city apart from Rahab's mercy. She could hand them over and be a hero in Jericho. But Rahab sees reality differently. In parts of the story left out from our reading, the men and Rahab make negotiations to spare Rahab's life. "Our life for yours," declare the men in v. 14. There is no indication that Rahab converts to the religion of the men. However, Rahab shares the spies’ respect for the Lord as you can tell from the mutual words of testimony. The Lord is powerful and in control.

This encounter between the men and Rahab is significant because it shows that God keeps promises and that God's protection accompanies those promises. It also shows again that God uses small and insignificant things to accomplish His promises. Rahab is poor in her society, but she takes the opportunity to save herself and her family when she sees that God is powerful and will make Israel victorious. It is possible that Rahab is a cultic prostitute. She possibly uses her prostitution in celebration of the fertility religion so ingrained in the culture of the time. Without crops or offspring, the people perish; fertility is life. In this encounter between Rahab and the spies, Rahab acknowledges a larger God that is Lord above the necessities of life.

The spies found an unlikely messenger in Rahab, a prostitute living on the edge of the city. Joshua sent the spies to view the land, but they hardly get into the walls of Jericho when word spreads that they are there. Rahab risks everything to protect them. The spies don't complete their task; their mission of espionage has failed, except for one thing. When they return to Joshua, they pass along Rahab's prophecy that the Lord has given the land into their hands. Joshua could have questioned the source, but instead he heard Rahab's words for what they were: a message from God, confirmation of God's call to Joshua and the people to go; the land will be given over to them.

It is easy for us to stereotype others, to expect certain things of them because of the way they act, the way they look, the color of their skin, their clothing, their profession, and so on. Unfortunately, it has affected the way Christians have responded to people who are, in some way, "different." A look around most of our churches reveals a major lack of diversity. We tend to offer the warmest welcome to those who are most like us. Even when we extend welcome to others, we tend to expect that they will participate in certain ways in the life of the Church.
Our expectations point to underlying expectations of who God is, how God works in the world, and who God calls to various ministries. No one would have expected Rahab to play the role that she did. No one would have expected God to speak through her to Joshua. But that's exactly what happened. God's activity in the world cannot be contained by our narrow expectations. God's calling of leaders goes far beyond the "usual suspects." As Christians gathered in community, we must seek and welcome all of God's children. We must expect that God will break down our expectations. Just as Rahab opened the word of God to the Israelites, we must expect that God will speak in truly unexpected ways. We might even find that the words that affect us the most come from those we least expect.

Rahab was a prostitute. The text makes no apologies for this. Rahab's name itself is a vivid reminder of her profession. We have some embarrassment over the means that God uses in accomplishing His purpose. But Rahab appears in this story for a reason. She represents those people in society who have no options, the ones who never catch a break. The way the world usually works is that those who have the most get the opportunity to gain more. People like Rahab are not protected. Protection is still important to us. A few years ago, the book The Prayer of Jabez sold like hotcakes. "Oh Lord, that you would expand my wealth...." That is often the way our prayers go, too.

In this story, Rahab gets the opportunity to gain protection for herself. In her place in society, she is not used to protection. She is more likely used to danger. Perhaps we are less likely to be grateful when we feel safe than shocked and angry when something bad happens. Bad things happen all the time. It is not a matter of if bad things happen to people, but when. The place where Christianity is growing the fastest is Africa, where people face the most danger from persecution, disease, dangerous nature, and corrupt governments. Christians in Africa are the least secure and most vulnerable, but by some measure the most faithful.

The men find it strange and out of the ordinary that they survived the ordeal. Their response, "Truly the LORD has given .. . " They respond with worship. Often, we are too quick to blame God and slow to be grateful when things go well.

Part of our shock at Rahab's profession and place in this story is a symptom of a greater problem; we do not do enough to protect and care for people like Rahab. There are people all around us who need advocacy. We are God's hands in this world. God's help and salvation comes from strange and out-of-the-ordinary places, and it is helpful for us to see Rahab as the instrument of mercy, so that we can recognize our own vulnerability and help those who are even more vulnerable. God is the God of mercy and compassion; Jesus Christ puts us all in the same standing before God. We are to look out for each other because Jesus first looked out for us.

Was Rahab's occupation a significant piece of this story? Why or why not?
How would you characterize Rahab in this story? What about the spies? Joshua?
How can you see God's protection at work throughout this story?

Almighty God, your care for us surpasses what we can even imagine. Help us to see more clearly the ways that you protect us in our lives. Challenge us to recognize the ways in which we are called to help secure protection for others, especially the most vulnerable who need your protection the most. Give us the strength and courage to trust in you, and help us to step forth in faith, as Rahab did. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.