Joshua 2:1-21, Joshua 6:17, Joshua 6:22-25, Matthew 15, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:24-26
The book of Joshua introduces us to one of the most amazing and thought provoking women of the Old Testament. Rahab, the prostitute earned unique praise for her faith, and a place in the lineage of Christ. Certainly the faith this one women revealed demonstrates the potential we all have; yet she also reminds us to not judge--how many of us would expect a great act of faith from a hooker? How many of us would not only have walked by her house, but crossed to the other-side of the street so as not to be contaminated. Yet, God blessed this women by putting her in the lineage of Christ. God's blessings come in surprising packages.
We first meet Rahab in Joshua 2:1:
Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, 'Go, view the land, especially Jericho.' So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there.
Here we learn three things: Rahab is a prostitute, she lives in Jericho, and that the spies go to a prostitutes house while on the job. I've seen many "Bible Story" pictures showing Rahab demurely dressed, standing in the foyer of a cheery little cottage, a cozy fire warming the room and sweet little flowers to enliven the room. Unfortunately, from what we know of prostitution realities then and now, that scene is misleading. Instead we should envision a small cramped area--a place of outcasts. This isn't a woman dressed in Sunday best, but for a Saturday night special. Only by facing the reality of Rahab's life, can we truly learn from her. Her society would have rejected her. Her career would have exposed her to dirty, possibly diseased men who sought to use her for one purpose only. However, her story doesn't end here, and we have other questions to consider.
Why did these men go to a prostitute's house when they were supposed to be viewing the land? What exactly could they spy on there? The Bible doesn't indicate there were others in the house to "eavesdrop on", so why were they there? The Bible doesn't tell us, though the most obvious answer is usually dismissed. Sometimes we like to think this was just an inn, and the two men were just renting a room. This wasn't an inn, though we could possibly believe they were just renting a room. But while that is an interesting question, the Bible really has something to teach us in this story.
The king of Jericho was told, 'Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.' Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, 'Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.' 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. 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. 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.
Rahab betrayed her own people. The Israelites were seeking to take Jericho, and Rahab had the opportunity to stop them, but she didn't. Rahab found herself in a position many teachers claim never happens--she had to decide between God's plan and the plans of earthly authority. Yet, this section reminds us of something else, as well. We tend to expect women to be either entirely good, or entirely bad. The church accepts the foibles of man, while either denying women have foibles or seeing the foibles of women as a sign of ungodliness. Much like Jacob and his divining rod, Rahab proves she is a cracked vessel even as she operates in great faith. She steps out in faith--and lies to do it. Certainly, the Lord isn't instructing us in situational ethics, rather, the Word demonstrates that women are human too. We are capable of great acts of faith, just like men. Equally, we are capable of great acts of error, just like men.
This passage also offers and interesting mirror to other more famous "intruder" stories in the Bible. In Genesis Lot offers his two daughters for the sexual use of a crowd in place of his visitors. Later in Judges the Levite will thrust is wife out of the door into the hands of a rapine mob. Yet, when Rahab, a woman, a lowly prostitute faces this same challenge, she responses differently. When the crowd comes to her door, she uses her brain to solve the problem; the men in similar stories resort to sacrificing the "least of these" in their midst. I've often wonder how many times I've been Lot instead of Rahab--how many times have I sacrificed the ones I should have protected?
Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof 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. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.
Finally we learn why Rahab betrayed her people. She heard what the Lord had done and believed. Too many times we hear what the Lord has done and refuse to believe, or worse we believe but refuse to act on that belief. Rahab believed and acted, even though acting put her life on the line. We often talk about stepping out in faith, but many times that step has little meaning because the drop is small. An abyss awaited Rahab with her first step-the life of a traitor would be short indeed, especially the life of a traitorous harlot.
'Now then, since I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal kindly with my family. Give me a sign of good faith that you will spare my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.'
Rahab has faith not only in what God has done, and can do, but in faith of what He will do. She has faith that He will spare her family.
This verse also presents a mystery--why is Rahab a prostitute if she has not only a father, but brothers to help provide for her? The Bible doesn't tell us.
Yet, if we think about Rahab's life, her faith shines even brighter. She is an outcast, a prostitute. Rejected by society, she still trusts that the Lord will not reject her. Abandoned by her family (we assume) to a life of prostitution, she trust that the Lord will not abandon her.
The men said to her, 'Our life for yours! If you do not tell this business of ours, then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the Lord gives us the land.' 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. 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.' The men said to her, 'We will be released from this oath that you have made us swear to you if we invade the land and you do not tie this crimson cord in the window through which you let us down, and you do not gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family. If any of you go out of the doors of your house into the street, they shall be responsible for their own death, and we shall be innocent; but if a hand is laid upon any who are with you in the house, we shall bear the responsibility for their death. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be released from this oath that you made us swear to you.' She said, 'According to your words, so be it.' She sent them away and they departed. Then she tied the crimson cord in the window.
By this point, Rahab has already expressed faith: she acknowledged God and that God could and world act in her life. But there was more to be done. Faith alone isn't good enough, though we Protestants like to think so. Faith must produce action. As the Book of James tells us, "faith without works is dead." The two spies explain to Rahab that she must act--she must not betray them and she must put the scarlet cord in the window. Failure to act, despite her claim of faith, will result in her destruction. Faithfully (pun intended) Rahab ties the cord and awaits the results.
The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live because she hid the messengers we sent.
Rahab's faith and action prove to save not only herself but her entire family. We have this same opportunity today, in many forms. Stepping out in faith can never be easy-if it were it wouldn't be faith. But by walking in faith we open the door for the Holy Spirit to work not only in our lives, but in the lives of loved ones.
Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, 'Go into the prostitute's house, and bring the woman out of it and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.' So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her they brought all her kindred out and set them outside the camp of Israel. They burned down the city, and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. But Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
This first New Testament reference to Rahab shows just how richly God blessed Rahab.
and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse"
This list of names is part of the Christ's genealogy. Chroniclers didn't need to include women in a genealogy, but the author of Matthew's Gospel included 4 such women. He lists Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Of these four, only Bathsheba was Jewish. However, all four are united by another factor---their biblical stories involved sexual scandal. Tamar played the harlot to gain a son; Rahab, of course, was a prostitute; Ruth initiated a seduction; and Bathsheba was, for a time, mistress to the king. Not exactly the line-up we expect. No mention of Sarah or Rebekah or Leah or Rachel. Interestingly, this verse also gives us a glimpse into Rahab's fate with her chosen people. We know from Ruth's story that Boaz was a wealthy and prominent man in his community. We also know he was an honorable man. Rahab apparently (I say apparently because an entirely different scenario is possible) play a role in Boaz's father's life. Did this prostitute become the wife of a wealthy community leader, as some women went from the depths of prostitution to nobility in the 1700s?
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
James reminds that faith can't be just words--or even sincere emotion. If we say we have faith and do nothing based on that faith, then our faith is worthless. For us Protestants this seems to contradict "justification by faith"; however, in my view (which I suppose counts for little) it doesn't. For me, faith and works have the same relationship as our love of God and our love of our brothers and sisters. I can think I love God with all my heart, but if I don't love my brothers and sisters I do not truly love God. Yet when I love God, by the very fact of loving God I love my brothers and sisters. The same, I can think I have all the faith in the world, but if I don't "do" something, I truly do not have faith.
Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother.
This is the first mention of Rebekah in the Bible. As with many genealogies, at first glance this might appear to be random or unimportant, yet this genealogy provides and important piece of information. Rebekah is part of the chosen lineage. She is related to Abraham; therefore, any marriage between Rebekah and Isaac would be endogamous.
The stage set, in the Genesis 24, Abraham sends out his servant to find a wife for Isaac. He instructs the servant to find a willing wife for Isaac. Genesis 24::
Rehoboam loved Maacah daughter of Absalom more than all his other wives and concubines (he took eighteen wives and sixty concubines, and became the father of twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters.)
Rehoboam made several political alliances through marriage. He married at least two women near the line of succession, while marrying at least eighteen other women and keeping sixty more as concubines. One woman, however gained special favor with him.
But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, 'How is it that you have come back so soon today?' They said, 'An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.' He said to his daughters, 'Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.' Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage.
Wells played an important role in the lives of desert peoples, a center for meeting with friends and neighbors, as well as providing the necessity of water. Within the Bible wells often prove to be sites of momentous events. Abraham's servant finds Rebekah at a well, Jesus reveals Himself as Messiah for the first time to the Samaritan woman at a well. Here Moses encounters seven young women at well being pestered by some shepherds. Moses steps forward to drive the men away. Whether in their haste or due to bad manners, the girls go home-without Moses. When they share the story with their father he is dismayed by their lack of courtesy, and sends them to find the man. With seven daughters, he probably already has the hope of marriage in mind. Either way, they invite Moses to dinner and Moses gains a wife.
As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. On recognizing Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, 'You are out of your mind!' But she insisted that it was so. They said, 'It is his angel.' Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed.
Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ishbaal said to Abner, 'Why have you gone in to my father's concubine?' The words of Ishbaal made Abner very angry; he said, 'Am I a dog's head for Judah? Today I keep showing loyalty to the house of your father Saul, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David; and yet you charge me now with a crime concerning this woman. So may God do to Abner and so may he add to it! For just what the Lord has sworn to David, that will I accomplish for him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beer-sheba.'
Her Saul's concubine becomes the center of political intrigue. Based on the story it appears Ishbaal falsely accuses Abner. Abner re-acts in anger and defects to David's camp. Did Rizpah have anything to do with Abner? They Bible doesn't tell us. We do know having sexual relations with a king's "woman" intertwined with having the king's authority-or attempting to take his authority. In essence, Ishbaal accuses Abner of trying to take over Saul's kingdom when he takes Saul's concubine. Abner answers by reasserting his former loyalty.
In the next mention we will discover that Rizpah was a strong and courageous woman, certainly she might have drawn Abner's attention.
2 Samuel 21:8-13:
The king took the two sons of Rizpah daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite; he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they impaled them on the mountain before the Lord. The seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest. "Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it on a rock for herself, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell on them from the heavens; she did not allow the birds of the air to come on the bodies by day, or the wild animals by night. When David was told what Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan from the people of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them up, on the day the Philistines killed Saul on Gilboa. He brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who had been impaled.
David sends Rizpah's and Merab's son into the hands of the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites impaled the men, then left them to the elements. Rizpah bravely prevented further desecration of the bodies. Day by day, night by night she stood by the men of her family, fending off hungry bird and animals. Her actions move David to collect the bodies and dispose of them honorably. In modern times, with our discrete and, to a large extent, hidden funerary customs, we have difficulty understanding exactly what this woman did. First, she left all her tasks at home. Often we are told our first responsibility is home, but Rizpah left that role in her great act of loyalty. Then she took a sackcloth (sackcloth if associated with morning) and spread it like a blanket on which to sit. Thus began her vigil guarding the rotting corpses. We know the length of her stay-from harvest season to rainy season. Imagine first arriving, the shock of seeing the impaled body of your children. Then stay day after day, month after month as their bodies decay. Leaving the bodies out for the elements was the height of insult, yet this mother placed herself in the position of seeing that insult to her children. Her purpose, preventing the ultimate insult of her loved ones becoming carrion.
"The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A, and are used by permission. All rights reserved."