“God’s Grace in the Life of Rahab”
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 6, 2017
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Josh 2:1-21; 6:15-25
Born in 1722, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, eventually came to live with her family in a farming area near Charleston.[i] Her mother died. By the age of sixteen, Eliza was left to care for her siblings and run three plantations for her father. Having a passion for botany, she asked her father for resources to cultivate and process indigo. Off-handedly, he agreed. But later he was overheard explaining his decision: “Well, we have land enough—she’s a mere girl—let her have her fancy.” It would be Eliza Lucas Pinckney who started the indigo trade that became second only to rice as a cash crop at that time. Tremendous wealth was the result of an experiment by a mere girl—a mere girl who became so well thought of President George Washington served as one of the pallbearers at her funeral.
After the death of Moses, Joshua, his assistant, must lead God’s people into the land which the Lord their God will give to them. In his “Installation Ceremony,” Joshua is given a charge—to be strong and courageous. He’s given a mission—“Cross the Jordan and put Israel in possession of the land.” And he’s given a promise from God—“I will be with you.”
In time, Joshua sends two spies into Jericho to investigate the walled city. The spies end up in the home of Rahab the prostitute, who hides them upstairs under some stalks of drying flax when the king’s men come calling. “Well, yes, the men did come here,” she tells them, “but I don’t know where they came from and they’ve already left.” She sends the king’s posse on a wild goose chase. You can almost hear her saying, “They went that away!”
Having gotten rid of the king’s men, Rahab turns her attention to the two spies. Obviously, Rahab knows how to bargain—so she bargains for her life and for the life of her family.
I know that the Lord has given you the land. There is fear all around. We’ve heard the stories of the parting of the Red Sea and how Yahweh brought your people out of Egypt. We’ve heard of what you did to the kings of the Amorites, whom you destroyed. Indeed, your God is God over heaven and earth. Now I’ve dealt kindly with you. Swear to me that you will, in turn, deal kindly with my family and spare us.
The men agree: “Our life for yours. If you’ll keep our business here a secret, we will deal kindly with you and your family when God gives us the land.” Rahab helps the men escape out her window. As they leave, they instruct her to tie a red cord in the window and to bring all of her family under her roof. Safety is promised only for those in the house of Rahab. After three days spent hiding in the hills, the spies return to Joshua with their report.
At the appointed time, by the Lord’s command, Joshua has the warriors march around the city, and on the 7th day they march 7 times, priests blow the trumpets—the air vibrates with the sound—and after a long blast the people give a loud shout and the walls of Jericho come tumbling down. Joshua has made special arrangements for Rahab who showed kindness to his messengers. He calls the two spies aside and says, “Bring out Rahab and all who belong to her just as you swore to her.” And so it was.
Our modern day sensibilities may lead us to frown upon Rahab and her chosen profession unless we take a moment to consider that her profession was probably not chosen at all. Poverty was by far the most common cause of prostitution in the ancient world, and an unmarried, unprotected woman had few choices other than slavery and prostitution. Hear again Rahab’s negotiation with the spies: “Spare my father and my mother, my brothers and sisters and all who belong to them.” Could it be that somehow Rahab has become responsible for her entire family? Could it be that this mere girl has been forced to support her family’s financial needs through prostitution—the only profession available to her? Could it be that Rahab’s fate is woven into the fate of her family and she’s a prisoner of circumstances beyond her control?
Rahab must have grown up fast and in the process, became quite clever—clever enough to ward off the king’s men and finesse the safety of her family. It’s possible that she had other business ventures—one wanders why a prostitute would have flax drying up on her rooftop. Well informed of the news of the day, Rahab knows what the people are saying about the God of Israel and she knows fear has fallen upon the city like a heavy fog. Could it be that through the spies of Israel, God provides Rahab her first ray of hope? She is offered a way out. A crimson cord hanging out her window will be the sign that will bring the rescuers to Rahab and her family—a red cord, perhaps symbolic of the blood on the door posts of that first Passover night, which told the Angel of Death to pass over the children of Israel and keep them safe.
Through the grace of God, Rahab the prostitute, a stranger in a strange land, saves herself and her family from destruction. What must her first night of freedom been like, when the trumpet blasts sounded no more? Did the sunset seem a bit brighter? Did she anticipate a new life with a new people? Did she hope for a stronger relationship with the God of Israel who had saved her, along with her family?
What happens next for Rahab? Scripture doesn’t tell us but in rabbinical tradition Rahab marries Joshua and 7 kings and 8 prophets come from her lineage.[ii] In the Gospel of Matthew she is named as the mother of Boaz and therefore in the line of King David, and therefore, an ancestor of Jesus. In Hebrews chapter 11, we are told, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient because she had received the spies in peace.” Through the power of a Sovereign God, Rahab the prostitute, a mere girl, is given a new life and her story is remembered to this day.
I daresay each of us, at sometime in our life, have felt like a mere someone…a mere spouse…a mere parent…a mere grandparent…a mere teacher…a mere neighbor…a mere friend…a mere retiree…a mere student…a mere caregiver…a mere employee…a mere child…a mere teenager…But in the hands of a loving God, we are far from a mere anything. We are people called to make a difference in this world, in this church, in our community, in our work place, in our school, and in our home. And as children of a compassionate and gracious God, we are equipped to make a difference—to love our brothers and sisters in the faith and to reach out to those who sit in darkness. As God’s people we must never underestimate what may seem like the smallest act of kindness done in the name of Jesus—a kind word, a loving embrace, a listening ear, a fervent prayer.
The Book of Joshua tells the story of God and God’s people and nestled within the story of the battles and struggles is the salvation story of a prostitute and her family. God can change the world with someone who has a willing heart. Rahab had faith in a God about whom she had only heard rumors. She had faith and took action. She didn’t sit on the sidelines waiting for something good to come her way—she recognized the good that was right in front of her. Rahab models how faith…works!
It is through faith that we gather today around the table. None of us come because we are deserving for we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Nevertheless, we are invited to come to the Table of our Lord. We are invited to come and see—come and remember—the Lord is good!
[i] This story was told by Darla Moore in a speech given at her induction into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame
[ii] Interpretation: Joshua, Creech, 36
*Cover Art “Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua” : Anonymous; Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.