Joshua 2, NRSV
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. 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. 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.
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 failed, 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. 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.’ 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 towards the hill country, so that the pursuers may not come upon you. Hide yourselves there for three days, until the pursuers have returned; then afterwards you may go on 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.
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. 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. 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.’
Preached Sunday, December 10, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman at part of the Women of Jesus’ Family Tree Advent Series.
Moses has just died. He’s been to the mountaintop, after forty years of wandering the wilderness. He’s looked into the Promised Land. But before he could make it across the river, into the green hills of the land of milk and honey, he dies. But first, he knows he needed a successor—that the wandering Israelites would never make it if they didn’t have a leader. So he names Joshua his successor. That’s where the book of Deuteronomy ends, and where the book of Joshua begins.
And Joshua, the newly named leader of the Israelites has a singular goal: to get his people who have for so long found themselves homeless, home. But crossing the Jordan River was the least of their worries because in order for the Promised Land to be theirs, they had to take it from the people who already lived there. So Joshua sends two spies to Jericho to get a lay of the land. He wants to know what he’s up against.
These two spies try to creep into the city and spend the night at Rahab’s house, but they’re spotted at the King of Jericho is made aware of the presence. Of course, he’s not at all pleased so he sends his men out to find them.
Now, we need to talk about Rahab. I learned, from an early age, that Rahab was a prostitute. But, as I learned to read the Bible with a more critical eye, it’s become clear that not everything you’re taught when you’re a kid is entirely the case. While its very possible that she was, it’s also possible that she ran an inn—which is what the historian Josephus claimed. Although, it was not uncommon for an inn and a brothel to function within the same building.
Nonetheless, Christianity has labeled her a “harlot” or “prostitute,” and it’s this label we must contend with whether or not it’s the one we’d choose for her ourselves. It’s curious, then, isn’t it, that the first person we meet after crossing the Jordan, the first time an Israelite has crossed into the Promised Land, is a woman of scandalous reputation?
When she’s confront by the King’s men, she denies the spies were with her (she’d already hidden them) and the guards went along their way. And it’s after this moment of saving grace that she tells the spies the truth. New had reached Jericho of the Israelites—they’d heard of their miraculous success and were, as a people, nervous—to say the least—about what it meant for them.
But, she confesses, it’s because of those miraculous acts that she is saving them—because she doesn’t believe in the Canaanite deities anymore. Instead, she claims, “your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” And so she begs for mercy—not just for her, but for her family. And the spies agree.
For some, it might be surprising to find a prostitute in Jesus’ family tree, but you see what’s remarkable about Rahab wasn’t her profession—whatever that may or may not be. What’s remarkable is that this justice-seeking, mercy-craving, faith-changing, call-it-like-she-sees it woman not only stands up to her government but to the invading forces. And in the midst of it, she doesn’t just advocate for herself, but for those dependent on her. I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like the One we’re preparing for, doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing, so often it’s easy for us to let other people’s labels define us. Who remembers your school-day taunts—those things other kids mean names other kids would poke you with? For me, it was chaplain (fitting now, I know), chapstick, and my least favorite, knickerbocker. I have no idea, don’t even ask. I just know people used it. And I let it get to me. Sometimes who other people think we are, isn’t who we are at all. And while we might not be able to convince them (God knows generations of the faithful have only thought of Rahab as a prostitute), we can be confident that God knows—God knows who we are and loves us still.
And then I think of the recent #metoo campaign where millions of women acknowledged that they had been targets of sexual harassment and abuse. And I think of Rahab—not for the sexual content, but because of her bravery, her courage, her strength. Those who said, “me too” can and should count Rahab among their number because she overcame the stigma people have so long associated with her and stood up for justice—which took the courage of conviction—courage I hope we all aspire to.
Jesus would be proud, I think, to call Rahab his Great-great-great-great-great…..grandma. And we should be proud to have her as a part of our family tree, too.