Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
After 40 years of wandering adrift, raising and striking camp 41 times, the Israelites settle one last time east of the Jordan, near the acacia groves of Shittim. Jericho, which God promises to give them, waits across the river. Palpable anticipation rises among the people, coupled with anxiety. Moses is recently dead; their fate now rests with Joshua, a bright and capable—but untried—leader. They’re almost there, and concerns about something going amiss can’t be denied. Joshua’s more worried than anyone. God has assured him there’s nothing to fear: “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so will I be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1.5) Joshua gets this, but he needs to find out all he can about Jericho to avoid tactical errors in the heat of battle.
He sends two spies to check out the city. The Bible isn’t clear about this, but it seems while Joshua looks at Jericho, Jericho looks back at him. It’s also a good guess Jericho’s king positions lookouts along the city’s famous wall to watch for interlopers. This we know: the spies barely set foot in the city before they’re detected. They duck into a brothel built into the wall. Word on the spies spreads like wildfire. Before the king’s men storm the house, its madam, Rahab, knows they’re coming and hides the spies under flax drying on her roof. She lies to protect them, saying the Israelites left Jericho for parts unknown just before dusk.
Rahab goes up to check on the two men, who are stunned by her valor and curious about her motive. She informs them fear of Israel grips the city. While everyone else trembles in dread, Rahab realizes Providence dropped the spies into her lap. “I know God has given you Jericho,” she says. “That’s why we’re so terrified. We’ve heard about how He brought you out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. News of how He enabled you to destroy two kingdoms east of Jordan crossed the river in no time. Your reputation as people of God leaves no doubt we too will fall.” Being a savvy working girl, Rahab doesn’t hesitate to negotiate payment for services rendered. “Here’s what I want to get out of this,” she continues. “I want you to swear when you invade us, you’ll spare my entire extended family.” They pledge their lives to save Rahab and all her kin with one caveat: she keeps Israel’s plan to attack confidential. With a deal in place, the men rappel to safety on a rope hung out a window on the wall’s exterior.
When the Israelites start their march around Jericho a few days later, they rescue Rahab and her family before the walls crumble. They hail her a folk hero and she lives with them the rest of her life. Her legend lives on and we assess its magnitude by her inclusion as the only woman and non-Jew in Hebrews 11’s Pantheon of Faith. James trumps that, saying she was “considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction.” (James 2.25) The courage, kindness, and cunning Rahab showed in a few hours transformed a woman of ill repute into an unexpected ally whose reputation follows her forever.
Life On the Wall
Most people probably read Rahab’s story objectively, as an exciting episode leading up to the tumbling walls. For them, it’s less about who she is than what she does. That’s fine. But many of us look at Rahab to find we share a close resemblance and our stories parallel in telling ways. We’re the believers outside traditional norms. We’ve been typecast as unworthy, vilified as deviants, and shoved to the edge of town. Moral and religious reactionaries assail our character with hackneyed generalizations that fall short of who and where we are. They claim to know everything about us, yet we’ve never even met. So we live on the wall, doing our best with what we’ve got, hearing reports—mostly from people who sneak our way when no one’s watching—about scare epidemics loosed on the same crowd that isolates “sick, corrupt” people like us. (If it weren’t so pathetic, we’d chuckle. Is their resistance to diseased rot really that weak?)
Life on the wall teaches many lessons. Love, don’t look. Hope, don’t have. Forgive, don’t fear. Wait, don’t worry. Accept, don’t avoid. Persist, don’t panic. Consider, don’t condemn. It prepares us to answer when people intent on our destruction have no choice but turn to us or be destroyed. Our dealings may be brief and secretive. They may involve great risk. Still, we rise as their unexpected allies, using all we learned on the wall to ensure their safety and success. Of course, they can’t understand it—they don’t live where we live or know what we know. Hebrews 11.31 says, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” If life on the wall teaches nothing else, it teaches sparing others is how we’re spared.
Life on the wall teaches many lessons.
(Tomorrow: River Walk)
Personal Postscript: Our Sorrow
My partner’s mother left us last evening. What appeared to be a turn for the better last Sunday we now recognize as her final surge. We thank God for her. I thank God for her, because she gave the world and me the finest human being I’ve ever known. As waves of grief rose and receded through the night, little bits and pieces about her floated up. During a prolonged silence, Walt said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. She taught me that when I was 9-years-old.”
That captures this gentle lady better than any description I could try to sketch for you. It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
Our sorrow is great, but our faith is strong. We cherish your prayers.
With burial arrangements pending, I’m not sure when I’ll be away. I hope to hammer out a few posts later today to make sure S-F stays up-to-date, though they’ll no doubt be less than I’d like given the limited time I have to spend on each one. Please stay with me. I’ll be back and busy as soon as possible.