Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unexpected Allies

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.

                        Joshua 2.1

Almost 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.

Reputations

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.

Blessings always,

Tim

8 comments:

Davis said...

Take all the time you need. My prayers for your partner's mother, and for both of you. That "final surge" really is a special thing to be treasured.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

Praying for God's peace to comfort the two of you and your family as you grieve.

Tim said...

I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Jake. Your prayers and kindness mean more than you'll ever know.

Peace,
Tim

Missy said...

I am so, so sorry. My prayers and sympathy to you both and your family. I will pray for Walt in a special way this week--it is so hard to lose your mother. It doesn't matter how old you are, it makes you feel like an orphan. May God's love enfold you as you grieve and celebrate her beautiful life.

Tim said...

Davis, thank you so much. For some reason the comments are coming in a little wacky, and I just got yours this morning--so I apologize for not replying sooner.

We're doing much better today. After finalizing arrangements yesterday, the reality of it all is sinking in.

You're so right about the final surge. While Walt was there, his sister used his phone to take some photos. Although his mom slipped in and out consciousness through the day, her joy is plain to see in many of the pictures. We keep looking at them--they're so precious to us.

I'm so grateful for your prayers and comfort, Davis. They lift me more than you know.

Be blessed,
Tim

Tim said...

Missy, thank you. Even though her passing was soon expected, the moment still struck as sudden--knocked us on our heels a bit. As we were letting it sink in, Walt literally said, "I'm an orphan."

I still have both my parents, so while I know what he's feeling, I have no idea how he feels. I keep glimpsing him staring nowhere in particular and I sense he's just feeling so alone, trying to adjust to the change.

Your thoughts and prayers are so precious to us, Missy. Times like these are when God's goodness shines brightest--in the words and care of dear friends. He favored us greatly to bring you and so many other wonderful people into our life.

Thank you again.

Blessings,
Tim

Annette said...

Tim, I want to let you know that you, Walt and your entire family are continually in my prayers at this trying time. Please let me know if you need anything at all.

Love you!

Tim said...

Annette, thank you so much. We've just been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that we've received from everyone.

As you know, not all of Walt's family is accepting, which gives him much trepidation about any unexpected--and unnecessary--comments being tossed his way as he deals with them. I keep forwarding everyone's comments to him, to remind him that he has family who do love and accept him/us, who are praying for him/us, and who will stand by him/us long after these other folks have faded back into their lives of prejudice and fear.

You, and everyone else who's been so generous and gracious during this hour of sorrow, have done much more for us than you'll ever imagine. You've been models of God's love. You're helping us bear our burdens and fulfilling Christ's law.

We can never repay your love and kindness, but we also have a Father Who sees and rewards, and He will honor all you've done for us.

Blessings always, my precious sister,
Tim