Rahab: From Harlot to Hero
From my roof I heard the strong, urgent knock. I'll tell you this: I was in no hurry to answer it. It had been a busy week and my roof is my blessing place where I go and not worry, not talk, not shut down emotionally.
I do some weaving; it's there I keep my bundles of flax. From my roof I study the skies. Late at night the stars loom so brightly that I feel I am a part of something bigger than myself. And then I am whole. Different from downstairs.
Some call me a harlot, others a prostitute. Does it matter? I did what I had to do in the ancient walled city of Jericho to survive. As a young girl I had been taken into the king's harem, one of many virgins seemingly plucked off the streets at random to please a powerful, if aging, monarch. Thank God I had never had children. When he finally died, I ran away rather than be raped by his brutal son, for all the harem went to the first in line for the throne. Of course no one would call it rape but me.
It was only because I had made friends with the king's guards that I wasn't killed, for doing so was treason. They were the ones who let me live, who somehow worked a deal with the son. By all rights, I should be dead, but I volunteered to act as a spy for the king, feeding word back to the guards of any stranger trying to make his way into Jericho. My family wouldn't have me back, for they believed I had disgraced them. I turned to the only thing I could do: selling myself.
And if I hadn't been in that business, God's people might not have made it out of the wilderness alive.
Knock. Knock. Getting louder.
I stuck my head through a hole in the wall and looked down. From my house, built right into the twelve-story wall that surrounded our city, I could see two men. One kept glancing around, nervous, worried. The other was up and down off the step like he had either a woman or the law on his trail. I'm used to that; men are often eager to get into my house without being seen.
Knock. Knock. Stronger, urgent.
"All right, all right, I'm coming!" I called, smoothing my hair back and straightening my shoulders. I have given up some things to survive, but never my pride. Or my looks, for that matter.
* * *
The men were rugged and tan. One was young and handsome with deep-set eyes; the other, while weather-beaten, carried his shoulders in such a way that I could have tied two planks across them. Often men I see are a bit sallow, with better days gone by. These two were different.
"Please, let us in," said Deep Eyes. "Now."
"Yes?" I said, holding my head high.
"One night, maybe two," said the older one, hurriedly. The younger one studied me; I knew what he was thinking.
They spoke with accents, still anxious. One kept turning to look behind him. They were here for a reason, like all men.
Suddenly I knew who they were. They were from the rebel army camped on the other side of the Jordan River, east of town, over the hills. They had been massing there for several weeks. We knew they wanted our town. They weren't the first warriors to come along; that's why our city had the walls it did.
Travelers had told stories of these people, the Hebrews, for years. They had leveled over sixty towns between us and Egypt, killing men and women, burning entire villages, kidnapping young girls and keeping them as captives. If they felt like letting them live.
What's more, some said they had magic. We had heard that their God had split the Red Sea for them so they could flee the Egyptians. Plagues had befallen those who kept them in slavery. Bread had dropped from the sky so they wouldn't starve. When they thirsted in the desert, water had gushed from rocks at God's command.
Would they kill me? If I screamed, maybe someone would hear me. But most likely not. After all, my feelings aren't exactly the town's top priority.
Faith or no faith.
All those years I had wondered if their God was more than magic. I could use some of that protection myself. Lately I had even begun to pray, hoping that my voice would be heard.
Faith or no faith.
"Stay," I said, my voice suddenly sounding high pitched. "Stay. You will be safe here."
Money deserves privacy, so I bolted the door behind them.
* * *
I won't tell you all the details of that late afternoon but I will tell you that there was something about the younger one that worked my stomach over. He was surprisingly kind. That does not happen often in this business. I can't wait on kindness or I'd be out of work. Like my friend down the street who has to beg for food and sleeps wedged into the wall.
I listened to their talk as the sun beat down on the house, making all in its path slow like thirsty camels.
"These people don't look so big," said the older one, continuing his watch out the second-floor window.
"You're right," said Deep Eyes. "Forty years ago we never made it because everyone got scared. They said we were like grasshoppers among giants. Maybe we were. Not anymore."
Then he turned to me.
"Rahab," he said, actually having learned my name, "God means for us to have this land. He promised it to us. We will have it peacefully or we will take it violently. But we will have it — and with more descendants than there are stars in the sky."
* * *
I thought of that sky, of the stars coming to life over my roof. There was more to life than what appeared on the grimy streets below. Sometimes I even thought of the stars as my children, for they were as close to offspring as I would ever see. Was it possible that Someone was setting those stars in motion, separating light from dark, order from chaos?
Suddenly something wasn't right; I could see the older man strain to see down the street as we heard loud voices. Shouting, ugly, urgent voices. Coming toward my house. Then knocking, loud knocking with booming, shattering break-the-house-down kind of blows to my heavy wooden front door.
"We have a message from the King!" came the voices from the street. "Send out the men who are in your house! They are spies getting ready to attack the city!"
Flashing before me were my nights on the roof. Was their God real? Would their God save me, too?
"They will kill us all! Open this door NOW!"
Within seconds, all became clear to me.
I rushed the men up a floor to the roof where they burrowed like moles under stalks of flax I had drying there, piled high. Knowing I would be killed if found hiding our enemies, I tried to restart my breathing as I flew back down the stairs.
"Let us in! Let us in! We know they're in there!"
Opening the door, I smiled, lifting my chin. Years of practice had taught me well as I caught the eye of one of the guards I had known. Intimately.
"The men you are looking for are not here! They're gone, headed that way," I said, pointing toward the hills outside the city.
"You can catch them if you hurry. They are no more spies than your grandmothers are."
The guard caught my look, turned, and raced toward the city gates, the others on his heels.
I shut and bolted the door. That was close. But my life was still in danger.
Hurriedly I ran up the stairs.
"Listen," I whispered, "I've seen too much not to believe that God wants you to have this land, and that he indeed is the God of the heavens above and the earth below.
"I guarded you today with my own life. Now I demand you do the same for me. Swear to me that you will protect me, my mother, my father, my brothers and my sisters when you invade."
My family? Was that me talking? Why save them? They had shunned me.
Apparently I still cared, more than I knew.
I drew taller and waited for their reply. They were still wanted men and all I had to do was scream.
No answer. Grabbing my throat, I started to yell.
"All right, Rahab!" said the older one, clamping down on my shoulders. "Our lives for yours. We will keep you and your family safe. Make sure your whole family is here, not on the streets, not away from this house."
"And here," said Deep Eyes, fishing from his pack, "hang this scarlet cord from the window to remind us that this is where you live."
"Behold, when we come into the land, you shall bind this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father's household." Joshua 2:19
When all was dark and finally quiet, I let the men down on a rope from my window, right over the outer city wall. "Hide in the hill country for three days until they are no longer looking for you," I said, my breathing almost back to normal.
Late that night, after gathering the few in my family who believed me, I hung the cord from the window, hoping it wouldn't draw too much attention.
Nights found me asleep beside it, grasping what seemed like a magical connection. Only I so hoped it wasn't.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
For the first time, I found myself praying.
God, if you are there, keep me safe. I need something stronger than me for a change.
We waited for three long weeks, only running out for food and water. To pass the time, I thought of other stories I had heard, like how the Hebrew people had lived in slavery for hundreds of years, desperately wanting to be free of Egyptian tyranny and cruelty.
Moses had demanded, on behalf of God, that Pharaoh let his people go. Nothing changed, though, even after God caused plague after plague to get his attention: rivers running red with blood, frogs overtaking the Nile, cattle dying from boils and other diseases. Still, nothing.
Finally, God told the people to splash lamb blood over their front doors. Then he sent his angel of death to kill the firstborn Egyptian sons. The angel saw the blood and spared each Hebrew boy. The Israelites, their children safe, left the land, finally free.
Would God save me, too? To most, I was nothing but a whore who lured husbands and sons into my bed. Did God see me as someone more? Or did I deserve the sword like everyone else?
I fingered my scarlet cord. Carefully I moved it a few inches closer to the door in case that angel of death came by. Maybe the color would provoke some long ago memories of letting at least a few people live.
These people had a powerful God. But as far as I could see, once you were in, you were in. I wanted in. I held the cord tighter and prayed.
God, you have kept me alive this far. If there is any chance I might be saved, please spare me. Use me for your purposes, all that I am. Don't leave me here to die.
* * *
Several weeks later a blast rang through the town. Thousands of soldiers fell behind their leader as the priests blew trumpets. For six days they marched around Jericho, no words spoken, all attention on the trumpets.
Joshua, fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
Joshua, fit the battle of Jericho And the walls come tumbling down
The noise was loud; on the seventh day, it was deafening. Seven times the Israelite soldiers advanced behind the trumpets, their faces grim. As one last explosive blast echoed through the land, they screamed as loudly as they could. Then, bloody mayhem. It wasn't just a case of the wall falling, I'll tell you that. These Hebrews were warriors. All of what I knew crumbled around me. I could hear the desperate cries of neighbors, then silence. The scream from my friend who slept wedged in the wall is something I will never forget.
But we were safe. The Hebrews looked for the scarlet cord, rescued us, and we fled Jericho with them. Imagine that. Saving a prostitute and killing the others.
Those stars I used to look at, wondering if I was part of something bigger than myself? The spies had been right. Their people did have as many descendants as there were stars in the sky.
I should know, for I married Deep Eyes and his people's faith became my own.
Four generations later, my great-grandson David was born. He became the greatest king of Israel. Am I using the word "great" too much there? Blame it on love. And pride. Those bright stars in the sky that I used to pretend were my children suddenly were.
And almost 1100 years later, Jesus came along. He's my direct descendant, too, which is quite something. Deep in his lineage, he has someone who's a little different: Me.
The way I look at it, Jesus and I were both rebels. Rebels who wanted something more, rebels who believed in something more, rebels of the heart.
Why does Rahab matter today?
Passionate and bold, courageous and decisive, Rahab believed in herself and had an emerging faith in God. The lowest of the low — an outsider to the faith and a prostitute — she risked her own life to bring freedom to God's people. God did not forget her; indeed, he honored her by helping her escape prostitution, find a family, and be an ancestor of Jesus. Through her actions, Rahab reminds us to believe in ourselves and to have faith, for we are all valuable to God. She also reminds us that there are no "perfect" Christians. God will always seek the best from us — and often surprises us by whom he chooses for important missions.
"By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies."
What learnings might Rahab inspire?
Although it would appear that Rahab made a spot decision that turned her life toward God, clearly she — and God — had been working toward that moment. Have you ever faced such a juncture? What was your response and how did it make a difference? What have you learned about God since?
Rahab was a rather dynamic addition to Jesus' family tree. Theologically and practically, what does that mean? How might it make Jesus more accessible to all? To you?
What was it Rahab had been searching for before the spies came to her door? How would that have influenced her decision? How might God have been present in her life before her bold decision? What are decisions that you are facing now in which God might be making his presence known?
Although Rahab was a prostitute, she was able to use her life in God's service. She found redemption. What are some aspects of your life, that while not as perfect as you would like, might be used to further God's work in the world?
To learn more about Rahab, see page 163.
Text:Genesis 3, 4
Setting:The Garden of Eden,
Significance:By eating the forbidden fruit and encouraging Adam to eat it as well, Eve incites God's anger, and they are ejected from the Garden.CHAPTER 2
Eve: Just a Bite, You'll Like It
We had built none of Eden
but it was beautiful
all was well
but maybe that was the problem
it was all God's
so when the serpent asked
again that morning
I finally stopped.
is this enough?
but don't you want more?
God wants more from you too
she tilted her head
No, serpent, no.
God told us that we may know everything
we may touch everything
we may have everything
except that fruit
I know, Eve
she was not wicked then
she was the most beautiful
creature in the garden
golden hued feathers
long wisps of curled tail
wings of rounded sheen
eyes deep and calling forth
I trusted her
she was my friend
so I looked again
how can knowledge be bad, Eve?
you're your own person
how can one taste change all that?
besides, he loves you
he must not want you to grow up
he must not think you are ready
to know more
to be more
that must be it
she held it out
glistening with dew
no blemishes on it
nor on me
take it, Eve
just a bite
you'll like it
it'll be our secret
and with that she waited
I could not move
feet mired in muck
but was I not an adult?
do not adults make their own choices?
is that not part of growing up?
I wanted it
so I ate
juicy for a minute
sweet for a time
but I have almost forgotten
we lost our home that day
one of many points of pain
God's trust was gone
thankfully his love was not
the throes of childbirth
just the start
one of my sons
killed the other
Adam is bone tired
but what if we had stayed?
always birds in the nest
forever suckling at the breast
I chose the fruit
I bear the scars
the world bears the pain
growing up is not easy
How many times can a heart break? Why is that over hundreds of years, the pain of losing my sons has never gone away? I so wish for numbness at best, but God has never granted peace, only agony, since that horrible day.
Did I bring this pain on myself? Perhaps. Yes, I suppose I did. You know the story. God didn't want us to eat the apple. But I ate it. I had been eyeing that tree most of my life, knowing it was the only thing out of reach. The serpent had been my friend, egging me on, year after year, season after season.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. Genesis 3:1
We would walk together late in the day, when Adam was out strolling with God. They had their alone time; we had ours. The serpent would only come out when God was preoccupied. Otherwise, I didn't see her and looked forward to our moments together.