Rahab and me

God has been speaking to me about Rahab the harlot. How wonderful that in the Bible this is what she is called. For many years that was me: Julie the harlot. I was “known in the gates” for my willingness to engage in unspeakable acts (and not for anything… not money, not lodging). I could blame my childhood and many people would agree that was a huge contributing factor but God systematically sent people into my life to warn, teach, and guide me from my toddlerhood. I just did not listen. For every bad example I was given; there were 2 good ones. I just chose not to do good… on purpose. ­

Rahab was a harlot who likely ran an inn within the wall of the city of Jericho. She could entertain guests both from Jericho and from without the city walls. She had a reputation. Through her dealings, it is said that she learned much about the city and its inner workings, the plans of the leaders, and the thoughts of the residents as men sought comfort in her company and shared intimate details with her (BT Zevahim 116a–b). She knew what was feared, what was coming, and who the God of the Israelites was.

Joshua 2:8-11 reads, “Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

According to the Rabbis, after having engaged in prostitution for forty years, Rahab converted at the age of fifty. She said,

Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things [with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach]. By the merit of three things pardon me: the rope, the window, and the wall [pardon me for engaging in harlotry because I endangered myself when I lowered the rope for the spies from the window in the wall]” (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Masekhta de-Amalek, Yitro 1).

The ultimate conclusion the Rabbis drew from Rahab’s conversion is the superiority of repentance over prayer, for even though Moses prayed exceedingly, God did not accept his entreaty to enter the land. (Seder Eliyahu Zuta).

The writer of Hebrews writes, “Rahab, the prostitute, had faith. So she welcomed the spies. That’s why she wasn’t killed with those who didn’t obey God,” (Hebrews 11:31). James concurs and writes, “Didn’t God consider even Rahab the prostitute to be right with him? That’s because of what she did for the spies. She gave them a place to stay. Then she sent them off in a different direction,” (James 2:25).

Rahab had great faith for hearing yet not seeing what God did for Israel. David Howard points out the significance of Rahab’s statement to the spies in Joshua chapter two, particularly for being a Canaanite.

Rahab affirmed that Israel’s God had dominion over the realms of the heavens and the earth—an extremely broad scope that surely encompassed the domains of any of the gods that her people worshipped. Here was Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who presumably knew her culture’s religious traditions, affirming that Israel’s God ruled over the very heavens and earth that her own religious traditions asserted belonged to Baal, Asherah, and others.” [David M. Howard Jr., “Rahab’s Faith: An Exposition of Joshua 2:1–14,” in Review and Expositor 95 (Spring 1998): 274.]

Furthermore, the exact words “in heaven above, and in the earth beneath” appear only three times in the Old Testament. Two of those three references prohibit idol worship, and the third flatly denounces polytheism. [Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 5:8.] Thus, Rahab’s reception of the Israelite God came as a deliberate rejection of Canaanite theology. Rahab was making a declaration. This was not “fire insurance!” This was a real moment that she felt she could be spared.

When I look at this story I see myself. Me; so deep in my sin and dishonesty in relationships in my late teen years I sought a way out as Rahab surely had. I saw no hope of breaking the cycle I put myself into. I saw no value in my body or my beauty any longer but was committed to a life of promiscuity and deceit.

You see, I had two “spies” come and meet me once. They rescued me out of a bad situation and I didn’t even know God loved me that much. Through them, I heard God’s voice directing my sinful self toward a life of freedom. All the sin that I had known died within me when I accepted His call and followed after Him.

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