Joshua: Rahab - For Dread of You
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
August 22, 2021 Rev. Drew Stockstill
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 melted, 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.
Promises are a big deal in the Bible. Keeping promises is a really big deal in the Bible, and not such a big deal, well, anywhere else.
A father and his young son were on their way home from the Home Depot on Friday afternoon. The car was crammed full with most of the materials needed for an assortment of weekend projects: some lumber, a new hammer, a couple bags of mulch, a ceiling fan, bird feeder, paint (of course they’d be returning the next morning for the forgotten painter’s tape, drop cloths, and potting soil). As the father carefully turned out of the parking lot into the traffic on the main road his son cried out from among the hardware, 2x4’s, and hedge trimmer in the backseat, “Dad, you passed the ice cream store?”
“Son, I’m sorry, we just don’t have time today.”
With tears welling up and a quivering voice his son manages, “But, Dad, you promised,”
“No, buddy, I didn’t promise. I said, if we have time, maybe we can stop. But that trip took longer than I thought, your mother has been texting that supper’s on the table. We need to get home. Maybe tomorrow.”
“But you promised.”
God promised the ancestors of the people of Israel, Abraham and Sarah, a long, long time ago, that God would give them and their many descendants a land flowing with milk and honey (and probably biscuits, and free Amazon Prime, and ice cream any time.) But after famines, and wars, and hundreds of years of slavery, and forty years of wandering in the desert wilderness, the people openly grumbled and complained and cried from the back seat to Moses, and now Joshua, “But you promised.” And yet they were still not yet in the Promised Land. But they were finally in the drive through line, on the edge of the Promised Land. God made a promise, and while it’s taken a long, long, long time to get there, in God’s timing and in God’s way, God keeps his promises.
God promised Israel they were the chosen people and he would take them to the land, that beautiful land, he had prepared just for them. The problem now, now that they’re at the edge looking in, is that somebody else lived there – the Canaanites. Nobody had told the Canaanites the land that had been theirs for hundreds of years had somebody else’s name on it.
Can you imagine a situation where your ancestors had lived on a land for hundreds of years and then one day some strangers show up and say, “I know you’ve never heard of us or our God, but our God told us this land is ours, so you have to leave. Our God promised us that we’d get to live in your houses and in your cities, and eat from your crops and our God keeps his promises.” Can you imagine something like that happening? Like your land was their obvious, manifest destiny because their God you’ve never heard of told them? Well, I bet if you asked the Susquehannock tribe who live on this land 300 years ago what it was like when John Harris showed up and renamed the land they called Paxtang after himself, they might have been able to relate to the Canaanites. “Let’s see some paperwork.”
But God made a promise to the Israelites and God keeps the promises God makes, no matter what. Moses led the people out of their centuries of slavery through the wilderness and up to the edge of the Promised Land, and God called Joshua to lead the people into the land and take possession of the land, often through violent force. The Canaanites were thought of as occupiers who needed to go. They were enemies of the Israelites and who had permission to totally destroy their enemies.
So, from outside the land, looking in, Joshua planned their attack on the city of Jericho. He sent two Israelites, two of his men to be spies and told them to go check out the land. Come back and give us a report so we know what we’re getting into. The spies, men who had been living out in the wilderness for most of their lives, eating manna and quail and not much else, living day in and day out with the same wandering nomads were sent on a secret mission, alone, into a city, a bustling city, something they’d never experienced before. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the freedom. They know their mission; they sneak into town and they go straight to… well… to the house of a sex worker – Rahab’s House. Do they go there to spy? To gather intelligence? To get the low down from the women and maybe men who work there, who would likely know all the secrets of Jericho, who might be willing to spill the beans for a few coins? Do these “spies” get to the work they were sent to do?
The Bible says in the Hebrew, the spies entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and, “spent the night.” That’s a polite and cheeky translation of a Hebrew word (shakab) that means to lay down to either rest, have intercourse, or die. Now which of those three do you think these men were doing in the Rahab’s house? Resting, intercourse, or dying? I’m not making up anything that isn’t pretty explicit in the Bible so if you want to think the men went to a prostitute’s house to sleep, well, they weren’t sent to Jericho to shakab. They weren’t there to take a “lay down.”
I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that these guys on a mission from God got derailed. There’s a long history of that. But they weren’t very good spies, either. Not only did they not get around to any actual spying, they weren’t even good at staying hidden. They were on a secret mission and yet the king of Jericho knew immediately when they arrived. He knew who they were, what they came there to do, and what they were actually doing. He sent his folks right to Rahab’s house and said, “Look, the guys who just, *snuck in*; who came here to ‘search out the whole land’ but didn’t make it past your house; yeah, we’re going to need you to go ahead and send them out.”
But Rahab is the smartest and most committed person in this story and she is playing a long game and the stakes couldn’t be higher for her. A woman in that time doesn’t become a land owner, well known, and remembered for eternity in the Bible even as a Canaanite, without good reason. She saved the Israelite men because she needed them. She knew why they were there, in whose name they were supposed to be working, and she had already come to trust and believe in their God through no great evangelism of the men “resting” in her house. She lied to the king’s men and said the men had been there, but then lots of strange men show up at her house and she’s successful in business of not asking too many questions. She tells the king’s men the spies already left. “Hurry and you can catch them.” Then she went to have a word with these boys.
Rahab tells them, “Look, I know the Lord your God, Yahweh, has given you our land. The dread of you has fallen on us and all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. We’re terrified of you and your army. We have heard what your God has done: brought you out of slavery, dried up the water of the Red Sea, destroyed the cities of Sihon and Og.”
It’s a pretty heart wrenching scene. She’s telling them the Canaanites, her people, are terrified and they know what’s coming. She says, in v. 11, “As soon as we heard what your God has done, our hearts melted, 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.”
In her words you can hear Rahab’s heart for her own people whose hearts have melted and have no courage. She knows, they all know, Jericho stands no chance against the Israelites’ God. So, Rahab uses what power she has and uses it well. She just saved these guys out of their own stupidity. If it weren’t for her they would have been killed.
So, she asked the Israelite men to make her a promise in God’s name, knowing that their God keeps his promises. In V. 12, she continues, “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.
Who is Rahab looking after? Is she just trying to save herself? Much of Christian history has been more consumed by Rahab’s work than her faith. She is mentioned three times in the New Testament and twice simply as “Rahab the prostitute.” But few ask why she did the work she did? Why do those who are in the sex industry often find themselves in this work? Rahab knows that death is coming to Jericho and now she has some leverage. She does not ask the Israelites to spare her life, she asks them to save her family. We can believe she’s always thought first about the survival of her family over her own wellbeing. Survival is often what brings people into her line of work. She makes the Israelite men promise because the only reason they are there is their faith in a God who keeps his promises. “So, promise me,” she tells them, “Swear to me, you’ll spare my family: my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them. Deliver our lives from death.”
Rahab said, “dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you.” But Rahab put her faith in God and God’s promises. This week we have seen the dread of our years of war in Afghanistan and dread of the Taliban has fallen on the inhabitants of Afghanistan, especially women and girls. This week our hearts have been melting with compassion for Afghanistan. For 20 years our country has waged war within that ancient land. It’s a complicated history but what is painfully clear is that countless lives have been lost, damaged, and families devastated by the years of conflict. I’ve received multiple letters this week from Navy and Marine Corps leaders asking that we check in on those who spent months and years of their lives in Afghanistan and who are feeling a host of emotions in the wake of the US’ withdrawal and the way it’s unfolding. Many, many of those US service men and women are most concerned, not just with grappling with the confusion of their own roles in Afghanistan but for the wellbeing of those they felt they were called to serve, who served alongside them, and who helped them in the mission of fighting terrorism. They felt promises were made to protect those in Afghanistan who risked their lives to serve as interpreters, security, and aides. Now that cooperation puts not only their lives at risk but the lives of their extended families.
Marines, soldiers, and sailors are today hearing directly from Afghans they served with pleading like Rahab, “deliver our lives from death. You promised if we helped you… Please spare my family, my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all, all, all, who belong to them.” And what shall we do as a nation? We have resources to help those who served alongside our military in a war many of them did not ask for. We, as a nation have a moral obligation to help them and all who belong to them. Many former military members are working on their own to try to get folks to safety, in a Digital Dunkirk, while the politicians who have the power to do something debate and even deride those who scarified because they live in Afghanistan. “Give me a sign of good faith,” Rahab asked the Israelites. What is our sign of good faith?
The men returned to Joshua. They didn’t have much intelligence to offer beyond what Rahab told them: “God’s given us this land and the people are terrified.” We’ll hear next week about what happens next. But know this, the people of God kept their promise to Rahab and all of her family.
Many may remember Rahab by her work, but in the Gospel of Matthew, where there is no mention of her job, we learn in the first chapter that Jesus is a direct descendant of Rahab. She was his many times great-grandmother (and I dare anyone to call Jesus’ grandmother a harlot.) She was also the great-great-grandmother of Israel’s great King David. And before that, Matthew tells us Rahab had a baby named Boaz who would grow up to take in women in need of security and helped a woman named Ruth (we’ll spend some time with Ruth later this year.)
Where would the people of Israel be if it were not for Rahab and the family she saved? Rahab put her faith in God and God elevated her as a woman worthy of bearing the family of Jesus into the world, regardless of her gender, her ethnicity, and her work. We put our trust in that same God who can redeem all our stories when we seek the welfare of others. So, what shall come of the lives of the many who hold on to the promises of our nation, with our own fog of destiny. May our dread no more fall on the innocent. But may our word be true and good and always trustworthy. Rahab teaches us that God will always keep God’s promises, are we ready for that?