Sunday’s sermon: Rahab: Woman of Daring Deception

Text used – Joshua 2:1-22

You can find a recording of this sermon on our Facebook page (search: “Presbyterian Church of Oronoco”) or on our church website: http://www.oronocochurch.org. 

  • History is a funny thing.
    • Something I think we’re realizing more and more as we truly examine not just the official historical accounts written by the victors but the historical perspectives and experiences of others as well
      • Those who were oppressed
      • Those who were enslaved
      • Those who were deemed unimportant or unworthy at the time
        • Women
        • People of color
        • People native to whatever land we’re talking/reading about
    • George Santayana, Spanish philosopher from 19th-20th: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    • Alexis de Tocqueville, 19th French historian: History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.
    • When it comes to history in Scripture …
      • Often good at pointing out ways in which we interpret passages in the Hebrew Bible (the OT) point the way to Jesus → ways in which history informs what comes after
      • But how often do we read of events – either in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament – that are informed by past Scriptural events? Well, today’s story with Rahab and the Israelite spies is just such a story.
  • Rahab’s story is both important and impactful in a lot of ways – a story full of redemption both for Rahab herself and for the people of Israel – but to truly understand this, the first thing we have to do is look backward into Scriptural history.
    • After Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and God thwarted Pharaoh’s pursuing army at the Red Sea, Moses and the people began their journey to the land that God promised them
      • Promise that goes all the way back to Abraham – Gen 12: The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you.” … So Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak or Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him.[1]
      • So after crossing the Red Sea, Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness to the land of Canaan.
        • Distance: ~5000 miles
        • Certainly wasn’t the smoothest journey → involved a lot of doubt and fear on the part of the Israelites
          • Story of God providing quails and manna to eat[2]
          • Story of God providing water from a stone[3]
          • Story of the Israelites creating and worshiping the golden calf while Moses was with God on Mt. Sinai → Moses brings down the tablets with the 10 commandments[4]
    • But finally, Moses and the whole people of Israel made it across the wilderness to the banks of the Jordan River, and Moses, directed by God, sent 12 men across the river to “explore” (a.k.a. – scout out or spy on) the land of Canaan and it’s people – one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.[5]
      • Spies crossed the river and observed the people and land of Canaan à And they are terrified! The people were huge and powerful. The cities were well fortified. And the Israelites were on the tail end of a long, arduous journey. They were exhausted. They were uncertain. And they were not well armed.
      • All the spies returned to Moses → 10 of the 12 spies said, “No way. We can’t do this. These people will crush us. There is no hope here.” → In fact, they even go a step further than just voicing their doubts to Moses. They create a wave of fear and civil unrest among the people. – Scripture: They started a rumor about the land that they had explored, telling the Israelites, “The land that we crossed over to explore is a land that devours its residents. All the people we saw in it are huge men. We saw there the Nephilim … We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that’s how we appeared to them.”[6]
        • Only Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim, and Caleb, from the tribe of Judah, were confident that the people of Israel could fight for and win this land that God had promise them.
    • This chorus of doubt and disbelief from the people of Israel = sort of the last straw for God → God became angry and punished the Israelites by declaring that they must wander in the desert for 40 yrs. – text (God to the Israelites through Moses and Aaron): “None of you who were enlisted and were registered from 20 years old and above, who complained against me, will enter the land in which I promised to settle you, with the exception of Caleb, Jephunneh’s son, and Joshua, Nun’s son. … For as many days as you explored the land, that is, forty days, just as many years you’ll bear your guilt, that is, forty years.”[7] → So the Israelites turn around and live in the desert for 40 yrs. until all of the elders – even Moses himself – have died.
      • After Moses’ death, Joshua became the Israelites’ new leader → prepared to take the people of Israel into their promised land
  • So that brings us to today’s story with Rahab.
    • Joshua has sent two spies this time (instead of 12) into the land of Canaan → spies find their way into the city of Jericho and into Rahab’s home → somehow the king of Jericho catches wind that the spies are in his city and sends word to Rahab himself – text: So the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab to send out the men because they’re spies
    • And here, we have Rahab’s first shining moment – text: But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. Then she said, “Of course the men came to me. But I didn’t know where they were from. The men left when it was time to close the gate at dark, but I don’t know where the men went. Hurry! Chase after them! You might catch up with them.” But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the flax stalks that she had laid out on the roof. The men from Jericho chased after them in the direction of the Jordan up to the fords. As soon as those chasing them went out, the gate was shut behind them.[8] → Okay, we need to take a moment to recognize the risk that Rahab takes here. Remember, Rahab herself is not an Israelite. She’s a Canaanite, and as a prostitute, she’s a Canaanite with little to no standing in her own culture at that. There are no strings she can pull if her own people discover that she has harbored these spies and misdirected the Jericho guards. And yet, she does it anyway. She hides the spies, then sneaks them out of the city after making them promise to save her and her family when the Israelite army conquers the city.
      • Indeed what happens: Rahab and the spies part on somewhat tenuous terms – Rahab extracting a promise that the spies will make sure her family is spared, the spies extracting a promise that Rahab will not reveal their mission to the Canaanites or the Jericho guards → spies leave a red cord with Rahab and tell her to gather her whole family in her house with her and tie the cord to her window so that they may be spared → Rahab lowers them out her window and ties the red cord in place à spies run off and return to report back to Joshua
        • Fast forward a few chapters to that famous battle of Jericho in which the people of Israel marched around the walls of the city once a day for six days, then seven times on the seventh day, each time making noise and blowing trumpets → walls of the city collapse and allow the Israelite army to attack[9]
          • Sunday school song: “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho // Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down”
          • And at the end of that battle, the Israelite army does, indeed, spare Rahab and her family, and they join the people of Israel. – Josh 6: Joshua let Rahab the prostitute live, her family, and everyone related to her. So her family still lives among Israel today, because she hid the spies whom Joshua had sent to scout out Jericho.[10]
    • So through the work of two spies and a brave Canaanite woman, the mistakes of the previous 10 spies is redeemed.
      • Alice Ogden Bellis (in Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible): Rahab is a hero because she protects the Israelite spies. She is also heroic because she is a woman of faith who takes risks based on that faith. In addition, she is clever, like the midwives of Exodus. She outwits the king of Jericho, ignores his death-affirming command, and acts in a way that affirms life – for herself and the Israelite people.[11]
  • So let’s talk about Rahab’s faith because that might be the most remarkable part of this whole story.
    • Rahab’s declaration to the spies as they are hiding on her rooftop (after the Jericho guards have gone but before she helps the spies escape): [Rahab] said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land. Terror over you have overwhelmed us. The entire population of the land has melted down in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Reed Sea in front of you when you left Egypt. We have also heard what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites on the other side of the Jordan. You utterly wiped them out. We heard this and our hearts turned to water. Because of you, people can no longer work up their courage. This is because the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.[12] → Now, I supposed this could just sound like Rahab pandering to the spies in an attempt to ingratiate herself with them so they’ll spare her. But there’s one very important indicator that Rahab’s declaration is more about her own faith in God than it is a plea for clemency, and that is the way that she addresses God.
      • Remember that as we read the Hebrew Bible, anytime that the word “Lord” is typed out in all caps it’s a translation of the most holy, precious name for God: YHWH
        • Fancy name = the Tetragrammaton because the name consists of 4 Heb. letters: yod, heh, vav, heh
        • Name that God gives to Moses as the burning bush
        • Name so holy and revered that Jews today do not read it out loud nor write it out fully[13]
          • Substitute “Adonai” in reading
          • Substitute another letter or symbol in writing (e.g. – “G-d”)
      • And considering where Rahab’s story falls in the timeline of Israel’s history, this name is fairly new to them – only about 40-41 yrs. old, right? And since the Israelites have been living pretty isolated in the wilderness for the vast majority of those 40 yrs., it’s not like that name would have gotten around much, especially seeing as the Israelites were a fairly insular community. They weren’t supposed to marry or really associate much with other cultures. Yet here’s this Canaanite woman – this Canaanite prostitute, no less – using the most holy, revered name for the God of the Israelites.
        • Rahab uses this name not once … not twice … but four times, including her final, surprising declaration of faith in who God is: “This is because the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.” → You can’t get much more definitive than that. Rahab boldly and unequivocally proclaims her faith in the Lord God, the God of Abraham and Jacob and Isaac, the God that has led the Israelites out of slavery into Egypt and has promised them this land as their home. “The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
  • It is this faith that saves Rahab and her family, and it is this declaration of faith that provides such powerful, impactful testimony for us so many millennia later.
    • Late Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Jewish author and professor at a number of highly respectable American divinity schools and rabbinical colleges: Rahab the [prostitute] is the outsider’s outsider, the most marginal of the marginal. She is the quintessential downtrodden with whom Israel identifies. … The saving of Rahab is part of and an example of God’s nature and Israel’s mission.[14]
      • Remember, Rahab is one of the four women included in Jesus’ lineage in the gospel of Mt: Tamar (talked about a few weeks ago), Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba
        • All “outsider women”
        • All foreign women (not born into the people of Israel)
        • All women who find themselves in difficult, even desperate circumstances
        • All women who display their faith and bring about redemption in surprising ways
      • Rahab = mother of Boaz who eventually marries Ruth
    • In Rahab, we are reminded that God can and does work and speak through anyone and everyone, especially those whom we least expect. We are reminded that God’s redemption can come through those whom we least expect. We are reminded that, despite our own prejudices and preconceived notions, God’s salvation is never out of reach for anyone. Amen.

[1] Gen 12:1, 5-7.

[2] Ex 16.

[3] Ex 17:1-7.

[4] Ex 20 (Ten Commandments); Ex 32 (golden calf).

[5] Num 13-14.

[6] Num 13:32-33.

[7] Num 14:29b-30, 34a.

[8] Josh 2:4-7.

[9] Josh 6.

[10] Josh 6:25.

[11] Alice Ogden Bellis. Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 100.

[12] Josh 2:9-11 (emphasis added).

[13] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-name-of-god.

[14] Tikva Frymer-Kensky. Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories. (New York: Schocken Books, 2002), 44.