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 failed, 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. She said to them, ‘Go towards the hill country, so that the pursuers may not come upon you. Hide yourselves there for three days, until the pursuers have returned; then afterwards you may go on your way.’ The men said to her, ‘We will be released from this oath that you have made us swear to you if we invade the land and you do not tie this crimson cord in the window through which you let us down, and you do not gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family. If any of you go out of the doors of your house into the street, they shall be responsible for their own death, and we shall be innocent; but if a hand is laid upon any who are with you in the house, we shall bear the responsibility for their death. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be released from this oath that you made us swear to you.’ She said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ She sent them away and they departed. Then she tied the crimson cord in the window.
Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, ‘Go into the prostitute’s house, and bring the woman out of it and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.’ So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel. They burned down the city, and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. But Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
It’s hard to act against one’s own people; such actions, particularly in times of war and armed conflict, are labelled “treason” and, until very recently, attracted the death sentence is almost all societies. In today’s story we read of Rehab helping her people’s enemies. Maybe it’s not hard to see why. The writer notes early on that she worked as a prostitute. This isn’t a profession people choose rationally but is something that women and men are forced into due to economic circumstances, abuse, coercive control, low self esteem, and drug addictions. In the ancient world women, and men, were forced to earn their living this way when they had no other choices open to them – not so different to now. What is interesting is the writer, wisely in my view, does not censor Rehab for working as a prostitute. He simply notes it.
Prostitutes see the darkest side of our world. They have to deal with so much – including the damaging sexual desires of the men who use them. A project in Manchester helps women who work as prostitutes on the streets identify, and avoid, the worst of the men who think because they pay for a woman’s body they use it as they will. Maybe Rehab didn’t have much loyalty to a society which had let her be abused time and time again and which didn’t protect her. Maybe she saw something in the spies that promised a better life. Maybe her act of treachery was seen by her as an act of loyalty to a people who freed her. Whatever she thought I doubt very much she had an inkling that from her genes would come the Messiah.
God of the downtrodden,
we pray this day for all women and men
who have to sell their bodies in order to survive.
We pray for those who work with them,
helping them stay safe,
recover from abuse and find liberation.
We pray too for our societies
which allow these things to happen;
for the men who divorce lust from love,
who blind themselves to abuse and injustice,
and who think their wealth absolves them from their sin;
for the politicians who think nothing can be done;
and for all those who hide abuse, trafficking, addiction and rape
with notions of choice and lifestyle.
Open our eyes, God,
to the realities of our world,
that we may see in Jesus, our Messiah and liberator,
the strength of his ancestor Rehab,
and the ability to act
even if that seems treacherous to those who like the status quo.
Andy Braunston is an ordinand at the Scottish United Reformed and Congregational College.