Monday, September 3, 2012

Rehab the Terrified

Rahab the harlot is the perfect example of why the Bible would receive a PG-13 rating.   She is one of the few women in the Old Testament commended by the New Testament writers, and what do we call her? (Hebrews 11, James 2, Matthew 1) Rahab the harlot. It's hard for women to escape their past. It's hard to make a new name for ourselves. For today though I'd love to focus on a different aspect of her character.  So for the sake of this post, let's give her a new name, Rahab the terrified.  Fear is something I can sympathize with!

When the book of Joshua opens, it begins with back to back chapters commenting on fear.  God speaks directly to Joshua and tells him three times in nine verses to be courageous.  Joshua has already demonstrated that he is a person who can operate on faith instead of fear.  Forty years before, he was one of the twelve spies.  He and Caleb were the only two who could imagine that despite the size of the inhabitants of the land,  their large walls and developed cities, Israel would devour them by the power of God. (Numbers 14) On the cusp of his first decisive battle with the cities of Canaan, the very words he used to encourage the people to take the land, "Do not fear" are called back to him by God himself, 'Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid."  (Numbers 14:9, Joshua 1:6,7,9)

However Rahab's story seems at first glance to be the opposite of Joshua's.  She begins by taking in the two spies, originally it appears as paying customers (whether that was paying for a place to sleep or paying for "her services" is up for some debate).  The situation changes when messengers arrive from the king demanding she turn over the visitors.  She defiantly hides them on the roof.  She does this for one reason and one reason only.

Rahab's monologue in Joshua 2:9-11 reveals the secret.

I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away 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 who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. 
"Terror," "melted away," "no courage remained" these are powerful words.  Rahab was terrified: terrified that her hometown was next on the list to be demolished, and that she and everyone she loved was going to die. A careful reading of her words leaves us with the impression that she wasn't the only one.  Rumor of the Lord's mighty works in Egypt and against the Amorite Kings, had reached all of Canaan. They were all afraid but only Rahab was saved, because she knew whom to fear.  As the proverb goes, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  (Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). 
Although she was no more or less guilty than the other inhabitants of Jericho, she did not die alongside them in the ban. (Joshua 6:16-17) Why?  Because she was afraid of God, she hid the spies, lied to the soldiers, committed treason, betrayed her city, and snuck them out the back way.  Because she was afraid of God, she hung the scarlet cord from her window every day until the spies returned to rescue her and all those that she loved from the complete destruction of Jericho. 
So let me ask you, are we supposed to be afraid or not? When you watch the news, or get on the internet to read, there are people bent on making you afraid. Fear is profit.  They specialize in health scares, food additives, pesticides, environmental woes, politics, natural disasters, economics, and the state of society.  What's worse, more than a few of them have a point!  The nation threatening Rahab, the high walls of Jericho facing Joshua, they were quite real after all. We can't discount the validity of our modern fear mongers.  Yet when it comes to Rahab and Joshua, the question wasn't whether there was real trouble on the horizon.  There was.  The question was who could save them.  Joshua didn't need to be afraid, God was leading him.  Rahab knew to be afraid, and with a bargain in mind aided the servants of the One who could give her aid. 
I don't want to tell you that obesity is an imaginary epidemic, or that the avian flu isn't going to pan out.  I don't want you to hear me say that global warming is a farce or that our economic woes are charade.  I just want you to know that fearing God first, fearing Him most, changes our perspective on all our other fears. 

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission

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