Tuesday

03 September 2013

“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 of you … The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” (vv. 9, 11)


Background

Rahab's outwitting of two groups of men makes a good story, which like good stories the world includes suspense, sexual innuendo and triumph for one of life's losers. The first scene (verses 1-7) describes Rahab's misdirection of the representatives of Jericho's king when suspicions have been aroused that the two men visiting her are Israelite spies. The second scene (verses 8-14) concerns her bargaining with the spies whilst they are hidden on her roof. The (verses 15-21) third scene is a further exchange between them and her when she lowers them from her window in the city's outer wall enabling their escape.

The name 'Rahab' (meaning 'open place') was used as a general nickname for a prostitute, so may not be this woman's personal name. Verse 1 almost certainly means that the spies' strategy involved them becoming her clients; that is Rahab's story to the king's agents which they readily believe. But whereas she says they have left, she has actually hidden the spies on the flat roof of her house under stalks of flax left there to be softened by the dew prior to separation into fibres for weaving.

Rahab's confession of the supremacy of Israel's God (in verse 11) is the theological reason for the story's inclusion. Despite the tradition held by later rabbis that she married Joshua, and the fact that she is one of very few women named (in Matthew 1:5) as an ancestor of Jesus, the book of Joshua does not indicate whether she became fully a convert to Israel's faith.

The colour of the cord in her house window to keep its occupants safe when Israel later overruns the city has naturally been seen as related both to the blood on the doorposts of the Israelite houses to keep them safe from God's angel of death at the time of the Passover (Exodus 12:21-30) and to the blood of Christ. The fact that the cord was in the house, along with the presence of flax on the roof, suggests that Rahab industriously cared for her family; her similarity to the capable wife in Proverbs 31:10-31 (especially verses 13, 21) is notable.


To Ponder

  • Assuming Rahab was a typical prostitute of her time, living within an economic system which left women without a male protector destitute even if they had family responsibilities, how would you evaluate morally her practice of prostitution? To what extent is your answer relevant to our approach to those in the same situation today?
  • Rahab lies to the king's messengers in order to protect the spies. What criteria, if any, would lead you to believe it acceptable to tell a lie?
  • This chapter (in verse 10 and in Rahab's subsequent bargaining for protection) first raises an issue which will become more acute as the book of Joshua unfolds, namely the way in which the conquering Israelites utterly destroyed people and property. How do you reconcile the fact that the people of Israel believed God wanted them to act in this way with the fact that such behaviour would constitute war crimes in today's world?


Bible notes author: 
The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

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