Tuesday 28 August 2018

Bible Book:

“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.’” (v. 14)

Joshua 2:1-24 Tuesday 28 August 2018

Psalm: Psalm 125



Many of the working assumptions at play in this story may strike readers as problematic. God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Israel takes no ethical account of those who currently live there. It has as its inevitable consequence their displacement or slaughter by the Israelites. How can God sanction this? And how can this be who God’s people are and what they do?

These are searching questions, and not easily answered within the constraints of a short study like this.

However, this prelude to bloody conquest in chapter 2 of the book of Joshua, for all its theological and ethical problems, is also surprisingly internally subversive. And it is the character of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, who is the agent of this subversion. A socially marginal person, Rahab nevertheless stands at the centre of this story, decisively shaping events. When the emissaries of the king of Jericho arrive looking for the Israelite spies, she adroitly diverts them from the obvious step of searching her house by hurrying them off immediately, with the promise that they might overtake them; and when she realizes what the Israelite spies’ presence means, she secures their promise that she and her family will be safe, in direct contravention of the unequivocal injunction to Israel to destroy everything in the land (Deuteronomy 7:1-6; 20:16-18). Then, in her words in verses 10 to 11 about the deeds and nature of God, she undermines the Hebrew Scriptures’ repeated insistence that the inhabitants of Canaan are idol worshippers and so must be destroyed (eg Exodus 23:33). And finally, she subverts one of the sharpest lines of ethnic and religious division in the Hebrew Bible, between Israelites and Canaanites, ‘us’ and ‘them’. As she enters here into Israel’s story, the boundary line shifts, and by the end of the story in chapter 6, she lives forever among the Israelites (Joshua 6:25).

Rahab’s story does not resolve the moral and theological questions thrown up by Israel’s apparently divinely sanctioned invasion of Canaan and killing of its people. But it forms part of a thread running through the Scriptures that makes the marginal and the ‘other’ central – not just to the narrative, but to any understanding of the actions and the nature of God.


To Ponder

  • Do you find Israel’s military conquest of the Promised Land problematic, and how do you deal with it if so?
  • Do you find Rahab an attractive character, or is she also problematic? Why?
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