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Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

The Harlot (Joshua 2)

    This morning’s passage features a story that most people in the church are familiar with: it’s the story of Rahab.
    I remember when I was about ten or eleven, my brother and I had these Bible stories on tape. Now, they wouldn’t just read the Bible story aloud. They were dramatized on tape. One of the stories from these tapes that I remember well was Rahab and the spies from Joshua 2.
    David and I used to sit up on the top bunk of his bed and just listen intently. I loved hearing about what Rahab did to help God’s people, and the way it was dramatized made it sound sort of like an old 1940s detective radio show, like Sam Spade. I imagined Rahab wearing a stylish dress with extravagant furs and pearls, and I imagined the spies wearing spats and fedoras. This is what my childish mind came up with when I heard this story on tape.
    Regardless of how I imagined it in my head though, the point was that I remembered the story. Though the clothing was more modernized, I vividly remembered the story of Rahab and the spies and in so doing, I hid God’s Word in my heart.
    The lesson I learned from that story I learned long ago, and it has been one that has brought me much comfort throughout my life as I struggled to find my identity. The lesson stayed with me when I was timid about sharing my faith with my very worldly friends. This story taught me an important attribute of God’s character.
    Do you remember the story?
    Joshua sent two spies, probably not dressed in spats and fedoras, to spy out the land, especially Jericho. So they went, and once in the city the met Rahab.
    Rahab, who we’re told was a harlot, lived in Jericho. Now, there’s some debate about whether or not she was really a harlot, a prostitute. There are some who believe that she might have actually been an innkeeper, but I want to tell you why that is unlikely, and why it is more likely that she was a prostitute, regardless of how unsavory we might think that is.
    First, if Rahab was an innkeeper instead of a harlot, it would make her home more of a business than a private home. An inn is a public space, it is not private. The next part of the story has the king of Jericho hearing about the spies and going to Rahab’s house to find them. If she was an innkeeper, why didn’t the king just go into the public space to find out if the men were truly there or not? But, if she was actually a harlot, as the Bible says, then his response of not sending someone into her home to search for the spies makes more sense. If she was really a harlot, he would have been more willing to respect her private home, her private space, and probably more willing to protect the identity of anyone who might be participating in her services.
    Here’s another reason why it is more likely that she was a harlot and not an innkeeper: in the east at this time, there weren’t proper inns. What they had instead were caravansarai. The structure for a caravansarai was more like a huge open courtyard. There were no rooms, just little enclaves. You’d have a wall surrounding the courtyard, and then these little enclaves in the wall with a little platform where you would sleep at night. So, it’s not an inn like we would think of an inn.
    The point here is that this type of thing was not found in cities. It was assumed that if you were traveling to a city, you would likely stay with a resident of the city, or you would pitch a tent and camp outside the city. These caravanserai were only found by the side of trading routes.
    In addition to that, we find no mention in this passage about Rahab being married, though a father, mother, brothers and sisters are mentioned, and in fact, she does marry later in her story, so we can safely assume that she was single when the spies entered Jericho. Single women, especially in an eastern society that was not Jewish, had absolutely no rights to own property. None. So, it is impossible to think that she owned an inn that was against all customs as a single woman.
    Additionally, when archaeological digs were done at Jericho, they found that the outer wall actually served as apartments for the city’s inhabitants. In order for Rahab to get the spies out of the city by lowering them through her window, she would have had to live in outer wall of Jericho in one of the apartments in the wall. So, the caravanserai that were built then, certainly wouldn’t have been possible to build in a wall.
    Finally, we can know that Rahab really was a harlot, and not an innkeeper because of the Hebrew word for “harlot”. It’s this word, זוֹנָה, and throughout the rest of the Bible when this word is used, it’s translated as “harlot”, “prostitute”, and the context is for a woman who prostitutes herself as her work. So, all of Scripture is in agreement with itself, that Rahab was in fact, a prostitute.
    So, the spies come to her, possibly because she was out in the streets looking for customers and found the spies and recognized that they were different and offered to give them shelter at her home. The king came looking for the spies and was led to Rahab’s house. She told them that the men had come to her, but then they left and they went through the city gates before the gates closed at night, but really had hidden them on the roof of the house where she had stalks of flax laid out drying.
    The king’s men went out of the city looking for the spies, and when they had left, the spies came out of hiding, and Rahab spoke to them. This is what she said to them in verses 9-11, “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. And 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.”
    Here’s what we need to understand about the city of Jericho. We’ve already discussed the fact that the outer wall had apartments in it. There was an inner wall, too, though. So Jericho wasn’t just protected by one wall, it was protected by two walls, and the ground between the two walls was steep and coated with thick paint so it would be slippery. Any army that breached the outer wall would then have to slip and slide up the slope to try to breach the inner wall, too.
    Apart from divine intervention and help, the siege of Jericho likely would have taken several months, if not years. But, God WAS working, He WAS intervening, He WAS helping, and He was doing it before the Israelites even got there. All of Jericho had heard about what happened when Israel left Egypt. They had heard about what happened to the two kings. They had heard about the conquests the Israelites had already made, even while they were wondering in the dessert, some of those battles with Joshua as the commander of the army.
    They were afraid!! They knew that this army—not even an army! They knew that this group of rejects from Egypt, even though they were wandering desert nomads, they knew that these people had the power to destroy the city, and their hearts melted! Their courage left!
    Jericho was the key city to taking the rest of the promised land. If Jericho didn’t fall, the Israelites wouldn’t have a way to get into the promised land, so Jericho had to fall. The people living in Jericho knew that the Israelites were not going to leave.
    But Rahab knew who was behind the Israelites’ power and victory, and it’s why, when she recognized the spies as Israelites, she helped them, because she knew that the God they served was greater than the gods of Jericho. She knew that their God had already crushed Israel’s enemies. She knew that their God was capable of anything, and that if their God was on their side, Jericho was definitely going to fall.
    Perhaps God was already on work in her heart before the spies even got there. Perhaps He was already using what she knew about the God of the Israelites to woo her and to show her a better way: the way of faith.
    In faith, trusting in God to protect her and her family from the coming destruction of Jericho, she asked the spies to spare her life and the lives of her family. They agreed, and made a covenant with her, that if she continued to conceal that they had been in the city, and if she hung a cord of scarlet out of her window, then she and her family would be spared.
    Then she lowered them down out of her window, told them to go to the mountains to hide for three days, and then return to the Israelites.
    Here’s the lesson I took away from this story, the lesson that has stayed with me, every time I sin, every time I mess up and make a mistake, every time the enemy whispers in my ear about my flaws, every time I am tempted to get angry and bitter with another believer because of their flaws, Rahab reminds me:
    God does not accept people based on how perfect they are, He accepts people based on faith; and imperfect people can still have perfect faith.
    Rahab wasn’t accepted because she lived a righteous life. Far from it! She was a prostitute! That was her occupation! Not only that, but she lied to the king about the spies, yes, to protect them, but she still lied. Rahab wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t righteous, she wasn’t good enough, she was a prostitute from a pagan city that stood in the way of God’s victory. She wasn’t in a position to ask to be spared from destruction…except by faith.
    Look at Hebrews 11:31, “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” Faith saved Rahab. In more ways than just physically, as well.
    This chapter in Hebrews, Hebrews 11 is known as the Hall of Faith. It’s a chapter about how the faith of ordinary, flawed, imperfect people, saved them. In this chapter is Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Barak, David, Samuel. All of whom were considered righteous because of their faith, not because they had any righteousness or goodness of their own, but simply because they had faith in God, that God is God and He is good and they were going to trust Him no matter what.
    Faith saved Rahab. James 2:25 says that she was justified by what she did out of faith.
    God used this imperfect, flawed, immoral, guilty, sinful woman to keep His people safe, and He accepted her into His own family because, even though she was imperfect, she had perfect faith.
    I want to end with one New Testament passage, just to point out how mighty our God is and how amazing His grace is. Look at Matthew 1:5, “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.”
    Rahab later married a man named Salmon, and though he’s mentioned in the Bible in other places, he doesn’t have his own story like Rahab. Their son was Boaz, who, if you’re familiar with the story of Ruth, you’ll recognize is the man who eventually marries Ruth. They have son named Obed, who has a son named Jesse, who then has a son named David, who becomes king over all Israel. The best king Israel had, until…28 generations later, his 28th great-grandson became the greatest king to ever live: Christ Jesus, our Lord.
    See, there are only two women in the entire line of Christ that are named here: Rahab and Ruth; not Sarah, not Rebecca, not Rachel. No. It’s a prostitute from Jericho, and a foreign widow. Praise God, that He accepts imperfect people into His family and that all it takes is not perfection, not righteousness, but faith.

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