Sunday 28 August 2016

Rahab of Jericho - the Gentile (Part 3)

This follows on from Part 1 and Part 2.

Elisha's Spring (Ein as-Sultan) ~ Elisha heals the waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2:18-22) ~ June 2012

But, maybe you’re not a woman and you’re tempted to think, 

“Well, Rahab was a woman, and I’m a man, so she’s the token example and role model of faith meant for women in the church, but not for me.” 

If you are a male person sitting there reading this blog post and thinking that Rahab is too feminine to be an example of heroic faith for you, then I would strongly urge you to think again! And I’d like to suggest that, regardless of whether you are female or male, Rahab can be an example for all of us, because, just like us, Rahab was a Canaanite, in other words, a Gentile or non-Israelite.

Rahab lived in Jericho, a Canaanite city believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Situated at 825 feet below sea level it’s the lowest city on earth. By 1200 BC Canaanites lived in cities such as Jericho and Jerusalem, and these cities were fortified against invasion and attack by thick walls. [1] According to Joshua 2:15, the house Rahab lived in was part of the city wall.

The Canaanites practiced a very different religion from the Israelites. The chief god of the Canaanites was named El (meaning "god"). However, the principal god worshipped by the Canaanites, was Baal (ba'al meaning "lord" or "master"), and they fashioned idols of Baal and various other gods from stone, metal, and wood. Canaanite Baal worship was notorious among neighbouring tribes, because they practiced human sacrifice. [2] By the time Joshua and the Israelites were poised to take possession of the land God was giving them (cf. Josh 1:2, 6, 11, 15), both culturally and morally, the Canaanites had become an extremely cruel and wicked society. Through the conquest of the Promised Land, God was bringing about judgement on the Canaanites for their sin (cf. Gen 15:13-16). [3]

Now, let’s step back again into Rahab’s story and ask ourselves who do we think we are in it? As Christians reading the Old Testament, most of the time we naturally identify ourselves with the people God brought out of slavery in Egypt (cf. Ex 20:2) – we usually see ourselves in the Exodus story as Israelites about to enter the Promised Land, but we forget that as Gentile Christians we are from another world, another community, another time, and we do not come as Israelites. [4] The Israelites have been commanded by God to “destroy [the Canaanites] totally... and show them no mercy” (Deut 7:2). [4] Therefore, if we are to really imagine ourselves present at the conquest of Jericho, our position is less like Israel’s and more like that of Rahab the Canaanite. She is a Gentile. She is a believer, but she is not an Israelite. She is a Canaanite who wants to live, not die. So too with us, we do not enter into Rahab’s story as Israelites. "Our origin lies not with the people who hear the command to kill, but with those who are to be killed". [5]

        You could say that "we are all Rahab now". [6]

Realising that we are Rahab reminds us, as 21st century Gentile Christians, that we too started off in the same situation as the Canaanites - those who were foreigners to the covenants of the promise (Eph 2:11-12) and those who deserved death because of sinful disobedience (Rom 6:23; cf. Heb 11:31). And yet, there is HOPE! Hope for Gentiles to become partakers of God's covenant with Israel and to receive kindness (undeserved mercy) by FAITH in the God of Israel and in his Son, Jesus Christ (Eph 2:7-9, 13).

The story of Rahab the Gentile demonstrates that the covenant of the promise that the Lord originally made to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) was intended to extend not only to the nation of Israel, but beyond - to all the nations of the world:
"All peoples on earth shall be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:3).
Through her faith-motivated kindness in blessing Israel (by welcoming the spies), Rahab became a beneficiary of the Abrahamic covenant which is, in fact, an advance announcement of the GOSPEL itself (Gen 12:3; Gal 3:8)! [7] In the same way as Rahab the Gentile had faith and was blessed along with Abraham, SO...

   we as Gentiles can all be Rahab now
     and be justified by faith (Gal 3:7-9
       and receive mercy (1 Pet 2:10).

(Read Part 4 here.)
[1]  Tim McNeese, Ancient Egypt and Other Early Civilisations, The Ancient World Set II (Dayton, OH: Milliken Publishing Company, 1999), 24.
[2]  McNeese, 24. 
[3]  John Phillips, Exploring People of the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006), 275.
[4]  Phillip Cary, "We Are All Rahab Now",  CT (July/August 2013), 27, 28; Judith E. McKinlay, "Rahab: A Hero/ine?", Biblical Interpretation 7.1 (1999), 44.
[4] Cary, 27.
[5] Cary,  28.
[6] Cary, 27. 
[7] Cary, 28.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Rahab of Jericho - the woman (Part 2)

This follows on from Part 1.

Hebrews 11:31
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish along with those who were disobedient,
      after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
Jericho is also known as "The City of Palm Trees" ~ June 2012

Rahab is one of only two women mentioned by name as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11 – the other one is Sarah who appears in verse 11. What, you might say! Only two women out of sixteen named individuals? So much for equal representation of genders! But keep in mind that the author of Hebrews was writing at a time when an abysmally low view of women existed in the Jewish subculture.

For example, in the Book of Sirach (c. 180 BC), the Jewish scholar Jesus ben Sirach wrote:

·        Sirach 22:3 
It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined son, and the birth of a daughter is a loss.
·        Sirach 42:14 
Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good,
      it is woman who brings shame and disgrace.

So, we can see that the author of Hebrews actually holds a comparatively high view of women. What we should really be surprised by is that in a patriarchal society where women were seldom recognised by name, Hebrews 11 actually names two women, and these two women are commended as heroes of faith and portrayed as actors on the stage of redemptive history!

And when we read about Rahab in the Old Testament (Josh 2:1-24), we are astonished to discover that, there too, she is cast in a very positive light [1]! Even by 21st century standards, she’s hardly your stereotypical damsel in distress, or fading wallflower who sits passively in the corner waiting for the men to make all the decisions. No, there’s none of that with Rahab!

Her character seems to defy patriarchal gender roles and expectations – you might even dare to say that this woman is the picture of strength and courage.

Glance back at Joshua chapter 1 and you will find that Joshua, the new leader and military commander of the Israelites, is told a total of four times: “Be strong and courageous!  – three times by the LORD himself (vv. 6, 7, 9, and 18). Then, in the very next chapter, the scene abruptly switches and focuses not on Joshua, but on a hereto unknown character who is Joshua's complete antithesis...  

      ...a woman who exemplifies what it means to be strong and courageous - Rahab!

Yes, Rahab is strong - she’s the protagonist, the active agent [2], in Joshua 2:1-24 who is assertive, independent, able to take control, remains calm under pressure, and who demonstrates kindness (v. 12; interestingly, this an attribute of God himself)...

Notice the number of actions she performs: 
the woman had taken... and hidden them (v. 4) 
she had taken them... and hidden them (v. 6)
she went up... (v. 8)
she let them down... (v. 15; cf. v. 17)
she sent them away (v. 21)
she tied (v. 21)
She makes assertions and agreements:
she said... "I did not know" (v. 4)
                  "I don’t know" (v. 5) - admittedly vv. 4-5 contain falsehood
she said... (v. 8) "I know..." (v. 9)
she replied, "Agreed. Let it be..." (v. 21)
And gives directives (to men, who obey!):
"Go after them" (v. 5) ...So the men set out (v. 7)
"...please swear to me… because I have shown kindness" (v. 12)
"Give me a sure sign" (v. 12)
she said... "Go to the hills... Hide yourselves... and then go on your way" (v. 16)
you [Rahab] made us swear (v. 17)

Rahab is also courageous [3], and just like Joshua, she is a saviour:
She defies the king of Jericho and takes the risk of hiding the two men under the stalks of flax out on the roof (vv. 3-4). She protects and rescues the spies from certain death (v. 14) and her actions result not only in her own life being spared, but also in her father, her mother, her brothers and sisters, and all who belonged to them being saved from death (vv. 13, 18; 6:17, 22-23, 25). Her courage and kindness saved the lives of many people. [4]

Rahab’s story reminds us that even in Old Testament times when patriarchy prevailed, God has cast women in significant roles in his grand plan of salvation. Rahab the woman turns out to be an important part of the good news God is telling the world – she is one of only five women mentioned by Matthew’s Gospel in the genealogy of Jesus Christ himself (Matt 1:5). [5]

Rahab’s character and actions break the stereotypes of what our society often expects men to be like and women to be like, and she shows that women have the potential to be just as strong and courageous as men. In our communities, and especially in our churches, let’s be careful not to overlook faithful women. We’re not merely the support acts, and we’re not simply passive observers - depending on our gifting, personality, spiritual maturity, and willingness to serve, we have the potential to meet the challenge given the opportunity!

(You can read Part 3 here.)
[1]  Aaron Sherwood, "A Leader's Misleading and a Prostitute's Profession: A Re-examination of Joshua 2",  JSOT 31.1 (2006), 43, 45.
[2]  Judith E. McKinlay, "Rahab: A Hero/ine?", Biblical Interpretation 7.1 (1999), 46, 47, 48.
[3]  Catherine Clark Kroeger & Mary J. Evans, The IVP Women's Bible Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), 120.
[4]  McKinlay, 49.
[5]  Irene Nowell, "Jesus' Great-Grandmothers: Matthew's Four and More", The Catholic Bible Quarterly 70 (2008), 2.

Monday 15 August 2016

Rahab of Jericho - Faithful & Righteous (Part 1)

Remains of the Canaanite town of Jericho near Tell es-Sultan ~ June 2012
Joshua secretly sent two of his men as spies to Jericho on a reconnaissance mission (Joshua 2:1). So they went and came to the house of a woman named Rahab, a prostitute, and stayed there (2:1). When the king of Jericho learned about the two Israelite spies, he sent word to Rahab ordering her to surrender them (2:2-3). However, Rahab had taken the two men up to the roof and under stalks of flax (2:4, 6), and although she admitted that the men had come to her, she told the king’s messengers that she didn’t know where the men were from and said the spies had already left the city before the gate was shut for the night (2:4–5). In return for the kindness that Rahab had shown them (2:12), and her promise to keep what they were doing confidential (2:14, 20), the spies took an oath that she and her entire family would be saved from death when Joshua conquered the land (2:12–14; cf. 2:17-20). They further stipulated that when the Israelites entered the land and the conquest began, she was to gather her all family members into her house and tie a scarlet cord in the window, which would serve to identify her house (2:17–21). Rahab acted in accordance with the agreement and tied the scarlet cord in the window, and so when the Israelites conquered the city, she and her entire family were spared (6:17, 22–23, 25). After the total destruction of Jericho, Rahab and her family were brought to live among the Israelites, who accepted her into their camp (6:23, 25).

Today there are numerous advantages to being accepted as an immigrant to Australia – obviously, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people wanting to come and live here! Some of you know that I, my husband, and our then two-year-old son, emigrated from South Africa just over 16 years ago – our daughter was born here in Brisbane... she’s the true blue Aussie of the family. Anyway, as an outsider coming in you tend to notice things about Australian culture and national identity that insiders, born-and-bred Aussies, simply take for granted.

One of the things we were intrigued by when we first arrived was the fact that, by and large, Australians consider it a matter of pride to have a convict ancestor. Coming from South Africa - a country with a turbulent history and its own shameful record of apartheid - we found it strange that Australia’s convict past did not seem to be viewed as a source of shame.

Records show that at least 14% of Australians that delve into their family tree find they are related to a convict deported from Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries.  In 2014, commissioned a report which examined Australians’ knowledge of their ancestors and their attitudes to them and found that Australians were more likely to be proud of an ancestor who was a thief, criminal, or drunkard, than any other nation represented in the study. A few decades ago many Australians were ashamed to admit blood links to the First Fleet. Now, it's become fashionable!

However, although attitudes towards Australia’s convict heritage have become considerably more positive over the last 30 to 40 years, so much so that having a convict ancestor is worn as a badge of honour, in the last decade especially, Australian attitudes toward immigrants have increasingly become more cautious. The reality is that immigrating to Australia nowadays is extremely difficult. In the past, being a criminal meant you were guaranteed entry to Australia, and while many Australians are now proud to be related to these criminals, today we don’t want criminals coming to live here! In a complete reversal of fortune, people with any kind of criminal background arriving in Australia today are guaranteed of being shipped straight back to where they came from. Ironic, isn’t it?

For Christians, being confronted by Rahab of Jericho is a bit like an Australian who discovers they have a convict ancestry. We admire Rahab at arm’s length, but are somewhat uneasy about being urged to imitate her, which is exactly what a couple of New Testament writers want us to do! Hebrews and James both mention Rahab:

Hebrews 11:31 says:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
πίστει Ῥαὰβ πόρνη οὐ συναπώλετο τοῖς ἀπειθήσασιν, δεξαμένη τοὺς κατασκόπους μετ εἰρήνης.

And James 2:25 says:

And in the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous by what she did when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different road?
ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Ῥαὰβ πόρνη οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη, ὑποδεξαμένη τοὺς ἀγγέλους καὶ ἑτέρᾳ ὁδῷ ἐκβαλοῦσα

Well, it’s fortunate for Rahab that the rules of baseball don’t apply to being nominated for a place in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. In the game of baseball, you get three strikes and then you’re out. Rahab had at least three strikes against her: 

She is a woman - first strike!

She is a Canaanite, i.e. a Gentile - second strike!

And she is called a prostitute - third strike!

No wonder we are uneasy about imitating her! At first blush, she seems like a person of questionable background who exhibits the sort of lifestyle of which we would firmly disapprove. But let’s take a closer look at the person behind the story in Joshua 2, and I suspect that we will discover that being related by faith to Rahab can indeed be a badge of honour.

(Read Part 2 here.)