Context - Joshua 2:1-24; 6:17, 22-25:
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, Ancestry.com 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 ἡ 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 ἡ 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.)