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.

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