Was blind, but now I see.

1 : 2 December 2001




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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


Francine Rivers. Unashamed. Rahab. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois. 2000.

Cover illustration of 'Rahab' by Vivienne Flesher, courtesy: Tyndale House Publishers


Rahab's story is told in two parts in the Old Testament. In Joshua Chapter 2 we read about the encounter between the two men sent by Joshua to spy on Jericho. We are also told about the covenant relationship that was established through this contact between Rahab the prostitute and the two spies. Chapter 6 presents the story of how Rahab was protected by this covenant relationship. The story is thus complete in one and the same book in the Old Testament, Joshua chapters 2 and 6. However, references to her and her righteousness are found in several places, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.


The story, as well as the references, makes it clear that Rahab was a prostitute, possibly an innkeeper. She was fully informed of the victories of the Israelites over several kings. She had heard of the God of the Israelites and held Him in high esteem and fear. Her fear of the Lord was so great that she feared no human being, even the dangerous officials from the king of Jericho. She could risk everything including her life, and tell a lie to protect the two Israelite men who came to look over the land before the Israelites could begin their attack against Jericho. She was so sure that the children of the God of the Israelites would certainly defeat the king of Jericho that she tied the scarlet scarf in the window as soon as the Israelite spies left her home. She was not waiting for the Israelite army to invade nor was she wavering about the possible outcome of an encounter between the king of Jericho and the Israelites. She took hold of the promise instantaneously, not waiting to see the trends, if any.

Rahab was a woman of righteousness through deeds, but this righteousness and the consequent deed flowed out of an abiding faith ("Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."). What we see is a covenant relationship in all its glory, between her and the Israelites, and through the Israelites between her and God. From the despised social position, Rahab rises up to a position of eminence and as the Word of God says, "she lives among the Israelites to this day." Rahab becomes a sign of righteous faith with works. She comes to redefine the dynamics and ethics of lying. In short, she illumines what Truth is through her lying.


Let us read the Bible verses that tell us the story of Rahab. As I said earlier, it is one of the stories that is narrated in one place in a complete fashion. It is full of suspense and expectation, even as it deals with social and ethical issues. We also see that although the story outline is more or less complete in chapter 2 in Joshua, we still get interesting bits of information in the same book about the characters in other chapters. For example, chapter 2 does not tell us that the men who went to spy on the land and who took refuge in Rahab's house by the city wall were young. We come to know about it only in chapter 6 of the same book.

Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. "Go, look over the land," he said, "especially Jericho." So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, "Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land." So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: "Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land." But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them." (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.
"Our lives for your lives!" the men assured her. "If you don't tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land." So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. Now she had said to them, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way."
The men said to her, "This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear."
"Agreed, she replied. "Let it be as you say." So she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. Then the two me started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. They said to Joshua, "The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us." (Joshua 2).
When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it-men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, "Go into the prostitute's house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her." So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.
Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD's house. But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho-and she lives among the Israelites to this day. (Joshua 6:20-25)
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Hebrews 11:31)
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:20-26)
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth (Matthew 1:5).


Francine characterizes Rahab as "a peasant's daughter summoned by a king," given to the king by a helpless father. She knew that she only had a body that the king wanted to use. She knew that the king would send her back one day with a few silver and trinkets, and that she would end up "selling my body for a loaf of bread." The narrative begins with this sad, heartrending, and powerful note. Hoping to avoid the fate of young girls who were used and left high and dry by the king, Rahab volunteers to be a news gatherer for the king at a time the country was full of strangers and enemies from far and near. For twelve years, "every transaction she made brought a double payment. The men paid to sleep with her, and the king paid for the grains of information she gleaned." Although on the outside she had a comfortable life, enviable to many, Rahab's inside desired "to break free and escape."


Rahab saw that the end of everything was in sight, with the rise and arrival of the Israelites close to Jericho. She had warned the king, and even the powerful lieutenant of the king, Cabul. Neither was willing to believe her. She knew in her heart that the end was in sight, because "somehow she had known-even as a young girl, hearing the stories for the first time-that He was a true God." She was determined "to find a way to align herself with those who would have the victory."


Rahab is portrayed as a restless soul seeking peace and freedom from the oppression that was around her. Solitude was a luxury for her, but within her heart she was always lonely. Salmon and Ephraim, the two young men sent by Joshua to spy on Jericho, belonged to a new generation that counted upon the Lord and trusted fully in the leadership of Joshua and Caleb under the God of the Israelites, unlike their fathers of the previous generation. They didn't know swimming, for the desert wasn't exactly a place to learn swimming. Yet they managed to cross the river Jordan, and reached the wall of Jericho in Amorite tunic. The young men were reluctant to talk to the fallen woman, but Rahab persuaded them to tarry with her, for she knew in her heart that these were the Israelite spies she hoped to meet with.


It was Salmon who looked at Rahab as a woman and "thought her disturbingly beautiful even from a distance." "He was having a hard time keeping his eyes off her hips and his mind on his business." Rahab's skillful saving of these two spies from being captured by the king's men was narrated simply without much elaboration, and even the covenant entered into by Rahab and the two spies was also narrated as a matter of fact. But what followed after becomes the core of this beautifully written story of Rahab who was unashamed in the cause of the Lord. Rahab did not have any idols, nor did she believe in the gods of the Jericho people. She did not choose her profession. It was thrust upon her. She was far from fornication and adultery in her spirit. Salmon felt attracted towards her. "She could see plainly enough that he liked what he saw. So did she. He was a very handsome young man."


The next part of the story revolves around gathering her family and servants for protection. It was Rahab's father who led her to accept the invitation of the king, and this led her to end up as a prostitute. But the family detested her current status as a woman of ill repute and looked down upon her. Rahab, however, had only their safety in her mind. She had to bear all the humiliation in the hands of her own family members. But her unconditional love for them took over her entire being.

On the other side, Salmon had to come to terms with his love for Rahab, love for a foreign woman, and not just a foreign woman, but also a prostitute. His argument was that this Canaanite foreign prostitute had "acted with more faith than my father or mother." She was older than him, and living as a prostitute. At the same time, she was a woman of excellence, for "she proclaimed her faith by her actions." It was a great shock and revelation to him when he found out that Joshua had already been led by the Lord to attack Jericho even before they (he and Ephraim) could return to give their reports. Was it the Lord's doing that he met this woman for a different purpose?


As the story progresses, Francine Rivers does not look at Rahab and Salmon as the centerpiece of her narrative, as two individuals deeply in love with one another. It is not this love affair between a man and a woman that dominates the narrative. Certainly the story is laced with such details of love here and there, but the focus is on how their lives were used by the Lord to transform the value system, and how people grow in faith in the Lord. True, the family of Rahab recognized the majesty of the Lord, and yet thought it was Rahab who saved them. Their heart, until the very end, was somehow unwilling to embrace the faith of the Israelites and of Rahab. Rahab refused to go with them, return to their land, and live a life of idol worship and unclean pursuits. She chose to follow the God of the Israelites deliberately, leaving even her own family. It was her love for the family that made her take dangerous decisions in the past. But the time had now come to wish them good and depart from their chosen path to follow the idols. Rahab loved her God with all her heart. She chose to be part of a community whose ways were still strange to her. She had a past that no one would appreciate. Salmon proposed to her and said that she was "a woman with a past to whom God has given a future When I first looked up at you on the wall of Jericho, I saw you as a harlot. Bold. Filled with iniquity. But when I came into your house and you spoke to us, I saw you for what you are--a woman of wisdom, a woman worthy of praise."


Francine Rivers' portrait of Rahab fully reflects and supports such witnesses as those of the writer of Hebrews and the apostle James. Rahab is enshrined in our hearts as a steadfast woman of faith, and boldness that flowed out of her faith. In many ways her past life represents the entire world, and in her witness we draw immense hope for its redemption. Issues of evangelism, or rather why even well-meaning and well-thought out evangelism fails to bring the desired results, faithlessness amidst glaring concrete evidence of the hand of God in our personal affairs, and a lack of boldness to take steps forward to act in faith get revealed and resolved in our mind. Racial issues, interpersonal and social values, and the centrality of God in all our life are subtly dealt with in the story of Rahab. Francine deliberately chooses incidents and characters to build the world of Rehab for us. She does not focus on the oft-discussed function of lying in the conduct of Rahab. Perhaps this act of Rahab will give birth to another plot and another story. In that world, the truth about lying for the God who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), and who is always at hand to save us if only we seek him would be established in another manner.

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Francine Rivers. Unashamed. Rahab. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois. 2000.

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