“Rahab of Jericho” by Dina Cormick
The story of Rahab is chalked full of allusions to other Old Testament stories. Joshua kicks off the story with a major reference to major story in Hebrew history. In our English Bibles, verse 4 reads, “But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.” Makes sense, right? There were two spies; she hid them. Oddly enough, what it says in the Hebrew is “wattişpenehô,” or, “she hid him,” singular. That’s strange. Why would the author do this when clearly she hid them?
As Western readers, our traditional historiography (the way we “do history”) is concerned with presenting all the collection of literal facts with empirical accuracy. The ancient Hebrew writers on the other hand, were much more literary, and while literal facts are important in our Old (and New) Testament texts, allusions are equally important.
If we listen to the story of Rahab with Hebrew ears, we would hear that word wattişpenehô and recognize it right away. Its root word, şpn, is only used four other times in the Scriptures. So already we’re dealing with a rare word. The third-person feminine imperfect—she hid him—is only used one other time. For the Hebrew, this reference is unmistakable. The only other time we see it this way is in Exodus chapter two, verse two: “Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.”
Now we’re getting somewhere! Joshua is comparing Rahab to Moses’s mother. Jewish scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky breaks it down for us: “The book of Joshua tells the tale of the entry into Canaan as a mirror image of the Exodus from Egypt”; with one word Rahab is acknowledged as the midwife of Israel, the woman God employs to make entry into the Promised Land possible.1 The Exodus is a major theme in both Old and New Testaments. Why? Because that’s what God does. He frees us from captivity and journeys us Home.
Rahab’s story is yet another picture of God’s Big Story as it is told over and over and over and over all throughout Scripture, and indeed, in every story ever told. God’s Big Story of the outsiders and the outcasts being brought into the Family.
In Rahab’s case, she is an outsider among outsiders. To the Hebrews, she is a Canaanite; to the Canaanites, she is a woman; and even among Canaanite women, Rahab is a prostitute. Rahab, one of the most marginalized members of society, is brought from her house of ill repute — literally on the very outskirts of town — into the Center of it all: the lineage of the Messiah.
Whoa. How incredible is God? He is constantly turning the world upside-down. Constantly turning social norms and social hierarchies on their heads. He is completely uninterested in conserving the status quo. Despite the fact that we as Christians all too often marginalize others based on our own fear and rule-mongering, the Scriptures obstinately tell God’s Gospel as compassionate rather than oppressive, inclusive rather than exclusive, dignifying rather than demonizing. In both Old and New Testaments, those who cry out for mercy are heard, the oppressed are delivered, and the outcast canonized — murderers, lepers, Gentiles, prostitutes. That is what I love about Rahab’s story. It is God’s story; and indeed, the story of all of our lives.
When Rahab chooses God, she chooses salvation. The “cord of scarlet thread” given to Rahab by the Hebrew spies marked her household as covered by covenant: Rahab and her family would be passed over during Jericho’s destruction. Rahab’s story is our story. A reminder that as believers in Jesus Christ, you and I were brought out of spiritual prostitution and idolatry and into the Family Tree of Jesus. Brothers and sisters, co-heirs, and ministers of the very same reconciliation we have received to those who are on the outside looking in — those who would stick out like sore thumbs if they walked into our churches, offices, or coffee shops; those who may not dress like us, talk like us, vote like us.
Christ Jesus hung from a Roman cross, a blood-soaked cord upon the windowsill of the world. Claim his Passover Gift. Celebrate it. Find ways to remember you are tied into the very center of God’s Great Story. Then weave the thread of redemption into every aspect of your life so that you may present a habit, which is to say, a garment, of grace to the world. Extend that thread, that life-line, to others, that those who are on the outside might be grafted in.
- Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. Reading the Women of the Bible. New York: Random House, 2002. 36.