Sunday, December 13, 2009

Of prostitutes and promises

. . . Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab . . . – Matthew 1:5 (NIV)

. . . 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? – James 2:25 (NIV)

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. – Hebrews 11:31 (NIV)

The year: circa 1400 BC. The place: Jericho, the most fortified city in the land of Canaan.

Having served their sentence of 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites were knocking at Jericho’s gates. Even though God’s chosen people were still on the other side of the Jordan River, the inhabitants of Jericho, 10,000 strong, were terrified. They’d heard all about how the Red Sea miraculously parted so the children of Israel could walk through on dry ground, and how the pursuing Egyptians drowned. They’d heard about how the Israelites, a fugitive nation with little or no military training, had annihilated the Amorite kingdoms of kings Sihon and Og.

And now, here they were, just across the river, poised to strike. Yep, the citizens of Jericho were shaking in their sandals.

But the Israelites didn’t know this. Not until Joshua, their leader, sent two spies to the city. It should come as no surprise that these men ended up in the house of the only person in Jericho who would protect them—a prostitute by the name of Rahab.

When the king sent his heavies to Rahab’s house to arrest the spies, she said they’d already left.

“If you hurry,” she told them, “you can catch up with them.”

Then she went up to the roof, where the spies were hiding under stalks of flax laid out for drying.

“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,” she said, adding that they’d heard what had happened at the Red Sea and to the two kings. “Everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God of heaven above and on the earth below.”

Her words jogged their memory: “I will put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven,” God had promised not too long before. “They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you” (Deuteronomy 2:25 NIV).

Rahab then asked for protection for her and her family when they conquered the city. The spies promised, tying a scarlet cord in the window that would identify her house to the invading Israelites.

You know what happened. The walls of Jericho fell down flat, the Israelites conquered and burned the city, and Rahab and her family were saved.

But did you know that Rahab, the former harlot, married Salmon, who is believed to be the son of Caleb, one of the two spies who came back with a good report 40 years earlier? The union of their son Boaz and Ruth produced Obed, the grandfather of King David, an ancestor of Jesus the Messiah.

This is a story of faith and faithfulness: the remarkable faith of Rahab, which distinguished her for the future “Hall of Faith” (Hebrews 11), and the faithfulness of God, who always keeps His promises.

Take note: Jericho fell a few weeks after the flax was harvested—in March, the time of the Passover. The crimson blood of the Passover lamb represented a promise, a covenant, between God and the Israelites. The scarlet cord in Rahab’s window identified the one to whom a promise was made.

Fast forward 1,400 years, to the night one of Rahab’s descendants, a man named Jesus, held up a cup of wine, and proclaimed, “This is My blood of the new covenant . . .”

This blood, the blood of God’s only Son, fulfilled the promise He made at the dawn of civilization, when the sin of our first parents created a chasm between them, and hence all mankind, and a loving Creator.

If Rahab—a common prostitute who lived in a nation whose wickedness aroused God’s wrath and marked them for total destruction—could believe the promises of a God she’d only heard of at the risk of her life, how can we, who have God’s Word and His Spirit, not also believe?

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art. Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.*

*From “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” by Charles Wesley.

Special-Tea: Joshua 2

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