Lay out your fine tablecloth. Prepare your challah and wine. Set up your candles and place settings. Make this a fine Shabbat. Sanctify it and set it apart. Blessings to your family, Jewish on non-Jewish, this weekend. May your worship and family time be a blessing however you spend it.
What little spiritual depth I may have comes from close reading of God’s words. I know many who find their spiritual connection praying or doing deeds of kindness. These can touch my inner places at times, but I confess that the Bible is my Holy of Holies. I see the kavod HaShem (glory of the Lord) in it again and again, always in new places and new ways. I have been brought to tears and prayers of repentance and joy a thousand times reading and contemplating the spiritual truths of Torah, prophets, writings, and apostles.
I’m reading Joshua right now along with my congregation. I love the Biblical narratives. If you learn how to see their purpose and how they reveal God, they are as powerful as any other part of scripture. Many are stories easy enough for children to comprehend and spiritual records powerful enough to bring grown men to repentance and joy.
I was mightily moved today by a close reading of the story of Rahab the harlot and the spies of Israel. It is a story of covenant, a picture of God’s covenant kindness and faithfulness. It is a tale of a lowly woman made righteous when God comes to town. It is a tale of faith in God more than security inside impregnable walls, a choosing of spiritual community over the safety of home and neighbors, country and peoplehood.
The story is in Joshua 2:1-23 and 6:22-25. Don’t miss the scarlet thread in 2:18 or the way that Rahab asks for a covenant of kindness from the spies. What more could we want from God than a covenant of kindness, a scarlet redemption, a salvation on the basis of faith and reverence?
I offer the following reading of Rahab’s story as a meditation for this Shabbat. Read it with your family, with your children, your spouse, a friend, or by yourself. Let the power of Rahab’s faith, her desire for God’s covenant kindness, permeate your life as well. . . .
And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. 2 And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” 4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. 7 So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.
Rahab takes the first step of kindness. Before she has any promise from them, she lays out stalks of flax, sort of like wheat straw, to camouflage them on her thatched roof. She hides them before going to see the king or his messengers. Her intention is already to hide them. We don’t know her reasons yet. Why would she help men who will kill her neighbors and destroy her town?
8 Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof 9 and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
Would that there was faith like this in Israel! From the mouth of a sinful woman and a foreigner comes fear of God. When God comes to town even the lowest can be made righteous. God has a way of reaching out to the least expected. No one has sinned too much for simple faith to reclaim their life. He is God in the heavens above and on earth beneath!
12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”
15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.”
This is a classic example of a covenant. Rahab wanted to join with the people of God. She trusted that God was bringing judgment to Canaan and she wanted to be part of Israel. She wished to join the people of God. So she showed a kindness. She took a step toward God (theologians would say that God did something in her heart first). She showed love and kindness and asked the same in return. The Israelite spies understand immediately what is suggested, “Our life for yours even to death!” Covenants are to the death. Covenants require faithful dealing when the time comes to honor them. Rahab desired the God of Israel and the people of God and she made a covenant to get what she so desperately needed. The truth is we need God even more than men being hunted to death by a king need to be rescued.
17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
A scarlet cord? It was a good symbol for the spies to know the house, since scarlet thread was precious. It was like hanging a gold chain, since scarlet was rare and costly. Yet, is there more to this detail? Scarlet shows up in places like the ashes needed for cleansing impurity (Num. 19:6) and the ceremony to cleanse a leper (Lev. 14:6). Scarlet is the color of the blood that flowed from the sacrifices and brought cleansing. It was the color of the blood on the door at Passover. Scarlet is the color of redemption. Rahab has made a covenant with God to join the covenant people, Israel. She is redeemed.
22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them.
The Israelites take the covenant seriously and tell it all to Joshua. Did you notice something about their spy mission? It was a total failure. They went right away to Rahab’s place and spent three days in hiding. They did not spy out the land as planned. It seems God had another purpose for their mission: Rahab. The God of heaven is seeking those who will believe.
Joshua 6:22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
Jericho is flattened and all the people are dead. The victory is HaShem’s, just as he said. And the Israelites keep their covenant with Rahab, just as God keeps his covenant with us. The scarlet cord is honored and Rahab is redeemed. At first, they didn’t know what to do with her. They kept her outside the camp of Israel. But in time they learned: Rahab was now one of them, an Israelite too. In fact, little did they know, but she was really none other than one of the mothers in the line of Messiah
Matthew 1:5-6 . . . and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And Rahab was justified by her good works and brought near to God. Her faith led to service and service is worship. And in the child who was eventually born from her line, she too was saved.
James 2:25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
Good Shabbes to you all!