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What does it look like to live in the land of promise? What does it mean? We often use the image of crossing the Jordan to signify coming to the end of our earthly journey don’t we? Particularly in song. When we look at the Biblical narrative, however, we see that claiming and dividing the promised land was a stage in the redemptive history which God was working out through the people of Israel. There is a quote about what it meant for the Israelites to live in this land that I’d like to share – “To live in 'the Promised Land' is not just a military victory but an ethical injunction. As baptism is now for the Christian, Israel had a rebirth to live entirely dependent on God, 'in whom we live, and move, and have our being, and without whom we can do nothing.' Living by God's word expresses this way of being. This sums up how wholly countercultural was 'the way of Israel' in contrast to the pagan nations around it. God and his Word ruled their lives and destiny. 'Entering the Promised Land' is then undertaking to serve God ethically, to become docile to the Torah…”
Last week we looked at how Deuteronomy laid out how the Israelites were to live in this land. Today we’re looking at a story about their first contact with the inhabitants of this land. Let us look at the story that Christie read to us and see what God may have to say to us from His word this morning…
In describing the story of Rahab, Jerome Creach has the following to say – “Joshua 2 is one of the richest and most intricately woven narratives in the book. It employs humor and folkloric qualities to create an irresistible plot in which a prostitute outsmarts two groups of men in order to preserve herself and her family during the Israelite attack on Jericho. The narrative has suspense, sexual innuendo, and an underdog who triumphs – everything a modern audience expects in a great story!” It’s true isn’t it? It’s a spy tale with some salacious events hinted at. Suspense is created as we wonder about the fate of the spies. One of the things we must never do with the Bible is to reduce it to a set of moral tales. The Bible is never simply a case of “the moral of the story is…” Look at the details here. Joshua sends two spies to Jericho. There’s no indication that God told Joshua to do this, indicating a potential lack of faith on Joshua’s part. We’re not told of any spy work they do apart from go to a house of ill repute – which was anonymous I’m sure but maybe not really conducive to intelligence gathering. Rahab, seemingly turning traitor, lies to cover for these two men, and sends the king’s men on a wild goose chase. She then enters into an agreement with the spies to spare her and her family. They arrange a signal – a crimson cord to be hung out her window – and the spies go out on the final part of their mission, escape and evasion, before they cross the Jordan again and meet up with Joshua. Again the extent of their intelligence seemingly is gained from one person – Rahab.
And it is to Rahab that I want to devote most of our attention this morning. Note that she is the only person named in this story. What does this account tell us about the nature of God and how those of us who want to claim God’s promises are called to live in the land of promise?
I was talking to Matt this past summer, one of our Bible study leaders here, about how we would be going through the book of Joshua. Matt said to me “What are you going to do about all the violence?” All the war, all the killing. I said “Easy – just skip those parts!” I joke but the temptation is there. Of course we’re not going to skip those parts – we want to look at the Bible seriously don’t we? The injunctions in Deuteronomy such as this one – “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you – the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you – and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons…”(Deut 7:1-3). Does this make us a bit uneasy? Is God advocating what we’ve come to know as genocide? There have been many attempts to explain this away, from Jean Calvin who believed the Canaanites were so depraved that their total destruction was merited to those who doubt there was a military invasion at all and that the conquest of Canaan was more of an infiltration and rebellion. I personally think that these commands were recorded with more theological intent – to signify the need for complete devotion to God. The command in Deuteronomy 7:1-3 is prefiguring that the Canaanites would not be destroyed – the command to utterly destroy them is followed by the command not to intermarry, after all.
No matter where we stand on this (and I’m sure we’ll be discussing this matter more as we go through the book), Rahab is quite different from the Canaanites the people of Israel are warned about in Deuteronomy. The command is given to “break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire.”(Deut 7:5) In Rahab, however we see a person who acknowledges God’s sovereignty. Look at her statement of faith contained in vv 9-11 – “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” As one commentator puts it, “she reports on His deeds eloquently and at length”( as Rahab recounts events from the deliverance from Egypt to the promise of the land). Not only that, but in v 11 Rahab makes special mention of God’s presence with the people of Israel in – “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” Not only is she acknowledging Yahweh as sovereign but she’s using the same language that is used in Deuteronomy 4: 39 – “So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” Rahab is acknowledging God’s presence with His people and attesting to how God has made his presence known through their deliverance from Egypt and how God is continuing to make his presence known through the fulfillment of the promise of land.
This is a bit of an unexpected turn. While common prostitution was not outlawed in ancient Israel, there were certainly negative connotations associated with it. Prostitution and adultery are used metaphorically throughout the OT to signify turning away from God. These two spies have gone out from Shittim, which was a place where it’s reported in Numbers 25:1 the men of Israel began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab – with a fairly disastrous result.. It would have seemed that a not good result was in store for these two spies. And yet it is in the house of Rahab that they hear Yahweh’s sovereignty and power being declared. God is at work in the land of promise before the Israelites ever arrive!
And what comes about from this proclamation of Yahweh that Rahab makes? A demonstration of what Yahweh is all about. A demonstration of hesed. You may have heard me talk about hesed before. It’s a Hebrew word we often translate as loving kindness, or steadfast love, or mercy in the Bible. It’s a word that’s repeated twice in God’s self-description as he passes before Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 and declares “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation.” Rahab reminds the Israelites, and by extension us, that proclamations of who God is are to be accompanied by demonstrations of who God is. In this case, God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love. She provides hospitality to these two men. She shelters them. She saves their lives. She acts unconditionally. She doesn’t know what they will do to her. She tells them “Since then I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me that you in turn will deal kindly with my family. Give me a sign of good faith, that you will spare my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” In other words, extend the same hesed – the same steadfast love, the same mercy – that has been extended to you, to others. Note that the spies agree, but they’re hardly paragons of virtue here. Their own offer of kindness is conditional. “If you do not tell this business of ours then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you…” They talk of “when the Lord gives us the land” when the Lord has already said He’s given them the land – something Rahab herself confessed back in v 9!
She lowers the two by rope out the window. Her place was in the city wall. They tell her to hang a crimson cord through the same window when the invasion comes. This is the sign of good faith that Rahab asked for. After hiding out in the hill country for three days, the two spies cross back over the Jordan making the same confession of faith now that Rahab made – “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us.” God is being faithful to his promises, in other words.
So what does this story have to say to us, and what it means to live in the land of promise. We often pass over genealogies in the Bible, lists of names with a lot of begats in between. We shouldn’t though. Look at the genealogy contained in Matthew 1:4 – “and Aram the father of Aminadab and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 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 King David.” We know where that ends up don’t we? Two women mentioned in these verses by name – neither of them belonging to the nation of Israel – playing a role in God’s redemption plan that culminates in the birth of Christ, the birth of God with us. “Give me a sign of good faith,” Rahab had asked. A sign of faithfulness. A crimson cord. There is no doubt that the original hearer of this story would have thought of the sign of faith as reminiscent of the sign that went on the doorposts of the people that first Passover night. The blood of a lamb. How can we read this story about the crimson cord and not think of the sign of faith, the sign of the covenant that we have in Christ’s blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. The sign of God’s hesed…
In Rahab we see God’s mercy enacted in an unexpected place. Jesus would tell a story about an act of hesed, an act of steadfast love and mercy coming from an unfamiliar place as well. From a Samaritan – a sworn enemy of the Jewish people. He would tell a story about people being separated into two groups like sheep and goats. He would tell how they would come before a throne where the king would welcome the sheep and say “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matt 25:5-36) The sheep will be surprised! “When did we do this?” they will ask and the answer will come back “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” God is at work in unexpected places. May God give us eyes to see where He is at work and may he give us the wisdom and courage to join him there, wherever that may be.
There are two things that I think this story reminds us of this morning. God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s hesed can be encountered in unexpected places. We see in the person of Rahab that a display of hesed is not restricted to the chosen people. It crosses national, ethnic, even religious lines. God’s hesed is at work all around us. God is at work all around us. When Christ sends us out as his ambassadors- as living letters testifying to who he is – we’re not cold calling. God is at work in unexpected places. God was at work in the land of promise before the Israelites put one foot across the Jordan.
The second thing is, when it comes to acts of hesed – acts of steadfast love and mercy, we are to commit them with abandon. Remember Rahab’s act of hesed was without condition. We can’t fathom the depth of God’s own hesed – as he said to Moses “I will be have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” Let us be as extravagant in our acts of hesed as God is extravagant. One writer describes Rahab this way – “…Rahab herself becomes a living and persistent reminder to Israel that the best response to YHWH’s wondrous deeds on behalf of Israel is acknowledgement paired with the exercise of hesed, and that this is the response that leads to life.”
This is the fitting and proper response when we are confronted with God’s grace. This is the response that leads to life, that leads to wholeness, to shalom, to peace. Rahab becomes a reminder for us as well. The writer to the Hebrews lists her in the “Faith Hall of Fame” of Hebrews 11 “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.” Who is God calling us to receive in peace – either as individuals or as a community of faith?
Living in the land of promise means reflecting God’s ways. This morning we’ve been reminded of God’s way of hesed, and how we can find it reflected in what seem to be unlikely places. Maybe the most unlikely place to you is within ourselves. We know ourselves very well after all don’t we? May God continue to work his steadfast love in us as we seek to acknowledge him in all that we do and say.