Finding God in All the Wrong People: Rahab

Scripture: Joshua 2: 1- 21
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
June 12, 2016


Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,

And the walls came tumblin’ down

Rahab lived in the city of Jericho.  Jericho was surrounded by walls. (Begin to build the wall).  Walls that were twelve to fourteen feet thick.  The walls were built to protect. The walls were built against invasion.  The walls were built…thick thick double walls.  Walls to keep others out.  Oh, we have heard a lot about walls in our political campaign – walls  — great big walls to keep our neighbors out.  This is not a new idea.  Three thousand five hundred years ago –that is what the people of Jericho attempted to do – to build walls – tall walls, massive walls,  fortified walls.  Rahab lived in the walled city of Jericho.  

Rahab was a harlot.  There were two kinds of prostitutes in her day – the religious ones who worked at the Canaanite temple and the run-of-the-mill prostitutes who worked for cash.  “Rahab was the second kind.  The Hebrew word is zoonah; the Greek word is porne.  She was the kind of person everyone talked about but not to, especially in public.  Prostitutes were social outcasts – ostracized moral lepers, tolerated but in no way honored.  Even the men who beat a path to her door at night turned their backs on her by the light of day, as did the rest of Jericho”  (Higgs, Bad Girls of the Bible, pg. 156).

The walls of Jericho were so thick you could live on top of them.  The dwellings of prostitutes were often located on the walls.  Prostitutes could easily lure travelers inside.  That is where Rahab lived.  Right near the front gate.  

One night Rahab met two strangers at the gate.  Their clothes still damp from the waters of the turbulent Jordan.  Rahab persuaded them to come to her dwelling place.  These two strangers turned out to be Israelite spies.  Israelite spies from the army of Joshua.  Joshua, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, was preparing to take over the Promise Land…and the first city on the map was the walled city of Jericho.  Why these two spies were at the house of a prostitute, we don’t know – but it was Rahab the prostitute who hid these two men from the King of Jericho and helped them escape from the King by letting down a rope on the city wall.  Perhaps Rahab had helped others escape down a rope from her window.  Husbands escaping jealous wives.  Politicians escaping angry citizens.  The color of the rope – scarlet.

Scarlet.  That color makes a statement.  The Scarlet Letter.   A scarlet woman.  Scarlet speaks of red-light districts and Scalett O’Hara.

The spies escaped out of the window, down a scarlet rope.  Three days later Joshua and his soldiers arrived.  The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant marched around the city of Jericho.  The priest led the procession around the city of Jericho once a day for six days.  The seventh day, the procession marched around the walled city.  One Two Three Four Five Six times.  Six times around the city of Jericho.  The seventh time around, the priests blew one long blast from their trumpet (trumpet blows) and the walls came tumbling down!  

Yes, it was truly Rahab who fit the battle of Jericho.  Rahab fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho…Rahab fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin’ down.”

For those of you who know that childhood song, the story of Jericho is familiar.  But what you may not know is that Salmon, perhaps one of the two unnamed spies, took Rahab as his wife.  From the ashes of Jericho, romance bloomed.  Salmon and Rahab had a son, Boaz.  Boaz and Ruth, whom you may have heard of (Ruth has a book of the Bible named after her) had a son Obed.  Obed had a son, Jesse.  Jesse had a son named David.  Yes, Rahab the harlot is an ancestor of the royal line of David.  You can trace the rest of the family tree in the first chapter of Matthew.  It ends with Jesus.  Jesus has a prostitute in his family tree.

I believe God is calling us to be wall tumblers rather than wall builders.  

It is an important lesson for the church who often builds walls, letting some in and walling others out.  It sometimes feels that the church universal is for an exclusive few.  I heard of a story of a prostitute, in Chicago; she was in wretched straights, homeless, sick, a drug user and unable to pay for food.   She was in an awful situation.  A social worker asked her, “Have you ever thought of going to church for help?”  The look that came across her face was a pure, naive shock.  “Church!” she cried.  “Why would I ever go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse.”

What struck me about this conversation is that Jesus rarely hung out with the prim and proper.  Perhaps because Jesus had a prostitute in his family tree, he had a soft place in his heart for prostitutes as well as others who were marginalized – the homeless, lepers, tax collectors, etc.  Those on the outside of polite society, found safety, value and worth in Jesus.  And so we need to seriously ask ourselves, “Do the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers today?”

Tony Campolo, a popular speaker, lecturer, and evangelist tells this great story in which he took a red-eye to Hawaii.  He arrived around 3:30 a.m. and was looking for a place to eat; he was starving.  As he was wandering up and down the streets of Honolulu, he found this hole-in-the-wall.  He ordered a cup of coffee and a donut.  As he sat there at 3:30 in the morning, sipping on his coffee and eating his donut, the door of the diner suddenly swung open and to his own discomfort, in marched 8-9 provocative and boisterous prostitutes.

It was a small place and so they sat on both sides of him.  Their talk was loud and at times, filled with vulgarity.  Campolo felt completely out of place and as he was planning his getaway, he overheard the woman sitting beside him say, “Tomorrow’s my birthday.  I am going to be 39.”  Her friend responded in a sarcastic tone, “So what do you want from me?  A birthday party?  Or how about a cake and I can sing “Happy Birthday” to you?”

“Come on!” said the woman sitting next to Campolo.  “Why do you have to be so mean?  I was just telling you, that’s all.  I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life; I guess there’s no reason to have one now.”

After the women left, Campolo talked with the guy behind the counter.  “Do they come in here every night?”

“Yeah,” he answered, “why do you ask?”

“The woman next to me said that it’s her birthday tomorrow. What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her, right here, tomorrow night?”

The guy behind the counter thought about it for a moment and he said, “Great idea!  You know Agnes (that was her name) is one of those people who is really nice, but no one ever does anything nice for her.”

At 2:30 the next morning, Campolo was back at the diner.  He packed-up some crepe-paper, decorations, and balloons and a big birthday cake.  He decorated the diner from one end to the other.  Campolo said, “The word must have gotten out, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place.  It was wall to wall prostitutes and me!”

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend.  Everybody screamed, “Happy Birthday!”  When Agnes saw the birthday cake she began to cry tears of joy.  It was a birthday she would never forget.

Toward the end of the party, Campolo said, “What do you say that we pray.”  And so Campolo said a prayer for Agnes, praying that God would be good to her.

When he finished, the guy behind the counter leaned over and said with a trace of hostility in his voice he said, “Hey!  You never told me that you were a preacher.  What kind of church do you belong to?”

Campolo thought for a moment and with a grin on his face he said, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”

The guy behind the counter said, “No, there’s no church like that.  If there was, I’d join it.  I would join a church like that.”

Wouldn’t we all?  Wouldn’t we love to join a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning?  May we continue to tear down walls and discover God in the most unlikely of places and in the most overlooked of people.