It seems like I always do this, but let this start with a confession that I wish I wrote more. Life gets busy and it kind of falls to the wayside because of my own all-or-nothing tendencies (I’m either in full blown reading/writing/studying mode or veg out/watch wrestling/play video games mode…I’m working on it). At the moment, though, I’m roughly 48 hours from being done with this semester so maybe the time will present itself. Maybe.
We’re going through a series in December at our church called “The Mothers of Jesus,” which is taking a look at the women listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. It’s been interesting, to say the least, but it’s also been amazing and very encouraging in a lot of ways. I mean, I heard a sermon on Tamar. That’s one of the ugliest stories in the Bible – death, incest, injustice, prostitution…and yet it still points us to the cross.
But then there is Rahab. Rahab is a story I’m familiar with. She’s in Joshua 2, and she also has a pretty ugly story. As we talked about Rahab’s story, though, one thing hit me that hadn’t ever hit me before.
If you don’t know the story, it goes something like this: The Israelites are about to start their conquest of Canaan. Joshua sends out a couple of his men to scout out Jericho, and they go and start checking it out and they find themselves talking with a prostitute.* They talk, and the scouts tell her that if she ties a scarlet cord to her window, she and everyone in her house will be spared.
I’ve always approached that story like this: “Oh, neat. They found this thing in her house that she could tie on to her window and be saved. Isn’t that neat and convenient? God sure is cool.” And then went about my merry little way. But I was missing something big.
Why would a prostitute have a scarlet cord? Well, it’s not like she had a sign outside of her door that said “A Prostitute Lives Here” – that would be pretty obvious. It’s like the idea of a Red Light District – you put a red light in your window to let people know that’s where prostitutes live. So Rahab is using something that is a tool of her trade – and a trade she was apparently well known for, considering the king knew to talk to her – to protect her.
It dawned on me – the very thing that identified her as a prostitute was the very thing that identified her as a person who was to be spared from the coming judgment on Jericho. The very thing that should have disqualified her from deliverance was the thing that guaranteed it. I haven’t been able to get past that thought.
That idea just nags at me. Honestly, there are times that I feel like God’s pretty lucky to have me on his team. There are times that I find myself, like the Pharisee, thanking God that I’m not like those other people. “Thanks, God, that I’m not (insert vice or social stigma here).” But what if those things that I hold on to, those things that would make my students, elders, and fellow church members say “oh, he’s a pretty solid guy,” are the very things that keep me from truly receiving grace?
What if, like Rahab, all of that shame and guilt and nasty stuff didn’t disqualify me from God’s grace, but was the very thing that qualified me?
This is one of the things that I have grown to appreciate about expository preaching. It doesn’t avoid the warts in Scripture. Growing up, I heard all of the Bible stories kids hear. David killed Goliath. Moses parted the Red Sea. Samson was a strong dude. Those stories are easy if you just focus on one little part. You can kill your giants if you have faith! God will provide a way if you just believe!
The problem is this – looking at those stories that way puts the focus on me.
But when you put the focus on Rahab, you find a person who doesn’t want the focus. She knows who she is and what she’s done, and her only hope is the mercy of a just and mighty God.
That scarlet cord served as a reminder of who she was and what she had done, but I have to think that after her deliverance, it served as a reminder of who God was and what He had done…and what he would do, even if she never knew it, with one of her descendants, a long time from then.
*Another thing I’ve never thought about – why were the scouts hanging out with a prostitute? Maybe they get the benefit of the doubt, but the possibility that they went into the city and got swept up in…indiscretion…is very, very possible.