Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
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And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there / And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
— Joshua 2:1,3-4
The book of Joshua, it is widely accepted, was drafted during the rule of King Josiah, and completed in the 6th century BCE, some 600-700 years after the events it describes. Whether the story had been carried in oral tradition, or was completely invented at the time of writing is not known. Likely some combination of both. Either way it is considered to have little historicity, but of course history isn't the point. This is story. This is theology. This book, like the related books of Judges, Samuel and Kings is designed to teach the Hebrew people of the nature of God, during and after the Babylonian exile. In Joshua, the first in this set, the people of Israel are faithful, and are rewarded with the land. In the later books they are faithless, and incur God's wrath.
The book of Joshua opens with Joshua sending spies into Canaan to determine if Jericho is conquerable. Immediately the story is controversial. The spies hole up in the house of a harlot, a prostitute. Were they there as clients, or was a it an innocent coincidence? It doesn't say, and we can but speculate. What we do know is that it is a woman—moreover a prostitute, a sinner and a heathen—who saves the Israelite spies from certain death, and opens up the possibility of Jericho being overthrown. Indeed, she seems glad of the impending change of management, perhaps hoping for better treatment under the new regime than she currently receives. Prostitutes, although much in demand and a necessary element of a patriarchy, are nevertheless despised, and considered the lowest of the low. Perhaps Rahab saw in Israel a greater compassion, a spirit of forgiveness. Clearly she saw, and she trusted their God.
In later biblical stories, Jesus consorts with prostitutes, openly, and very much as part of his mission. Prostitutes, along with tax collectors and the other riff-raff Jesus picks up along the way represent the 'least of these', the despised, the invisible, and the meek—the ones who will inherit the earth. What is curious in the book of Joshua is that the profession of Rahab is called out so clearly. Given that it is largely fiction, written centuries later, the authors could have made her simply an inn keeper. They chose not to. In doing so they set the stage for a God of compassion to emerge from the God of vengeance of the first five books. All citizens are worthy of love, sinners too.