Archive for May 24th, 2011
So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. Joshua 2:1 NASB
Lodged – Rahab presents a problem. It’s bad enough that she might be a prostitute, but worse that even if she isn’t, she is a Gentile who becomes part of Israel, is in the genealogy of the Messiah, and ends up in the Faith Hall of Fame. It’s not just Christian propriety that squirms over Rahab. The rabbis had the same uncomfortable feelings. Maimonides actually suggests that she wasn’t really a prostitute by taking his reading from Targum Jonathan where the word zonah (harlot) is changed to pondaki, a Greek transliteration of the word for innkeeper. The actual meaning of zonah is quite complicated, but there is little doubt that the authors of the New Testament considered her a prostitute (they use the word porne). In spite of the efforts to clean up Rahab’s profession, the NASB apparently attempts another euphemism when it translates yishkevoo as “lodged”. The verb is shakav. While it does mean “to recline or sleep,” it is also associated with lying with a woman for sexual intercourse (e. g. Genesis 19:32-35) and often associated with Israel’s covenant infidelity (also a sexual metaphor). Of course, it’s possible that the two spies happened to “lodge” in the house of Rahab the inn keeper (zonah), but it seems to me much more likely that the expression is intended as a circumlocution for the fact that they went to Rahab for other reasons (not, however, necessarily sexual, as we shall see).
Why should we be shocked? If I were going to spy on a city and I wanted to disguise my motives so as not to arouse suspicion, visiting a prostitute might be just the ruse I need. After all, any stranger in town would be immediately recognized as an outsider. The natural question would be, “Why is this person here?” If the answer were, “He heard about Rahab,” people might dismiss the event as nothing worth investigating. Perhaps the spies were just doing a good job of spying. The rabbis must have noted this possibility in their legend that Rahab was so beautiful that no man could look at her without being mesmerized.
Whatever the actual circumstances, the focus of the story is not on Rahab’s profession but on her saving actions. In fact, if Rahab were actually an innkeeper rather than a prostitute, doesn’t it seem quite likely that this fact would be too trivial to mention? Her story matters because she is already an outsider in her own community. Prostitutes do not usually enjoy magnanimous social acceptance. But that is precisely what happens when Rahab joins Israel. She is welcomed. The conclusion of her story is in Joshua 6:25. The crucial phrase is vateshev bekerev Yisrael (and she lives in the midst of Israel). Rahab and her family are incorporated into Israel, so much so that she becomes the mother of Boaz, the husband of Ruth, who, by the way, is yet another outsider brought in. The Scripture tells us that Rahab was welcomed in Israel because of her deeds, not her past. Her place in the genealogy of Yeshua testifies to her full acceptance. Her past was past. Now she lives as one of the chosen ones.
I wonder if we accept all those “Rahabs” who wish to come into our fellowship. I wonder even more if we don’t consider ourselves outsiders because of our own pasts. God’s community welcomes those of righteous actions. But perhaps we remember where we came from, who we used to be and therefore, we don’t live in the midst because we cannot forget ourselves. We want to be known by the cleaned up version instead of the ones who left Jericho behind. It’s hard to leave Jericho, unless there is a very good reason. Rahab had one. She had no problem leaving. She left her past back there too. Do you suppose that if we really left our own Jericho behind, we too could forget about our past and dwell in the midst of God’s community?
Topical Index: Rahab, zonah, acceptance, Joshua 2:1
 See http://tmcdaniel.palmerseminary.edu/cbbp-chapter9.pdf
 See http://www.midwestoutreach.org/RahabInnkeeperMCO.pdf