A Heart of Gold

July 31, 2011

Every story has a beginning and this one begins in a most unlikely place. . . a brothel.  Not many stories in the Bible start in a house of ill repute, as a matter of fact I can only think of one other..  The scripture was read earlier and there is a lot that was left unsaid in the Hebrews account that could lead to some wild speculations.
Let’s read it again Hebrews 11:31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.   Nod Nod, wink wink.  Friendly welcome indeed. 
And that is why a text out of context is a pretext.  You see the original readers of Hebrews 11 would know exactly what was meant by “a friendly welcome”  while the rest of you just think you know.  And as a boss of mine used to say “The only thing you get from jumping to conclusions are sore feet.”
And to be fair Rahab may have given the spies a “friendly welcome”, nod, nod, wink wink, but that wasn’t what she was being commended for in Hebrews 11.  So let’s go back to the beginning and find out the rest of the story.
You know the history here.  Moses has led the Hebrews in the greatest escape every chronicled.  You can read about it in the book called Exodus, which is the second book in the Bible.  Now what should have been a fairly straight forward trip across the desert turns into a 40 year epic because of the disobedience and unbelief of the Hebrew people. 
Now however the promise is about to be fulfilled.  The Promised Land lies just within their grasp, the people have left the desert, now they have to cross the Jordan and get past the city of Jericho.  And so we read in  Joshua 2:1 Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.   Seemed a little focused in their trip, the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute.  But to be fair a brothel would be a place where people would be used to strange men showing up at all hours.  So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that there were strategic reasons for ending up at Rahab’s place. 
However word had somehow gotten out to the King of Jericho, who I would suspect was King like Peter Kelly is King of Halifax, that spies had entered the land.  And he immediately sends his men to Rahab’s place.   Must have been one of those “If I was a spy where would I go first?” questions and the answer was “Oh yeah, Rahab’s, she has that discount that she gives to spies.”
So the King’s men show up at the brothel but Rahab tells them, “Oh those spies, yeah they were here but they left earlier, they are heading out of town but if you hurry you can catch them.”    The king’s men obviously believed her because they get a posse together and head out of town after the guys.
But, it’s here the plot thickens.  You see the guys hadn’t actually left, Rahab had hidden them on the roof of her place and it was there they spent the night.   Obviously this was the friendly welcome that is alluded to in the book of Hebrews.
As a reward for her saving the spies they agree to spare her and her family when the Hebrews eventually overthrow the city on their way into the promised land.  And that is a whole other story that is mentioned in the previous verse in Hebrews 11. A story that you probably remember from Sunday School.  And it if you don’t the recap is in Hebrews 11:30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
And it is immortalized in this song.  (Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho).  But that is a story for a different time. 
When the battle breaks out, Rahab hangs a scarlet cord from the window of her home and she and her family are spared in the battle.
So what is it that we learn from the story?  Hebrews 11:31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.   
1) Rahab Had a Past  It was interesting as I was preparing this message how hard some commentators worked at cleaning up Rahab’s past.    Adam Clarke writes “the word which we translate harlot, should be rendered innkeeper or tavernkeeper, as there is no proper evidence that the person in question was such a woman as our translation represents her. As to her having been a harlot before and converted afterwards, it is a figment of an idle fancy”.
So I thought “maybe they just called her a hooker to spice up the story, it already had mystery and intrigue, all it needed was a hint of sex.”  So I went back to the original languages to see if that was actually the case.   In the book of Hebrews the Greek word that is used is πόρνη Porne, and that word does not mean innkeeper or even tavern keeper.  It is only ever used for a prostitute.  And it is no different in the original story in the book of Joshua, the Hebrew word used there is זָנָה‎ zānâ, and again there is no ambiguity there at all.  One meaning and one meaning only.   Today she might have been called a “Sex Worker” but no one would have mistaken  her for the manager at the Holiday Inn.
John Wesley used a great phrase to describe Rahab,  “Formerly one not of the fairest character.” 
Now it’s easy to cast stones and wonder how this woman could sell her body like this, or perhaps wonder what men did to cause her to become a prostitute.  Some will scorn her and others will pity her but the reality is we don’t know why she was what she was.  She obviously had a story that had brought her to this place in her life.  And without knowing the story it isn’t fair to judge her past.
Every once in a while you read a story about someone whose past has come back to haunt them.  There was a story this past week about a man who disappeared 30 years ago, just disappeared, left his family, his home and his job.  Nobody knew if he was dead or alive and he showed up the other day working in Vegas. 
Or you will hear of a war criminal from the World War Two who has been discovered living in Canada or the States.  Their past comes back to haunt them. 
Every one of us has a past.  I would suspect that there isn’t a person here who would want all of their past revealed.  I know that for the most part your past is spotless that you never did anything that you are ashamed of.  Because you are really nice people, but I would suspect that if tomorrow you got up and someone had left a note on your door that said “I know what you have done.”  Your mind would immediately jump to some incident and wonder how it is they knew and whether they would tell others about it. 
Maybe something you did as a child, or maybe something you did while your brain took a nap during your teen years.  Perhaps it was just a moment of indiscretion, but it is there and even though nobody else or very few people know about it, you do.
Oscar Wilde nailed it when he said “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
I have come to the conclusion that nobody should be judged by the worst moment in their lives. 
It’s easy to cast stones but listen to what Jesus said in  Matthew 7:3 “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”   And in the book of John when the crowd had gathered around the woman caught in adultery so eager to judge her, Jesus told them John 8:7 . . .”He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Two mistakes that we make about our past, one is to forget about it.  The ex-smoker who has little or no sympathy for those who still smoke.  They have forgotten the cravings and desires that went along with nicotine and say stupid things like “Why don’t you just quit.”  Forgetting the 247 times they tried to quit before they got it right.
The adult who forgets what it was like to be a teen, all the pressures and all the things waiting to be discovered and tried, for right or for wrong.  And how they behaved as a teen, for right or for wrong.  We want our teens to emulate the good things we did when we were their age but are terrified they will discover the real stupid things we did.  A friend of mine calls it “Boomer Guilt.” 
The second mistake we make about our past is not forgetting it.  We dwell in it, can’t get over it and can’t forgive ourselves for the mistakes that were made.    We spend our lives saying “If only” and “If I had my life to live again.”  
Thomas H. Raddall who said “Don’t brood on the past, but don’t forget it either.”
Everything that happened up to a minute ago is part of your past, you can’t change it or undo it, you simply need to accept that it happened and learn from it. 
And so Rahab stood at the intersection of her life, her past behind her and her future ahead of her.  She had to decide what part of her past she was going to embrace and what part she was going to reject.  Because not only was part of her past made up of Rahab the hooker, part of her past was made up of Rahab the virgin. 
There was a time in her life that she wasn’t what she had become.  Sometimes when we look backward we are overcome with shame, but that wasn’t always the way it was and isn’t the way it has to stay.
Rahab had a Choice  So, the King of Jericho heard that spies had arrived in his city and he made the logical leap that they were at Rahab’s home.  His men arrive and demand that Rahab surrender the spies. 
And it was at the point in time that Rahab had to make a decision.  Will she do what is easy or will she do what is right?  And even in that there are issues, as a citizen of Jericho what is right is different than what is right for two Hebrew spies. 
Contrary to what some people will tell you not every issue is black and white, right or wrong.  And there are issues that will divide people and one side will think you did a great job and will put up monuments in your honour while the other side will stand in line to spit on that very same monument. 
To the Hebrews Rahab was a hero, to the people of Jericho she was a traitor and worse. 
There are a number of us here at Cornerstone who hail from Saint John New Brunswick.  And Saint John proudly proclaims that it is Canada’s Loyalist City.  But those people who proclaimed their loyalty to the crown in the 1700’s during the American Revolution certainly weren’t considered to be loyalists by their neighbours but they were willing to give up their lands and their lives in order to stand by their loyalty.  When you think about it Benedict Arnold was a Loyalist hero.
And so Rahab hides the spies and then lies to the authorities before sending them on a wild goose chase. 
Why?  I’m sure as the spies lay on her rooftop hidden under piles of flax that they wondered the same thing and as they heard her footsteps approach they probably wondered if she was alone, if she had changed her mind and what their future would be like or even if they would have a future.
But it wasn’t the fact that Rahab had defied the King’s men that got her mentioned in the book of Hebrews, it was why she defied the King’s men that got her mentioned in the book of Hebrews.  After she has sent the authorities away she goes up on the rooftop to let the spies know they are in the clear and she tells them why she has saved them. 
Her explanation begins in Joshua 2:9 and said to the men: “I know that the LORD has given you the land, …” And finishes in Joshua 2:11 “. . .  for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”
She came to a place that she was willing to leave her past behind her and claim and believe the promises of God.   No matter what your past held your future stretches out before you and God invites you to step into it with him.  At the end of the book of Joshua as the people of Israel prepare to finally settle into the land that God promised them Joshua issues this challenge to the people.  Joshua 24:15 But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”
By the time that challenge was issued we know that Rahab had already aligned herself with the Hebrews and was probably part of the crowd that heard those words.  Choose today what you will serve, will you continue to serve the past or are you ready to step through the door into the incredible future God has for you?  It’s your choice.  Years ago my mother introduced me to a book called “Seeds of Greatness” and the author Denis Waitley wrote “Losers live in the past. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present toward the future.”
Rahab had a future  So the Israelites capture the city, you know the story how they marched around the city for six days and on the seventh day they blew their horns and shouted and brought the walls of the city down.  And how Rahab hung a scarlet cord from her window and was spared along with her family.  By the way some people believe that the scarlet cord was the beginning of the “red light” tradition. 
And the story could have ended there, alls well that ends well.  Joshua and the people of Israel could have settled the promise land and Rahab could have gone back to . . . providing a friendly welcome for people.
But that isn’t how the story ends.  The story continues in Joshua 6:25 So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day.
And then we hear nothing about Rahab for the next thousand years, nothing zip, nada.  And then she reappears out of nowhere.  And it is in the most unlikely place, the genealogy of Jesus!  Matthew 1:5-6 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
Did you catch that?  Rahab the prostitute was the Grandmother of King David, the greatest king who ever ruled over Israel and ultimately at the very end of that list was Joseph.  You know, Joseph who married the Virgin Mary and who raised Jesus as his own son.  
You understand? No Rahab, no Boaz.  Boaz was the man who married the widow Ruth, there’s an entire book in the Bible written about that love story.  No Rahab, no David to fight Goliath, no David to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, no David to plan the Temple that Solomon would build, no David no 23rd Psalm.  And you understand that without a Rahab there would have been no Joseph to believe in Mary, no Joseph to raise Jesus in a loving and caring home.
And it all began in a brothel with a woman that good respectable people had given up on long before.  But Rahab hadn’t given up on Rahab and neither had God.  Rahab saw beyond the reality of the present and made a choice that would affect an entire nation.  When she not only came to the point that she knew Joshua 2:11 “. . .  for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”  But when she acted on that belief doing what was right instead of doing what was easy.  It’s easy to say “I believe in God”  Good for you, people have been saying that for thousands of years and to quote James the brother of Jesus,  James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.   James goes on to say James 2:20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? And then as an example of that statement he tells the story of Abraham, and then we read James 2:25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.
What is it that God could do with you if you made the choice to not only believe that he is God but to believe that he has great things for you to do?  I would suspect that you all believe in God, otherwise you would be at the beach today, but what can you believe that God can do with you and through you?  And are you willing to take that next step?