Monday, March 14, 2016

Reflection on Joshua 2

Several questions come up concerning Rahab when I read Joshua 2.  Why did the spies that Joshua sent go to the house of a prostitute?  Why did God bless a lying Canaanite prostitute?  There are a few other questions, but I am reflecting on these two.

On the surface, it seems that the spies may have sought out the services of the prostitute.  However, this seems unlikely.  In Deuteronomy, there was a renewal of commitment to the covenant.  The covenant made adultery a capital crime.  Perhaps the spies saw the strategic advantage of staying at a house right on the city wall where they could easily escape.  Being a public place, they could hide out there and blend in with the clientele.  It was probably nothing more than a strategic move.  

When the spies were discovered, officials came to arrest them at Rahab's house.  Instead of giving them up, she hid them under some flax on her roof,  told the officials that the men had already left, and that if they hurry, they might catch up to them.  This was a bald faced lie.  In spite of this, God blessed her.  I can remember discussions I have had about ethics, honesty, and lying.  This is one of the biblical incidents that always comes up.  Rahab decided to protect the men because she recognized that they served Yahweh, the God of Heaven and Earth.  She, along with the rest of the city, had heard how Yahweh had parted the sea when they came out of Egypt and how Yahweh's people utterly defeated the Amorites.  She had a decision to make when the officials came to arrest Yahweh's spies.  She chose to stand with Yahweh, God of Heaven and Earth and protect these men.  Therefore, when she asked for herself and her family to be spared in the upcoming battle, Joshua spared her.  Judes 6:25 says that Joshua spared Rahab the harlot and her father's household and all she had and that she lived in the midst of Israel for the rest of her life.  

Over a thousand years later, Rahab's name is written into Hebrews chapter 11 as an example of faith alongside Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and others: 

Heb 11:31, "By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace."

James 2 also points to Rahab as an example of an active faith: 

James 2:24-26 says,  "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

Rahab the harlot is an example of faith.  She did not tell the truth in order to protect these men who were from God.  It was not "bearing false witness against a neighbor" as the Ten Commandments prohibit, nor was it lying with malice.  This is similar to the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 did in Egypt.  In spite of Pharaoh's orders to them to kill Hebrew baby boys during birth, they allowed them to live because "they feared God."  When Pharaoh asked them why they did not kill the Hebrew babies when they were being born, they lied and said that the Hebrew women were so robust that by the time they got to them, their babies were already born. The text says that God was good to these midwives and established households for them, indicating that their actions found favor with GodThis might not be very different than those who in World War 2 hid and protected Jews from the Nazis against their orders.  They felt it would have been immoral to give them up to die to a tyrant.  They may have asked themselves which was the greater evil?  Was the greater evil to give over the innocent to the authorities to avoid putting themselves at risk of being arrested, or was it lying and being disobedient to an immoral tyrant to protect the innocent?  Many chose the later. 

I wonder if it is intentional that the Bible consistently refers to her as "Rahab the harlot?"  We might think this to be too indelicate.  We might want to clean it up and just refer to her as "Rahab," or "Rahab of Jericho."  We might balk at using Rahab "the harlot" as a positive example.  

But the Bible tells it like it is without trying to clean things up.  Unlike the Sunday School version which is toned down for children, the Bible itself gives an honest portrayal of its' "heroes."  Many of them were very rough characters. 

I am reminded of Origen who wrote about Rahab in the second century.  He pointed out that the first Joshua (which is actually Yehoshua, or Yeshua in Hebrew, which is the name of Jesus) sent out spies who were welcomed by a harlot.  The second Joshua, he wrote, sent out his people, whom the tax collectors and harlots welcomed gladly.  Jesus welcomed all who would come to him in faith, regardless of their backgrounds.  From the woman who was a sinner and wept at his feet, to the tax collector who made his living cheating people, to the convicted criminal dying on a cross, Jesus welcomed all who would place their faith in him.  I can imagine how much of a rag-tag group of people that must have been.  

It seems then, that what makes these people in scripture worth mentioning is not their impeccable reputation, background, or character, but their willingness to leave everything behind and follow our Lord.  We may see a rag-tag group of people, but our Lord does not see us in this way.  Ephesians 5 says that Jesus loves the church and gave himself up for her in order to dedicate her to himself, to clean her up by the washing of water with the word, and to present the church in all her glory with no spot or wrinkle or anything like that.  As a husband sees his perfect beautiful wife is how Jesus sees the church, his bride, his people.

Maybe all of this is why Rahab gets a special mention in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew.  As I go back and look at the Genealogy of Jesus, I notice that Rahab is mentioned alongside other women that are questionable in some way…

Matt 1:5-6 says, "Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.

Ruth is a Moabite, not an Israelite, yet she receives special mention.   

Bathsheba committed adultery.   

Verse 3 mentions Tamar, who, like Rahab and Bathsheba also had a history of sexual impropriety.  

So why mention these particular women?  As I look over the genealogy, I don't see Sarah mentioned, or any other woman that I might include.  Instead it is these women.  Ruth is the great grandmother of David the King, and Rahab is his great-great grandmother.  Yet, God chose David to be king because he was a man after God's own heart.  The specific mention of these women in the genealogy of David the King, and of Jesus the King of Kings, says something about the nature of our God.

Lord, please help me to see people as you do.  People have been created in your image, so you look past all the rough edges and can see your glory, and beauty, and the potential of all that we can be through your son.  Lord, let me never look down on anyone, but be welcoming to all as Jesus was.  Remind me that my best efforts and my so-called righteousness are as dirty rags to you, but you love me anyway.  Lord help me to grow in kindness and compassion and value all people as you do.  In the name of Jesus who accepted me, Amen.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Reflection on Deuteronomy 1

I am struck by the opening of Deuteronomy.  In verse 5, it says that "Moses undertook to expound this law, saying,…" What follows is not a bare list of dos and don'ts.  It does not read like our law books today.  Instead, Moses begins to recount the history of the people.  Included in this recounting are the laws, statutes, and instructions that God gave to Israel.  So, not only does Moses recount the laws that God gave, but he also recounts the circumstances and history surrounding those laws.

This reminds me of the instruction about the Passover in Exodus.  From chapter 11-13 of Exodus, God gives instructions concerning how to keep the Passover.  However, the text does not give a bare list of instructions about how to keep the Passover, but gives the historical context as well.  Instructions for the Passover are interwoven with the story of the Passover. 

I find it interesting that the first five books of the Old Testament are referred to as "Books of Law," yet the majority of what I find in these books are historical narratives and stories about God and his people.  I have read law books in the library, and they are nothing like the "books of law" in the Bible.

What does this say about God's law, and the kind of God that we serve? 

Those who understand Hebrew will remind us that the English word, "law" doesn't carry the full range of meaning of the corresponding Hebrew word, "Torah."  Torah can be rendered law, or instruction.   The verb form or Torah means "to instruct."  This, along with the way Torah is presented, indicates that God did not give a list of arbitrary rules.  God was interested in much more than just compliance with a set of arbitrary rules.  The stories and historical accounts give a fuller picture than a bare list of dos and don'ts would have.  Even more significant is that the historical accounts surrounding the giving of the law demonstrates the nature of the God who gave them.  God's desire is not compliance, but knowledge.  He wants his people to know him and love him.  A few chapters later in chapter 6, Moses tells the people that these words were to be "on their heart," and that they were to love Yahweh, their God, with all their heart, soul, and might.  Later in their history, God will reveal through Hosea in Hosea 6 that his delight is in loyalty, or steadfast love, rather than sacrifice, and in the knowing of God rather than burnt offerings.

No wonder God refers to his people as his bride, or the child whom he loves!  God is inherently a relational God and has always desired a relationship with his people.  1 John 4 reminds us that God is love.  Therefore, his "law" or "instruction" is more like the rules and instructions that a loving parent gives to his children rather than the laws on the law books of a nation.  Out of love, God gives his Torah to his people for their good. 

This should affect how I see and understand God's laws, statutes, commandments, and instructions.  Like the Psalms exclaims in both the 19th Psalm and the 119th Psalm, I should savor them as sweeter than honey.  I should love God's law and look forward to meditating on it in the night watches.  I should rely on God's law as that which gives wisdom, understanding, and life. 

Lord, please forgive me for those times I have relied on something other than your word.  Your word reveals your goodness, compassion, holiness, and beauty.  In keeping your word there is great reward.  Lord, may I be sustained by your word because it is the word of life.  May your word be my meditation all day and all night and may it continue to transform my heart into the beauty of your holiness.  Thank you Lord for your guidance, life, and love.  In the name of your Son, Jesus, your word that has become flesh, Amen.