April 26, 2017: By Name and Not Profession
About ten years ago, over the course of a particularly harsh December in the UK, there was a terrible series of events in the city that I was ministering in which women working in prostitution were serially disappearing. It seemed that every day the news would show yet another picture of another victim — a young woman smiling at the camera, never suspecting how that snapshot would one day be used to notify the world of her tragic end. These terrible events caused a great wave of fear across the whole country. We were deep in preparation for our Christmas services but amidst all the festivities and caroling we felt that we needed to publicly pray for these women and their families. It fell upon me to shape those prayers. How do you pray in such terrible circumstances? I was very clear about one thing: nobody was going to pray for them by profession. We were going to pray for someone’s daughter, sister, grandchild, mother… and so we were going to pray for them by name and pray for their families who were left to grieve.
I shall never forget the soft silence that fell upon the service as we led these prayers — a silence only disturbed by the sound of weeping that came from one part of the crowded church. Later we discovered that a young woman and her friend (girls who worked the city streets) had come to church that night because they were very afraid and, in their words, “We wanted to feel safe in God’s house.” Later they told us that they had wept because we had called the victims by name. They came back for several more services over the Christmas period and each time they brought more of their colleagues with them because, they said, “This was a church where God knew them by name and not profession. This was a place where they felt safe.”
I can’t help but recall the faces of these young women whenever I read the account of the Biblical story of Rahab. There was something in this raw instinct to reach out for God’s protection and rely wholly upon God’s mercy that was embedded in their lives and in Rahab’s life.
Let me unpack Rahab’s story a little bit. Under Joshua’s leadership, the people of God are now poised to possess the land that God has given them. Part of this Promised Land is the walled city of Jericho. Built thousands of years before Joshua was born, Jericho was one of the oldest cities in the world. It was also one of the most corrupt places on the face of the earth. Jericho made Las Vegas look like The Vatican! What happened in Jericho, stayed in Jericho! Joshua gave the order for two unnamed soldiers to enter the city as spies and bring back news of what they found. Where might spies go without fear of being detected? Where might two young soldiers go where nobody will question them? They call at the home of Rahab, whose house is conveniently situated on the city wall and whose occupation as a prostitute gave them what they hoped would be the perfect cover. The king of Jericho somehow discovers their arrival and sends his soldiers to Rahab’s house to arrest them. And in this moment, Rahab makes arguably one of the most heroic decisions in the entire Bible. Risking her own life and the lives of her family, she chooses to hide the Jewish spies on the roof of her house, telling the king’s soldiers that the men have left the city. If they had demanded to search the premises and found the spies, she and her family would have been executed on the spot. Why did she take this action? Why is a woman who was caught up in an immoral lifestyle and who arguably betrayed her city held out as a hero of faith?
I believe the answer lies in the remarkable quality of her faith. Faith is always about who we are choosing to place our trust in. As a Canaanite woman, Rahab had myriad gods at her disposal and yet there was something about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that had entered her heart. Even more amazing, Rahab knows nothing of this God, save for that which she has learned from the testimony of men who visit her home and pay her for her time, pillow talk from soldiers who are terrified of the God who parted the Red Sea. Their testimony touched her heart to the point that she can say to Joshua’s spies: “…for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11b).
This is perhaps the most important statement in the whole of the story. In this raw statement of faith, Rahab is declaring that upon the earth and under heaven there are no other gods. She is placing all her trust, all her hopes, all her fears in the sheer power and mercy of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Israelite army had absolutely no experience in any wall-breaching strategies! This had been the situation 40 years ago when they failed to take the city and nothing had changed. The two spies did not glean one strategic fact about that city. They simply returned to Joshua with just one statement: “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (verse 24). They are directly quoting Rahab who had told them, “I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us so that all who live in this land are melting in fear because of you.” (verse 9). And on the strength of her statement of faith, they are prepared to take the walled city — not by force, but by faith. Ultimately, they marched around it on a kind of prayer walk. Just as God said would happen, on the 7th day and on the 7th time around, the walls crumbled and this impregnable city was completely surrendered to them (Joshua 6). It was Rahab’s simple statement of faith that opened the sluice gates for God’s power to flow — through her to the spies and to Joshua and to the people of God.
How will Rahab’s little scrap of faith lay siege to her impossible life? Before they made their escape, the spies agreed to save Rahab and her family when the Israelite army came to take the city. What happened to Rahab? The Bible records that there was a man named Boaz, a man of great honor and of significant wealth within the Jewish community who showed great love and kindness in saving a young woman named Ruth. Guess who Boaz had to thank for his good looks and Godly character? Rahab! Rahab is Boaz’s mother. So, we can know that Rahab not only married, but married a man of honor and wealth. The impossible was overturned. The circumstances of her life that had kept her walled up in a prison of desolation and despair came crumbling down. Her fortunes were radically transformed, and all in just one generation. Furthermore, Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed who grew up to father Jesse, who was father to David whose line begets Jacob the father of Joseph who was the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. There is the name of Rahab in the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah recorded in Matthew 1 — one of the only women included on the list. Rehab placed all her faith in the God of heaven and earth, and ended up face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Is it remotely possible that God still does that sort of thing?
Maybe we can identify with a sense of being walled in with some impossible circumstance. Maybe we feel that we are running out of faith. Rahab would encourage us that it was not the quantity of her faith that was most important. It was not even the quality of her faith. It is likely that what she shared with the spies constituted all she knew at that time about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What was most important was the identity of the One she chose to trust above all else.
While saying goodbye after the service on that cold December night, one of the girls paused and told me quietly, “I am not proud of my life. This was not my dream. All I can I do is to throw myself on the mercy and protection of God.” I think that is one of the sincerest understandings of the heart of God that I have ever heard. I don’t know what happened to this young woman. I do know that her faith was not misplaced in a God who knew her by name, not by profession.
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