Don’t Sell the Harlot Short

Photo © 2008 Jenjke Bykov CC 2.0 BY NC ND
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“I’m not a traitor. I just want to live.”

I wrote those words about two years ago.

Around this time each year, in synagogue, we read from Joshua chapter 2, the story of Rahab the harlot.

It inspired a short-short story, “The Confidant of Jericho,” which concluded with the line above.

The story of Rahab always hits me between the eyes.

We say she was afraid of the Israelites, awed by God’s terrible power. Therefore, she believed in the God of the Israelites, and she hid the Israelite spies from the king of Jericho, and God accounted it to her as righteousness.

But I think there’s more to it than that. And I think this view of Rahab sells her short. Yes, I’m sure she was afraid of the Israelites. But was that enough to make her turn traitor?

The need to save one’s own skin can be a powerful motivator. And I’m sure Rahab realized that she’d be better off if she got on the spies’ good side. But not everything a person does has to be about fear.

Something about her experience with Salmon and his companion impressed her. They connected, in that moment became friends. Tradition holds that they eventually married. And Rahab, formerly a Gentile whore, gave birth to an ancestor of King David. Hence, she is noted by name in Matthew’s genealogy of Yeshua.

Was this connection caused only by fear? Or did it go deeper?

I’d like to think that she came to believe and trust in Hashem.

I’d like to think she was running toward salvation, not just away from destruction.

I’d like to think this encounter changed her life, pointed her to what she was seeking.

I’d like to think that when she met the Israelites, she said to herself, “I want to have what they have. I want to live like they live. I want to be who they are.”

Maybe it was their sense of community that attracted her. Maybe their sense of honesty and fair-play. Or maybe simply their power and prosperity, and she was sick and tired of getting the short end of the stick, and being whacked over the head with it.

We’ll never know all of what was going through Rahab’s mind, because she didn’t tell us. But we do know that fear does not produce permanent life-change. Only love can accomplish that. We can run away from our fears all our lives, but unless we have something to run toward, we’ll just keep running. And I’d like to think that Rahab was not just running away from the future she saw for herself, but toward the future she wanted to live.