- Denise Kohlmeyer
RAHAB: RESCUED AND REDEEMED
Disclaimer: I took quite a bit of creative license in imagining Rahab’s life and how the logistics of the events unfolded in her life. However, I did remain true to the context of the overall story.
The market square was getting crowded. More of Jericho’s citizens were arriving by the minute, to buy their staples for the day. I visited the market usually at the dawn of each day, after my night’s work. I don’t linger long, though.
The flax vendor crossed his arms impatiently. I was taking too long for his liking. I purchased several bundles—I was running out of flax oil for my skin—then hurried back to my house in the outer wall of the city. On the roof, I spread the stalks out to dry in the awakening sun. Later, I would come back up to separate the seeds from the stalks, then grind them to extract the skin-nourishing oil within. My skin must be soft and supple for my patrons, patrons who visit me at night to take my pleasures.
I am known in this tiny city-state of Jericho as Rahab, the harlot. Never just Rahab. My name is synonymous with my profession, which I have heard is the oldest of this earth. There is no comfort in that thought, though. Its longevity does not insinuate a good reputation. Rather, the opposite. I am despised by my townspeople. They go out of their way to avoid me, step aside when I pass. Mothers admonish their sons to look the other way, for even a glance is to evoke lust. These sons are told not to heed my calls or to listen to my songs when I play my lyre in the empty square at night.
Do they not know that I have to live? Do they not understand that I have no husband to care for me, to secure my honor and my life? How else am I to support myself? I am a businesswoman, although my “wares” are the forbidden parts of my body.
I glanced east. The sun was sliding up over the hills beyond the Jordan, which has overflown its banks and flooded the surrounding fields. Spring. The time of renewal, of refreshment.
Speaking of, it was time for me to bathe, to refresh my body after the night of plying my trade, to rid my skin of the stench and feel of the hard hands and stone streets of Jericho.
The knock woke me. I blinked and looked out saw my window. The sun told me it was early afternoon. Who would be calling at such an hour? These were the hours for sleeping, before I had to go back to the square with my harp.
I flung open the door, already annoyed at whoever was there. But my annoyance quickly faded when I saw two strangers standing on the threshold. I recognized them immediately: Israelites. Olive skinned, prominent noses, heavy beards. And they had the look of many miles on them. Wanderers. Nomads. God’s people rescued from far away, journeying back to the land promised to them, but previously lost to them.
I knew the Israelites were here to reclaim it.
Why had they chosen my house, of all houses? Did they not know who I was, what I was? That to touch me would make them unclean, defiled?
They seemed not to care about that but entered without an invitation. They sat down at my table. What could I do? They did not look as if they would be leaving any time soon. I served them wine and bread with olive oil. They ate silently while I waited to hear what they had to say.
When they had finished eating, they began with their questions. I was able to answer them all.
Ah, they’d chosen the right place, after all. A woman of my position hears things, knows things. The patrons who visit me—many of them high officials—have loose tongues. They tell me things, not thinking a harlot has the intelligence to remember it all. But I did, and now I shared it.
“How large is Jericho?” More than 160,000 cubits. Eight-and-a-half acres. A mile in circumference.
“How many people live here?” About 2,500.
“How thick is that first outer wall?” Six feet. Made of mud bricks.
“How strong is the king’s army?” About 500 strong.
“What of the people here?”
Ah, they want to know about morale.
We know the Lord has given you the land. The fear of you has fallen on us, and all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.
They nodded, satisfied with my answers. Then it was my turn.
“How many are there of you?” Some two million.
“How large is your army?” Eight thousand strong.
“Who is your king?” We have no king, but a warrior, named Joshua, son of Nun. He’s been commanded by Yahweh to conquer your land.
I took this all in. I knew the taking of tiny Jericho would be easy.
I looked out my window at last. I had not realized the time. The sun was waning in the evening sky.
I offered to lodge the men for the night. They would be safe on my roof while I was gone. I took them up and made them as comfortable as I could, then covered them with the flax stalks I had purchased earlier this day. When they were sufficiently hidden, I went back down to begin my evening ritual, to ready myself for my patrons.
In the distance, I heard the city gates close for the night.
I sat at my table and rubbed the last of my flax oil onto my skin. There came a pounding at my door then. My heart stopped. Who was calling now? I rushed to open the door, casting a quick glance upwards, hoping the men did not give themselves away by making any noise.
I flung open the door to find one of the king’s messengers standing there. A look of contempt crossed his face as he thrust a piece of folded parchment at me.
With trembling hands, I broke the seal, opened the parchment, and read, “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
Why was I not surprised that the king knew of the men’s existence here in Jericho? I suspected the ever-watchful, suspicious guards at the gate, seeing the two foreigners, had immediately alerted the palace. But how had the king known they were at my house? Had the guards followed them? Had one of my neighbors tattled on me?
The messenger sighed impatiently. His lips were pursed. He did not want to remain any longer than he had to.
How to answer the king? I thought quickly, then hastily scratched, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.”
I handed the parchment to the messenger, who snatched if from my hand and left, but not before casting one more nasty look my way.
I shut the door and locked it. My heart was thudding so hard my ribs hurt. I had just lied to the king! What would become of me if he found out the truth? Instant execution, I had no doubt.
Shortly, I heard the city gate open. I ran to the window and saw several warriors running down the road. The dust from their many feet rose like a vapor.
I could not help but laugh then. The king had believed my lie!
I ran up to the roof and told the men what had happened. They came out from under the flax and readied themselves to leave. They did not want to endanger me further.
But I did not want them to go just yet.
“We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
I paused for breath. They stared at me, amazed. I inhaled deeply, let it out slowly, tried to quiet my hammering heart.
I knew what was going to happen to Jericho. And I knew what would happen to me if I did not act for myself. I was the lowest in society. Despised. Hated. Rejected. That was why my house was in the outer wall. It would be the first thing attacked in a deadly siege. I would be one of the first to be sacrificed while the more respectable citizens who lived deeper within had time to make their escape.
I leveled my eyes at the two men, who were watching me intently. “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”
I could not bear the thought that my family would fall by the sword once this Israelite warrior, Joshua, son of Nun, and his mighty army entered our gates.
“Our lives for your lives!” said the men. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
I hastily agreed to their oath. I would keep their secret, come what may.
I beckoned them to follow me back down the stone steps.
“Go into the hills,” I said, pointing out my window. “Hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.”
I searched my cupboards and found a rope. I tossed it out the window. The end hit the ground with a soft thud. I secured the other end to a beam inside my room.
The first man climbed unto the stone sill, but before he lowered himself, he said to me, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear.”
I gave him a grateful smile.
But he wasn’t finished. “Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother your brothers, and all your father’s household Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, he blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. But, if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.”
The warning repeated. But I did not need to hear it again. I would do nothing to break this oath or jeopardize the lives of my family. I would be true to my word.
“According to your words, so be it.” I took the scarlet cord the man handed me and immediately tied it in the window. This scarlet cord would save my life, would ensure that death would pass over me.
I continued in my trade those three days as if nothing was amiss. But I was distracted, anxious. Any chance I got, I ran to my window and looked east, toward the Jordan River, still flooded. The plain beyond remained empty, though. There was no sign of an advancing army.
I touched the scarlet cord often and wondered if the two men had made it safely back to their encampment. I wondered what they told their leader, this Joshua, son of Nun. Did they relay all that I had told them? Would they tell him about our oath? More importantly, would he honor it? I wondered, too, how our rescue would happen?
I did not have long to wait. But I was not prepared for what I witnessed.
The army reached our city, but instead of laying siege to it, they marched around our city’s walls. Before them was a golden box with what looked to be two angels facing each other, their wings touching. This box was accompanied by seven priests, arrayed in fine, flowing clothing. They each carried a trumpet. The army of eight thousand followed in silent assembly.
They did this for six days.
If this was how Israel was going to take Jericho, I was beginning to have my doubts. What were they doing? My family and their servants, having gathered in my house for those six days, wondered the same.
But on the seventh day at dawn, the two men I had helped appeared below my window and called up to me. Lower the rope, they said. One by one, we all descended the rope, with me going last, but not before grabbing the scarlet cord.
We were immediately taken to the Israelite’s encampment and warmly received by the people. I had never felt so welcomed in my entire life by these foreigners, these strangers. I wondered if they had been told about me, about my occupation? If so, they gave no indication. My family and I were enfolded into this new flock of a family.
From where I stood at the edge of the encampment, I could see the city, into the city, for the walls had fallen and lay in great heaps, creating ramparts, up which the Israelite army had scrambled. How those walls had crumbled at the trumpets’ blast and the great shout of 8,000 voices. I had never seen the like. And now those 8,000 were inside, wreaking devastation and carnage on my people.
Rather, my former people.
As tears slide down my face, I fingered the scarlet cord inside my pouch, thankful that death had indeed passed me over.
My days with the Israelites were good. My family and I traveled with the encampment throughout Canaan as Joshua’s army laid siege to and destroyed city-state after city-state.
My days were filled with learning about the Israelites’ God, Yahweh. The one, true God. The only God. So different from the many gods I was used to worshipping. With learning their dietary laws, their sacrificial system, their commandments. My life was good.
It got better, though, when I was introduced to Salmon. How handsome he was. How kind and generous. He looked beyond my past, saw what I had become since living among his people, saw what I would become as I grew in my new-found faith in Yahweh.
We wed, and knew each other. I did not know love could be so tender, so rapturous, so complete. My body felt cherished by Salmon. Not used. I was a delight to him and he to me.
I lived with Salmon and my new Israelite family the rest of my years, as an accepted member, gladly given a place among them. Me, a person once soiled and unclean, now happy and whole, rescued and redeemed.
Favor upon favor.
Then God opened my womb and gave me a son, whom we named Boaz. I marveled at this babe’s beauty. I could not stop holding him, smelling him, looking at him. As he suckled at my breast, I often thought about how my former people used to sacrifice their infants, to whatever god they wanted to please. Babies butchered, then burned and buried in clay jars at the high places. It broke my heart to think of those little lives lost. It made me cherish my own sweet babe more. I could never have done that to my precious Boaz. Instead, I consecrated him to Yahweh, who gave him to me. I prayed that Boaz would serve Yahweh all of his days, that he would be a pleasing aroma to Him, and that Yahweh would use Boaz in some mighty way.
And He did. I became a grandmother. My grandson, Obed, was born to Boaz and his lovely Moabite wife, Ruth. Oh, to hear Boaz and Ruth’s love story; it is beyond comprehension.
Favor upon favor.
I love to think about what great things and will be done through our little Obed, what wonderful people he will father. I love to imagine what my legacy will be because of what Yahweh has done for me.
Favor upon favor, indeed. How blessed I am. Above all, rescued and redeemed. And I have the scarlet cord to prove it.