One + God = A Majority”

JOSHUA 2

JULY 19, 2009

 

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            Who can tell me the last line of the “Gloria Patri?”  Who thinks they have it?  That’s right.  The Gloria Patri ends with the words, “World without end.  Amen.  Amen.”

            One little girls sang it differently.  When she came to the last line she enthusiastically sang, “World with weird men.  Amen.  Amen.”

            This morning I don’t want to talk about weird men, rather I want to talk about a weird heroine of faith.  Her name is Rahab.  She is a very unlikely biblical hero.  By that I mean, she made her living on her back, not in a board room or in a bakery or in a respectable bed and breakfast.  Her home was in the red-light district of Jericho and not in a pristine neighborhood with white picket fences.  And if we were looking for a woman of great honesty and integrity, she’s not it.  Rahab lies with the best of them.  Furthermore, she seems to have had a “foxhole conversion” experience, and one wonders if her conversion experience was legitimate or whether she just mouthed some words of faith in order to save herself and her family, but apparently it was sincere because twice in the New Testament - in the book of James and the book of Hebrews - Rahab is offered to us as someone to emulate.  Let’s turn our attention then to this unlikely heroine of faith.  Look with me at Joshua 2:1.

 

            Then Joshua, son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittum as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”

 

            Jericho was a strategic fortress on the edge of Canaan.  It stood just west of the Jordan River and it guarded the foot of the road that climbed into the Judean hills, the hills that would in the future lead to the city of Jerusalem.  Take Jericho and you were well on your way to taking other cities in the hill country, cities like Bethel, Ai, and Gibeon.  So Joshua sends out a couple of guys from the Israeli CIA to gather some information about Jericho, and most importantly, he sends them out secretly.  He is not about to repeat Moses’ mistake.  Moses sent out twelve spies and asked them to return with a recommendation.  Joshua only sends out two spies, and he is not looking for a recommendation to attack or not attack.  That decision has already been made.  No, he only wants a lay of the land.

            Joshua’s behavior reminds me of a golf term.  I heard it the other day while watching the British Open.  The term is “going to school on their ball.”  In golf, if you have a similar putt as your playing partner, you watch what happens to your partner’s putt, how it breaks, how fast it rolls, and you “go to school on their ball.”  Well, Joshua went to school on Moses and Joshua’s spies are not to recommend whether or not to cross the Jordan.  They are simply to return with a layout of the city for military purposes.  Let’s continue reading.

 

            So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there.  The king of Jericho was told, “Some Israelites have come there tonight to search out the land.”  Then the king sent orders to Rahab, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered the house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.”  But the woman took the two men and hid them.  Then she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from.  And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out.  Where the men went I do not know.  Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.”  She had, however, brought them up the roof and hidden then with the flax that she had laid out on the roof.

 

            Throughout the years people have had difficulties with the second chapter of Joshua.  First of all, they have had problems with where the spies chose to stay.  Did these country boys from Shittum get carried away with the big city lights?  Did Rahab proposition them on the corner of Methuselah and Main?  What in the world were these guys doing, staying in the home of a prostitute?

            Before we assume the worse, however, let us not forget that the text only tells us where they spent the night not what they did that night.  And we also must not forget that strangers in town would more likely be overlooked in the red light district.  Being a stranger in town and going into the home of a known prostitute would scarcely receive a second look.  Maybe that was their rationale for visiting Rahab.  They could get into town and out of town unnoticed.  If that was their plan, however, it did not work.  Someone spotted them at Rahab’s.  Maybe they forgot to take off their yamakas when they strolled into town.

            A second problem people have with this story is the fact that this prostitute shows up in Jesus’ family tree.  Take your bible and flip to the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, verse one.  Check out Jesus’ family tree.

 

            An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

            Abraham was the father of Isaac and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers ... (and skipping to verse five.)

            And Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab.

 

            Some upstanding, properly pedigreed Christians have been embarrassed by the fact that Jesus has a hooker in his family closet.  In fact, some translations of Joshua change the word “prostitute” to “innkeeper,” but a prostitute she was and I love what Frederick Buechner says about this fact in his wonderful little book  Peculiar Treasures.  He writes,

 

            Matthew lists Rahab as one of the ancestors of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that may be the reason why there was something about free-wheeling ladies with warm and generous hearts that he was never quite able to resist.

 

            Quite true.  Jesus did have a soft spot for women on the fringes of society.  Maybe having a relative like Rahab had something to do with it.

            But there is one more problem people have with this second chapter of Joshua.  People have not only had a problem with where the spies stayed, and a problem with Jesus having a hooker in his family tree, but also they have had a problem with the fact that Rahab lied and they wonder how such a bold faced liar could be lifted up as a heroine of faith.

            And they raise a valid concern because the ninth commandment forbids lying, so what do we do with this?  How can she be a heroine of faith when she clearly breaks the ninth commandment?  Well, let me say three things about this.  First, it is important that the biblical writers never commend her for her lying.  Rather she is commended for her faith in God.  In the Scriptures we find heroes and heroines who have faults.  Take David.  He is considered the greatest king in the history of Israel.  When the Jews looked back on their glory days, the look back to the time of David.  But when David is praised, the biblical writers never praise David for his affair with Bathsheba.  David is never praised for putting Bathsheba’s husband on the front lines so that he would be killed.  Those things are never praised.  They are shown, but not praised.  In the same manner Rahab is never praised for her lying, just her faith in God.

            Secondly, we need to remember we live in a fallen world.  That means at times we have to choose between the lesser of two evils.  I think of Corrie Ten Boom.  Corrie’s family hid Jews in their home, and the family had a discussion about it, specifically what they would do if the Nazi’s came and Corrie’s sister said, “I will not lie.  If they ask if we are hiding Jews I will tell them where they are.”

            Corrie, however, and the rest of the family said they would lie.  If the Nazi’s asked, they would say there were no Jews in the house.  And if you read Corrie’s book The Hiding Place, you remember that when the Nazi’s came none of the Nazi’s asked Corrie’s sister if they were hiding Jews.  They asked other family members and those family members lied.  They said, “No, we are not hiding Jews,” but they never asked Corrie’s sister.  And most of us, if placed in Corrie’s position, and her family’s position would have done the same.  If it had been the choice of allowing Jews to go to concentration camps or breaking the ninth commandment, we would have broken the ninth commandment.  I’m not saying that would be right, but sometimes, not often, but sometimes we only have a choice between two evils.

            And then thirdly, it’s important to remember that even when having to choose between the lesser of two evils, we ought never call it anything less than it is ... sin!  Circumstances don’t make it right.  Sin is sin.  At times, we just choose the lesser sin.

            OK, having dealt with this “weird” heroine of faith and the problems people have with her, let’s turn to the two lessons we glean from the text.  The first lesson is this:  God’s heroes and heroines come in strange and weird packages.  For example, Moses was a stutterer.  Jeremiah was a manic-depressive.  David had difficulty keeping his pants zipped.  Jacob was a cheat.  Rahab was a hooker.  Yet all are heroes, and this gives us hope that people as flawed and imperfect as us can do great things for God as well.  

            That’s one lesson from today’s passage, but it’s not the main lesson.  The main lesson is a formula.  Here it is:  1 + God = A Majority.   Did you write the formula down?  1 + God = A Majority.  And we learn this formula from Rahab and that’s what makes her a heroine of faith.  She lived by this formula and she taught the formula to the two spies and she ultimately teaches it to us.  Listen to these words, beginning in verse 8.

 

            Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you.  For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  (Now listen to what comes next.)  As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you.  The Lord your God is indeed in heaven above and on earth below.

 

            Rahab knew if you had God on your side, you were a majority.  I am reminded of the NBA rookie who played on the Chicago Bulls basketball team with Michael Jordan, whom some consider the best basketball player of all time.  During one particular game Jordan went wild and scored a magnificent 68 points  The rookie rode the bench until the last minute of the game, when the coach finally sent him into the action.  The rookie was fouled and made one out of two free throws at the end of the game.  When interviewed in the post-game show, the rookie said, “Michael Jordan and I teamed for 69 points!”

            And so it is in our relationship with God.  We’re rookies playing with the Legend, but as long as God blesses our meager talent, it will be sufficient and Rahab knew that.  She knew if God were on your side, you were a majority.

            Of course, the pertinent question for today is, “Do we know it?  Do we know that 1 + God = A Majority?

            Let me close with a story from one of the great story tellers of our generation, Tony Campolo.  In one of his stories, he tells about his wife.  Campolo said that for many years his wife sometimes felt like she needed to apologize for just being a mother and a homemaker, and she especially felt awkward when people asked her, “What do you do?”  That is, she felt awkward and apologetic until she came up with a new response to the question.  Now when someone asks her, “What do you do?” she replies, “I am socializing two homo sapiens in the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the theologically prescribed utopia inherit in the eschaton.”

            She would then follow that up with the question, “And what do you do?”

            Let me ask you a question.  What do you do?  Next time someone ask, you might say something like, “I am an instrument of God committed to the transformation of the social order into the theologically prescribed utopia inherit in the eschaton.”

            And do you bring about the transformation by yourself?  No, you do not.  You have God on your side.  Remember 1 + God = A Majority.