During this bizarre time of coronavirus, I’m reminded of a Biblical event where folks were also in lockdown against a Very Big Threat: Jericho, in the days of Joshua.
Jericho’s population was probably small compared to most modern cities, but they had a king. (Perhaps he was just an exalted mayor.) At any rate, he knew what went on in his city—that two Israelite spies had snuck in, scoping the land for conquest. He knew the Israelites had already annihilated Sihon and Og, two kingdoms east of the Jordan. He also knew the spies were staying with Rahab, a prostitute who lived in the city walls. Her simple act of welcoming (and protecting) the men earned her a place in the genealogy of Jesus, and a mention in the Faith Hall of Fame, the chapter we’re still hiking:
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Heb. 11:31)
Let’s take a closer look.
Even without the internet, rumors spread fast in Rahab’s time. The Israelites had yet to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, but they were already feared. The story of their miraculous Red Sea crossing, 40 years earlier, was still in heavy circulation. More recently, the defeat of Sihon and Og, east of the Jordan, struck fear into the hearts of kings and citizens alike. Although the faithless Israelites had been a great disappointment to God (and Moses) as they wandered the wilderness, their enemies had not forgotten God’s powerful acts on behalf of His people. In spite of His people’s failures, God had established a mighty reputation throughout the land.
Rahab displays remarkable faith and clarity when she makes her deal with the spies. She hides the men and tells them,
I know that the LORD had 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. We have heard how the LORD dried up the waters of the Red Sea… and what you did to Sihon and Og…whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. (Joshua 2:8-11)
Did everyone quaking in their sandals share Rahab’s view—that it was the God of heaven and earth fighting on Israel’s behalf? Did others recognize, as she did, that the LORD had already given the land to them, even before they’d crossed the Jordan and set foot on it?
Through worldly eyes, the Israelites were a shaggy bunch of desert dwellers who’d recently lost their mighty leader, Moses, and had no land claim except the vacated sites of Og and Sihon—hardly enough room for their numbers. Yet Rahab saw them with eyes of faith, knowing Jericho’s defeat was a foregone conclusion. Based on her faith, she hides the spies, lies to the king, orchestrates their escape, and makes a lifesaving pact for herself and her family.
Jericho goes into lockdown: Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. (Joshua 6:1). Meanwhile, God is preparing His people for victory. All the unfaithful Israelites who left Egypt are dead; this is a fresh slate, the next generation. They experience their own version of the Red Sea Crossing as the Jordan River, at flood level, stops and heaps upstream as they cross on dry ground. They build a memorial of 12 stones to commemorate the miracle. Then, some icky business: none of this next generation had been circumcised in the wilderness years, so that’s taken care of, en masse. There’s a healing period (of course), followed by celebrating the Passover for only the third time in 40 years. The very next day, they eat Canaanite produce (unleavened bread and roasted grain) for the first time, and the manna stops. Joshua meets the Commander of the Lord’s Army—a mighty angel— in a moment reminiscent of Moses and the burning bush. Only then are they ready to defeat Jericho.
If the king put Jericho into lockdown soon after the spies’ escape, their ordeal must have lasted a long time. Imagine the talk that went on while they waited to be attacked! And imagine what a strange relief it must have been when the Israelites finally showed up: their lockdown was not a false alarm. The danger was real. But wait! All their enemies do is march round the city, blowing seven trumpets and not saying a word, before retreating to their camp. This happens for six days. Did the Jerichoans’ fear weaken or rise as they watched these strange antics?
Day Seven. Instead of a single circuit, the Israelites march seven times round the city before hollering a might group shout that brings down the walls. In accordance with their pact, Rahab and her family members are spared. Everyone else—just as they feared—is destroyed. And Joshua pronounces a curse on whoever dares rebuild the city.
There’s some debate about whether Rahab was actually a prostitute, or simply an innkeeper. Strong evidence, including her description in the New Testament, point to the former. So yes, there really IS a prostitute in Jesus’ genealogy, as well as a woman who seduced her father-in-law by posing as a prostitute, and a Moabite woman—an outsider, a foreigner, a migrant worker. And an adulterous: Bathsheba. God did not select a chain of superior beings to usher in the Christ, but worked his will through messy, sinful humanity. Hallelujah!
The Hebrew writer’s succinct verse could make us mistake Rahab’s faith for mere hospitality: “She welcomed the spies.” But she did so much more! She risked her life for two strangers, and her “welcoming” was a full embrace of the one true God and His sovereignty. Notably, she didn’t beg for her city to be spared; was this because she grasped its utter sinfulness? As a prostitute, she’d surely been exposed to the worst aspects of society. She was no angel, which makes her capitulation to God’s Team all the more wonderful: by a single act of faith, her shameful, endangered life was utterly transformed. And we’re still talking about her today!
I hope Rahab’s conversion inspires you: no matter who you are or what you’ve done, God’s grace is more than sufficient to make you whole. Any broken soul can be healed through faith in our Mighty Creator and His Son. Faith not in yourself, or in any group of people, or in any human philosophy or teaching, but faith in Rahab’s God: the God of heaven and earth, who loves us all.
As for Jericho in lockdown…Take a few minutes to imagine that terror, and our current shelter-in-place predicament should shrink in comparison. We will survive. God is with His people.