What I Learned From a Prostitute…

SHE saw the two men from a long way off. Afterward, she could not tell you how she recognized them. Maybe it was their accent. Maybe it was their clothing. Or maybe the way they walked. And she knew that their arrival meant her world would be changed forever.

So she used everything she learned in how to approach people; the right walk, the right look in her eyes, the way she brushed up against them. She knew she had to act soon or else someone else would got to them first. She learned the hard way over and over about missed opportunities, about losing prospects. She had also learned to ignore the stares, the jeers, and the leers.

Ten more feet, then five, then two, and then…

Hello boys, come with me if you want a good time… and in a lower voice … and if you want to live.

The dramatization took place about 4500 years ago. The SHE in the story was named Rahab. You might also remember her epithet: the Harlot. The two men in the story were the nameless spies Joshua sent to spy out the land before attacking Jericho. (Although, according to Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship, they were Jason and James. Jason Bourne and James Bond.)

The story of Rahab and the two spies, and their meaning of why they were included in the Bible has unfortunately been stripped of their meaning. March is Women’s Month where we celebrate the achievement of women through history, from nurses like Florence Nightingale and Ida Barton, to suffragettes, to politicians like Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto. March 8 was International Women’s Day. So why am I looking at a former prostitute who lived 4500 years ago?

No, this is nothing to do with ending the sex trafficking and industry. It is tragic some women embrace it willingly and worse is that just as many are forced into it.

No, this is nothing to do with the stripped down ethics class dilemma of “When is it okay to lie?” Lying to save the lives of others? Or not at all? No, it is not about situational ethics or moral absolutes.

In both cases, you’ve lost the plot if that’s all you’re fixated on.

Outsider Looking In

Rahab was a Canaanite. She was not a Jew and thus outside the covenant. Worse, her people were slated for annihilation – God’s judgment for their wickedness. For four centuries, they had thumbed noses at God. They had offered despicable sacrifices. Rahab had heard how other powerful Kings were smashed by the Jews. And from the grapevine, from her friends, her former customers, the Israelites were coming. They had to. Jericho was a gateway. The Israelites had to go this way and they were coming not as friends

In a way, we’re also outsiders.

We see a happy family and wish we were born into that family.

We pass by a great party and wonder if we could join them.

How many times have we wished that we could be in “IN crowd”, the popular, the accepted?

Shady Background

As I said before, the two words that always followed Rahab was her occupation, and a shady one at best. Whether in the 11th century BC or the 21st century AD, somehow sex workers carry a stigma. Use a neutral name like “escort” or “call girl”, make movies about them, but at the end of the day, you’re still not reputable. Even lawyers who are the butt of jokes about their incompetence and greed don’t get that. Lawyers don’t go through life with the same moniker as Rahab, nor other professions. “Oh look, there’s Jacob the Radiologist, or here’s Suzy the Waitress, or Johnny the Data Science Professor.”

We can be defined by our past.

The jobs we took to make ends meet.

The things we did to others, and the wrongs done to us.

In fact, some of us feel trapped by our past to the point we like we can never improve, never get better, always the loser in life. Worse, we make ourselves the hapless victim and everyone around us is our oppressor.

I know. I’ve been there. In the 4 years after graduating law school, I didn’t have a job. My sense of self-worth plummeted. I went to China to learn Mandarin and serve God, only to be “used” by the missionary family and then discarded like a cheap pen that ran out of ink.

I don’t know what Rahab thought or felt about her job. Or what childhood dreams she had that got put on hold indefinitely and became a prostitute. Or whether she felt shame or what rationalization she gave.

Faith changes everything.

If you skip ahead of the story from Joshua chapter 2 to the Gospel of Matthew 1 and then Hebrews 11, it’s a completely different story. She’s counted as a heroine, not because she saved 2 people’s lives, but because of her faith.

What do you mean faith? Wasn’t this supposed to be some self-serving act? You don’t hear about that in an ethics classroom debate on lying.

She believe God was going to judge Jericho. Rather than trust in the armies and walls of her king, she chose God over the king.

She had to trust the spies’ word that her family would not be killed. They could have lied or broken their oaths. They could have forgotten about her in the heat of battle. Worse, they could have forgotten to tell Joshua about the deal.

Above all, Rahab had to trust God in the end, not just for her physical salvation and protection, but her spiritual salvation. Just after the walls came down and before the destruction of the city, Joshua commands the spies to bring Rahab into the camp. In other words, she became one of them. After that point, we lose track of her immediate family. We don’t know when she died because we’re not told how old she was when the story began.

Here’s what we do know. We do know she married an Israelite. We do know two of her most famous descendants: King David and Jesus Christ.

The Outsider became an Insider.
The past is forgiven.
The future is a blessing.

I mentioned earlier how Rahab’s story has been co-opted as a sterile intellectual exercise in an ethics class. In reality, her story is very much like ours. Rahab overcame not because she made the right connections or pulled herself up and out of the mire, but because she placed all her hopes in Yahweh.

If you feel like a Rahab today, you can have her victory too.

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