I am in a very good place spiritually, because of attending a service in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tonight. Also, I drank coffee over dinner and am slightly wired, so we’ll see how I sleep tonight.
Listening to everyone talking about King and the ongoing civil rights movement, at a UCC church whose key phrase is “God is still speaking,” I was thinking about the sanctification of history and ongoing revelation. Especially within the African-American community, there is very much a sense of God still working in history, that this didn’t all end when the Bible closes.
There’s a chilling line in 12 Years a Slave where Mistress Shaw, a black woman who is the common-law wife of her owner, declares “In his own time, the Good Lord will manage them all. The curse of the pharaohs was a poor example of what waits for the plantation class.” The Exodus narrative – stripped of its more problematic prologue (Joseph) – is the framework around which African-Americans have built their own understanding of what they went through, with slavery, emancipation, the long wilderness of Jim Crow…
What have white Americans used as our narrative? By and large, I think, it’s been the conquest of Canaan. Colonization and Manifest Destiny – “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you” (1:3), and never you mind who was living there before. That insidious narrative has justified genocide, mass slavery, prejudice, forced conversion, the kidnapping of children, and a host of other evils throughout the globe.
As a white woman, I bear that history on me, and that may be part of why the conquest stories bother me so much. I know what they’ve been used for – I know what my people have used them for.
What narrative should we use, once we’ve rejected this one? That’s something I’ll be thinking about as I keep reading.
And here we have Rahab, selling out her people. Why would she do that? You could dismiss her as a self-serving mercenary, saving her own skin and not caring about anyone else. It’s a short chapter, without much to go on.
But there are three things we know about Rahab: she was a prostitute (v 1), her house is at the edge of town (v 15), and she has parents and siblings (v 13). We can infer that she’s gutsy – she lies convincingly to a group of armed men, and decides to save two strangers before getting a guarantee that they’ll return the favor.
Is she just so afraid of God’s judgment that she’s looking for any way to save her own? Why doesn’t she try to save the entire city?
I think Rahab living at the edge of town may have something to do with it. She’s called a zonah, not a qedesha; she’s an ordinary sex worker, not a temple prostitute. Rahab isn’t a member of elite society. She’s marginal, and she’s probably had her share of awful things done to her. Maybe she sees having a new group of people take over as a good change. But she wants her family to survive – she must care about them. Maybe she’s the chief breadwinner, and feels she has to save them because no one else can.
Regardless, she became seen as a paragon of faith for trusting the spies and their God without any proof that they’d fulfill their promises, and as a paragon of good works for sheltering them from their executors. If the people of Jericho were writing the scripture, I’d doubt she’d be seen that way. I’d like to say that her care for her family redeems her from being a complete monster, but there were probably other good people in Jericho who cared for their families too, and who weren’t saved. Did her concern for her family help blind her to the fate of her neighbors?
How many would-be Rahabs might there have been if the Israelites hadn’t immediately put everyone to the sword? How many virtuous Canaanites never had the lucky chance to prove they were good?
The Japanese: sekkou “scout, patrol, spy” (v 1), kakumau “to shelter, to shield, to hide” (v 4), tsumu “to stack, to pile,” taba “bundle, sheaf” (v 6), otte “pursuer, posse” (v 7), ojikedzuku “to be seized with fear, to be intimidated” (v 9), kujikeru “to lose heart” (v 11), seii “sincerity, good faith” (v 12), morasu “to reveal” (v 14), tsuriorosu “to hang down” (v 15), kito “on the way back, returning,” ichibushijuu “from beginning to end, the full story” (v 23).