For some unexplained reason, one of the stories used for VBS last week was Rahab. I’ll admit, when I saw her on the list of Bible stories for the week, my first thought, “Wasn’t she a prostitute?” I didn’t really know anything else about her story other than that she’s the prostitute who is listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. So, how are we going to tell the kids her story? And how are we going to tie in a craft with her story? It seemed rather random and ridiculous to throw Rahab in between the VBS staples of Moses and David.
To quickly recap Rahab’s story: Joshua sends two spies into Jericho. Rahab kept an inn/brothel in the city, so the spies went there for a room and to gather information (and maybe recreation). Soldiers show up looking for the spies, and Rahab hides the two men under some flax and barley drying on the roof. She says that she had heard of their people and knows that God is on their side. She makes them promise that when they take Jericho to spare her family; she will mark her window with a red rope. The walls of Jericho fall, and Rahab’s family comes into the Hebrew fold. (Josh. 2; Josh. 6:22-25)
So the VBS-appropriate version of Rahab’s story is that she dealt with flax, dying material and making rope. She also ran an inn, so the spies were staying there. Ok, craft time is a lot easier when her profession is dresses instead of undressing. But then I read the script in the pre-packaged VBS material. Rahab had a “bad reputation” and was “treated poorly” by others. Only, the Bible doesn’t say that she is mistreated/outcast. It’s a reasonable assumption on prostitutes would have been regarded, but you can’t cut out the cause and leave the effect. And it completely whitewashes the spies “who slept there.” If we’re cutting out the part about Rahab being a prostitute, then we shouldn’t add assumptions about how she might have possibly been treated for being a prostitute. 1. It makes no sense in saying she was marginalized if you don’t say why. 2. It actually changes her story from one of a Canaanite who recognized the Hebrews as the chosen people to one of a woman who found an escape from bullying.
The characterization of Rahab reminds me a lot of Mary Magdalene. She also carries the post-contemporary label of prostitute and woman of bad reputation. The difference of course is that she wasn’t even a prostitute. But both are the “harlot redeemed by faith.” Only, I don’t think their stories are that tidy. Rahab was a harlot with faith. She lied to protect the spied. She continued to run her inn/brothel while securing the safety of her family. She did some bad things and some good things concurrently, because she’s human. But because she’s a human woman, the prostitute thing is going to be the part that sticks in history’s memory, instead of the representation of Gentiles coming into the fold of God’s chosen people. And a story of sex, spies and sieges will be filtered down to bullies, bravery, and barley.
As an aside, the red rope is Rahab’s story is interesting to me, because it reminds me of two symbols. First, the red light district. Did red lights indicating brothels come from this story? Second, the Passover. Everyone else is slaughtered, but her family is spared because of the marking on her home. I think the rope can both be a red light and lamb’s blood.