July 15, 2007
"Rahab: Seven Minutes To Midnight"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
How many of you are interested in genealogy? Then you've probably heard the story about the prominent individual who discovered that one her grandfathers was a murderer who had been executed in the electric chair in one of the State Penitentiaries. She was mortified and went to one of the leading genealogists and asked what she could do. The genealogist thought for awhile and then wrote: "Mrs. Smith's grandfather occupied the chair of applied electricity in one of our best-known state institutions. He was very attached to his position and died after a long tenure in that assignment."
Or how about the guy who found out his great-great uncle Remus Starr, was a man lacking in any kind of moral fiber or character. He was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. On the back of the only known photograph of Remus, which showed him standing on the gallows are the words: Remus Starr: Horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison, 1885. Escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton Detectives, convicted and hanged, 1889.
A less embarrassing way to present the information would be: "Remus Starr was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1885, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renown Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Uncle Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."
I love those. Most of us know if we shake the family tree a few nuts are going to fall out. If you look real close at my family tree you'll discover that our my coat of arms ties at the back. I was at a family reunion once where some of the Gene Police were hollering, "OK, that's it, you over there, out of the pool!" Well, not exactly in those terms but there were three older women who were aghast at the information some newly found cousins and I shared.
You see, my great great grandfather, Silas Lafayette Maxwell, has the distinct honor of being a Civil War Veteran who served on both sides. He fought for the Union in North Carolina and he fought for the the Confederacy in Arkansas. Not only that, but in researching the Civil War Pension records, we also discovered that he was a bigamist. He left a wife and three children in North Carolina, married a second wife at an old fashioned Methodist Camp Meeting after swearing he'd never been and currently wasn't married. He and that wife lived in Mississippi for awhile and then settled in Witt Springs, Arkansas.
Personally, I think it's this kind of information that makes genealogy so much fun and interesting. Other wise it's just about as exciting as reading the telephone book.
The Israelites were very interested in genealogy. Partly, so they could connect with and know to which ancestral tribe they belonged. William Barclay says the reason the Jews were so interested in genealogy had to do with the whole religious sense of purity. Well, if that's the case then I'm sure there were a whole boatload of Jesus' ancestors who were hoping Rahab's Birth Certificate had expired. And because she WAS a part of the lineage, some of them were probably caught trying to chop down the family tree.
Let's look at Rahab, this less then likely character from the book of Joshua and why she is so important. Joshua 6:15-25 (NRSV)
 On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times.
 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city.
 The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live because she hid the messengers we sent.
 As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it.
 But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD."
 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it.
 Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.
 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, "Go into the prostitute's house, and bring the woman out of it and all who belong to her, as you swore to her."
 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her--they brought all her kindred out--and set them outside the camp of Israel.
 They burned down the city, and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.
 But Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
We're all pretty familiar with the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho. But most of us aren't really very familiar with Rahab and the part she plays in the success of that battle and the walls tumbling down. That's what I want to look at today. The part Rahab played, The results of Rahab's involvement and the implications for us and our daily walk with Christ.
A. The story is pretty simple. We know how Joshua took over as the leader of the Israelites after their escape from Egypt and the years of wandering in the wilderness. Moses wasn't allowed to cross the Jordan and Joshua was put in charge because of Joshua's faith. He and Caleb were the only spies sent into the land who truly believed in God's ability to give the promised land to them. They are the ones who described the land as one flowing with milk and honey. They are the ones who carried the bunch of grapes so big it had to be carried on a pole between them.
Joshua, son of Nun, successor to Moses commanded certain spies to enter into Jericho to see if they could find any weakness. And that's where Rahab comes in. Apparently, the people of Jericho had heard the story of the Israelites and what God had done to the Egyptians at the Red Sea and they didn't want any part of them. They were scared, as they should have been, of how powerful God was. As a consequence, they didn't even want any of the Hebrews in their city.
Apparently, someone saw the spies come into town and head over Rahab's house. There's no quaint way to put this, Rahab was a harlot, a prostitute. Over the years both Jewish and Christian writers have tried to play it down or even soften it by saying she was a hostess, the word in Hebrew is the word for prostitute. That's where the spies went. The leader's of Jericho wanted them out of town and headed over like a lynch mob.
B. I know you're probably thinking to yourself, now, why would the spies stop at the house of Rahab, especially knowing her profession? First, It was a good place to gather information and have no questions asked in return.
Second, Rahab's house was in an ideal location for a quick escape because it was built into the city wall, which wasn't uncommon, The walls were usually two sets of walls about 12 feet apart. The space between was usually filled with dirt and rock. But they also built storerooms, watch rooms, quarters for the soldiers and livestock and even houses into the walls.
As a prostitute, Rahab lived on the edge of society, one stop short of rejection. Her house, built right into the city wall, provided lodging to travelers. It was a natural place for the spies to stay. They would simply be mistaken for Rahab's customers whether they were or not.
But the real reason the spies went to the home a Rahab, is that God directed them to her house because God knew Rahab's heart was open to Him and that she would be instrumental in the Israelite victory over Jericho. You see, God always seems to use the least likely people. God often uses people with simple faith to accomplish God's great purposes.
C. And it doesn't matter to God what kind of past they may have had or how insignificant they seem to be. God can use them. Rahab didn't allow her past to keep her from the new role God had for her. She recognized that our God isn't any old ordinary god. Our God is all powerful, the God of creation and she acted accordingly in faith and so did the spies.
As a result, when the posse came, she hid the spies, struck a bargain with them for herself and her family and then helped them escape . The sign of their covenant was the red cord. And because of her faith, God honored her. Rahab married and became the wife of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, and the mother of Boaz, Jesse's grandfather.
So, what does that mean? Rahab's faith and faithfulness was honored by God. She became the mother of the genealogical line from which King David sprang. And thus, through David, she became a direct ancestor of the very Son of God. She's listed in the genealogy of Christ found in Matthew.
When God honors someone for their faithfulness, God doesn't hold anything back. We may not reap the immediate benefit, but God will honor us even if it's generations from now.
A. The Big message of this story, the key to this story isn't Rahab's past, it's her faith and the future God created for her. Paul lists her as one of only two women listed in his Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. All because of her faith.
The fact that Rahab was a prostitute didn't matter to God because it's never about what we ARE it's always about God and what God can do with us and through us. The fact that Rahab's faith was small and just beginning to bloom didn't matter. Remember what Jesus said about faith the size of a mustard seed? Well, God took Rahab's mustard seed of faith and used it to begin the lineage of the one who would be the Salvation of the whole world.
B. The implication for us is simple. Our faith doesn't have to be complicated. We don't have to know all the answers or be the perfect Christian and never falter. Our faith doesn't have to be big. The deeds we do don't have to be Superhero deeds. One small kindness, one small gift, one small act of faith may be all it takes to change the world.
We've talked about the good that our small offering to Metro Board does and how it changes lives, We've talked about ARKalmighty, Acts of Random Kindness and the seeds of hope and love they plant. We've seen how something as simple as a mosquito net can change lives and possibly change the world. The same thing can happen through something as simple as underwear and socks.
How can something so simple that, that we take for granted make a difference. I'm they're not even seen by anyone else. And yet for a child who has never know anything but hand-me-downs or secondhand they are a life affirming gift. We saw that at Christmas or the Health Fair a couple of years ago when a little girl danced for 10 minutes singing and laughing and thanking God because now she had her own brand new package of underwear.
She felt normal. She felt real. She felt good about herself. Her whole demeanor changed. That's exactly what happened to Rahab. Once she was rescued and left Jericho everything about her changed because God honored her faith.
The movie Simon Birch tells the story of a 12 year old boy, who, despite his physical disabilities, believes God has a plan for his life. That God is going to use him in some big way. Simon wasn't expected to live. He was born tiny and had an abnormally small heart. They expected him to die in the first 24 hours. But here he is 12 years old.
Of course, he's the target of tons of childhood prank because of his miniature size and his odd sort of cracked voice. He's a disappointment and embarrassment to his parents. Yet despite all of the negatives, he still has a deep faith and believes is going to use him.
He best friend Joe doesn't believe in God and doubts God has a plan for him. But he's not alone in his doubts. Simon's Sunday School teacher thinks he's strange and even the minister thinks he's a little strange. One day, after getting into trouble, again, a the church, Simon asks his Pastor: "Does God have a plan for us?"
The minister, dealing with his own depression and frustrations, hesitantly replies, "I like to think so."
Simon enthusiastically says, "Me too. I think God made me the way I am for a reason."
You can see how discomforting Simon's statement is and the minister replies: "I'm glad that, um, that your faith, uh, helps you deal with your, um, you know, your condition."
Simon says, "That's not what I mean. I think I'm God's instrument. He's going to use me to carry out his plan."
The minister is completely dumbfounded and doesn't really know what to say. "It's wonderful to have faith, son, but let's not overdo it." And with that he waves Simon to leave, shakes his head in disbelief, and cynically whispers, God's instrument."
It turns out that Simon is God's instrument. Because later in the movie, Simon is riding in a school bus with a his classmates down an icy hill. The bus driver veers to miss a deer and winds up plunging into the icy river. The driver abandons the kids, the minister is knocked out and that leaves, Simon, Joe and the other kids who are all in a panic. Simon realizes this is that moment. He yells Stop it and takes charge of evacuating the kids through the emergency exit door in the back of the bus.
As each of the kids leaves he counts them and then realizes there is one missing. The boy's foot is caught. Simon frees him but while getting his foot loose the door closes and the water pressure is too great for him to open the door. But he opens a bus window and he and the last little boy escape through the tiny opening.
He had that one small spark of faith in his tiny body and God used him just like he used Rahab. And God can use us. We don't have to be a Super Hero. All we have to do is put the little bit of faith we have into the hands of God. God, who created everything out of nothing, can take that little bit and grow it into something wonderful, something that might just change the world.
God can and will use your faith, no matter how small. And it doesn't make any difference who you're related to.
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