Monday, November 10, 2008

The Thing About Rahab


Since the Bible never really covers some of the stickier issues regarding the story of Rahab in Joshua 2, I chose not to delve into those questions in the message yesterday. As I said, the point in the story is the decision by Rahab to put her complete trust--including her own life and the life of her family--in the God of Israel, the God whom she professed was Lord of all heaven and earth.

The questions hang around the story, although they are not questions put in the Bible itself except by silence. So the answers can only be surmised by our understanding of God, by what the Bible says about related issues, and by what we know of human behavior.

Question #1: Did Rahab continue her prostitution after the encounter with the Israeli spies? Why didn't Rahab repent of her prostitution?

We don't know that she DIDN'T, of course. We don't know what she did or did not do after the visit from the spies. So what can we suppose happened? What we know is that Rahab put herself into the care of God. She trusted him, believing him to be in charge of everything. What we know about God suggests that he would honor Rahab's decision of trust, and that the relationship thus established would have the result of Rahab's facing off with her sin and repenting of that sin. What we know about people is that once a true relationship with God is established, and as it grows, the heart softens in the gentle exposure of God's holiness and brokenness is healed. It is not a flippant assumption to believe that this is what happened to Rahab, either before or after the account in Joshua 2.

Question #2: Rahab lied to protect the spies by convincing the King's police that she had sent the two men on their way back to the ford's of the Jordan. Does this mean that lying is OK? Is it OK to lie in certain situations? And if so, doesn't that make morality subjective instead of objective?

Two answers are usually given for this one:

a. Rahab lied and it was a sin. God, in his sovereign power, still honored the faith of Rahab and the promise to the people of Israel and protected the spies in spite of the means Rahab used. If Rahab had not chosen to lie, God would still have protected the spies. Rahab's faith was adequate to believe God for her life, but was not mature enough to prevent her lying to the King's squad. We simply don't know how God would have protected the spies had Rahab chosen the more righteous path of honesty, but we know this is what he would have done.

b. Rahab lied and it was not a sin, because the purposes of God in saving the spies was more honorable than the deceit of the lie was sinful. In other words, since the deceit was actually an act of faith, and since that act of faith was in service of the plans and purposes of God, the lie was justified. The good from the lie trumps any sinfulness involved.

There are other examples of deceit used in the plans of God in scripture, and in every case these two arguments are proposed. Neither position is completely satisfying to me.

The first is sketchy because it doesn't answer the foundational question: If God could have accomplished his purpose without deceit, why didn't he just do that and keep Rahab from the sin? And if Rahab's actions were sin, why didn't God hold her publicly accountable for that sin so that we wouldn't have to guess about it?

The second option has its own trouble. If Rahab's deceit was not sin because of the ethics of the situation, it opens up the possibility of sin being defined by a person's own motives rather than objectively an issue of right and wrong. It seems to put sin on a teeter-totter with righteousness, so that if you can add something righteous to the sin you can outweigh it and make it OK. This ushers in the issue of relative morality, which always seems a little dicey.

Question #3: Why does the Bible leave us to ask/answer these questions?

This, to me, is the question that is most intriguing. It speaks volumes that these issues were left to the reader to ponder instead of God simply answering them outright. He surely knew we would ask! That he didn't plop down an answer on the spot gives us a point of wrestling. It may be uncomfortable and involve some brain power and trust on our part, but in the end it is good for us.

So, what do you think? Come on! Don't fudge. Don't be afraid of a wrong answer. What do you think?



Kaila Owczarzak said...

Rahab was an interesting charactor.One of the questions that I have is; Why did God chose to use Rahab. God choosing a prositute to help the two men just blows my mind. However it does give me an idea that he can use even the sin that we are in for something good.

Rahab repenting...? I have a hard time believing that after Jerico was destoried but her house stood, she didn't get a glisps of how big strong and just God really is. Rahab had faith since she had talked to the spies, but Rahab expericed God grace and Mercy first hand. I think after that
'ah ha' moment she relized that she needed to repent. The bible never says she does, which leads me into my last comment. Unanswered questions have puzzled me for seven years. I am as we say at school... a math person, which means that I am an answer person. A person like me must learn to except the information that we have and then smiply trust God for the rest. God is really my favorite part ever, because to figure him out I have to search to find out about him. Like an advanture. These advantuures allow me to learn about me and about my Lord. So I am glad that God doesn't give us the answers... it is an advanture that makes us search for our God, in the process we grow closer to the heart of our King, and we find out more of ourselves.

Jeffrey Koperski said...

"Is it OK to lie in certain situations?"


"And if so, doesn't that make morality subjective instead of objective?"


Sometimes obligations conflict. Dutch citizens sometimes hid Jewish refugees during WWII. When the Nazis came looking, they had an obligation to (i) tell the truth, and (ii) protect the innocent. The second obligation is the stronger one. Those who risked their lives to protect Jewish refugees made the right ethical decision. If they had turned the Jews over, they would have done wrong. Nothing subjective about that. The question is, What obligations does God consider most important when there are conflicts?