From Seams to Me—(Unedited)
©2013 D. Dean Benton
STEEL IN YOUR SPINE
“Be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7),
There is a heroine in this story whose name is Rahab. She is one gutsy woman and exemplifies what Steel in the Spine looks like. My 1994 book, Rahab’s Place, is one of my favorite because of the courage and intrigue.
“Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies… ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute name Rahab and stayed there” (Joshua 2:1).
Rahab may have been slandered. Wherever her name appears, she is identified as a harlot or a prostitute. Beside each of those names is an asterisk. The footnote says, “May be translated ‘Innkeeper’ or ‘hostess.’
Excuse me! There is quite a difference between being the madam of the house and being a madam of a house. Probably, Rahab was an enterprising entrepreneur. She operated Jericho’s Best Mid-Eastern Hotel—a bed and breakfast which also housed two other businesses none of which included naked bodies.
Whatever her past, Rahab was an established member of the Jericho business community. The Chamber of Commerce probably ate lunch there. The Bible doesn’t spell out the details of her past, but we know what she did with her life and how she changed world history. She didn’t have a grand dream. She was trying to make ends meet, make her life count, care for her parents, clothe her kids and make it as a single woman in a man’s world.
She responded to a challenge that came knocking at her door. Divine intervention traipsed through her house all the way to the open tomb and into your life. She was one of the grandmothers in Jesus’ lineage.
My mother was a single-parent. She operated a small café that provided adequate income to buy us shoes, a house, and some vacations. It also provided me a job and a learning place. I washed dishes, cooked some really bad meals, but mostly I waited tables.
I learned a lot while pouring coffee and serving hamburgers and home-made pie. Early on, I learned secrets. One, you never say to a customer, “Is that all?” or “Will that be all?” The business question was always, “What else may I get for you?” I learned that you never put the ten-dollar bill in the cash register until the customer has the change in his hand. That way there is never a question whether it was a ten or twenty dollar bill.
Mom turned a run-down café into a profitable business. One of the first things she bought was a top-quality mirror. It was mounted behind the counter stretching about fifteen feet from one end of the counter to the other. Customers would sit at the counter to watch themselves and look at everyone behind them in the booths.
Pour the coffee, ask about the family and listen. Patrons will say things to a barkeeper or waitress/waiter they will not say at other times. If you keep your mouth shut while serving the pie, you can pick up a lot of information without trying to eavesdrop. Customers mesmerized by their own reflection in the mirror will talk about marriage, family, business deals and hatreds. They will tell you what they feel about political events and figures and what they expect is going to happen in the Stock Market, gas prices and to their company.
Rahab made the beds, cleaned the rooms, poured the coffee and listened to customer’s gossip. She tucked the tips in her pocket and the information into the place where such news is stored for later use.
She listened to the travelers, business owners and political leaders as they talked of the tribes across the river. Occasionally, one of the king’s military power brokers would get a little drunk and talk a little loud. Jericho was concerned about the Israelites who had marched miraculously out of Egypt a generation before with plans of taking over the entire land border-to-border, river-to-sea. Something happened that Jericho residents didn’t understand. The Hebrew tribes, after escaping from Egypt, stopped short of their goals and for forty years had just wandered around in the wilderness across the Jordan River from Jericho posing no threat to anyone.
Traveling merchants spoke often of the strange images of smoke, fire and pillars of clouds. Shoemakers had tried to break into that market, but for reasons they never understood, the Hebrews never needed shoes, nor did they import food.
Rahab took longer than usual to wipe crumbs off the counter as she heard that Moses had died. Joshua was now the recognized leader. Rahab remembered her parents talking of a man named Joshua who had entered their country many years before. She scrunched her eyebrows to remember the other names on that mission. Caleb. That was one of the men with Joshua. There were others, but she could not remember having ever heard their names. Whatever they reported of their reconnaissance had created a power struggle within the various clans. She never believed that Joshua and Caleb were scared off. Instead of invading and conquering, the Israelites just backed away, moving only when their cattle needed new territory; they were without direction.
Now, the police were saying that the Hebrews had a new plan to invade the land. Jericho would be the first city confronted. No military man thought their city vulnerable. Not with these walls. Still, guerilla warfare would be bad for business.
Rahab’s family had lived in this city so long their neighbors viewed them as naturalized citizens. When she visited her parents or brothers’ homes, she mentioned what she had heard. Her parents reminded her that they too had Hebrew blood in their veins and retold the stories of the Exodus, Passover and Yahweh.
She was not surprised when two travelers happened to mention that Joshua said hello. She knew these men were not there to buy linen, but to check out the most vulnerable spots in the double walls. These men were Israeli spies and Rahab was in on the deal whether she wanted to be or not. A traveler with no family in Jericho would have been sent to Rahab’s Place; however, the authorities would know her Hebrew connection and that would make her immediately suspect.
She knew why the local CIA agents were at her door. She had to hide the spies to protect her family and herself. Regardless of her politics, she knew the danger. Women business owners were tolerated, but cut no slack. She had survived by her ability to out talk a client who had demanded more than she intended to give. She also knew how to defend herself with the hidden knife. Now, she concocted a story about the strangers who had spent one night and some money before leaving earlier in the day. She gave the police directions to what she thought was their next destination. She couldn’t be sure, she claimed, but that was their best bet. They bought the story. She watched them as they ran in the direction she had given.
Rahab slowly closed the door, quietly pushed the dead bolt into place and sagged against the door. She stood with her forehead against the bolted door. Then she turned around with her back to the door and slid to the floor. Shaking legs no longer held her. She put her head between her knees to keep from passing out.
It came down to this. The dreams of childhood. The seduction and betrayal. The alleged prostitution. She was in love with the guy who sold her. She knew she had been lucky—not many street women got the breaks she did. She never knew for sure who paid her way out of the life. Her parents? Brothers? A silent business partner? She would never outrun her name—it would always include an explanation note, but she could rebuild her reputation. She would become bigger than the harlot tag. Rahab’s Place came to mean more than what it had meant. All of Jericho knew what Rahab had been and what she was now.
As her heart returned to normal rhythm, she forced herself to breathe deeply and to think. It was a matter of time; she knew that. She had kept her wits about her in tough times before. What was she to do this time? The two up on the roof were not the first to register as “John Smith.” But she had never felt her life so intertwined with any of her guests. As she thought of the two spies, a third person confronted her. We do not know the details, but by the time she got up from the floor and walked up the stairs she knew what she was to do.
SHE HAD SEEN THE FUTURE
“I know the Lord has given you this land” (Joshua 2:9).
Os Guinness is an evangelical historian, a sociologist, Visiting Fellow at Brookings Institute and award-winning author. He is also one of my favorite thinkers. He said there were three characteristics that defined America at the end of the twentieth century. In my opinion, these characteristics carry into the first part of this century.
He explains that as the erosion of the sense of self and truth. He sees decline in rational thinking and in the basic assumption that all human life has value.
This results from the gradual eating away of the certainties of meaning and belonging. He is not talking about street people, he is talking about ennui—a feeling of not being at home anywhere in the universe. Let’s say it differently. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, there is an epidemic of isolation in America. We are exchanging an open front porch for a safe room where we connect with the outside world via digital screens.
A school teacher friend said her students did not feel that they belong anywhere. They are detached, she said, from hearth, home, and history.
Guinness uses phrases like, “Second-rate education,” “A third-rate diet of entertainment,” and a fourth-rate awareness of discipline and constraint.” Ask any teacher if these descriptions hold up. Guinness adds that today’s family “Is not raised to last, let alone produce independent and responsible adults and citizens.”
Hopelessness seems the natural next characteristic as I listen to teachers and read the observers. I am not hopeless. In my dark moments, however, I am convinced that without the full use of the principles we talk about in this book, the outlook is bleak. But we are being offered a route to hope.
Is this what Rahab saw with her country on the verge of collapse? I don’t recall ever saying as I walked to my car, “I’m going to be a hero today.” Neither did Rahab. She responded with a visible behavioral quality to the challenges that confronted her.
God is redundant as He talks to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous,” He says in verse six. In verse seven He says, “Be strong and very courageous.” Then in verse nine He repeats, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.”
Her courageous response to the challenges?
SHE HAD FAITH
The Faith Hall of Fame inducted Rahab with these words: “By faith…Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were unbelievers” (Hebrews 11:31). Her faith was not just a noun, it was a verb. Biblical faith is always a verb. Faith was expressed in the context of her life, not in a special dispensation apart from the “dailies.” Action is a faith response.
Notice that she said, “We have heard…” (Joshua 2:10). Someone in Jericho was a faithful witness. They talked about the acts of God that changed Pharoah’s mind about who Yahweh was—changed at least temporarily. That witness told Rahab about the Exodus from Egyptian captivity.
People come to faith in Christ in reaction or response to a dilemma. Some of us are confronted by our past or uncertainty about the future. Some of us are blocked by limitations or questions and see in Christ fulfillment or answers. Others of us hear the Good News—it is new information about who Christ is and what He has done for us, and we respond with love and commitment.
“The Lord your God is God of heaven above and on the earth below,” (Joshua 2:11) is Rahab’s confession. That declaration came as she processed what she knew of God and His acts, and His love for her. Having His promise to forgive her of sin was also a big reason.
The Innkeeper with a Past now had a future. She experienced forgiveness and motivation for tomorrow based upon what faith she could express. There was an encounter with this God. Her limited prospects collided with God’s infinite resources. Like all of us, she placed her trust in Him.
SHE HAD CONCERN FOR HER FAMILY
“Swear to me…that you will show kindness to my family” (Joshua 2:12).
Rahab had entered into a treasonous covenant. She had given aid and comfort to the enemy. I doubt that she saw what she did as an act of great courage. She was simply being pragmatic. Based upon her knowledge of God she took a step of faith.
Her family was dead meat without her intervention. Their lives and future depended on her faith and actions. But then, if she was wrong they were all dead.
We once sang at a writer’s conference where Madeleine L’Engle was the keynote speaker. She was so gracious to Deb and Doug. She was married to Broadway and TV actor Hugh Franklin probably best known for his portrayal of Dr. Tyler on ABC’s “All My Children.” Ms. L’ Engle’s book, Two-Part Intervention, (Harper & Row, 1988) tells of their marriage and his dying. She quotes Yeats:
But love has pitched her mansion
In the place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.
Then she observes, “The place of excrement. That is where we are this summer.” Then she asks, “How do we walk through excrement and keep clean in our hearts?” How do we become whole by being rent? Later she says, “There are no shortcuts through the place of excrement.”
Only if you loved do those words make sense. Only if you’ve asked God for guidance, healing or intervention and found yourself sloshing through silence do you fully grasp the horror. When the support beams are dismantled by overload and you fear you have no reserve to manage the attack, nor systems to compute what is happening. You may begin to numbly grasp God’s activity in the quiet.
Innkeeper found herself in dark intrigue that would change her family’s destiny. Her future was in her hands in this challenging moment. When she responded with faith-action, God took her where she never dreamed of going.
She was a person with steel in her spine. Where did that come from? Is it genetic? Learned? Transferable? The command was to be strong and courageous. Not to feel strong or courageous, but to do courageous. Do you see yourself as strong? Courageous? When have you been confronted with the threat? Has a knock come to your door?