Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jericho's Walls

Do you remember the story about the walls of Jericho?
God had a hard time getting a message through those walls.
But he found a window – you might say – through the courage of a woman called Rahab. The original can be found in the second chapter of the book of Joshua.

In North America, are we living behind high Jericho walls? Walls that protect us and surrounds us with comforts and conveniences so well and so strong that we can’t imagine what it would be like to live outside those walls? And yet we’ve all heard how the consuming lifestyles we lead are destroying the planet. We’ve all heard how it can’t go on.

Let me take you and your imagination inside the walls of Jericho. Let’s try to feel what it was like for those ancient people to be given such a warning - and a way out. Rahab has come to us as family members with a wild story.

“As her eldest brother I have called you all together as a family council to decide how we will respond to her desperate plea.

We hear stories of peoples who live outside – without plumbing – without toilets and showers, without electronic gadgets to wash their dishes and clothes and sweep up, without telephones and computers to connect them with everyone and everything inside our walls, without cars to get them wherever they choose.

We’ve heard stories from friends and relatives who have traveled beyond Jericho’s walls – to places where people live hand to mouth, off the land, depending on one another for their living.

Hard to imagine for us. Living without our securities and conveniences. We live in peace within these walls. We worship and give thanks and pay our taxes. Taxes that keep the roads smooth and the army well-equipped. We trust in the strength of that army to keep us secure and keep all threats beyond our strong walls. The walls of Jericho are legendary – higher and stronger than any walls every built before.

Then, one day, Rahab, your daughter, our sister, your aunt, cousin, niece comes to us with a wild story. It’s a spy story she might have plucked from a summer novel drugstore rack. Incredible. Unbelievable.

We know that Rahab has always been the black sheep of our family. When she left her husband and took her children into poverty, that brought shame on us all. Her children run in the streets in the poorest section of town – out along the walls of Jericho – where the army barracks are – where the markets are – where all things are bought and traded cheap. No respectable person would go there except on business. No respectable person would choose to live there. We don’t know how she makes her living – we don’t ask. But her children know the names of many men.

So Rahab comes to us yesterday and tells us this incredible story about Joshua’s men. We’ve heard the name of Joshua.
We’ve heard how his army destroyed the cities of Sihon and Og, the strongholds of the two Amorite kings this side of the Jordan river.
We’ve heard how Joshua’s GOD dried up the river for his army just as he dried up the Red Sea for the prophet Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. This God they call YAHWEH. They call him the LORD of HOSTS.

And we’ve heard the news that Joshua’s army is its way to Jericho.

So we knew right away when Rahab told us that three days ago at dusk two strange men came to her door looking for lodgings – we knew right away that she must be telling us about Joshua’s spies.

She said that something inside of her told her to trust them and take them in – and she fed them at the table with her children – who listened and laughed at their strange accents.

That Rahab has always been too trusting – too willing to risk everything for the sake of what she calls “her intuition – her gut feelings – the “small voice inside”.

So she tells us that next her oldest son comes running in the door saying that soldiers are searching every house looking for Joshua’s spies. She tells us of how she swore her children to silence and took the men and hid them under the sheaths of newly harvested flax bundled on her roof.

Our eyes grew wide as she told us how she’d spun a tale for the soldiers – how “yes, she’d seen the men” and how “she’d watched them with suspicion and noticed that they’d left by the Market Gate at dusk.”

How she’d laughed behind the backs of the easily fooled soldiers as they stormed out the Gates in hot pursuit of the men on her roof.

Fear crept up our spines as we now realized that we were implicated in her crime. That as her family – if she was discovered – we would all be shamed and punished harshly – without question.

But there was sense in what she told us next. She told us of the conversation she had next with those strangers – Joshua’s spies. How she had revealed to them the information they had been seeking. She revealed to them how all of our city’s people’s hearts had melted in fear when they’d heard Joshua was coming. How the stories of how the LORD’s power was with them had infected their hearts with dread. How we all know – somehow – that the LORD was not with Jericho but with Joshua. How we all know in our hearts that all of our defences and wealth and superior ways are nothing before the LORD of HOSTS.

Of course that is what those spies needed to hear. They needed to know that our army’s hearts would not be in the battle. That news would confirm for Joshua that the LORD would deliver Jericho into his hands. It would embolden him – immune to the doubt and fear that had already infected Jericho.

Rahab told us how the spies had instructed her to put a crimson cord in her window so that Joshua’s army would know not to harm her household. How they had promised to save her family alone from the destruction that all of the city would face. How she had then let them down with ropes from that same window and instructed them to hide for three days in the hills before they dared cross the territory back to Joshua’s camp.

Now she was telling us, begging us, to come to her home. Asking us to join her in this terrible risk. Begging us to trust her intuition, her guts, her faith that the LORD would deliver Jericho city into Joshua’s horrible finish. Trust that the LORD would deliver her household alone from that destruction.

What will we do?
What an awful choice to be given by this awful daughter, sister, aunt.
How can we leave behind all that we know, all that we trust, all that we depend on?
Even though our hearts tell us that what Rahab says is true – that what she predicts will surely happen – our feet our leaden – our hands frozen – our guts sickened. From where can we find the strength that this awful Rahab has so much of?

The night is almost over. Joshua’s army has been sighted encamped beyond the arrows of our walls.

It’s too late to leave Jericho.
What shall we do?

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