Monday, May 02, 2011

The Choice

Under cover of darkness the spies departed via a rope let down from the window, and she was finally alone to ponder the situation. How had it come to this? She knew in her very bones that life had changed forever.

Of course, the change had really happened when the rumour first reached them that the Israelites were coming. Nobody quite understood why these people, who had been many years in the wilderness, without a land to call their own, should suddenly change direction and start heading towards civilisation, but it had something to do with this mysterious God of theirs. Of course the priests of Jericho were invoking all kinds of charms and sacrifices to keep the armies of Israel at bay, but she knew they were only fooling. Long ago she had stopped believing in the gods of Jericho; she had known too many of the priests in her bed, paying her poorly to degrade and mistreat her, and she knew them for weak, venal man, serving weak, venal gods whose commands seemed to strangely match the desires of their priests. It was hard in her profession to believe in anything, it was harder still to survive believing in nothing.

Then the stories had started. Living where she did, right on the wall, she was visited by many merchants and travellers, and the stories they told her were more authentic than the versions that soon circulated in the marketplace. And those stories needed no embellishment – the cold, daylight facts were quite amazing enough on their own. Many years before, a race of slaves, known as the Hebrews, had escaped from Egypt, the mightiest country in the world. Strange events had preceded their going, plagues and miracles and death. And stranger still was what happened next: the might of the Egyptian army pursued them to the shores of the Red Sea, the sea opened up a path of dry land for the people to escape on, and then closed again on top of the soldiers, drowning the might of Pharaoh’s army. Then, for a long time, not much was heard about them.

But now they had a new leader, a man called Joshua, some spectacular victories to their credit, and they were encamped just across the River Jordan, far too close for comfort. It looked like they had Jericho in their sights, and the city was growing nervous. Rahab had been worse than nervous. She thought she had given up all belief in gods, but the God of these Israelites was different. From all she had heard, and the questions she had asked those who really knew something, He was nothing like the Canaanite gods. Instead of using worship as an excuse for every kind of debauchery, He demanded restraint and purity from His people. Sacrifices were regulated, and all human sacrifice was forbidden, even the sacrifice of children. She had once had a baby the priests had taken away and murdered; this aspect of their God impressed her deeply.

Only the day before she had looked around this city, where she had spent all her days, and, knowing it was destined to fall to the Israelites, seen it as a forlorn, hopeless and hollow place. It had become her prison, the wreck in which she was doomed to sink and drown. She had found herself crying out to the unknown God of Israel that He would rescue her, then laughed scornfully at herself – for whoever heard of a god who won battles listening to the prayer of a woman? Maybe he would take notice of a queen, but who had ever listened to the prayers of a prostitute?

And yet ... the impossible had happened! The Israelite spies had come to her door, out of all the doors in Jericho! She had hidden and protected them, and, in return, exacted a promise that she and her family would be spared when Jericho fell. They had left her a scarlet cord to hang in her window, so that the army of Israel would know which household to spare.

She ran the cord through her fingers thoughtfully, wonderingly. Her life hung by it. By the hanging of this cord she would make her choice to belong to a new god and a new people. And if this mighty God was willing to listen to the prayers of a prostitute, then maybe His people would be willing to love and accept her. Maybe (was it possible?) she could become a respectable woman, even a wife? This scarlet cord, as bright as blood, was her hope her only hope, of freedom and dignity.

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