As part of an ongoing celebration of the 100th International Women’s Day, I have been asked by some colleagues to say a few words about a significant woman of history. Here is an extended version of what I plan to say.
As a male, I am aware of the responsibility I have to my colleagues to present a woman of history in a way that does justice to their real struggle. And so, of the women that were on our list to choose from, I chose Rahab, a woman we know about through the book of Joshua in the Old Testament.
To give some background, Joshua had been Moses’ right-hand man. So when Moses died, Joshua took over as leader of the Israelites. As they were about to go into the land that God had set aside for them, Joshua sent two spies to Jericho to check it out before the rest of them went in there. That night the spies were taken in by Rahab. She had heard about Israel’s God and was afraid of the mighty deeds of this God and so wanted to do something to help.
When soldiers of the city guard came to look for the spies, Rahab hid them on the roof of her house. After escaping, the spies promised to spare Rahab and her family after taking the city, even if there should be a massacre, if she would mark her house by hanging a red cord out the window. What is interesting in all of this is that Rahab was a prostitute, and some have claimed that the symbol of the red cord is the origin of the “red light district”.
As we think of the type of woman Rahab was, I am reminded that Jesus was known as a person who ate and drank with prostitutes. In Jesus’ day, who you ate with mattered. It spoke highly of who you considered was important. Status and honour was everything. But Jesus didn’t care about that. He was known as one who cared for those that nobody else cared about. And aren’t prostitutes still seen like that in today’s society? But not in God’s society. Contrary to the way we would think of a prostitute, Rahab is included in the genealogy in Matthew’s gospel as an ancestor of Jesus, she is mentioned as one of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews, and she is given a special mention in the letter of James as an example of faith resulting in action. People like Rahab matter to God.
I believe that men in general need to apologise to women in general for the treatment many of us have inflicted on them, in all sorts of ways. And so, as a male I want to offer my own apology for that. I apologise for the times in my life when I have thought of and treated women as less than men.
If you consider someone like Rahab today, the great injustice about women in the oldest profession is that they are the ones who have the stigma attached to them, but the truth is that prostitution is a profession driven by men. And as far as using prostitutes goes, thousands of men visit prostitutes every week in my city. And I heard a statistic some years ago that said that 25% of prostitutes try to kill themselves. Prostitution is considered by many to be simply trading in commodities, to use a financial term. There is no relationship, no care, and no love. These women, like Rahab, are someone’s daughter, someone’s partner, and someone’s mother – human beings made in the image of God.
Women have suffered terribly at the hands of men. And while I can sympathise all we want at the mistreatment of women, I can never put myself in the position of a woman simply because I am not one. The nearest I ever came to relating to the experience of women in this regard was about 15 years ago when I was doing some volunteer work in a mainly gay environment. I remember being looked up and down by some of these men, and my immediate thought was “back off!” It made me realise the sense of violation that women must feel every time a bloke ogles them and sees them as an object.
The woman who hid the spies in Jericho is not known to Jesus as Rahab the prostitute. She is known to him as Rahab the incredible woman made in the image of God. Her profession does not define her. This woman, considered a slut in her society as she would be in ours, is a heroine in the eyes of God. Jesus warned the religious leaders that the prostitutes were going into the kingdom of God ahead of them because they believed the message about Jesus when the religious leaders – the church of that time – didn’t. I pray that I will not be like the religious leaders and that, as a man, I will treat women as Jesus does – with dignity and full equality – as people made in the image of God.