Beauty in the Most Unlikely Place

13th Sunday after Pentecost – September 3, 2017

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 

11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.” 

14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.” 

15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 Now she had said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.” 

17 The men said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.” 

21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window. (Joshua 2:8-21)

Beauty can be found in the most unlikely places. And if there was ever an unlikely place for beauty, it was Nazi Germany during World War II. Jews were being taken to concentration camps to be killed. The sick and the handicapped were being euthanized. Even for those white Germans of Hitler’s Arian race Germany could be a dangerous place.

After Adolph Hitler came to power he had a contest held to find the picture perfect Aryan child. Hitler and his people had placed an emphasis on white Germans being the “master race” and he wanted to illustrate that for his entire country. So pictures of good looking white children were brought to compete in this contest of sorts. And the winner was a girl named Hessy Taft. She was pictured in Nazi propaganda magazines across the nation. “This is the ideal German child – this is perfection” they said.

Little did Hitler and his Nazi regime know that this girl wasn’t an Aryan German at all. She was a Jew. Hitler never knew it, but his ideal of perfection, the picture they showed to all of Nazi Germany, was a Jewish girl.

Beauty can be found in the most unlikely places. The book of Joshua paints another brutally ugly picture of the world this morning. The massive city of Jericho may not have been Nazi Germany, but those Canaanite peoples hated Israelites just as much…if not more.

That was because the Israelites were slowly making their way to the land of Canaan. And the city that was first in their sights, was the large, impregnable city of Jericho. Everyone in Jericho was on edge. The city gates probably rarely opened in those days. Everyone was looking for Israelites in Canaanite clothing.

Into this dangerous situation Joshua sent two spies. Their mission, whether they chose to accept it or not, was to walk in to the belly of the beast. They were to inspect the city of Jericho and somehow return back to Joshua alive.

Somehow those two spies did get in to the city – even now that everyone was on heightened alert. That’s when everything went wrong. People were starting to find out that these men were Israelite spies. So the spies went to the last place they could – a place in Jericho that would welcome anyone – the house of a prostitute named Rahab.

But it was too late. Someone told the king of Jericho, “Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” The jig was up. The king told Rahab, “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house.”

This was probably it. The person who was housing the spies was a prostitute – and who would put any faith in a woman like that to keep you safe. That type of person would get rid of you as quick as possible if it meant saving herself.

But in one of the most amazing turn of events in all of Scripture, she didn’t. Instead of handing them over to her king she hid them on her roof and told the king, “At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left…Go after them quickly.”

As Rahab lowered the spies down from her window on the outside wall of Jericho, she said something even more amazing. “I know that the Lord has given this land to you…spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.” And the spies swore an oath with Rahab the prostitute, telling her to tie a “scarlet cord in the window” so they would know where she was when they attacked the city.

It can be hard for us to place ourselves in the position of an Israelite spy hiding on the roof of a Jericho prostitute’s house. Let’s try anyway. Would you have trusted Rahab enough to hide in her house? Would you have questioned her honesty given her wicked line of work? And when she asked for her and her family to be spared in the coming war, would you have taken the time to remember? I’m not sure we would have. In fact, I think we would have given up on Rahab.

Rahab’s profession and her willingness lie to her king and turn against her own people seemed to epitomize the Canaanite enemy. What business did the spies have helping her? After all, maybe Rahab simply knew which way the battle winds were blowing and wanted to save her own skin?

Sometimes people operate that way. Sometimes we refuse to give people a chance even before we know who they are. We can be pretty judgmental about the job a person has, or about the house they live in, or about the education they have…or don’t have. The problem is, when we are willing to judge others by externals we soon realize we have no one left. You can find something wrong in anybody.

Well, anybody but Jesus. There were a lot of people who thought they knew Jesus. They thought he was the crazy guy from Galilee. They thought he was someone who could give you a free loaf of bread. They thought he was a rebel-rouser and an enemy. But few saw Jesus for who he really is.

Jesus, on the other hand, saw everyone for who they were. He took the time to speak with adulterers and fishermen and Pharisees and tax collectors. He saw the beauty in people, even if it was hidden. In fact, while these people were his enemies by nature, he was willing to die for them…and for us. That was the hidden beauty on the cross when Jesus died.

Rahab was not the enemy. And after the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days those walls came tumbling down…except one part. One place in the rubble remained safe, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a scarlet cord hanging in the window. A Canaanite family, a prostitute’s family, had survived one of the worst forces of destruction in history.

Of course, the account doesn’t end there. This woman, Rahab, removed herself from her past. She got rid of the false gods and her wicked job and her city and she married an Israelite named Salmon. They had a son they named Boaz. His descendant was David, and his descendant was Jesus.

So how could all of the walls of Jericho fall but one small part? How could a scarlet cord save a family? How could a Canaanite prostitute be saved? By faith.

How could we sinners survive when the walls of this dark world come crashing down? How can we have any hope in what comes next? How can we find the hidden beauty in this world? How can we possibly be saved? By faith.

To the Lord, you are more important than any poster of beauty in this world. To the Lord you are are more precious than gold. To the Lord, you are beautiful. Amen.