Today’s meditation and retelling are from Joshua 2 and 6.
Rahab is mentioned three times in the New Testament: twice commended for her faith in Hebrews and in James, and once in Matthew 1:5, in the genealogy of Jesus. We know from the latter that she eventually married Salmon, of the tribe of Judah. Joshua never mentions the name of the two spies, but some tradition holds that Salmon was one of them (and it makes a for better story if he was, I think!) Despite her profession, she was commended for the same reason Abraham was: by faith (Romans 4:20-22). She heard the stories of God’s mighty works, and she believed them so completely that she put her life on the line as a potential traitor to her country in order to side with God’s people. Faith has always been what pleased God. Not only did the Israelites spare her life and those of her family, but she even went from harlot to being so highly esteemed in the eyes of the Lord that she became an ancestress of Christ. Interesting, since her act of faith is clearly self-interested, and she also had to lie to accomplish it. But (as James points out in James 2:25), the act, regardless of what it was, demonstrates the depth of her faith that God would do what He promised. It was her faith that motivated her to make sure she and hers were protected. Like the passover when the Israelites painted blood upon their doorposts so that the avenging angel would pass over their houses (Exodus 11-12), the scarlet cord Rahab tied in her window as a signal to the Israelites is likewise symbolic of the redemptive blood of Jesus.
Presumably even in Canaan, harlotry was frowned upon. Rahab’s family might have disowned her or otherwise shunned her. If they had, her offer to bring them into her house and keep them safe probably made for an awkward week or two, depending upon how long they were there. Rahab knew she had at least three days from the time she let the spies go. Then it probably took them at least a day or two to return with the whole army. When they did return, they marched around Jericho for seven days before the walls finally fell. So Rahab and her family were holed up in her home for at least that long. I wonder if she had enough food for everyone!
The mention of flax that she was spinning into linen and the scarlet cord on her roof suggests that she was manufacturing and dying linen, and presumably selling it, to try to support herself in some other way. Perhaps this is an indication that she didn’t want the life of prostitution and was looking for a way out.
Rahab’s house was built upon the walls of Jericho (Joshua 2:15). If the walls were thick enough for all that, it makes it even more miraculous that they fell down with nothing but shouts and trumpets. Also if the walls fell down, but Rahab and her household were not crushed in the rubble, God either must have held up just the section of the wall that served as the foundation for Rahab’s house, or else he must have supernaturally protected the structure as it fell to the ground. I assume the latter, since Joshua sent the spies back to her house to lead them out (Joshua 6:22). That meant there still was a house.
In her initial encounter with the spies, Rahab told them how the people of Canaan’s hearts had melted within them ever since they heard the stories of God parting the Red Sea. This must have been such a confirmation to Joshua and Caleb when they heard it: they were the only two spies from the first generation who had believed God (Numbers 13-14), and the only two of that company still alive now. Had they gone in and taken the land forty years earlier like God had told them to, Rahab’s words confirmed that they would have succeeded easily. God had already fought the battle for them in their enemies’ minds. For forty years, the people had continued to tremble at the stories of the Israelites’ exploits, until God’s promises could come to pass.
But plenty of them would be happy to have me on other terms.
I was a practical woman, and saw no point in spending time weeping over what was. Most men visited harlots only in secret, in the dead of night, and if they spoke of it at all, it was in hushed tones. Houses of ill repute were known only by word of mouth, and they did not advertise.
I scorned this idea. If I was to be a harlot, I intended to be a prosperous one.
As a consequence, my family disowned me. This hurt, but I saw no point in weeping over that either. They would do what they would do, and I would have to get on with it.
I purchased a house on credit right on top of the enormous walls of Jericho, by the city gates, so that every traveler would have a good view and would know at a glance exactly what we were. I then recruited other girls to work for me, in exchange for a safe place to live and do their business. Prostitution was often a dangerous occupation, as our customers were always unscrupulous to varying degrees. I would provide for my girls’ basic needs, and even some of their luxuries.
In time, this proved so lucrative that I soon could afford to promote myself to business manager, no longer needing to offer my own services at all. I paid off my creditor, and even had enough seed money to let myself dream of one day supporting myself in a respectable trade. I purchased flax and scarlet worms, teaching myself to turn flax into linen, and dye it scarlet. The roof of my home was flat, so I left the linen there to dry overnight before taking it into the marketplace for sale. Then during the day, while my girls slept, I disguised myself and took my scarlet linen into the Jericho marketplace. This was where I first heard people talk about the Israelites, and their God.
I heard only snippets at first. I had the impression that the stories were old ones, from before my time. Apparently the Israelites were a nomadic people, having spent decades living in the desert after their God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt miraculously.
“He parted the Red Sea and they walked across on dry land! Yes!” one customer told me when I asked him how they had escaped from Pharaoh. I blinked, and felt the corners of my mouth turn up, skeptical.
“Surely you exaggerate,” I said, but the man shook his head emphatically.
“I do no such thing! After they crossed over, the waters consumed the Egyptians, chariots and all!”
I asked around, but all the other customers told me that they had heard the same story. Most of them said it with awe.
“Then they completely destroyed the kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og!” another customer told me. “These aren’t soldiers, mind you. They were slaves, and now they are nomads. But it doesn’t matter; their God fights their battles for them.” Then he lowered his voice and whispered, “Rumor has it they have their sights set on Jericho next!”
I was taken aback by this, catching the fear from my customer like a contagion. I gave him his linen and closed up shop for the day in the late afternoon. When I returned, Pigat, one of my girls, was awake and readying herself for her work that evening. She saw my expression and frowned.
“You look like you’ve heard bad news,” she observed. “What’s wrong?”
I turned to look at her. “Have you heard of the nomadic people called the Israelites, who used to be slaves in Egypt?”
“Oh! My father and uncles were terrified of them when I was little,” she nodded, and told me the same story I had heard in the marketplace: of millions of people crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, and the Egyptians consumed in the waters. If it had been exaggerated, surely the story would change from person to person, wouldn’t it?
“Why was your family afraid, though?” I pressed. “What have we to do with them?”
Pigat’s eyes widened. “They say their God led them out of slavery to give them a land of their own. Our land.”
I shivered involuntarily as she said this. “But didn’t the Red Sea story happen decades ago?” I asked. “If their God intended to give them our land, why hasn’t it happened already?”
Pigat shook her head. “I don’t know, but my family was sure they would come against us eventually.”
Each time I went to the marketplace and had the opportunity after that, I asked about the Israelites. I heard more stories, too: of the ground opening up and swallowing those among the Israelites who were disobedient to the leaders. Of bread falling from heaven and miraculously feeding the people. Some said the people did not come in to take our land nearly forty years ago because they had done something to anger their God, but it was still foretold that Jericho would fall to them. And not Jericho only, but all of Canaan.
The Israelites began to infiltrate my dreams. My mind conjured images of great warriors suffused with a supernatural glow of power, storming Jericho with flaming swords, and slashing down everyone in their path, before turning their swords upon me.
I woke in a cold sweat, gasping, and placed a hand upon my pounding heart. At first I thought the sound I heard was my heart slamming against my ribcage. But as I reoriented myself to the present, I recognized that the pounding was coming from the door downstairs. I peered out my window and frowned when I saw the moon high in the sky. We sometimes got late customers, but this was ridiculous. All my girls were surely fast asleep—or they were, before all this racket.
I pulled on my shawl, the one I preferred for warmth rather than for enticement, and padded down to the door, prepared to tell the visitors to return tomorrow at a more reasonable hour. But when I opened the door, something about the two men’s appearance stilled my tongue.
Both of them wore simple garments of unadorned cloth, though they looked new enough. The men were both perhaps in their early thirties, like me—tall, well built, and imposing. Both had long dark hair and long black beards that looked as though they had not been trimmed in many years. I noticed one in particular more than the other. His black eyes glittered at me in the moonlight, and he had a powerful chest, straight nose, and high, clear forehead. I had not offered my own personal services to a customer in over a year now, but I found myself thinking, this time, I might not mind…
“It is very late,” I said instead, “and my girls are in bed. If you return tomorrow, you may have your pick—”
“Please,” the man I had admired stopped me, holding up a hand. “We are not here for that, we simply wish to beg a room for the night.”
I blinked at them suspiciously. “This is no inn.”
“We know that,” said the other man, “and we know the nature of your business. But the Lord God told us to come here, so we have come.”
It was like a password, somehow, though I could not have said why. I stepped back from the doorway to let them pass inside. The handsome one, I noticed, averted his eyes from me and gave me a wider berth than necessary. I might have felt ashamed, but I could sense that his behavior was motivated by suppressed attraction rather than disgust. I found this far more intriguing than if he had openly ogled me.
“I do have a room available, though just the one, I’m afraid. One of my girls has recently moved on.” I looked at the other man, and gestured to the open doorway. “You may sleep here.” Then I looked at the man who refused to meet my gaze, and considered inviting him to share my chamber. I almost wanted to do it just to see if could make him blush, but in the end I held my tongue. Of course he could never respect me, given what I was. But for some strange reason I could not explain, I found that I wanted to try to earn his respect all the same.
“You both may sleep here if you wish, though one will have to take the floor,” I said at last.
The handsome one raised his eyes to me now. “Thank you,” he said, genuine gratitude in his voice. I realized he had feared the offer I had almost made, and was suddenly very glad I had not made it.
“May we know the name of our hostess?” asked the friend.
I bowed my head, trying to remember the manners of a lady I had learned and then forgotten so long ago. “I am called Rahab,” I told them. “And, may I know yours?”
“I am Berel,” said the friend, “and this is Salmon.”
Salmon, I repeated the name in my mind. “Those are peculiar names in Canaan,” I observed, “you must be visitors to these parts?”
“We are,” said Berel, guarded.
I watched them, wondering if I should say aloud what I suspected from the moment they referenced the Lord.
“You are Hebrews,” I guessed, watching their faces. “The Lord sent you to spy out our land and see where we are vulnerable.”
The two men exchanged wide-eyed a look, which was as good as confirmation.
“Do not worry,” I said at once. “I will not betray your secret.”
Berel frowned, suspicious. “Why not?”
I didn’t know the answer myself yet. But just as I opened my mouth to answer, I heard another pounding at the door, sharp and insistent. It was accompanied by a shout though the door: “Rahab! Open up!”
“It’s one of the kings’ soldiers!” I hissed, “quick! Follow me!”
I scampered up to the rooftop, open to the air, and pointed at the stalks of flax I had collected and not yet spun into linen. “Hide in there, go!”
I did not wait to see that they obeyed; I hurried back downstairs, seeing lanterns flicker on in my girls’ bedrooms as I went, and a few of them poked their heads out at me to see what all the fuss was about. They could hardly avoid being awakened by all the commotion.
“Shh, go back to bed!” I hissed at all and sundry, smoothing my wrap and taking a deep breath before I pulled open the rattling door.
I had seen the soldier who glared down at me before, making his rounds in the city. There were three other soldiers behind him.
“I come by order of the king,” the first soldier barked. “We were told that men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country, and that they have entered your house. Bring them out now.”
In a moment, I decided how to play this: the soldier in front was all business, and I knew he at least would not soften in response to coquetry. So instead I affected an expression of wide-eyed innocence, and told them just enough of the truth. “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out.” The words were already out of my mouth before the fear struck me that someone might have told the soldiers when the men had come to my home. If they had, this lie would immediately mark me as a traitor. But I’d said it now; nothing to do but double down. “Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them!”
It worked. The soldier in front was clearly in charge; he turned on his heel without another word and rushed away from my door and toward the front gates. The other two followed behind him. I watched until I saw them disappear by the road to the Jordan, to the fords.
Breathing a sigh of relief when they had gone, I closed the front door behind me. All the girls except Pigat had gone back to bed. But she continued to gaze at me with her torch in one hand, frowning. I made a shooing motion with my hand.
“All is well, not to worry,” I told her. “Go back to sleep.”
“The Israelites were here?” she echoed what she had heard, her voice trembling.
“Yes, apparently, but they are gone now. It’s all right.”
“Then it’s happening!” she declared with a shudder, tears pricking her eyes, “we are about to die! They will kill every last one of us!”
“Shh, go back to bed,” I insisted. “They won’t kill us if I have anything to say about it. We’ll talk about this in the morning, now go on.”
She gave a hesitant nod, sniffled, and blew out her torch, closing her door again.
I heaved a sigh, trying to calm my pounding heart as I climbed back to the roof.
“Psst!” I hissed, “it’s just me!”
The two heads poked out from among the flax.
“You can come out for now, but I’m afraid I cannot offer you lodging inside after all, lest my girls see you in the morning.”
“What did you tell the soldiers?” Berel asked as they got to their feet, apprehension knitting his brow.
“That you did come to me, but I had already sent you away. They are pursuing you on the road to the Jordan in the direction of the fords as we speak.”
Salmon gazed at me in wonder. “You realize that if your king discovers what you have done, he will have you executed as a traitor?”
I took a deep breath, fidgeting with my wrap. “Yes. I know this.”
“Then—why?” Salmon pressed. “Why are you helping us?”
I met his gaze. “I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For 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 the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things. our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath.” As I said this, I saw Salmon’s expression clear from suspicion to surprise, to something else—something softer. I dropped my gaze. “Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.”
Salmon opened his mouth to speak, eyes wide. He hesitated, and what he said was, “But—you are a Canaanite woman. You are a Canaanite harlot!” I winced at his blunt statement, but he did not seem to notice, adding, “And do you believe in the Lord God? In our Lord?”
Trying to recover myself, I said at last, “There is no other God in heaven or on earth who can do what your God can do. If I must choose sides, I choose to side with the winner. This is entirely self-interested on my part, I assure you.”
Berel shot a look at his open-mouthed friend. “You are correct that the Lord has given Jericho and all of Canaan into our hands,” he told me. “But many of our own number, who have seen daily miracles in the wilderness, struggle to believe in the Lord as fully as you have just now expressed. That is what Salmon is trying to say: he is impressed.” He nudged his companion with a slight, almost teasing smirk, before turning back to me. “And yes: our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the Lord has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you.”
I swallowed, casting an involuntary glance at Salmon, and then gave Berel a quick, business-like nod. “All right. Follow me. I can lower you down on the other side of the city wall through the window of the empty room we were just in.” I grabbed a thick flaxen cord from the roof as well, already dyed scarlet.
Behind me, the men’s footsteps were almost silent. When we entered the dark room and I led them to the window, I started to see Salmon closer behind me than I had expected. Both of us drew back very quickly, and, for what might have been the first time since my girlhood, I felt myself actually blush. Berel bit his lip, as if trying not to laugh. I cleared my throat, even though I kept my voice to a whisper as I tied the scarlet rope against the bedpost to secure it.
“Here, let me,” said Salmon in a husky whisper, accidentally brushing his fingers against mine as he took over the job of tying the knot. I self-consciously tucked a lock of hair behind my ear, confused by the unfamiliar flutter I felt. When he had finished, together we hoisted the cord out the window, watching it fall almost down to the path outside the city. They would have to jump the last distance, but it was small. Or at least it looked small from up here. I hoped it really was.
I turned to Salmon. “Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way.”
Berel nodded, and said, a warning note in his tone, “We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord you have used in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household to your own home. So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house onto the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear.”
I bowed my head to him. “According to your words, so be it.” Even though I wondered how I would explain to my family, who had all but disowned me from the time they discovered my profession, that they needed to lodge in my house of ill repute for an unspecified amount of time. At least I had three days to figure it out.
Berel stepped between Salmon and me, taking the scarlet cord from my hands.
“I’ll go first,” he volunteered. “That’ll give the two of you a moment to, ah—say goodbye.”
I caught the sharp glare Salmon shot his friend. Berel laughed quietly, swinging himself to the outer edge of the window before he vanished.
The air immediately felt thick with tension as soon as he had gone. But Salmon was a stranger to me; I knew nothing of him, or of his culture. I hadn’t the slightest idea what to say.
He cleared his throat unnecessarily, before he said, sounding rather awkward, “Thank you. For helping us.”
I shrugged. “As I said, it’s pure self-interest.”
“It’s faith,” he corrected me. As he said this, I saw his arm move toward me, hesitate, and then freeze in midair before dropping back to his side.
“I know that my profession makes me abhorrent to you,” I whispered, dropping my eyes.
“No! You misunderstand…” Salmon ran a hand through his hair, sighed, and looked away. “Well, yes, sort of,” he admitted, “but—”
“It’s okay,” I cut him off with a wave of my hand, gesturing at the window and taking a step back from him. “I need no approval from you. I’ve learned to live without it everywhere else. Go on, your friend is waiting.” I was hurt. I recognized this much, though it was absurd that this man I had barely spoken to should be capable of hurting me.
Salmon seemed upset, but did not know how to make it right. He hesitated, and then did as I had commanded, moving toward the window and taking hold of the rope. He glanced at me, swallowed, and at last managed, “I hope we will meet again someday. Goodbye, Rahab.” Then he vanished.
I let out a breath I had not realized I had been holding, and then leaned out my window to watch Salmon’s descent next to Berel. When he had leapt the last distance to the ground, both of them looked up at me, waved, and ran off in the direction of the mountain.
I hauled up the cord after them so that a visitor to the city might not look up at the window and discern what might have happened. Then I went back to the rooftop, retrieved a knife, and sawed off the bulk of it, leaving just enough of a scarlet cord tied on the outside of the window to serve as our signal.
I had three days.
I barely slept that night, turning over in my mind what I should do next. I had a sense that Salmon and Berel were men of action; they would not tarry. The Israelites would probably descend upon Jericho within the week. I decided that I could not trust most of my girls not to betray me to the king—but neither could I abandon them to slaughter, at least not without giving them a choice. I determined to wait until the last minute, when the Israelites were already upon us, and then I would tell them they could stay with me and join the Israelites, or leave. Then they would not have enough time to betray me.
My family posed a bigger problem. I could not convince them to lodge with me, given the infamy of my profession, without giving them a good reason. And I could not give them a good reason without putting my life in their hands. I knew they disapproved of me, but surely they would not give me up to execution as a traitor, not when my intention was to save their lives along with my own?
I didn’t know, but I would have to risk it.
The next morning, I arrayed myself in my drab linen clothing so as not to draw attention to myself, just as if I were going to the marketplace. But instead, I went to my father’s house for the first time in over a decade. I gritted my teeth, steeling myself against whatever might come.
The door swung open, and I gasped. “Mother!”
The woman in the doorframe looked like a shadow of her former buxom, laughing self. Her skin was papery and white. It had been ten years, but she looked like she had aged at least twenty. Her hooded eyes briefly searched my face and widened.
“Rahab?” She took a step away rather than towards me, which stung. “You shouldn’t be here. Your father—”
“Disowned me, yes, I remember,” I said with a fixed smile, “and I came anyway, because your lives are in danger. All of ours are. I alone can save you.”
Twenty-four hours later, my entire estranged family crammed into my house of ill repute. My father, after first ordering me out of his home, finally changed his tune and instead went to my brothers and sisters, bearing my message. While my parents recruited my siblings, I went to the marketplace to buy enough food for all the sudden guests, to last through the siege. I did this in multiple trips, hoping not to raise eyebrows at why I felt the sudden need to stockpile supplies.
I hoped the Israelites would return soon, if only to curtail my awkward family reunion. Then I felt guilty for thinking this, as the Israelites’ return would mean the slaughter of every citizen of Jericho save those in my own home. They had no idea, I thought, as I passed mothers with children in the streets. As always, they crossed to the other side of the street when they saw me coming, wanting to avoid contamination. This used to hurt, long ago. Then I became calloused to it, ignoring those who shunned me. Now, I felt compassion… but not enough to risk my own life to warn them. I had risked enough in warning my own family, and I had no more room in my home for anyone else anyway. Most of my girls left in a huff after my sisters insulted them. Only Pigat remained, having guessed why they were there after seeing the Israelites. With each passing day, I wrung my hands, fearful that the girls who had left would turn me in to the authorities as a traitor, though I had officially confessed nothing.
On the second day after Berel and Salmon had left my house, I watched over the wall and saw the soldiers of Jericho return empty-handed. I held my breath as they passed by, fearful they might knock on my door again and wonder why I suddenly played host to so many. Fortunately they had no other reason to approach me, and they passed on by.
On the third day, nothing happened at all. I knew that was the day the two spies would leave the mountain and return to their camp. My father began to sneer at me, accusing me of lying to all of them, and ruining their reputations by their sudden association with me. My mother snapped at him to leave me alone, which brought tears to my eyes. But when she turned away from him, she did not look at me either.
On the fourth day, I thought I heard the distant rumble of marching in the desert. I ran to the rooftops, and peered out into the distance. Pigat crept up behind me.
“Is that them?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” I whispered back.
She wrapped her little hands around my forearm, and I leaned into her, grateful for her companionship.
“I’m scared,” she confessed. “Everything is about to change, isn’t it?”
I kissed the top of her head, and smoothed back her hair. “Yes, little one,” I whispered back. “But I believe it will be a change for the better.”
“How do you know?”
I considered this, and a thousand images flashed across my mind: of losing my virginity and my virtue. Of the awful things I had to do since then to support myself. Of all the respectable people who had turned against me. Of the moment my father had disowned me, many years ago. Of the nights I had cried myself to sleep with loneliness and regret, before rising in the morning with determination to make my own way. Of grieving as I finally understood what had happened to my own soul, by watching it play out in the broken girls who worked for me.
Then I thought of how I had felt when I started to hear the stories of the God of Israel. The Canaanites had gods, but honestly, I had never thought much of them. They had no power. They certainly had no goodness. Yet the Israelites’ God used His power to deliver His people from their oppressors, to grant them victory over their enemies. That did not necessarily make Him good, but it certainly made Him great. I wanted to ally myself with that God, if only because I did not wish to suffer the fate of His enemies.
Then I’d met Berel and Salmon. It was so very brief, that to draw any major conclusions about Israelites in general based upon that one encounter seemed foolish. Yet they had been kind. It had been so long since a man had been truly kind to me that I hardly remembered what it felt like. They said their God had directed them to come to me, even knowing what I was. They spoke to me with respect, even gratitude.
I realized I had never answered Pigat. She had asked how I knew that this would be a change for the better.
“All my adult life, it’s been me against the world,” I told her at last. “A father is supposed to protect and defend his daughter, a brother his sister, a husband his wife. I had none of these. No one to rely upon but myself.”
“You did a great job, even so,” Pigat said with a tentative smile.
I returned her smile affectionately, and said, “But I would never have chosen this life, had I had any other choice. None of us would. It was a matter of survival, that’s all. Then I heard of a God who protects and defends His people, and…” I looked at her and confessed earnestly, “I want that. More than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. I wasn’t born one of them, but if it’s possible to become one of them anyway, then whatever it takes, I want to do it. I want to belong to the God of Israel.” Tears pricked at my eyes as I said this. I didn’t realize how deep that ran: my desire to belong to someone who valued me. I would give my life for it.
Pigat blinked up at me, and gave me a tiny nod of agreement, answering tears swimming in her own eyes. I knew she felt the same way.
I turned back to peer out into the desert, and gasped. “Look!”
It was them at last, and more than I possibly could have imagined. From this distance, the Israelites looked like a swarm of locusts.
“It’s starting,” I murmured.
“Should we go inside?” Pigat whispered.
Down below, I heard the gates of the city closing. The watchmen had spotted the approaching army too.
“You can if you want to,” I told her. “I think I want to watch.”
It took a week, all told. I grew impatient as day after day, the men of Israel marched around the walls of Jericho once, blowing trumpets but otherwise holding their peace. They did not storm the city gates, or make any attempt to enter.
“What are they doing?” my sister Hurriya murmured beside me on the third day: the first time she had voluntarily spoken to me since she had come
I shook my head and shivered. “I have no idea, but it’s unnerving. I wish they would get on with it already.”
Inside our walls, the city of Jericho uneasily tried to continue life as usual, which I knew only by looking out the windows and seeing the usual traffic in the streets. A few men even came to my house at nightfall, seeking the services of my girls. I turned them away, of course. Two of them, already drunk, became violent, until my brothers Keret and Paebel came to my defense. The men scampered off in a hurry. Once they were gone, the moments afterwards were awkward.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, not daring to meet my brothers’ eyes.
Paebel gave me a curt nod and walked off. Keret snapped, “Just tell me you’re not going back to harlotry when this is all over.”
I slapped him. I did it without thinking, surprised by the violence of my own emotions. His cheek reddened in where my hand had stung him.
“I will never be a harlot again!” I hissed. “I never would have been one in the first place, had I any other choice! Do you think I wanted this life?”
I stalked off before he could reply, leaving him gaping behind me.
Over the next three days, my family began to offer me awkward and overly polite acknowledgements for the food and lodging. They even stopped treating Pigat like a ghost, though it was clear they were uncomfortable with her. And all the time, the Israelites marched around Jericho’s walls, in silence save for the trumpets. Sometimes I went up to the room where the scarlet cord was tied, where my brothers slept, and peered down below to see if I could identify the faces of any of the Israelite soldiers. I was looking for Salmon, though I never would have admitted it.
On the seventh day at last, something changed: instead of just once, the Israelites marched around the city walls seven times. They were still silent save for the trumpets, but they had picked up their pace considerably. My heart thrummed in my chest. I knew something was on the verge of happening, though I had no idea what it would be.
Then, on their seventh pass, when the trumpets blew, as one all the Israelites raised their voices in a mighty shout. I wondered that their voices could have made such noise, until I realized that the sound was now coming from the very foundations of my house. I felt it in the stones below me. I looked and saw, to my horror and amazement, that the city walls—thick enough for houses and businesses like mine to be built atop them—fell down flat in a ripple effect. And then—
I screamed, grasping wildly for something to hold on to, but it was no use. I was airborne, as the ground below me collapsed.
I collided with the ground again, gasping and trying to orient myself as I groped to my feet. I looked up and saw that the roof held, as did the floor. I ran to the window with the scarlet cord, which moments ago had been far above the ground outside the city walls. Now, suddenly, it was only one story above ground level… and there were no more city walls. Outside my window I saw the invading army rushing by with swords drawn, still shouting their battle cry. I trembled in terror, praying that they would see the scarlet cord and remember their promise to me.
The next thing I knew, Pigat and my entire family all crowded in that little room with me, huddled together in fear. Then I heard the ominous sound of pounding on my door down below, above the din of the battle.
“Ignore them,” Pigat whispered to me in a tremulous voice. “Maybe they’ll go away!”
The pounding started again, three times, insistent.
“Maybe not,” Keret said gravely, and rose to his feet, trying to be brave. “I will see to it—”
“No,” I stopped him, reaching out an arm as I rose instead, trying to be brave. “They do not know you. I, at least, have met two of them. If they will spare anyone, they will spare me.” My voice was remarkably steady, though I trembled as I descended the stairs—marveling vaguely that as the foundation of my home beneath us fell down flat, its structure was somehow still intact.
The pounding began again, this time accompanied by a voice.
I caught my breath and rushed to the door, throwing it open.
Salmon and Berel looked glorious now, no longer like spies, but like warriors. Their swords were sheathed, but their hair was backlit by the sun and their eyes glowed with the heat of battle. I felt my face split into an involuntary grin.
“You came back for me!”
Salmon looked almost affronted. “Of course we came back for you. We are men of our word.” He reached out an arm to me and beckoned, “Come, you and your household. Our leader Joshua has sent us to escort you outside the city where you will be safe. Take with you any possessions you wish to keep, as well, as we plan to burn the city to the ground.”
My eyes widened. I turned to spread this message to the others, but they were all halfway down the stairs before I could get to them. My parents, siblings, and Pigat already had gathered up what they could carry.
“My flax!” I said, rushing up to the roof to gather what I had already spun into linen and had planned to sell at the marketplace. It was not yet dyed, but I figured that the Israelite camps would still have plenty of use for linen. I scooped as much as I could carry into my arms, and turned to find Salmon standing very close behind me. I was so jittery and startled that I dropped it all on the ground again.
“Oh!” I gasped, a hand flying to my chest. “You—scared me.”
He did not answer for a moment; he gazed at me, a look of curiosity and wonder on his face. All around us raged the shouts of battle, and yet here we were, alone, mere stories above it all. Salmon seemed to recall himself before I did, and murmured, “Here, let me get that.” He scooped up what I had dropped, and gestured for me to return inside. “Grab any other valuables you have.”
I did as he instructed, rushing back downstairs and collecting my few precious belongings: candlesticks and bowls, one golden ring, and a head scarf I had treasured as a young girl, before my life became what it had been. Berel was already carrying a load of Pigat’s valuables.
“Let’s get out of here!” my mother begged. Berel nodded swiftly, being the closest to the door.
“This way,” he said, and hurried out first. Pigat, my mother and sisters were right on his heels, followed by my brothers, my father, and then Salmon and me. Salmon brought up the rear, and I realized that he and Berel served as protection for my family between them. The army would recognize them, and would not touch us.
The hike to the Israelite camp was not as far as I had expected, but it still took us several miles. As each of us fell into our relative paces, I found myself striding alone beside Salmon. I wasn’t sure if that was his doing or mine.
“Thank you for coming back for us,” I said at last.
Salmon nodded. “As I said, Joshua sent us back for you.” I didn’t know what to say to this, so I said nothing. Seeming to realize his mistake, he amended, “Not that—I wouldn’t have volunteered to do so. If he hadn’t.”
I glanced at him with a small smile, and then lapsed back into silence. I was worried about what was to come next. I had left behind me everything I had ever known—and while I certainly did not regret the loss of that life, surely the Israelites did not view prostitution any more favorably than did my family. Would I become an outcast among the Israelites as I had in Jericho, and have to resort to the same profession after all in order to support myself? Would the God of Israel want nothing to do with me?
“You need not fear,” Salmon said gently.
I glanced at him, startled, and saw that he was watching me. “What?”
“I suspect I can guess your apprehensions. I won’t pretend the cultural adjustments won’t be significant. But our leader Joshua is disposed to deal kindly with you, for how you aided Berel and myself, and by extension, all of Israel. I told him how you risked yourself for our sakes, because you heard of the great works of the Lord and believed in Him.”
I was surprised at the lump which sprang to my throat at this, and the ache in my chest.
“But what if your Lord wants nothing to do with a woman like me?” I whispered. I had not meant to say it; the words just slipped out.
To my surprise, Salmon shifted his load to one arm so that he could reach out and touch my hand with the other. I stopped walking, startled, and jerked my hand away from him like I had been burned.
“You should want nothing to do with me, either! You know what I am!”
But Salmon reached out for me again, taking my hand in his firmly this time. “Yes,” he said, “I do know. You are a woman who merely heard of God’s works, and without ever seeing them for yourself, you believed—even to the point of staking your own life upon your allegiance to Him. How many Israelites do not believe, even when they have seen? You are a woman who so loved her family, even when they shunned her, that you risked your life to save theirs. You are a woman who clearly loves and protects one of your girls like your own little sister, who I’m guessing has no one else to care for her either. You are an enterprising woman who obviously wants to find any other means of support for herself and those under her protection, hence the linen.” He indicated the burden he was carrying, and shook his head. “I do not know what blows life has dealt you to lead to you to the place you have been. But Israel can be a second chance for you, if you want it to be.”
Tears ran down my cheeks as he spoke. I couldn’t even wipe them away, since one arm grasped all my remaining worldly belongings, while Salmon firmly held my other. I sniffled, and confessed, “I want that more than anything in the world!”
He gave me a swift nod. “Then that’s settled.” Then with a sly smile, he said, “I will introduce you to the women of Israel as a merchant of scarlet linen, and leave it at that, shall I? And Pigat is… your apprentice.”
A grateful laugh and sob together escaped my lips, and I nodded, unable to speak.
Salmon was as good as his word. When we reached the tents where the women, children, and elderly waited for the return of their soldiers, he introduced Pigat and me as linen merchants. He also told them that we had hidden him and Berel, and told them how to escape. My family easily could have contradicted the story, but they did not. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was surrounded by respectable women who did not mind if their children played in my presence. I learned that Israel was comprised of twelve tribes, and I also gathered that Salmon was a prominent and well-respected member of the tribe called Judah. Israel had no princes, but if they had, it seemed, he would have been one of them. This made me shy in his presence, though he treated me just as attentively after I learned this as before.
“And as a proselyte, you can choose which tribe you join!” one of my new friends told me cheerfully. Then she dropped her voice and added, “Unless you marry into one, in which case, the tribe chooses you.” She cast a significant glance in Salmon’s direction at this, not bothering to hide her implication from anyone. He grinned, and I blushed furiously and dropped my eyes—a reflex I had not known I still possessed.
It was a strange contradiction, to feel so happy while the city that had been my home burned in the distance. Death and tragedy was all around us, and yet I had never felt so hopeful or at peace.
Suddenly, anything seemed possible.