Unsettling stories

May 9, 2016 by

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“The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Jane Yoder-Short


The Bible says some unsettling things. Multiple bloodbaths clear the way for The Chosen. Smashers of babies against rocks are called blessed. The list of jarring statements and unnerving narratives is perplexing. What does it mean to believe this eclectic collection of faith writings?

Reading and believing the Bible can be more like a dance than a cut-and-dried pronouncement. Re-reading the story of Rahab, I was reminded how puzzling Bible stories can be. Rahab looks like a superhero — or is she a trickster and a traitor brokering a clever deal? The people of Jericho appear to be immoral heathen — or are they victims of a terrorist attack? The dance changes as different voices set the contextual tone.

The music turns melancholic as we dance with the viewpoint of the Jericho residents. Tension mounts as we hear that foreign spies are visiting Rahab’s brothel. The king’s men, our respected authorities, arrive at Rahab’s inn. Rahab turns traitor and casts her lot with the Israelites, a feared coalition of terrorists. Did Rahab calculate the benefits of betrayal? Is she thinking former slaves turned aggressors will treat her and other discards of society in better ways?

The music changes. Upbeat celebration music reverberates as we dance with the story from the perspective of the Israelites. Rahab confesses, “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” She has chosen the right side.

The music switches to a 007 melody as spies enter the city, but they seem amateurish. The king soon learns of their presence. Skilled or not, the Bond music is appropriate as sexual innuendos abound. Why are our spies bargaining with a Canaanite prostitute?

The music takes a confusing turn. The Israelites are to show no mercy to the Canaanites (Deut. 7:2). Does Rahab, a worthless Canaanite prostitute, deserve mercy? Is she really the hero? Aren’t Abraham’s offspring the heroes? Does being part of God’s people have to do with bloodlines or confession and fidelity?

To Bible believers, the story of Rahab is puzzling. We see Israel as a victim, escaping slavery in Egypt, but also as a perpetrator of violent colonialism. We see Rahab as a hero but also a betrayer.

Grappling with this story, we miss some cultural and historic nuances, but we benefit from seeing the bigger picture. We benefit from knowing chosenness is not tied to Abraham. We benefit from knowing all cultures are a mix of good and bad.

Dancing with the story of Rahab requires good background music. We need Micah gently humming about justice, mercy and humbly stepping with our God. We need the rhythm of a nonviolent Jesus calling us to love enemies.

Rahab leaves us with questions. What does it means to believe the Bible? How does it look for people from different cultures to be part of the same faith communities? How does church become a space where there is no Jew or Canaanite, no occupier or occupied, and where society’s discards can become heroes and church moderators? How does it look to side with the community of God and against our dominant North American culture? How do we respond when the temptations of chosenness and American exceptionalism come knocking at our door?

We stumble along. Our cultural context and our way of seeing the Bible can trip us up. Believing the Bible and having faith is a lively interactive dance.

The Bible says it, we dance with it, and together we keep moving toward faith that harmonizes with Jesus.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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  • Dale Welty

    The Bible tells us that Rahab, a former harlot in Jericho who became a woman of great faith and great, great grandmother of King David and is in the lineage of Jesus as mentioned in Matt. 1:5. Not only is she
    mentioned in the lineage of Jesus, but is one of two women mentioned in the hall of faith–Hebrews 11. I strongly dislike when religious people take the Bible account of Rahab and judge her to be evil.
    The story of Rahab is very understandable and not puzzling. Further, Jesus was not a pacifist, neither did he teach pacifism. Neither is God a pacifist. Dale Welty

    • David Jost

      That Jane did not judge Rahab to be evil was integral to her point, which was that Biblical figures are complex and a flippant and simplistic judgment might not deliver best results. I would be surprised if you, as one who clearly values Biblical literacy and the ability to connect different passages, don’t actually share this view, whatever your perspective on Rahab.

      Though you write as one seemingly reprimanding Jane, the irony is that your very own jabs, if accurate, strongly reinforce her point. If, as you say, Jesus is not a pacifist, he must himself be a pretty complex person, to have left the body of spoken teachings and the thoroughly non-resistant faith movement that he did while secretly holding views that include an endorsement of human on human violent killing.

      David Jost

      • Dale Welty

        David, sorry you are unable to understand my last paragraph, both that of Rahab and that pertaining to pacifism. You may email me at twocyldoc@comcast.net if you are interested in more info on these two items. Dale Welty

        • David Jost

          Ummm, sorry that I misinterpreted you, then? As a minor point, it’s worth pointing out that I neither misunderstood nor responded to your last paragraph’s note on Rahab, only on pacifism, and your two sentences on pacifism leave little room for misinterpretation. More to the point, it did seem that there was no evidence that Jane thought Rahab to be evil or thought that other reasonable minds would necessarily think her to be evil from her piece, but other than suggesting there was implication of that, I couldn’t figure out another way to situate your comments in context.

          Regarding pacifism, you can talk about it here, where there is context, if you like. Then again, there isn’t much context to point to, as you raised the topic of pacifism without any reference to it in the text, and with only minimal reference to non-violence, so perhaps it was just an effort to foster disagreement, apropos of nothing. Hard to say.

          David Jost

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