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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 82
September 1997

CLOSETS


The stooped, gray-haired woman stepped gingerly through the doorway of her house. With one hand she gripped tightly the smooth knob at the top of her walking stick, with the other she steadied herself against the roughly hewed door frame. Carefully she stepped down into the dirt street and made her way to the well-worn stone block that afforded her the best vantage point with which to survey the neighborhood.

Rahab peered steadily down the street toward the group of children playing between the haphazardly arranged rows of stone and mud plaster dwellings. The children were almost obscured by the clouds of dust that billowed up from their feet as they played `keep away' with the wad of old rags. The woman, however, was still able to spy the one special child, the delight of her heart.

Where had the years gone? Here, dwelling in the comfortable warmth of her son's family, Rahab had found peace from the nagging past. Here in this old land freshly inhabited by new people she had, at last, made a home.

Little Obed came rushing up to his grandmother. "Did you see me? Did you see me, Gram?"

"Of course, my love." Rahab wrapped the child into her arms.

"The bigger boys said I was too young, but I showed 'em I could play."

"And so you did. I saw how you dodged around Micah--he's so much bigger than you."

"But I'm fast, Gram. They can't catch me." he said, puffing out his chest.

Rahab's smiling face quickly turned serious. "Whatever it takes, Obed. You do whatever it takes."

God forgive her survival instinct. Was she wrong to teach her grandchild to look out for himself? to be strong and self-sufficient? She had always had a difficult time sorting out God's grace from her own efforts; where did one end and the other begin? Rahab was certainly not alone in her efforts to instill in the child a sense of personal responsibility, since the grandmother[1] on his mother's side had, herself, a history of extraordinary, personal determination. Naomi's return to Bethlehem after a succession of family tragedies in Moab demonstrated her own survival instinct.[2]

"I'm trying, Gram. I'm trying to be just like you," Obed said.

"Oh, no dear," Rahab said, alarmed. "That's not what I mean."

"But you've always been so strong--and good. Don't you want me to be like you?"

"I don't want you to follow after any person," Rahab said, taking the boy by the shoulders. "Learn from us, obey your parents, grow from the collected wisdom of your family, but never try to be like us-- especially me."

"But Grandma Rahab--"

"Oh, child," Rahab said, "don't be fooled by this pleasant moment. Life carries with it many twists and turns, and what you see today may not be what was there the day before." Obed said nothing, but his quizzical expression told her that he was confused. "Obed, your grandmother was not always what she is now. Today I am an old woman surrounded by the comfort of family in a peaceable land, but once I was young and beautiful--and there was no peace in my land. Today I walk with Jehovah God, but there was a time when I didn't even know He existed and, dear child, there was a time when my life would have only brought shame upon this house . . ."

Before the Fall

Their reputation had preceded them.

While, on the surface, the daily business of living continued in Jericho, a palpable fear hung over the city like a black rain cloud. Everyone had heard--not only in Jericho, but in all the surrounding city/states of the area--of a vast moving sea of people who enjoyed the favor of a powerful God--one who supplied their physical needs but, worse, protected them in battle. And now word had come that these Israelites were approaching Jericho, and were camped just beyond the Jordan in Shittim. Their city was a fortress, but the inhabitants were filled with terror over the prospect of facing this people and their all-powerful God.

Jericho had heard how the waters of the Red Sea had dried up before the Israelites, giving them a safe and dry escape from the pursuing Egyptians.[3] It had heard how the Lord God had given them success against Sihon, king of the Amorites,[4] and Og, king of Bashan.[5] And every day these conquering tribes drew closer to the Jordan, and to the massive walls of the city.


She wasn't particularly proud of what she did, but without husband or any other means Rahab was forced to do whatever was necessary to stay alive. She was a survivor, and even within the restrictive confines of her unseemly profession, Rahab had made herself a success. Beginning in the streets and back alleys, she now had a home on one of the main streets, and the back wall of her house was the outside wall of Jericho itself.

It wasn't uncommon for strangers to come knocking at her door, since her house was also an inn for wayfarers, but even she had been taken aback when she opened it to the two Israelites. They had made an attempt to disguise themselves, but were so uneasy, standing there fidgeting in the street, that she was immediately suspicious. Then, too, because of her duel professions of innkeeper and harlot, she was familiar with people from many different tribes and nationalities, and she knew them to be from that group of former slaves of Egypt.

"Get in here, quickly!" She ordered. "Why have you come here? Don't you realize how dangerous it is for you to be in this city?"

"W-what are you talking about?" One of them said. The other added, "We're just passing through, on our way from Moab."

"Don't insult me. You're both from the nation of Israel--and my guess is you haven't risked your necks just to share my bed."

The two men grew noticeably uneasy, and unsure of how far they could trust this common prostitute with their real reason for being in Jericho. Within moments of their passing through the city gate they had both felt the unmistakable impression that every citizen knew who they were--which meant that it would be only a short time before the authorities had routed them out. So they had ducked into the nearest inn, seeking anonymous refuge. But now even that plan had failed.

Scowling, Rahab said, "If you're not honest with me I can't help you. Now why are you here?"

At last one of the men sighed and answered, "We've been sent to determine the strength of your city."

"So you can destroy us."

"This land has been given to us by the Lord. What He will do to your city only He knows."

"With the river flooding this time of year, we thought we'd be safe for awhile," she said.

"But we made it across."

"Obviously. Well you won't be safe here. Come with me," she ordered. Checking first for the authorities, she led them back out into the street, and up a narrow flight of steps to the roof of her inn. Since it was harvest time for flax, Rahab's roof was covered with drying stalks of the plant. She directed the two men to lie down on the roof, then she covered them with layers of the flax.

The Least Among You

After the king's men had left, Rahab waited until she knew they would be outside the city walls, then slipped back up to the roof of her house and the two secreted spies.

As she removed the stalks of flax that covered them, Rahab-- uncharacteristic of her--was filled with apprehension over her situation. Would they believe her? Would these two strangers--aliens in her land yet holding in their power the very fate of her people-- believe what she was about to tell them? Would they trust her--and would they believe that she would trust them?

When they were uncovered, Rahab handed the men a small flask of water. She let them satisfy their thirst before she began. "I want to tell you something that may cost me my life. That, and the fact that I have protected yours from my own people, should guarantee your trust.

"Every person in this city, from the king down to the urchin who cleans the latrines, has heard about your people and their long journey out of Egypt. We have heard what you suffered there for hundreds of years, and we've heard how your God miraculously freed you from that bondage.

"We've all heard the stories of fantastic events in the desert--of the earth swallowing thousands of people, of food falling from the sky and food massing on the ground, of water spilling from a rock. Many have laughed at the tales; the desert is a great breeding ground for lies.

"We've also heard stories of your victories against those who might have blocked your way, of how you have utterly wiped out entire nations by the sword.

"And we've all trembled with fear at their telling.

"Every person in this city fears you. Every fighting man has quaked at the thought of going up against you in battle--for he knows going in that he will lose."

In the darkening twilight on the roof of her house, Rahab leaned closer to the two men and said with a forced whisper, "Every person in this land fears your God--but I believe in Him. Everyone else is afraid of what He will do to them, but I am afraid of living another day without Him."


The two Israelites exchanged glances, mystified by the words of this stranger.

"Yes, I know what you're thinking. You're right. I'm just another heathen--and on top of that, a common harlot. I have no assurance that I am even permitted to worship your God; He may not even have me! But I do know this: At every telling of the stories of how your God has worked His will on your behalf I became more convinced that He was, truly, the one God above all other gods. This city is filled with waxwork and plaster gods who aren't worth the sweat it took to make them. But your God, who was made by no man, is truly the Lord. He is God!

"So I put it to you: Will He have me?"

"There are others in our company," one of the men began, "who have joined us from other nations, other cultures. They've left their old gods to walk in the ways of the one true God."

"They joined us," his companion continued, "and they've been welcomed into our community. In fact the Lord Himself told Moses: `Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.'[6] So provision has been made."

"Those who obey His holy Law are accepted into His people."

Rahab suddenly moved away from the men, sinking back into the curtain of night. "Oh, it could never be. What would such a God want with me? Even my own people turn away from me."

"Tell us which came first," one of the men said, stepping toward her, "your belief in the Lord--or your hope that He would save you?"

Simply, like an innocent girl, Rahab said quietly, "The belief."

"We all have pasts we'd like to hide. We all have something to be ashamed of. But the Lord welcomes us anyway. He's more interested in our tomorrow than our yesterday."

"You've already taken the most important step. You are already one of us."

"Then," Rahab said, "we have a covenant between us."


Rahab, left alone, sank back into her swarming doubts. What would become of her? If, because of her years as a woman of the streets, a lowly harlot viewed with contempt by her own people, how in the world could she be accepted into a new community already aware of her past? Was she stepping into a miserable new life--even one of subjection or slavery? She had no guarantee from the men beyond the taking of the city; after that, who could say what would become of her and her family?

And what of her new God. Yes, she believed in Him, had even been worshipping Him secretly behind closed doors, but she still knew little of His personality, His ways. What would He do with her? Would she be confined to a lower strata of His society because of her publicly sordid past? At least here in Jericho she could continue her business; what would become of her with Israel?

As the inhabitants of her city awaited their fate with dread, feeling the weight of the approaching horde descend upon their fortified walls, Rahab resigned herself to a safe, yet miserable life in the company of a new people.

And may the Lord have mercy on me, she thought.


CLOSETS

Characters:
Crandall - the waiter
Betty - middle-aged woman
Loraine - middle-aged (or slightly younger) woman

[Enter BETTY, preceded by the waiter. BETTY is immaculately dressed in a smart business suit. She is tastefully appointed, a woman of intelligence and good sense. She carries herself with confidence and a quiet dignity. She is conducted to a table by the waiter, who holds her chair out for her, takes her jacket--shows her every courtesy.]

WAITER

Will this be suitable?

BETTY
(with gracious, yet reserved appreciation)

Very nice.

WAITER
(handing her a menu)

I highly recommend the trout almondine. Our sauce is impeccable.

BETTY

Sounds delicious. But give me a minute.

WAITER


My name is Crandall. Just let me know when you're ready.

[The WAITER exits. BETTY studies the menu, sips from her water glass, etc. Soon the WAITER enters, scowling, leading in another diner. LORAINE is dressed shabbily--not like a street person, but as someone who once knew better days, but is now down on her luck. Her clothes are clean, but almost worn out. She has tried to arrange her hair, put on her face, but hasn't done a very good job of it, and there's a run in her hose. She slouches when she walks, as if hoping no one will notice her. The WAITER is not pleased that he has been given this person. It's his opinion that she should not have been afforded entrance into the establishment at all. But she has, and now he must find her a table. He stops a few feet away from BETTY's table, looks around, searching for a suitable place for this woman. Not finding anything, he reluctantly approaches BETTY.]

WAITER


Madam, my profound apologies. We're unusually busy today. Would you mind terribly sharing your table?

BETTY
(graciosly)


Why no. (to LORAINE) Please sit down.

[Instead of pulling out LORAINE's chair for her, the WAITER drops the menu down onto the table and quickly leaves.]

LORAINE
(sitting; hesitantly, to BETTY)


You're very kind.

[LORAINE removes her jacket, busies herself with her purse, then buries her nose in the menu. Meanwhile, BETTY returns to her own perusal of the menu, occasionally glancing up at Loraine--not unkindly, more wanting her to be at her ease. As the WAITER returns to take their order, LORAINE fumbles in her purse, removes a pack of cigarettes and places one in her mouth. When she starts to strike a match, the WAITER stops her.]

WAITER
(disdainfully; louder than is really necessary)


There's no smoking in this section.

LORAINE
(embarrassed; quickly putting the cigarettes away, glancing about her)

Of course.

WAITER
(to BETTY)


Has Madam decided?

BETTY

Yes, Crandall. I believe I'll just have the salad--with bleu cheese.

[The WAITER nods approvingly, jots down her order. He then turns to the other woman--who is still fumbling with her purse.]

WAITER
(impatiently; curtly; with disdain)


And you?

[LORAINE drops her purse and quickly scans the menu.]

LORAINE


Uh, well--

BETTY
(to LORAINE; protectively)


Perhaps you'd like more time to decide.

LORAINE
(glancing up guiltily to the WAITER


Yes. I think so.

WAITER
(to BETTY; strained)


Of course.

[LORAINE returns to the menu. BETTY gives her a moment before speaking.]

BETTY

That's a lovely pin you're wearing.

[LORAINE glances up, surprised that BETTY is speaking to her, then remembers the brooch she put on to liven up her rather shabby dress.]

LORAINE
(simply)


Oh. Thank you. (fingers the brooch with nervous pride) It was a gift from my husband.

BETTY

He must love you very much.

LORAINE

Maybe. I don't know. He left me two-and-a-half years ago.

BETTY

I'm sorry.

LORAINE
(not wanting BETTY to feel badly)


That's all right.

BETTY
(after a pause)


My name's Betty.

LORAINE

Loraine.

BETTY
(trying to lighten an awkward situation)


Loraine, I don't think our waiter is treating you very well.

LORAINE
(with a shrug)


I'm used to it.

BETTY

Still, you shouldn't put up with it.

LORAINE

Sometimes you reach a point where you just take what you can get.

BETTY
(thoughtfully)


I suppose. (pause) Well, it's a lovely day. Are you out shopping?

[BETTY is sorry she said it the moment the words pass her lips.]

LORAINE
(after a beat; flatly)


No.

BETTY
(exasperated with herself)


LORAINE, would you rather I left you alone?

LORAINE
(reaching for her purse)


I don't fit in very well. I shouldn't have come.

BETTY

What do you mean? Not at all.

LORAINE
(beginning to relax; putting down her purse)


It's so silly. (pause) An old friend of mine gave me a gift certificate for this place. I didn't even want to use it, but he insisted. "Get gussied up," he said, "and dine with the upper crust." Well, here I am, as gussied as I can get.

BETTY

I think you look just fine.

LORAINE
(wryly)


You're a good liar, BETTY.

[The WAITER enters to take LORAINE's order. Without saying anything, he stands next to her, impatiently, with pen poised over pad.]

LORAINE
(surprised he's back so soon)


Oh my, let's see--

WAITER
(now thoroughly exasperated with this commoner)


Oh really.

[LORAINE looks embarrassed, but BETTY takes charge of the situation. She quietly turns and addresses the WAITER.]

BETTY
(sweetly)


Crandall, when I came in, your tip was hovering around twenty percent. It is now down below fifteen. Would you care to try for ten?

[Understanding perfectly the fiscal implications of her remark, Crandall straightens and turns to LORAINE.]

WAITER
(immitating perfectly how he originally said this to Betty)


I highly recommend the trout almondine. Our sauce is impeccable.

LORAINE
(struggling to stifle a laugh)


That would be fine. Thank you.

[With a flourish, the WAITER retrieves LORAINE's menu and exits. As soon as he is gone, both BETTY and LORAINE look at each other, then burst out laughing.]

BETTY
(facetiously)


It's good to see ol' Crandall finally has his priorities straight

LORAINE
(appreciative)


You're a lifesaver. (pause; suspiciously) Why are you being so nice to me?

BETTY
(begins to answer truthfully, then changes her mind)


Listen, it'd be a shame to waste being all "gussied up." Why don't you come along with me after we eat.

LORAINE

What's the occasion?

BETTY
(trying to be nonchalant)


Oh, just a meeting at my church.

LORAINE
(with a trace of caution)


What church?

BETTY

Community Chapel--just down the street.

LORAINE
(with dark cynicism)


Small world.

BETTY

You know it?

LORAINE
(making no effort to mask her bitterness)


Oh I know it all right. I think I'll just pass, thank you.

BETTY
(haltingly)


Sounds like you've had some dealings with the Chapel.

LORAINE
(raising her defenses again)


I wouldn't expect you to understand. The problems of people like me usually don't make it up to people like you.

BETTY
(still cordial, but beginning to be defensive herself)


Oh, and what kind of people am I?

LORAINE
(with thinly-veiled resentment)


People without problems. People who never get soiled with living. (pause) People who never do anything they have to be ashamed of.

BETTY
(measured)


I take it that you have.

LORAINE

Have what?

BETTY

You have done something you're ashamed of.

LORAINE
(with a humorless chuckle)


My husband didn't leave me because he found greener grass. He left because he could no longer stand the weeds growing in his own lawn. (pause) I'll give him this: he stuck it out longer than I expected. He tried (wearily)--at least he tried. (longer pause) At first I only drank to be sociable; one or two with friends. Then I started inviting friends over just to have an excuse to drink. Soon I was buying bottles at the grocery and stashing them where only I knew. I'd clean myself up and put on a good face by the time Frank got home. (sadly) But he knew. He always knew. (pause; defensively; with a heavy sigh) You wouldn't understand.

BETTY

Children?

LORAINE
(struggling to keep her composure)


He took our two girls with him. (with great pain in her eyes, but there are no tears left) He does his best to keep them away from me.

BETTY

How does the Chapel come into this?

LORAINE
(flashing anger)

We were members there. Nobody helped. Nobody offered to help.

BETTY
(shocked)


They turned you away?

LORAINE
(with resentment)


Their silence was enough.

BETTY

Maybe they didn't know.

LORAINE

Oh, they knew all right. Everybody knew.

BETTY

But did you go to them?--the Pastor, Deacon, anyone?

LORAINE
(defensive)


I didn't think I should have to.

[Enter the WAITER with their food. The women sit silently, staring at the table as he sets down their plates.

WAITER

Ladies . . .

[The WAITER exits. Still silent, the women begin eating. Finally, it is BETTY who speaks first.
BETTY begins telling her story matter-of-factly, as if she really is talking about somebody else. But gradually, as she relives in her mind those events being described, it becomes clear--by the end of the speech--that she is really telling her own story.]

BETTY

Let me tell you about a friend of mine. (pause) She had a wonderful marriage to a wonderful man--a kind, thoughtful man. They had a son who excelled in sports and made the Honor Roll, to boot. They weren't rich, but they were comfortable--a nice home in the suburbs. She was happy. More than that, she knew she was happy. (pause) One day she ran into an old flame from college--a man she had almost married. They spent hours talking over old times: Saturday football games, building a snowman, walks together through fallen leaves . . . . (pause) He had recently moved to her city, but it was weeks before she saw him again. And she did. At their first meeting she had felt the stirrings of the old days, and she paid attention to them, took them out and spent time with them--remembering. She knew the right thing to do--to put those feelings away, to put them back into the closet of her memories. But she didn't do the right thing. She saw him again--and again. (pause) Soon my friend was meeting her old flame on a regular basis. They'd have lunch together, dinner--after dinner. Soon she was spending more time with him than her husband--her family. And she wasn't happy. More than that, she knew she wasn't happy. She continued seeing the man until, finally, her husband found out. Oh, he gave her a chance to do the right thing, but she didn't do the right thing. Her old feelings had been replaced by new, and they had become too strong for her to put them away. They'd become something more important to her than even her own family. And so, the day came when my friend made her choice--and she made the wrong choice. She left the love of her family for someone who stirred old feelings in her. But the feelings didn't last. (pause) Not long after, the old flame found another old flame, and he stirred up her memories, and my friend found herself suddenly without any feelings at all. (pause) Then one day my friend read a notice tacked to a bulletin board. She copied down the address and walked into a church--and a new life. For the first time in a very long time she had feelings again. She found people who were willing to love her back to self-respect--people willing to tell her the truth, but to do it in love and acceptance. They didn't care about her past--only her future.

LORAINE

This church--Community Chapel?

BETTY
(passionately)


If you had only let them know you were in pain.

LORAINE

It's not always so easy.

BETTY
(after a beat; with a knowing sigh)


I know.

LORAINE
(reluctantly; more to herself than BETTY)


On the other hand, I'm running out of options. And I'm getting so tired of facing it alone.

BETTY

Facing it alone isn't an option.

[There's a moment of silence while LORAINE works it over in her mind.]

LORAINE
(quietly)

What time's that meeting?

[BETTY smiles, pleased with LORAINE's decision. She looks at her watch and is alarmed to see that the meeting begins in only a few minutes.]

BETTY

Oh my. We're going to be late. (glancing up, looking around) Crandall! Crandall!

[Crandall the WAITER enters, always eager to please.]

WAITER
(cheerily)


Are you ladies ready for dessert? \

BETTY
(giving orders to a servant)


Doggy bags. Quickly. And the check.

[Crandall scurries out to do her bidding. LORAINE rummages through her purse and extends the gift certificate to BETTY.]

BETTY
(smiling)


No. Save that for another time.

LORAINE
(while they both put their jackets on)


Do you think I'll see your friend at this meeting?

BETTY
(with a knowing smile)


I wouldn't be a bit surprised. Not a bit surprised.

[They exit together.]

Declared Righteous

"And so, my little love," Rahab said to Obed, "the Lord not only granted me safety with His people, but He brought blessings beyond all measure into my life. By His grace I met a wonderful, forgiving man and I became his wife. Salmon and I had many children together--including your father."

"Daddy!" Obed grinned excitedly.

"Yes, your daddy Boaz," Rahab smiled. "Then the Lord brought your mommy, Ruth, into your daddy's life--and you must ask your mommy to tell you more about her own life, and the marvelous way our God brought her here to Bethlehem." Rahab playfully swatted Obed's behind. "Now it's time for you to run inside and help your mother with the meal. Go on."

Rahab let her gaze follow the lad as he bounded into the house, and her heart swelled with thanksgiving over the many joys the Lord God had brought into her long life. She closed her eyes and drifted back to that dusty city and the days when she had plied her disreputable trade. She remembered the misery of living without God, and she thanked Him for taking her in--even her. And she thought, Yes, I may now die in peace, after this full life.

But Rahab passed from this life to the next not knowing the full extent of the Lord's grace. In this life she never knew--nor did she dare to dream--that she, a lowly woman of the street, would play a part in the very lineage of the long-awaited Messiah.



NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 82
September 1997

NOTES

[1.] While Naomi was not literally Ruth's mother, hence Obed's grandmother, she was kin to Boaz, and the closest thing Ruth had to a mother. See Ruth 4:16-17. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] Ruth 1. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Exodus 14. (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Numbers 21:21-31. (return to footnote 4)

[5.] Numbers 21:33-35. (return to footnote 5)

[6.] Exodus 23:9. (return to footnote 6)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1997 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1997 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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