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Hope deferred, and false hope

"Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel none went out, and none came in (Joshua 6.1)."

Rahab the harlot waited in the city of destruction, as did all the inhabitants of Jericho. They waited for the army of the living God to attack and destroy. It could not be known how or when this devastation would occur until the Israelites appeared. But, from the confession of Rahab unto the spies, it is clear that all the city was in a state of terror. (Joshua 2.9)

However, the anticipation of Rahab the harlot differed from the rest, as much as day differs from night, and holiness differs from evil. All the residents of Jericho, including Rahab, were condemned sinners. They were accursed of the Lord. But with Rahab, there was a token of mercy. Hanging from her window was a scarlet thread that distinguished her from all the rest. This was the mark of a covenant relationship she had with Israel, and except for those of her family also embraced in the covenant, no one else in the city had any reason to hope in deliverance.

So, at the appointed time the massed army of Israel appeared at the walls of the city. No doubt but all the Caananites inside were terrorized at the awesome sight. To them, destruction was at hand. Conversely, Rahab must have been overjoyed at the sight of the delivering host approaching the battlements of the city. Her moment of deliverance was imminent; or so it seemed, on seeing the army.

How very often do we discover, like Rahab and the citizens of Jericho, that things are not as they often appear; especially in the dealings of the Lord. Instead of the army of Israel storming the walls to destroy on the one hand, and to deliver on the other, they began a most solemn march about the city walls. They marched; priests with trumpets; priests bearing the ark of the covenant, and the army in armed assemblage treading around the city in total silence, except the trumpets blowing. No man spoke or shouted. We do not know the exact number of those in this mighty host, but it was in the thousands, and they could not traverse the distance around the city in minutes. It probably took them several hours.

Can we not reasonably assume that at the first, when the army of Israel did not attack their walls, the city was perplexed, and Rahab, along with them, knew not what to make of it. By day's end, the residents of Jericho were probably breathing a huge sigh of relief. Why, they could not explain, but they were for the moment safe. Dare they hope? Could it be their worst fears would not be realized? They were alive, and that was, for the moment, all that mattered.

And what of Rahab? Can we possibly imagine a worse disappointment? With expectant hopes, she watched her deliverers come, and then as suddenly go away. What could be the matter? Was she confused; or worse yet, was she deceived in the matter? Could the spies have betrayed her, or perhaps had she only been fooling herself? Whatever the reason, she must have been bitterly saddened. Rahab had experienced hope deferred, and she was sick at heart (Proverbs 13.12). Surely it was a long night of reflection and sober consideration for this poor confused woman.

The morning dawned. Jericho was still secure, and Rahab remained yet among that accursed people. Again the host of Israel appeared at the wails of the city. Would Rahab be delivered? Would Jericho be destroyed? Again, just as on the previous day the assembled host circled the city, and neither Rahab was delivered nor Jericho destroyed. Dare the shrinking hoard hope? Or, for that matter, would Rahab despair? It surely is not an exaggeration to comment that by then the city was, for the moment, feeling a lot better, while poor Rahab conjectured if she dare even hope for hope.

And so it went the third day, and the rest of the week. Israel marched around the city for six days, and showed no sign of carrying out an attack, nor did they make any show of rescuing the pitiful harlot. By that time the inhabitants must have decided that they were, after all, secure. Rahab may well have reconciled herself to a wretched future. On the one hand the wicked entertain expectations of deliverance; on the other hand Rahab's "hope deferred" resigned her to bitterness.

The seventh day arrived. Blessed day it was. The enemies of Jehovah, without exception, were soon to be destroyed, though by then they thought not, and Rahab was to be delivered, even though she had probably abandoned the prospects. Even so, her hope deferred was finally, on the day God had decreed, realized. "How foolish I was to doubt." "What a miserable unbeliever I am." These and a thousand other thoughts filled her soul as she and hers" were brought out safe at last. Reader, can you in some measure see yourself here?

False hopes were then forever dashed for Jericho. The awful end had come, though some bright expectations of a reversal had just moments before been in their minds. With them it was as the servant of old recorded. "So are the paths of all that forget God; and the hypocrites hope shall perish: Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider's web. He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure (Job 8.13-15)."

The Remnant
May - June 1992