We are perhaps familiar with the attitude towards Moses’ Ethiopian wife (Numbers 12) or with Pharisees, James and Peter making Jews of Gentiles (Galatians 2:2:1-14, Acts 15:1-5). The case of discrimination against Rahab may be unrecognized even though she is an example of inclusion and a (questionable) recipient of justification by works. James, in adjacent passages (one might say “in a single breath”) takes to the high ground of impartiality and sinks to the valley of discrimination. Discrimination has been at the heart of Nazism, European colonialism, the gee-whiz what-God-can-do gospel of the evangelical movement, and the medical miracle healing and prosperity talking points. The supposed proselytization through friendship is so not happening. Religious discrimination is both very old and have several modern new faces.
In the same breath
It does not take James too long after inspiring his readers with the distinct character of Christ’s faithfulness to and acceptance of all humans to plunge them into the abyss of dehumanizing the Gentiles. James exhorts his audience to keep holding the faith of Jesus with the exclusion of partiality.
James 2:2, NASB
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
He illustrates this potential failure with the common and differential treatment of well-dressed and shabbily dressed persons coming into a Christian assembly. He contrasts God’s favourable attention to and endowment of the poor people with the oppressive rich people. James is certain that the kind of discrimination he is illustrating does not have God’s approval, but he says nothing about his own decision in the Jerusalem council to try to make Jews of Gentiles, after he and the entire council had heard that God had given the Holy Spirit to Gentiles believers, just as he had given the Holy Spirit to the believers in the Pentecostal Event, without reference to what Gentile people were eating, and apart from any instruction that came through Moses. It is clear that the glorious Lord Jesus was not James’ final authority. James digresses from the loving and imartial framework of faith to talk about how behaviour justified by God, or more precisely, how behaviour shows shows that a person is just[ified]. He selects Abraham and Rahab.
In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (James 2:25, NASB)
If this woman was justified on the same basis as Abraham why was her residence in the Israelite camp similar to a leper’s? Of course they were dissing her, and it did not matter in their world. They were going to kill thousands of Canaanite men woman and children because God ordered it, while allowing the men to pick attractive and suitable Cananite women for themselves. We cannot follow those fundamentalists who think they can justify bad – hateful – behaviour by saying “It is in the word of God’.
OUTSIDE THE CAMP like a leper
The story of Rahab is not one that demonstrates Israelite virtue. The prostitute who assistance helped the Israelites succeed in taking Jericho ended up outside the camp. Joshua’s account of her reception into Israel did not take her actual location into account.
Was she in the midst or outside the camp? If she did not live in the midst of Israel she would have to be outside, but it is clear that she was not treated as an insider while Israel was a moving community.
“However, Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” Joshua 6:25, NASB
Taking a look at the larger reach of the Gospel into all people groups I find it rather unfortunate that a certain American television host calls his program “gospel truth” without the slightest hint that the term defines the essential and non-discriminatory dimension to the Messianic message. He is not alone in having blinders on about this indispensible component of Christian life. James belonged to the camp that bullied Jews into a hypocritical treatment of Gentiles, which included eating with Gentiles in private when no Jews were around (see Galatians 2:11-14). It get way worse when love for one’s friend gats set aside for a commandment-keeping love, a phenomenon illusrated in the Good Samaritan parable and in the popular perception that preserving the sanctity of a holy day takes priority over helping people and animals on the sabbath.
Looking at the American predilection for discrimination God knows who else is also unware that “gospel truth” means non-discrimination. “Gospel truth”calls for impartiality. At the level of the full counsel of the Scripture we find that Ezra, a man known as a sharp and zealous scribe, did not get it so let us not be surprised that people today do not get it. They will certainly say there is justified discrimination in the early prophets (Joshua), in the extermination of the Canaanites and in the post-exilic restoration (Ezra), even though the temple was built on land bought from a Jebusite, with materials and workers from Tyre, and Solomon’s great great grandmother was a Moabite. It certainly takes too long for people to realize that God’s name is actually excellent in all the earth and he wants all the nations to shout for the joy of salvation with no tribal strings attached..