Tuesday, April 9, 2013

As promised, here is the next story about a biblical business woman. I hope you enjoy her story

The Innkeeper

In the darkest hour before dawn, Rahab0 stood on her rooftop and gazed at the night sky. The sight always brought a smile to her face, forcing her worries to recede for the time being. As she lowered her eyes her gaze fell on the Israelite encampment. Even at this hour, the glow of small fires dotted the countryside like the stars overhead. But these lights triggered anxiety. Her instinct told her that conflict was inevitable and perhaps only days away. How could she protect her household?

The following morning, in anticipation of subduing the lands of Jericho, Joshua examined the ranks of soldiers for two men who could spy on the city-state and its troops. He walked slowly and scrutinized each man. Halfway down the row, he heard chuckles and muted laughter behind him and turned on his heel. One of the soldiers he’d passed at the beginning of the line strutted with his arms swinging in the distinctive stride Joshua recognized as like his own. Following this man, a second mimicked the first. They ceased their antics when the men grew silent, and they felt Joshua’s eyes on them.

Of average height, neither man had any distinctive feature, except for the uncanny knack of imitating others. With such gifts, and the ability to blend in, these were the ones Joshua sought to enter the strange land and report on the nature of their defenses.

When the men were dismissed, Salmon and Gaddiel followed Joshua to the awning at his tent. Once seated on the carpet, Joshua leaned toward them and spoke.

"Your gifts of mimicking people are needed. I’m sending the two of you into Jericho as spies. You’ve seen men as they come and go from the city so take your cues for attire from them. Carry nothing with you that would identify you as coming from the Israelite camp. We need to know the strength and condition of their troops, the basic security of the city and any other information you can glean. Take no unnecessary risks. Kill no one. Report to me as soon as you return."

Gaddiel gave a curt nod, then asked, "When do we leave?"

"You have today to prepare. Leave tomorrow morning."

* * *

Several days later, Rahab sent a servant girl to fetch water from the city well and glean the early morning news. Exhaustion from managing a brawl in her establishment the night before made her long to sleep for one more hour, but she couldn’t afford such a luxury. As the firstborn, the responsibility of the business and her family had fallen on her shoulders when her father was crippled in battle. While a son was expected to provide for his siblings and parents, the only other males in the household were her brothers, a four-year-old and an infant. She was sixteen now; three difficult years had passed since she took over the inn.

"Madam." Hearing the servant girl’s call, Rahab fastened her hair and descended to the main room from her quarters on the roof. The girl waited at the foot of the steps.

"What have you heard?"

Her eyes sparkled with excitement. "Everyone is talking about spies from Israel. They’re supposed to be in the city, but no one knows what they look like."

"How did this rumor begin?" Rahab asked in a skeptical tone.

"Oh, it’s not idle gossip. The king has a spy among the Israelites who reported to him last night. Then, he doubled the guards at the gates and on the ramparts," the girl said twisting a lock of her hair as her voice dropped to a whisper.

"Thank you, Becka. Go on with your chores. Let me know if you hear anything else."

In the early years of the king’s rule, he had been fair, but as the years of his reign passed, he became more unpredictable. He frequently sent his men to check Rahab’s inn for the least infraction. Once he had her brought to the royal court like a criminal, but without charges. Rather than ordering her to be punished, he had commanded her to join him for dinner.

She took extra care with her dress that night and her sister fixed her hair with a blossom nestled inside each curl. The king sends soldiers to inspect the inn on the least whim. Will this evening be a wasted effort or can I gain some promise of security for my family from him? The head of the guards came to escort her to the palace. Torches were lit at the entrance and throughout the hall where the two of them were served dinner at a raised dias, with other guests seated below.

The way the king caressed her arms and groped her thighs, it was as if they were seated in his private chambers. An embarrassed flush rose from her neck, quickly followed by the revelation that she could not gain any promise from the king tonight. At least nothing was likely to happen to her as long as they stayed in the hall. Emboldened with that insight, she filled and refilled his goblet with wine. His behavior became more outrageous until the wine took effect. When he was too drunk to stay awake, she gestured to the guard who had brought her.

"It time for me to leave. Escort me to my home." She spoke confidently, as if she were one of the court and not just a woman for whom the king had a passing fancy.

The next morning, two soldiers arrived at the inn and demanded to see her. Her behavior had displeased the king. Nevertheless, he would overlook it if she would attend the bacchanal next month to celebrate the harvest. If she did not please him, he would turn her and her family out of the city.

Rahab looked across the room without seeing the disarray from the previous evening, as her thoughts went to Jericho’s king. Her head nodded involuntarily as if to confirm the sudden realization that she had nothing to gain by remaining loyal to an unstable king and a lot to lose if he chose to seize her property and family. She considered the options open to her. Seeking passage for her and her family with a caravan held more risks than she wanted to take. Men wanted to deal only with the man in charge, not with a mere woman. Her father was in no condition to bargain safe passage for them. Once the leader of the caravan discovered their vulnerability, she and her sister could be robbed and sold into slavery, or worse. Rahab’s only hope was the possibility of negotiating with the Israelites.

At midday, the regular crowd filtered into the inn for refreshment. Rahab and her younger sister Merab were kept busy refilling pitchers of wine. Late in the afternoon, Rahab snuck away to the storeroom where she leaned against the back wall and closed her eyes.

Merab crept into the room and rested against the wall near her sister. "Rahab, two men have arrived. I’ve never seen them at the inn before." Then in a quizzical tone, she added, "They asked to see you."

Rahab took a deep breath and nodded. Can this be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for? She followed Merab into the passageway, where she observed the strangers without their knowledge. Everyone else in the tavern was well known to them. Whenever men needed lodging, they were accompanied by the person who referred them. If, at the guests’ departure, the inn was well paid, a jug of wine was reserved for the one who brought them. That these two came alone suggested that they were the spies.

Rahab crossed the room with a confident stride. One of the regular customers grabbed at her skirt and cursed when he missed.

She smiled warmly at the newcomers. "How can I help you?"

The shorter of the two answered. "We entered Jericho this morning and we need a place for the night. A shopkeeper sent us here."

"How is it that you speak like a native of Jericho, but I’ve never seen you here before?" Rahab teased.

"I may be a stranger to your inn, but I live not far from here," he said with an engaging smile.

Rahab was certain that they were the spies, not because of their comments, but what was left unsaid. No one would have left out their connection to people in the city or, at least, the name of the shopkeeper.

"Excuse me, Madam. I need to talk to you." Becka held a basket full of supplies from the market.

Rahab saw the girl’s anxious expression and led Becka out of earshot of the men. "What is it?"

"The king’s men are searching Jericho for the spies. The soldiers searched every stall in the market. I heard one say that they will come here next."

Rahab nodded. "Don’t worry. I’ll deal with this. " As she was talking, the two unknown men had seated themselves at an empty table. Rahab intercepted Merab and took from her the tray she was carrying to another table with cups and wine.

When she reached the two men, she rested the tray on their table and in a low tone of voice, said, "I’ve heard the king’s men are searching for two men from Israel. Leave this room by the side door. The steps lead to the roof. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can."

In the hallway, Rahab gave the tray to Merab. "Keep an eye on the room for a couple of minutes. I’ll be right back."

Merab nodded and turned in response to a shout for more wine from one of the regular customers.

The men stood under the shelter that Rahab used for her private quarters. She motioned for them to cross the roof to a pile of flax stalks. "This stack is big enough to hide you both. The soldiers will be here as soon as they finish their search of the market. I’ll come back when I can."

"But, why..."

Rahab shook her head. "There’s no time to talk now. Hide." She turned away and hurried down the concealed wooden staircase. Soldiers burst through the door as Rahab joined her sister.

"Where are they?" One of them barked at her.

"Good afternoon, Captain. Who are you looking for?" Rahab smiled and handed him a cup of wine.

"The spies. Where are they?" He grabbed the cup and guzzled it like water. Then he spit on the floor.

"Yes, there were strangers here. In fact, they left shortly before you came. I heard them say something about leaving the city before the gates were closed for the night." She wiped sweat from her forehead with the corner of her apron.

The Captain commanded two of his men to alert the guards at the gate. He turned back to Rahab. "Now I’ll search your rooms."

"Of course, Captain. Do you want me to come with you?"

"Come along," he said in a weary tone. The captain and his men had searched her inn many times before and knew the layout.

Her only measure of control in the situation was to lead the way and observe which items they took as they overturned every basket. Some pilfering was to be expected and part of the appeal for the soldiers. They searched every room and storage area on the ground level and second floor. She followed them and tried to right overturned baskets and cushions in their wake. The captain led the way up to the roof. His men threw aside her bed pillows and opened the chest filled with her clothes.

"Captain, you may want to stand to the side when your men check the flax. My servant girl told me she saw a big cobra there this morning and I haven’t had a chance to deal with it,"

Rahab said.

"Cobra?" He looked at her in disbelief until he saw a small milk snake slither away from the bundles of loose, tan fibers. He raised the sword in his hand, then paused. "Never mind. We’ll leave you to deal with your vermin." The captain stomped down the steps with his men following him.

Relief that the search was over left her weak. Rahab knew that the king would readily charge her with treason if the spies had been discovered. She leaned over the parapet and watched the tavern door from above as the last soldier left. She turned toward the pile of flax and spoke very quietly. "You’re safe for the time being. It’s best if you remain on the roof and hide if you hear anyone. I’ll come back after I close the inn for the night. Then, we can talk."

As a darkened moon crested the hills, three people ate together on the roof of the inn.

"Why did you save us?" Gaddiel, the more talkative spy asked.

"The risks for my household to remain here have become too great. I have no allegiance to this king. Over the years, I have heard about the God of Israel from people in the tavern. Certainly the laws of your God appeal to me more than the impulsiveness of Jericho’s king. He claims divine authority over us and wields his power on a whim. There was a time when he was friendly toward our family, but now he barely tolerates us in the city. I need to arrange something else for my family. I hope that by helping you, you will reciprocate and help me."


"I can provide you with any information you need and get you out of the city safely if you promise that none in my household will be harmed when Israel attacks Jericho," Rahab said.

"We’ve been able to assess the conditions of the city and get a good idea of the size of your troops. If it comes to hand-to-hand combat, we outnumber your men by at least ten to one."

Rahab nodded. "The king doesn’t trust anyone. He assumes that he knows what is going on better than anyone else and personally gives all the orders to his troops. When he’s wrong, everything spirals downward into chaos."

Gaddiel’s partner Salmon was the more muscular of the two. He had chiseled facial features that revealed a strong jaw. While they were talking, Salmon had been looking at Rahab. Rather than feeling threatened, his kind gaze sent a thrill through her. When he spoke, she felt herself drawn to him in a way she’d never experienced with other men who had passed through her inn.

In a gentle tone, Salmon asked, "During the battle, how will our soldiers know your house to protect you and your family?"

Salmon’s demeanor gave Rahab a feeling of safety. "My inn is built into the city wall. There’s a narrow window on the second floor for archers if the city falls under attack. I’ll hang a red blanket from there so that all your troops will know this is my house."

"When the fighting is over, do you have a place to go—another town, or do you want to come with us?" Salmon asked.

"We would like to join the Israelites," she replied.

Gaddiel’s gruff voice broke the fragile link between them. "First, we have to leave this city."

"As soon as you have finished eating, my sister and I will lower you from the window on a rope. The king’s soldiers will not give up their search easily. Take the extra food and remain hidden in the hills away from your camp for three days before you return."

"I give you our word that no one in your home will be harmed. When we return to Jericho, we will bring you to our camp and provide for your needs," Salmon said.

Rahab kept watch long after the men had disappeared from view. She prayed to El for their safety and that Salmon would get them to the Israelite base in safety.

She descended to the second level of the inn where her parents and sister had their rooms.

Huddled together in the dim light from the oil lamps, they discussed the arrangements Rahab had made with the spies.

"Rahab, I cannot fight to protect." Tears welled in her father’s eyes. Since his head and legs injuries, he was often overcome with sorrow at his inability to lead his family.

Looking directly into Rahab’s eyes and with a firm voice, her mother continued where her husband left off. "Are you sure that these men will keep their word? They could just as easily kill us."

"My belief is that in offering them hospitality and safety from the king’s soldiers, they will keep their word and give us safe passage to their camp. Life with the Hebrews has to be better than it has been under this unpredictable king," Rahab said.

"You have faith in them and that is all we can hope for now. Despite fighting for our king, he will not help us," Her father said.

Her mother searched her daughter’s face. "All of the decisions that you have had to make with the inn have been well done. You are a good judge of people. We must hope that these men keep their word."

* * *

Five days later, the Israelites began marching around the city, constantly blowing trumpets. On the first day everyone in the inn made jokes at their expense. But for Rahab this was the message that meant she should hang the red blanket. The second and third days, men still laughed about the foolish parade of the Israelites. Since the Israelites made only one full circuit of the city each day, the people of Jericho were more annoyed than alarmed with the strange behavior. But on the third day, after the Hebrews had completed their drill, earth tremors began that lasted through the night. By the fourth, fifth and sixth day, everyone had grown tired of the endless noise that began shortly after dawn and continued until noon. It was strange that the only break from the mild earthquakes was when the Israelites marched. The soldiers talked about killing the Israelites one by one from strategic locations around the city wall, but the king refused to give the order.

The seventh day began with the Israelites marching around the wall in silence six times and on the seventh Joshua gave the signal to blow the horns as all the people gave a mighty shout. For at least fifteen minutes, the earth shook within the city shook violently until the walls and all of the buildings in Jericho began to collapse. People ran into the streets shouting for help. As soon as the severe tremors stopped, Joshua gave the signal for his soldiers to enter Jericho. They killed everything that lived, including all of the animals, and set fires to the rubble. In the entire city only one building remained standing, Rahab’s house. Joshua and the two spies raced to her inn and pounded on the door.

Salmon grabbed the blanket and scaled the wall. He ran to the roof in search of Rahab then descended, checking each floor as he went. Rahab ran up the steps to make sure that everyone and all of their baggage was accounted for. She met Salmon on the staircase and looked up at him; he pulled her up and held her tight. "Thank God, you’re safe. We must get the others."

Joshua and Gaddiel continued to pound on the door, but Merab heard the screams of people being killed and wouldn’t open it.
"Merab, let Salmon through. They’ve come to rescue us," Rahab called to her sister.
Salmon pulled the tables away from the door and opened it to admit Joshua and Gaddiel. Salmon carried her brothers as Gaddiel and Joshua picked up the bundles of family possessions. Outside, walking was precarious, with boulders strewn like seeds across the street. Huge crevices had to be negotiated and fires spread from sparks carried on the breeze. Salmon kept Rahab close to him and guided her out of the city. Gaddiel and Merab struggled together with some of the larger bundles. Joshua supported her crippled father over the rubble and make his way out of the city. He called for another soldier to assist Rahab’s mother carrying the baby.

When they finally reached the countryside, Joshua ordered several other soldiers to help the family while he returned to his troops.

Once they reached the Israelite camp, Salmon sent the other men back to the city while he and Gaddiel showed the family to their new tent. Salmon was attentive to Rahab’s needs and helped her unpack and set up their belongs inside the tent. Together they arranged places for her family. He took her to the Jordan river and when the jugs were full, he helped her carry them. Gaddiel helped Merab set up a separate enclosure for their supplies.

At Rahab’s invitation, the two men stayed with the family for the evening meal. Salmon and Gaddiel sat with her father and as custom dictated, they ate first. Although they could have left as soon as they finished eating, they lingered until the women had finished their meal.

Salmon went to Rahab and took her hand in his. "Be sure to let us know if you need anything else. Let me show you where my tent is so that you can send a messenger whenever you need help."

At a loss for words, Rahab responded with a warm smile and nod. Once he showed her the way, he accompanied her back to her family.

The following morning, Joshua called everyone in the camp together. He stood on a large boulder and praised the people for their help to conquer Jericho. Then, he called Salmon and Gaddiel to recognize them for their advance preparation that had made the battle a success. Lastly he called for Rahab. "This woman gave shelter to our men when they were scouting the conditions in city. She helped them escape when the Jericho soldiers searched for them. Without her, we would not have met with success. . . and we may have lost Salmon and Gaddiel. She merits the full consideration of a heroine among our people."

Rahab felt the heat rise in her cheeks as Joshua spoke. She was glad for the recognition that, she hoped, would help her family learn to live with a new people.

For two months, Rahab was held in high regard by the Israelites, but as time passed murmurs grew about her life prior to joining the Israelite camp. She overheard one woman say that Rahab should be stoned as a prostitute. Salmon saw her returning from the river where she’d been washing clothes. She didn’t have a chance to wipe the tears from her face before he noticed them.

He stopped her and asked,"What’s wrong?"

"How quickly your people forget how I helped them against Jericho. Now they say that I should be killed because I am single and housed men overnight at the tavern. Maybe I should have expected it, but their jibes caught me by surprise."

He pulled her away from the path into the secluded shade of a willow tree. He took the basket of wet clothes from her arms and set it on the ground. "Forgive me. I have been preoccupied with other things." He pulled her to him in a tender caress.

"The comments of the women worry me. At a minimum, they could make life unpleasant. I don’t know much about Joshua. Could they change his opinion about having us here?"

Salmon was quick to shake his head. "You can count on Joshua to keep his word to you." He reached for her hand. "Marry me. When you say yes, I’ll with meet your father."

Rahab reached up with both of her hands and held his face as she looked into his eyes. "Yes, I’ll marry you."

He leaned forward and kissed her. When they returned to the path, he smiled at her and said, "The problem of the women will resolve as soon as we are married."

A week later, both Salmon and Gaddiel arrived loaded with gifts. Salmon asked to marry Rahab, then Gaddiel spoke to their father regarding Merab.

After they left Jericho, Rahab’s father had gained strength rapidly as the wounds in his leg steadily improved. He welcomed Salmon and Gaddiel with the friendliness he had shown to guests in the inn prior to his injury. The women brought food and wine for the men as they negotiated the terms of the two marriages. They talked about additional gifts and merging the households and agreed that the entire family would pledge allegiance to the covenant of the Israelites prior to the marriage ceremony.

The camp buzzed in preparation for the double wedding. Joshua would lead the ceremonies and once more acknowledge the role of the heroes during the battle of Jericho. In addition, the head priest would certify the marriages. Each person involved took care to ensure that the laws and customs of the Israelites would be fulfilled properly.

Rahab smiled to herself. The gossiping had stopped and women approached her with their good wishes for a happy marriage and many children; some even brought small gifts to their tent. All of the tension and fear of previous weeks had dissipated when word of the ceremonies spread through the camp.

Salmon and Gaddiel moved their tents to join with Rahab’s parents. Traditionally, the wife moved to be with the husband’s family, but neither Gaddiel nor Salmon had any immediate family. By extending the family compound and joining the families, the entire camp would be satisfied that they were keeping true to the traditions.

The celebrations lasted for two days. When they were over, Rahab walked through the family’s reorganized compound. The tension in her neck finally had dissolved and she was able to relax at last. She felt as if she had been given a new body for her new life as a member of the Israelites. She had never been so happy.

The day after the celebrations ended, Salmon returned to their tents at midday and heard singing in the outside kitchen. He walked around the tent to the cookfire and watched. Rahab stood, stirring a pot of stew and swaying her hips to the rhythms of her song. He swept Rahab into his arms, lifted her off her feet and whirled her around. Then, he set her down on a cushion and went to the stew pot returning to her side with a bowl of stew and chunk of flatbread.

As he held the bowl out to her, he said, "Let me serve you now as a reminder that your other life is over."

Rahab sat speechless. Salmon tore off a piece of bread, dipped it into the stew and handed it to her to eat. She chewed the bread slowly, letting the importance of Salmon’s gesture sink in. Then, she took another piece of bread, dipped it in the pot, and gave it to Salmon. "We start a new live together and find new ways to do things. The past is finished."

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