We all know the story of Rahab: A Canaanite prostitute who saved the lives of two Hebrews in Jericho and secured, for her family, exemption from the annihilation of Jericho. The Bible then tells us that Rahab married Salmone, the Hebrew leader of the tribe of Judah, and had a son named Boaz. Through their line, Jesus Christ was ultimately born. Though a Canaanite prostitute, Rahab is described in the Bible as a woman of faith.
We read this story, take note of the content, but never quite imagine how it all must have come together. Why would a Canaanite woman betray her country, her people, her gods, for the God of the Hebrews? Why did the Hebrews agree to spare a woman of the enemy they were instructed to destroy? How did she then come to marry a Hebrew? The leader of Judah, no less. Didn’t he care about her past or how it could affect his position? How was Rahab, a zonah, treated by the Hebrews? Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar, provides us with a beautiful possibility of how Rahab’s story might have gone. Though fictional, this story is built on a foundation of Biblical facts.
Rahab, a Canaanite, turns her back on the gods of her people at a young age, disgusted with the rituals surrounding them. Fornication at the temples, sacrificing human lives, Rahab can’t stand the practices of her people.
A severe drought causes her family to suffer. They have no food, and no means to obtain money. That is when Rahab is betrayed by the man she loves and depends on most: Her father. At the age of fifteen Rahab is sold into prostitution in order to provide for her family. Though she has no choice, Rahab does put her foot down and makes it clear that if she must do this, she will do it on her own terms. She refuses to become a temple prostitute to be used by any man who walks by her, and chooses her own customers. Hating what she has to do, Rahab tries to minimize her disgrace by only being with one man at a time, for a period of time she determines. She guards her heart, refusing to ever hand it over to any man, and chooses carefully to whom she will give her body. Rahab becomes wealthy and runs her own inn – not a brothel. Even though Rahab has all the fine material things she could want, her soul remains empty. She can never fill the hole in her innermost being… until she hears of the God of the Hebrews.
Having been freed of the slavery in Egypt, having wandered the desert for forty years, the Israelites are finally entering the promised land and conquering Canaan. The biggest cities are defeated to the absolute bafflement of all in Jericho.
Desperate for something to cling to, Rahab absorbs every piece of information she learns of the God of the Hebrews. He is powerful, and by all accounts a compassionate and loving God. What makes Him even more intriguing is that he forbids the practices the Canaanites’ gods encourage, the practices Rahab herself abhors. Even though she knows that according to the law of the God of the Hebrews someone like her (a prostitute) must be stoned, so severe is her sin, she cannot help but thirst for Him. Alone on her roof, Rahab instinctively prays to the God of the Hebrews, and gives herself to His service if He will have her. She promises to, never again, sell her body. Peace unlike any she has ever known settles over Rahab, and a woman of faith is born.
A few weeks later Rahab notices two men trying to enter Jericho through the entrance to the wall in which her inn is situated. Immediately realising that they are Hebrews, Rahab intercedes with the guards, drawing attention to herself, and gets Hanani and Ezra into her inn as fast as she can and hides them from the soldiers. Later, while having dinner, Rahab asks them about their God. By the time Ezra and Hanani secretly leave Jericho the following morning, Rahab has made two new friends, and has secured a promise that she and her family will be spared when the Israelites conquer Jericho – Rahab never doubts that God will give them the victory.
Salmone, the leader of the tribe of Judah, is outraged when he learns that his friends have promised to spare a Canaanite woman and her family – God clearly instructed the Israelites to destroy Canaan in its entirety. Hanani and Ezra, however, are convinced that the Lord sent Rahab to them, and as such, God must have a plan for her as well. Joshua, the leader of Israel, agrees, and it is decided that Rahab and her family will be spared.
After the fall of Jericho, Rahab makes another request of Ezra and Hanani. She and her family wishes to join the Hebrews. To proud Salmone’s dismay, Joshua agrees and puts Rahab and her family in the tribe of Judah, instructing Salmone himself to see to their integration into the ways of the Hebrews. Despising Rahab’s former profession, Salmone can’t seem to forget her past, and even though Rahab appears to be humble and shy (impossible for a zonah!), and genuinely desperate to please his beloved Lord, Salmone continues to treat her and her family with a cold disdain. It seems, however, that God intends transforming Salmone’s soul as much as he has transformed Rahab’s. Can it be? Can the leader of the tribe of Judah truly fall in love with a former zonah? And more importantly, even though the only Rahab he has ever known is the kind of gentle, humble, God-fearing woman he has always yearned for, can he make peace with her past?
Pearl in the Sand is the most beautiful book I have read in years! I rank it right up there with my absolute favourites, Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love and Mark of the Lion, and as with these, Pearl in the Sand is one of those books I wish everybody I know would read.
This fictional account of Rahab’s story is so beautifully written and touches on so many things that must have been issues for Rahab, that you can’t help but think that Rahab’s true circumstances must have been very close to what is described in this book. I never considered something as simple as Rahab and her family having to first learn all the ways of the Hebrews before entering their camp, so as not to defile it in any way – the smallest thing done in ignorance could have meant the death penalty for any one of them.
I love Afshar’s depiction of the characters. I especially love the character of Joshua – though very respectfully done, Joshua is quite a humourous character (and by that I mean that while he is very much the wise, trusted and capable leader the Bible describes him to be, he has quite the sense of humour!) It’s sometimes hard to imagine Biblical characters being anything other than serious, but surely they couldn’t have been serious all the time? This book does a beautiful job of giving all of the characters a lighter side, making them very relatable.
I especially love the scene explaining the title of the book – a beautiful pearl-in-the-sand-analogy that you must discover for yourself.