Unreached Network

The Bethlehem Story: Mission and Justice in the Margins of the World, by Andy McCullough

Andy McCullough’s new book is coming out soon. Below is a sample from the story of Rahab.

Jericho. One of the oldest cities in the world. City of palms, where the
Judean wilderness meets the Jordan valley, and date palms stretch as far as
the eye can see. It’s harvest time, early spring, when the river flows at its
fullest and the first sheaves of barley are gathered.1

God’s people cross the Jordan from east to west—in Scripture, journeying eastwards is always exile
and westwards is always homecoming. The manna from heaven is switched
off immediately they enter the Land—the land itself will feed them now.
The account of the conquest of the city is stacked with the number
seven—God’s number.2 The city falls on the sabbath when man cannot
work. The whole point is that it is God’s victory—God gives them rest. “The
bizarre strategy confirmed that Israel could not attribute victory to its own
military prowess. Their victory was a gift of grace—an astounding work of
the Lord.”3

The entire city wall collapses to the ground—except for one house.
The one earthquake-proof house in the city wall. Rahab’s house. The whole
city is burned with fire, except for one house. The one fire-proof house in
all Jericho. Rahab’s house. The door opens, and out into the fire-blackened
remains of their former life stumble Rahab, her parents, her brothers, and
all the other relatives who had squeezed in along with her.
Rahab the prostitute lived in the city wall. Houses in the city wall are
the most vulnerable to enemy attack—the king lives in the centre, which is
safest. She was, both architecturally and socially, marginal. Yet we know her
name, while the king of Jericho remains unnamed. Scripture, in Testaments
both old and new, honours Rahab. In fact, Rahab’s high-shame social marginalisation could well be why she was prepared to gamble on the Israelite invasion as a route to a better life. Dissatisfaction leads to action. Gottwald
puts it like this:

Rahab’s susceptibility to participating in a conspiracy to overthrow
the city’s ruling class is understandable when we note that in the
typical ancient city harlots formed one of several groups of occupational outcasts whose services were greatly desired but who,
because of their demeaning work and the social taboos, codes, and
conventions which they breached, bore a scapegoating stigma and
worked under decided disabilities.4

Rahab’s faith, praised in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25, is faith expressed in hospitality, and hospitality in its broadest sense; the welcome of strangers, the love of enemies. The two spies on their scouting expedition
are received, hidden, and protected by Rahab. To welcome God’s people is
to welcome God, and hospitality in Scripture never goes unrewarded.

There is a note of the Exodus in Rahab’s action. A relatively rare word
for “hide” (tspn) is used when she conceals the two Israelites, the same word
used when Moses’ mother hid him. Rahab is like the midwives who directly
disobey the king’s command. Women in both stories save men.
We can also hear a note of the Sodom story from Genesis 19. Both
stories take place in the Jordan valley, both are about non-hospitable cities
failing to receive two messengers from God, and both cities are destroyed.
In both stories, the host is a marginal person whose honourable action despite their shameful social location renders the city even more culpable. In both stories, a demand to “bring out the men” is defied, and “escape to the
hills” is the result. Both hosts are named, saved, and produce offspring who
are also named.

Rahab uses an important word, khesed, to articulate how she expects
her hospitality to initiate a relationship between her and the people of God.
Khesed, which is often translated loving kindness, is a term rich with Middle
Eastern relational overtones of mutuality, reciprocity and loyalty. Exchange
of gifts or favours forges a relationship. Mutual expectations of allegiance
grow and are strengthened into an informal covenant or arrangement by
which both parties are tied to each other by a bond of honour, gratitude and
interdependence. This is what Rahab is expecting when she says:

Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt
kindly with you (khesed), you also will deal kindly (khesed) with
my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive
my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong
to them, and deliver our lives from death.” Joshua 2:12–13

Bultmann explains it like this:

In the OT khesed denotes an attitude of man or God which arises out of a mutual relationship. It is the attitude which the one expects of the other in this relationship, and to which he is pledged in relation to him.5

According to Zeba Crook, “the central meaning of khesed implies a relationship of mutual obligation.”6
This can be a symmetrical exchange between peers, or an asymmetrical exchange, between a powerful patron or
benefactor, and a dependent client, in which instance the patron is responsible for protection and generosity, and the client for fealty and gratitude.

Rahab expects, and receives, a reciprocation of her hospitality.

1. Thompson, The Land and the Book, 1: 362–363.

2. E.g. Joshua 6:4, 13, 15.The Bethlehem Story

3. Schreiner, The King in his Beauty, 100.

4. Gottwald, Tribes, 557.

5. Bultmann, “ελεος,” 2:479.

6. Crook, “Reciprocity,” 87.


“Writing with an insight built on deep knowledge of the Bible and the Middle East, Andy McCullough has shown us a new way of reading the story of salvation. Time and again, God chooses to work in the people of an in-between place, a marginal and hospitable place – a “little town,” rather than the centres of power. Andy reminds us that God undermines the expectations of Empire, surprising the world with inclusive and self-giving grace.” Rev. Dr. Sue Barclay, All Nations Christian College.


Check the book details The Bethlehem Story- Wipf and Stock Publishers

Out with retailers in the next few weeks.