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Two Spies, a Prostitute’s House, and the Beauty of Transformation

I just finished reading the second chapter of Joshua and was struck by a few, seemingly, mysterious details. Details that are often left unconsidered, I think, when discussing this particular story. Let me explain.

As you know, the chapter tells the story of the Israelite spies who enter Jericho to, naturally, spy on the city and determine the best way to go about attacking the city. The relatively short and unspectacular chapter recounts their dangerous visit to the city, close call while behind the walls, and subsequent escape with the help Rahab the Harlot. It’s actually quite striking how little detail the narrator offers. There is no chase scene, no information regarding what details the spies discovered about the massive city, barely even any drama when recounting their escape and Rahab’s clever ploy to buy them some time. I have long thought that this particular part of the story could make for a fantastic film. The director could insert a magnificent chase scene through the forests around Jericho, complete with an in-the-middle-of-the-murky-woods fight scene straight from say, Gladiator. Perhaps there could be a few throat slashings, some intense hand-to-hand combat (just so Andrew Adamson doesn’t choreograph it). Said director could interpret the spies as the best of the Israelite best, the warrior elite, the Odysseus and Ajax of the Hebrews. They could be played by Russell Crowe and say, Guy Pearce for some indie cred. Gotta have that indie cred. Rahab could be played by some beautiful Hollywood royalty. Say, Megan Fox from Transformers. People seem to thing she is the next big thing.

Heck, Ridley Scott could direct.

It would be huge. Huge. Hollywood loves the period pieces.

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But, wait a second; there’s no way that Christians could go to this movie. Right? I mean, the content would be overwhelmingly dark and evil and representative of people in the world and of world. And I don’t just mean the possibility for strong violence (let alone an entire city collapsing suddenly, killing thousands of people).

There is one detail that I think often escapes me when I read this story, and perhaps that’s just me. If so, well, go check out Into the Hill for quality music reviews.

As my uncle Jon likes to say, catch this sports fans; check out the latter half of the first verse of Chapter two:

“So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and there stayed there.” (NIV)

They did what now!? If I am Joshua, this is cause for some concern! I send out two spies to enter the land we’ve been trying to get into for 40 years and they decide to go shack up in the house of a prostitute! And they STAYED there! There is no getting around this one. They didn’t walk in one door, look around for bombs and walk out the back. They didn’t walk in, grab a nice, refreshing drink of water and head out. No, they stayed there. They lodged there, as the RSV puts it.

Now, forgive me for reading into this, but… what were they doing going into the house of a prostitute in the first place?

And it doesn’t seem that they went in particularly secretly. Not long after they get there the King of Jericho comes a’ knocking looking for them. Verse two says that the king was told that they were there and implies that whoever informed him of their whereabouts was pretty confident that they were spies. Somehow I don’t get the idea that Joshua would have been all that pleased. Thankfully for the spies Rahab was adept at misdirection.

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So, in our Ridley Scott film, a good portion of the story would have to take place in the house of a prostitute. This seems a little problematic to me. How does one go about depicting the home of a Harlot in a Christian-ese way. (I realize that “house of a prostitute” does not necessarily mean a whore house, but then again, why would they wander into the home of a random prostitute in Jericho?)

This is no new problem to Christian filmmakers or to Christian filmgoers. How one is to approach sinful behavior in a realistic and honest way, while still understanding the negative nature of the subject matter can be a difficult test. Similarly, knowing what to touch can be difficult for many Christians, particularly when it comes to sexuality on screen, as evidenced by the energetic and passionate debate about the new Sex and the City film raging over at Christianity Today Movies that both Jeffrey Overstreet and myself have linked to in recent posts.

However, I bring this story up not to elucidate my own opinions on the subject of sexuality on screen but rather to make a suggestion.

In reading this story tonight I was reminded of the way that God can use, and often has used, even the darkest of places and evil of people for good. In Joshua 2, we see how God used a prostitute for good, and her home as place of safety, as a haven. The stories of Scripture are littered with examples of how God used negative things in a positive way (Hosea and his prostitute wife, the stories of Ruth and Esther, David’s affair with Bathseba, to name a few), and of course the very story of Christ is the summation of this idea. Through Christ’s death, through the darkest and saddest of events, the greatest good was wrought for us.

What a beautiful idea. Darkness used to light. It doesn’t even make sense. Except somehow it works. Somehow it’s possible. Somehow such a great transformation can take place that the very essence of a thing or idea or action can be altered to have an altogether other purpose. Simply amazing.

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As I considered this idea I was reminded of a few fantastic films which tell stories of similar ideas. Films that show how dark, or strange, or even otherwise offense ideas or things help transform people or places in positive ways.

For example, Craig Gillespie’s recent film Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling; a film about a troubled, lonely young man who turns to an inflatable sex doll for companionship. Pretty odd stuff on first glance, but upon further examination the film proves to be a fantastic testament to the power of community, the necessity for forgiveness, and the beauty of friendship and companionship. And it boasts a wonderful performance from Mr. Gosling.

Consider also Terry Gilliam’s 1991 masterpiece The Fisher King, starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in a film about how a mass murder changes two men’s lives in very drastic ways and yet eventually, somehow brings them together. Through, or perhaps despite, their various eccentricies the two men eventually become friends and help each other grow and love and hope. This is a truly beautiful film.

These are just two films which I thought about, but there are many more. What are some of your favorite films which depict the way that subversive, dark, or otherwise unpleasant events or situations are used for good, either in such a way that people are transformed in some way or in such a way that celebrates some positive ideal or truth – like friendship, forgiveness, etc?

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One thought on “Two Spies, a Prostitute’s House, and the Beauty of Transformation

  1. t clair says:

    what an absolutely fascinating observation, David. I will be thinking about this a lot over the next few days.

    I still don’t see anything redemptive in the evil of Indy’s ruin via “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. Your defense of it over at the hill perplexes me, sir! You should write a rebuttal to Colin’s review.

    Speaking of evil, redemption, sex and violence…when you gonna come down and get started on that screenplay with me?

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