Elie Assis, «The Choice to Serve God and Assist His People: Rahab and Yael», Vol. 85 (2004) 82-90
This paper presents a series of analogies between Rahab and Yael, both gentiles, who unexpectedly choose to assist Israel against the Canaanites. The analogies are designed to illustrate the surprising and unanticipated means through which divine providence operates. Noteworthy differences between the two heroines indicate the specific significance of each story. Rahab’s conduct is motivated by her recognition of God’s absolute power. Yael’s motives, however, are unclear. Their concealment is meant to detract attention from Yael’s appealing character and focus on the prophetic role played by Deborah who had predicted Yael’s behaviour.
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The Choice to Serve God and Assist His People 83
2,7.22). Yael invites Sisera to her tent and shows him hospitality. He trusts
her (Judg 4,20), while she intends to kill him.
(4) A pursuit lies in the background of both stories. In the Rahab episode,
the King of Jericho pursues the spies; in the Yael story Barak chases Sisera.
In both cases a woman determines the outcome of the pursuit.
(5) The two stories occur in the residence of the woman. Rahab gives
shelter to the spies in her house and Sisera seeks shelter in Yaelâ€™s tent. Rahab
sends the soldiers away from her house, while Yael invites Sisera into her tent.
(6) In both stories sexual connotations play an important part in plot
development. The fact that Rahab is a harlot is a dominant element in her
story. As the spies enter the house of a harlot, the impression is that a sexual
encounter will ensue. But contrary to this expectation, the verse ends with an
assertion that the spies â€œlay [down] thereâ€ (hmÃ§ wbkÃ§yw) instead of the similar,
but more sexual â€œlay with herâ€ (htwa bkÃ§yw) (4). A second incidence of the verb
â€œlayâ€ intensifies these sexual connotations (v. 8) (5). The king arrives at
Rahabâ€™s house and instructs her: â€œBring out the men who came to you, who
came to your houseâ€ (Ëštybl wab rÃ§a Ëšyla Âµyabh ÂµyÃ§nah yayxwh) (v. 3). The
duplication in the kingâ€™s words (1. came to you, 2. came to your house) is
meant to convey two possibilities that play on the term â€œto comeâ€, which
connotes sexual activity la awbl. The first possibility is that the spies arrived
at Rahabâ€™s house for a sexual encounter and the second is that they came to her
house simply to lodge there (6). Rahab deceives the king and chooses the first
possibility â€” â€œTrue, the men came to meâ€ â€” implying that sexual intercourse
has taken place between her and the spies. However, the narrator has already
conveyed that the spies â€œlay [down] thereâ€ (v. 1) and not with Rahab. By
means of this lie Rahab rejects any suspicion that she has cooperated with the
spies, suggesting rather that they came, like most of her visitors, for sexual
satisfaction, and, when their desires were met, they left. If she had not lied, but
rather claimed that there had been no sexual intercourse, and that the spies had
come to lodge at the inn, she could not have claimed that they had already left.
The apparent sexual intentions of the spies constitute a good alibi for Rahabâ€™s
claim that she did not know where they came from (v. 4).
In Yaelâ€™s story, too, sexual connotations play an important role in the
plot. Yael uses her sexuality, and sexually allusive language, to defeat Sisera.
She greets him and invites him into her tent. The intention of the invitation,
however, is ambiguous: â€œTurn in, my lord, turn in to meâ€. Does she mean that
he should enter her tent or does her invitation promise sexual relations? The
sexual implication in her words may be compared to the invitation which Lot
extended to the angels; Lotâ€™s offer is formulated in similar words, yet without
any ambiguity: â€œmy lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servantâ€™s houseâ€ (Gen
(4) See e.g.: Gen 34,2; 35,22; Lev 19,20; 2 Sam 13,14.
(5) For different suggestions about this duplication, see: W.L. MORAN, â€œThe Repose of
Rahabâ€™s Israelite Guestsâ€, Studi sullâ€™Oriente e la Bibbia offerti al P. Giovanni Rinaldi nel
60 compleanno da allievi, colleghi, amici (ed. H. CAZELLES) (Genova 1967) 273-284, esp.
(6) For this interpretation, see: R Isaac ABRAVANEL, Commentary on Joshua (Hamburg
1787) chap 2, v. 3; P.A. BIRD, â€œThe Harlot as Heroine: Narrative Art and Social
Presupposition in Three Old Testament Textsâ€, Semeia 46 (1989) 128-129. ZAKOVITCH,
â€œHumor and Theologyâ€, 82-83, 84.