*This story is adapted from John 8:1-11.
The bruises on Rahab’s arms ached as rough hands dragged her mercilessly through the dusty streets. But more stinging than the fingers that clamped like claws were reproachful stares of those whom she passed as she was forced along. Jeers and insults were thrown at her like barbed javelins dipped in the poison of hate. “Adulteress!” some shouted. “Harlot!” cried others.
She kept her eyes down, partly so that she could focus on not stumbling as she was driven along, planting one cut and bleeding foot in front of the other. But partly she did so to avoid the mocking look in scores of cruel eyes. Occasionally she could not keep from allowing her eyes to furtively look up, searching and pleading for some shred of compassion or mercy. But there was none. Even the one whose arms from which she had been ripped now mocked her and betrayed her with cruelty as he followed along with the others.
Fear gripped her more tightly than the men who half dragged and half shoved her along and a weight of despair hung like a millstone from her heart. They took her to the temple courts where a great crowd had already assembled. A man was waiting just inside the gate, long, flowing robes dragging the dust at his feet. “You have her, I see,” he said in a low voice to one of the men. “Good! Now let’s take this sacrificial lamb and see if this ‘Teacher’ steps into our little trap.” As he laughed a cold laugh, his prayer tassels seemed to quiver in agreement.
“But what if He doesn’t, Abihu?” asked the lover who had betrayed her. “What if He upholds the traditions and says we must stone her?”
The other man sniffed scornfully. “If He does, He does. Why do you care, Achan? You’ve been paid well.” He looked at the woman and sneered. “Besides, she’s just an adulteress. She deserves to die.” He started to turn towards the crowd. “But I don’t think you need to worry about losing your plaything. This Jesus isn’t bound by the traditions our elders passed on to us. He’s spoken all along of the Holy One’s forgiveness and I’ve no doubt that He’ll place His foot right into the snare we’ve laid out for Him… right in front of all these witnesses. And then His blood will be ours!” With that he strode towards the crowd, people parting right and left for him as he purposefully marched to the Man Who had been sitting in the center teaching.
Abihu stood in front of Him, a mocking smile on his lips. He nodded his head and Rahab was dragged to his side.
“Teacher,” he said the word with obvious disdain. “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” He eyed the gawking people in the throngs around them many of them holding heavy stones in their hands. Oh, this was too fun! Too easy! He was about to tear down the idealism of this… this Messiah and discredit Him. News of His discomfiture would quickly erode His reputation and maybe even stop the madness of the multitudes flocking to His call. “Now what do YOU say?” he said with pretend reverence (see John 8:4-5).
Jesus looked at Abihu for a moment, His gaze penetrating into his soul. Abihu suddenly felt unsure of himself and took a step backward as if he feared a blow. But Jesus looked away towards the woman standing beside him, her head down, hair spilling messily around her shoulders and her hands clenching and unclenching feebly.
Then Jesus knelt to the ground and began to scratch letters into the dust of the ground. What was He writing? Abihu waited, his anger and impatience growing, like a floodwater rising inside him. He turned his head, trying to look as if he weren’t interested, and finally could make out the words.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2 ESV).
Abihu felt the sting of those words almost as fiercely as if he had been flailed. “Who does He think He is?” he thought.
“Well-l-l-l?” he finally retorted, ignoring the writing in the dust. Others began to murmur. “Yes,” said one especially loud. “What DO you say?” Soon at least a dozen voices began to prod him with variations of the same question.
Jesus stood up and the murmuring was silenced as His deep eyes looked at them. “If any one of you is without sin,” He said, “let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (from John 8:7). He then bent down again and resumed writing in the dust. Rahab gasped and clenched her eyes tightly, her heart pounding in her chest.
But no stones came. She heard a dull thud and dared to look up. An old man had dropped a stone and was quietly slipping away. There was another thud as another stone hit the ground. Another accuser was gone. One by one the stones fell from their fingers and one by one they each left silently until only Achan and Ahiju were left. Achan glanced at Rahab’s face, but then he too dropped his stone and disappeared. Ahiju stood alone, bristling powerlessly. The venomous hate in his eyes was met by the strong and graceful gaze of Jesus Who now looked up at him. Ahiju turned on his heel and stormed out of the temple area.
Rahab stood alone before the Lord. She looked at what He had written. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV).
Jesus stood up and faced the woman. As she stood before Him, she was tortuously aware of all of her past guilt. Her shame clung to her like rags and she could not make herself look into His face. What would He now say to her, this Judge who had judged her judges?
“Woman, where are they?” He asked as if in answer to her thoughts. “Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Sir,” she quietly replied.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” He declared, a righteous warmth glowing from His face. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (from John 8:10-11). He looked at her knowingly for a moment as she stood blinking in her astonishment. He then turned and quietly walked away.
Rahab also turned and made her way back home, nearly stupefied over what had just happened. She had met something in Jesus she had never known before… something called grace. It was like she had been in a vast bog into which she had willfully wandered, the stench of which was overpowering. Instead of being allowed to just sink into its mire, to be lost forever, a strong hand had pulled her up and out and set her feet on a good path lined with fragrant flowers. This path, she knew, led not to disappointment but to complete joy and peace because it led to God Himself. She realized that she had been given a new life.
There was no doubt in her mind or in her heart: Jesus had truly been sent by God to pull people out of the mire of their sin. He Himself had chosen to not accuse her but to give her another opportunity to know God and be given a second chance. She smiled as she entered her house. She looked around and nodded to herself. Now that He was Master of her life, there were going to be some changes made! And in the knowledge that she had been forgiven, she began to clean her house.
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 ½ years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com.” Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.