Rahab is a 15 year old girl living with her family outside of Jericho. Her father Imri is unable to find work and there is a drought. His family is on the verge of starvation. In desperation, Imri sells Rahab into sexual slavery to Zedek for a bag full of gold. She will go live with Zedek the goldsmith in Jericho for 3 months.
"He didn't need to finish his words. Horror seized her so tightly it nearly choked off her breath. With rising dread she realized her worst fears had come to pass. The nightmare she had dismissed as a misunderstanding the night before was real. Her father meant to sell her into prostitution. He meant to sacrifice her future, her wellbeing, her life."
After 3 months of slavery to Zedek, Rahab decides that she is a ruined woman without a life and therefore will continue in her life of prostitution. However, she decides to take only a few men as lovers over the following years and only one at a time. As time passes we see that Rahab does not worship the gods of her people. Instead, she shudders at the sacrifice of children to Molech and the prostitution in the temples. She is revolted by Baal, Asherah and Molech. Her life of prostitution disgusts her and to such a sensitive sould, slowly destroys her self esteem and her spirit.
"There were days when she would kiss her lover good-bye, smile at him as though he were the center of her world, close the door and vomit. She hated what she did. But she did not stop. She believed she had no alternative. What else could she become after what she had been? Her life was locked into this destiny."
By the time Rahab was 17 she had enough silver to purchase an inn on the city wall of Jericho. The walls of Jericho were so thick that homes and businesses could be built into them. Inns during this time period were synonymous with brothels but Rahab kept a reputable inn known for comfort and refinement where ordinary guests could rest. Rahab learns about Israel and the One True God through a lover who tells her about the recent Hebrew victories over the various cities in Canaan. When she learns of the victories of the much smaller and poorly equipped army of the Hebrews over Sihon, the great king of the Amorites and of further victories over other walled cities she hungers to know more about them and their God. Who is this God?
Gradually Rahab learns more about the Hebrew God, the Lord, who looks after slaves, the poor, and the forgotten. While Jericho quakes at the thought of the coming of the Hebrews, Rahab turns to the Lord, praying to the God of the Hebrews to give her life and to save her and her family. It is then that Rahab decides to leave her life as a harlot behind. Her choice will have incredible consequences for her and her family. When the Hebrews send spies into Jericho, Rahab takes the side of The God of the Hebrews with life altering results. She saves the spies and they in turn promise to spare her house if she hangs a red cord outside the window of her home.
When Jericho is destroyed and Rahab and her family are taken in by the Hebrews she now faces the challenge of being accepted by them. Her previous life as a zonah however means this task will be a daunting one that may never come to be. The warrior in charge of assimilating them into the Hebrews is Salmone who wants nothing to do with Rahab. He is scandalized by her past and believes her to be insincere in her repentance. But God has other plans and Salmone soon learns otherwise.
Arshar has crafted an incredible fictional account of the biblical story of Rahab, the harlot. What could have been a racy read given the nature of the story is, in the hands of this competent author a delightfully romantic and thoughtful story, chastely told.
Arshar does a wonderful job of helping us understand the Hebrew mindset of the time and even better demonstrates how Rahab's previous life in prostitution has so terribly affected her. Arshar explores the issues of trust and love both human and divine. Rahab must overcome the spiritual and emotional degradation that she has experienced and learn to love again. She must learn to overcome her shame and also to love and trust men again.
Both historical fiction and romance this wonderful novel makes this biblical story come alive. The development and growth of Rahab as a character and as a child of God was wonderful to behold and enlightening. She must learn to overcome her humiliation and lack of self worth to understand that she is worthy of God. It is only when Rahab looses something of great value to her that she begins to understand this. It is this incident which gives the book it's title.
I was particularly impressed with the way Arshar developed the relationship between Salmone and Rahab. Their relationship had character and was very realistic because we were able to see that despite the great love each had for the other, they also had to overcome prejudices, misunderstandings and weaknesses.
My own opinion is that often Christian fiction is poorly written but this is one Christian novel I will be heartily recommending. I can only hope that Tessa Arshar will write many more such novels.
Here is the book trailer for pearl in the sand:
pearl in the sand by Tessa Arshar
Chicago: Moody Publishers