>Ponte Vecchio and Rahab: The Power of Walls
By: Tessa Afshar
Ponte Vecchio is the most famous bridge in Florence, straddling the Arno River with tenacity for almost seven hundred years. According to legend, during WWII when the Germans bombed all the bridges of Florence with meticulous precision, Hitler expressly ordered that this iconic landmark should not be destroyed. Whether it really was Hitler’s artistic sensibilities, or the fact that access to both sides of the bridge was blocked by too much debris at the time, the world remains blessed with an unforgettable structure. The most fascinating feature of Ponte Vecchio is the curious fact that little shops are built right into its stone walls. They bulge out of the sides of the bridge like odd-shaped barnacles sticking out of the hull of a ship. As you cross the bridge, you can walk into these diminutive places of business and do your jewelry and leather shopping. It boggles the mind that a wall could hold so much.
Walking over Ponte Vecchio a couple of years ago made me think of the story of Rahab. The Bible tells us that she lived in the bowels of a wall too. Her house was built right into the defensive walls of Jericho. I wondered what it was like to live in a wall as I crossed the bridge. Then I realized that we all know a little something about that. Most of us have to contend with walls in the interior places of our souls. Walls built on foundations of pride, fear, rejection, loss; walls that keep others at bay and shield us from drawing close enough to get hurt again. Suddenly, I was hooked. I wanted to write about walls, about living in them, about pulling them down. I wanted to write about Rahab.
Rahab was a harlot, according to the Bible. I don’t suppose you can live through that and not build furious walls around your heart. And yet, out of a whole bustling city filled with people, God chose to save Rahab, and for her sake, her family. Not satisfied with that salvation, God chose this woman whose life was scarred by a thousand sins and even more wounds to be in the lineage of His Son. Some of Rahab’s genes were swimming in Jesus’ bloodstream. Think about that!
My novel, Pearl in the Sand, tells this story. It recounts the tale of a woman whose world was a mess, whose life was a mess, whose heart was a mess, but in encountering God, she found to her shock that her life was salvageable. More than that—it was valuable. She found that she was lovable.
God started the most significant part of Rahab’s life by literally pulling down the walls of her home around her. As traumatic as that moment must have been for her, she could not have moved on to the future God had planned for her without it. In a parallel pursuit of healing for her broken soul, Pearl in the Sand portrays a God who just as determinedly set out to ruin the walls surrounding Rahab’s heart.
I wanted to tell this story because I think God sometimes calls us to experience similar assaults on the defunct interior defenses of our souls. Like the warriors of Israel, He single-mindedly pursues us until the walls around our hearts come down and we become more accessible to His love. Like the priests of Israel who walked persistently around the perimeter of Jericho, He surrounds us, not giving up, not giving in, until He opens our souls to the healing assault of His grace.
God’s love cannot always be divorced from pain. But He destroys what destroys us. Rahab learned to cling to God in the midst of her sorrows: to believe in the Lord more than she feared pain. For me, that is one of the most crucial components of faith. Like Rahab, I want to be a person who gives God full access to every part of my soul, even if that access sometimes hurts because it involves the demolition of my walls.
Can a Canaanite harlot who has made her livelihood by looking desirable in bed make a fitting wife for one of the leaders of Israel? Shockingly, the Bible’s answer is yes. At the age of fifteen Rahab is forced into prostitution by her beloved father. In her years as a courtesan, she learns to mistrust men and hate herself. Into the emotional turmoil of her world walks Salmone, a respected leader of Judah. Through the tribulations of a stormy relationship, Rahab and Salmone learn the true source of one another’s worth in God and find healing from fear and rejection.