"Your reputation precedes you" is a common phrase that holds significant truth. I think we all encounter those times when someone we meet has already heard of us, whether through a mutual friend, the internet, or pretty much any other means within our age of technology and communication. It would be nice if our reputations were based entirely by our actions and words, but that's not always the case. It's also based on what people say about us. Two people can say two completely opposite things about one of your actions, and thus your reputation succeeds in one group and declines in another.
We find a powerful example of reputation on this week’s haftarah:
The two men had not yet lain down when she returned to the roof and said to them, “I know that Adonai has given you the land. Fear of you has fallen on us; everyone in the land is terrified at the thought of you. We’ve heard how Adonai dried up the water in the Sea of Suf ahead of you, when you left Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Emori on the other side of the Yarden, Sichon and ‘Og, that you completely destroyed them. As soon as we heard it, our hearts failed us…” (Joshua 2:8-11)
There are debates about whether Rachav was a harlot or an innkeeper, but regardless of what you believe, it's probably safe to say that she was a pagan woman in a pagan city. But one day, things changed for her. News comes from afar of the God of the Hebrews. First of plagues, then of the sea parting, then of great victory over powerful kings. Slowly the fear of this God grows to the point where this woman begs for mercy when two spies show up on her doorstep.
The reputation of The Almighty had spread far and wide because of His very deeds that would not be diminished by human interference. He made Himself known as mighty, and that's how He wanted it.
Another example is in John 1:29-31:
The next day, Yochanan saw Yeshua coming toward him and said, “Look! God’s lamb! The one who is taking away the sin of the world! This is the man I was talking about when I said, ‘After me is coming someone who has come to rank above me, because he existed before me.’ I myself did not know who he was, but the reason I came immersing with water was so that he might be made known to Isra’el.
In the first example, everyone knew of the God of the Hebrews. In the second example, it was one man out of a crowd who understood who was in front of him.
In one aspect, the Bible is a historical account of God's mighty deeds and His expressed will, establishing His reputation and character, and standards for our lives. He has given us a lot to go off of to know Him. If Yeshua returned tomorrow, would you recognize Him? And if you did, would you acknowledge Him, or shun Him because He is different than what you thought He'd be? We have the Scripture, yes, but we are still humans in a fallen world with a limited understanding constantly influenced by our possibly flawed biases. The truth is, none of us have it all right, so it's important that we hold our interpretations of the gray areas loosely, always allowing God to make changes to our hearts. So the question is, when we come face to face with who He is, will we say, “We know that you are Him that we know of,” or will we shun Him because He doesn’t fit into the box we’ve put Him in?
Be always full of grace in the gray areas, because in the end, God showed grace to us in sending His one and only Son to take our sins upon Himself and cast them away, and that is something that is black and white, something firm and sure that we can always stand on.