By Faith, Rahab

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Joshua 6:6-14
Hebrews 11:30

Can you name the person of all those mentioned in Joshua and Judges who is referred to the most times in the New Testament? It isn’t Gideon, or Samson, or even Joshua himself. It’s Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho. Let’s find out why.

One way that Christians have long read the book of Joshua with spiritual profit is to read it as a metaphor of the life of faith. Our God, having saved us by his mighty acts, brings us into the promised land of new life in Christ. We will finally “cross the Jordan” and enter God’s promised rest only at death, but already here and now we can taste the milk and honey of the Lord’s blessing.

We can know the Lord, enter more fully into his love, and share the message of that love with a lost world. We can serve the Lord and his purposes by working for peace and justice, for wholeness, health, and healing between people, within communities, and among the nations. We can imitate the Lord, growing in the holiness of Christ-likeness as we overcome sin in our own lives and live in obedience to God’s law, his plan for human flourishing.

But all of this is a struggle. It demands discipline. It takes a mighty effort. Personal spiritual growth and effectiveness in God’s service will never happen with luke-warm commitment and a half-hearted effort. The land will not be taken without a fight; the life of faith doesn’t come without a struggle. This is the message of the book of Joshua.

If I were to ask you to name the person, of all those mentioned in Joshua and Judges for that matter, who is referred to the most times in the New Testament, I wonder if you could guess the answer. It isn’t Gideon, or Samson, or even Joshua himself. It is Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho.

Identifying with the People of God

Her story is told in the second chapter of Joshua. As the people of Israel wait on the east bank of the Jordan, Joshua sends two men to enter Jericho undercover and conduct a reconnaissance of the city. The Israelite spies sent to scout out Jericho made a beeline for Rahab’s house.

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly . . . as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there.

Joshua 2:1-2

Now, I have to confess, I find that a little curious. Here these men are on an important and dangerous military mission. Why have they stopped at Rahab’s place? Did they think this might be a good place to hide, since strange men were always coming and going? Or did they go there for the same reason all men who visit prostitutes go there? You’ll have to answer that question for yourself; the Bible doesn’t tell us.

But no sooner do they get to Rahab’s house than a crisis arises (v. 3). Someone has spotted them and recognized them as a threat. Obviously, with a whole host of Israelites camping just a few miles away on the far side of the Jordan, a place where they have already won a string of impressive victories over the people living out there, word is going to get around that the Canaanites have a new and very powerful enemy in the neighborhood. So a couple of strangers in town who speak with a Hebrew accent and ask a whole bunch of questions are liable to be noticed. The king of Jericho is informed that Israelite spies are spending the night at Rahab’s house, and he sends soldiers to take them.

But instead of giving them up, Rahab, who has hidden the spies on her roof, tells the king’s soldiers that they had already come and gone (vv. 4-7). While the soldiers, following Rahab’s misdirection, run off on a wild goose chase, Rahab tells the spies just how they can escape. But before that, she does the most remarkable thing of all. She tells them of her conviction about Israel’s ultimate triumph, based on what she has heard about Israel’s God.

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us . . . For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan . . . And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted . . . for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house. . . .

Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall. . . . The men said to her, “. . . Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down . . . . Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless . . . And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

Joshua 2:8-21 esv

For some inexplicable reason, Rahab, and Rahab alone, has decided to cast her lot with Israel and more importantly, with Israel’s God. Everyone in Jericho had heard of the power of the God of the Hebrews. All were filled with fear and apprehension. But only Rahab decided to do something about it. She chose to believe, and she confessed her faith in God: “for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” And in the end this faith proved to be not only Rahab’s salvation but her whole family’s as well.

What Faith Can Do

Rahab is mentioned by name in no fewer than three different places in the New Testament. One of those is Hebrews 11:31:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

Rahab, of all people, is held up as a model of faith.

Here is a great lesson of faith: whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you come from, faith will make you one of the people of God. It is utterly remarkable that the book of Hebrews singles out Rahab as a hero of faith.

Here’s why. First, she was a woman, and women in the ancient world were generally considered to be second class citizens. Second, she was a Canaanite, one of the enemy. “God,” ran an ancient rabbinic prayer, “I thank Thee that I am neither a woman nor a gentile.” Well, Rahab was both.

As if that weren’t enough, she was also a prostitute, as Hebrews takes pains to remind us, not exactly a shining example of virtue though, of course, we can presume that salvation made Rahab a changed woman. But remember this: salvation is never a reward for living a good life. It is a gift of grace that is bestowed upon those who actively put their faith in Jesus Christ.

The next place Rahab is mentioned in the New Testament is James 2:

Was not Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (vv. 25-26)

Christians have often been puzzled by how the letter of James seems to contradict the New Testament’s clear teaching that we are saved by faith rather than by our good works. Ephesians 2:8-9, for example, says this, “For by grace you have been saved through faith . . . not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But James 2:24 says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

But James’ use of the example of Rahab shows what he’s getting at. He doesn’t mean to deny the importance of faith, but rather to show the true nature of saving faith. The faith that saves is faith that is active, that isn’t just feelings or words, or simply an intellectual conviction. It is a faith that changes our behavior.

Rahab was saved by faith when she chose, at the critical moment, to identify with the people of God. In that choice Rahab was committing herself to Israel’s God. This decision was her salvation. But then she had to act. She put her own life on the line in saving the lives of the spies. She cut her ties to Jericho, turning her back upon the city of death, and casting her lot decisively with God.

Like Bunyan’s Christian who escaped from the City of Destruction with his fingers plugging his ears against the arguments of those who would persuade him to stay and with the cry “Eternal life, eternal life” upon his lips, Rahab too committed herself unconditionally and irrevocably to the way of salvation. She had decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

We are saved by faith, but the faith that saves us must act. If Rahab hadn’t tied the red cord in her window as a sign of her true allegiance, she would have perished just as certainly as did all the rest of Jericho’s citizens.

But she didn’t, because she believed, and so she acted. And Rahab the prostitute was saved. Did I mention that Rahab is listed three times in the New Testament? So far I have only cited two: Hebrews 11 and James 2. The third place is right at the beginning of the New Testament. You could easily miss it, for Rahab’s name comes there in a long list of others, in Matthew 1. What’s significant about this is that the list is of the ancestors of Jesus Christ.

“. . . Salmon [was] the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (v. 5).

Rahab wasn’t just accepted into the family of God; she became the mother of its kings, and ultimately of the King of kings! That is what faith-in-action can do for you!