Rahab – A Trophy of Grace:
This evening in our studies of the book of Joshua we come to what is probably one of the most well known incidents in the whole of the book – the salvation of the prostitute Rahab from Jericho. From a purely literary point of view chapter 2 is not essential to the record of Israel entering into and possessing the land of Canaan. In fact it would seem more logical to move from the end of chapter 1 to the beginning of chapter 3. The narrative runs more freely, it is more coherent and the expectations the reader has at the end of chapter 1 are immediately fulfilled when one goes straight to chapter three. At the end of chapter 1 the C.O.I. have given their commitment to Joshua that they will be fully behind Joshua in his God given role to lead them into their inheritance. They are ready to do whatever he says. Chapter 3 opens with them being told what they must do and goes on to record how they cross the Jordan river and set foot in the land of Canaan. So in a sense you could skip out chapter two and not loose out on the continuity of the story.
What then, you might ask, is the purpose of chapter 2 being included in the story of Israel conquering Canaan? Well I believe the purpose is twofold.
First of all to put on record the fact that, before He commanded them through Joshua to actually step out in faith and begin their assault on Canaan, (chapter 3) God had already given them tangible evidence that he was already at work on their behalf in that city that would be the focal point of their first onslaught against their enemies. The spies had learned from Rahab that the people of the land were afraid, their hearts were melting within them at the thought of the forthcoming conflict with Israel because of their knowledge of the power of Israel’s God. Far from being confident of victory the people in Jericho were afraid of Israel. God wanted Israel to know these things. For such a knowledge would be a great encouragement to them. And so the spies on their return, as we learn from v24 reported these things to Joshua who no doubt told the people. What an encouragement this would have been to them before they even set out.
So the people who crossed over in chapter 3 are people who have just had a real confidence booster given to them by God. They are in the right frame of mind psychologically to undertake this challenge. God has greatly encouraged them.
So that I believe is one reason for chapter two’s inclusion. It shows us does it not how gracious God is towards his people. He could have taken them immediately from chapter 1 to Chapter 3 so to speak and made them go forward simply on the basis of His spoken promise without giving them any further encouragement. But knowing their natural fears and human weakness God in love for his people encourages their faith and inspires their confidence by giving them extra assurance through the reconnaissance mission of the two spies. Although God’s promise was sure, He wanted them to feel sure of his promises. It’s a bit like a husband who buys his wife a bunch of flowers and on the little card that accompanies it tells her that he loves her very much. She shouldn’t need him to do that, she knows he loves her, but although she knows he loves her and doesn’t need him to buy her flowers, that little gesture is greatly appreciated and strongly reinforces what she already knows. And God wants it put on record that he had encouraged his people and given them assurances before calling them forth into battle.
Chapter two then is first of all both a record and a reminder of God’s Abundant goodness to His own Covenant people.
But I said that there were two reasons for the inclusion of this chapter in this book and if the first is that it stands as a record and reminder of God’s Abundant Goodness to His own Covenant people, the second is that it stands as a record and reminder of God’s Abundant Grace to the Lost.
Here in this chapter we have the record of the salvation of Rahab the Prostitute. Here in this chapter we have a record of Sovereign saving grace. Here in this chapter God has put on record a clear testimony that his saving purposes extend beyond the narrow confines of any one nation or any one group of people and that such is the breadth of his saving grace that even the most unlikely sorts of people will be objects of it.
Israel were to be God’s instrument in bringing blessing to the world. It was through them that God intended to bring people from other nations into a saving covenantal relationship with himself. They were to be the God ordained channel through which salvation would come to the world. And here in Joshua 2 God gives us a glorious example of this principle in action, at what was a crucial point in time in redemptive history.
And what an example God has given us here, in Rahab, of His sovereign saving grace at work in the life of a sinner.
This evening we want to look at this wonderful example of saving grace. We want to look at Rahab’s faith.
That Rahab had true saving faith is confirmed for us of course in the New Testament in two places. Hebrews 11 where she is named in the great roll call of faith and in James 2/25ff where James emphasises that the genuineness of her faith was confirmed by her works, something that we will be considering in the course of our study.
There are a number of things I want us to consider in relation to Rahab’s faith. Notice first of all with me
1) The Unpromising Circumstances in which her faith was Born
On the human level, the possibility that anyone in Jericho around this time would come to believe in and trust the one true and living God, the God of Israel, was very remote indeed. That a person such as Rahab would have done so would have seemed impossible.
From time to time I have gone along to the ten-pin bowling down at the Jet Centre and Pennyburn and having tossed my first bowl down the alley and knocked over a number of the pins have looked up to the computer screen to see it showing the number of pins left standing, where they are still standing and the calculated odds of knocking down the remaining pins. Sometimes if there is only one pin left the computer will tell you that you have maybe a 90-95% chance of knocking down the last one and getting a strike. Occasionally when there have been two pins left standing and they are at extreme ends of the triangle the computer instead of telling you that you have a 50% or a 30% chance of knocking them down will put up the message ODDS UNKNOWN. In other words the computer is saying to you, that you have no chance of knocking the remaining two pins down. Well in human terms the odds of finding a citizen of Jericho trusting in the living and true God of Israel at this time would have been very long indeed. The odds of finding a believer among those who lived and worked in the red-light district of Jericho, as Rahab did, would have been unknown.
Lets look then at the Unpromising circumstances in which Rahab’s faith was born.
And the first thing that on the human level would have been against her was
(i) Her Religious background
Although we are not given any detail as such in the narrative concerning religious life in Jericho we do know that like all of the other nations and groups that inhabited Canaan, groups such as the Hittites, the Amonites, the Jebusites and so on, the people of Jericho were polytheists, that is they worshipped many gods, all of them false. And assuming Jericho was like any other Canaanite city, it would have had many shrines, temples and idols located all over the place. The worship of these deities would have undoubtedly involved immoral sexual behaviour as a lot of them involved various fertility rites where the worshippers would have among other things openly engaged in the pro-creative act with a view to encouraging the gods to copulate and bring forth abundance on the land. And this was the Rahab’s religious background. She would have grown up in the midst of such beliefs and known nothing else. This would have been normal religious activity for her. She would have believed that these gods really did exist and that this form of worship, among others was the way in which the favour of the gods was implored and secured.
She would not have had the privilege of possessing any detailed information about the Only True and living God. She knew nothing of the written Law of God. She was brought up in a situation of gross spiritual darkness. She was a stranger to the covenants and the promises of redemption.
And yet despite her religious background. Despite her natural religious beliefs which had been ingrained upon her thinking and had become part and parcel of her religious make up over the years, despite the religious darkness with which she was surrounded, this woman came to know, to believe in, to trust and to serve the one true and living God.
But if her religious background was, humanly speaking, unpromising soil, in which the flower of true faith might grow, then even more so was
(ii) Her Moral Background
Rahab wasn’t just a religious pagan, she was a groslly immoral religious pagan, she was a prostitute. Look at v 1. We are told that the two spies sent out by Joshua went ‘and entered the house of a prostitute/Harlot named Rahab’ Now those of you who have the NIV will notice that the word ‘prostitute’ has a little reference letter beside it and if you look at the bottom of the page you will see that it says there ‘or possibly innkeeper’. And it is true that the Hebrew word used here ZONAH can mean ‘a female owner of an inn’ But we cant get away from the fact that not only does the context lend support to the view that she was a prostitute but when she is mentioned in the N.T. in the epistle of James 2/25 & Hebrews 11/31 in each case the word used to describe her is the Greek word which can only mean a ‘prostitute’.(. One commentator suggests that she may even have been one of the sacred prostitutes who served at one of the local fertility shrines, whether that is true or not makes little difference the fact of the matter was this woman was grossly immoral you don’t need me to go into the details of how she made her living and the sort of things she got up to.
And again from the human point of view one would never have expected to find true saving faith in a person with such a background.
But Rahab had such faith. In this most unlikely of places, this pagan, polytheistic, spiritually dark and ignorant city, in this most unlikely person, a person who had been a prostitute, true faith was found. How Come? Well, once again we are not furnished with all the details of how she came to believe in and to trust the God of Israel but we get some insight into what had happened from what she said to the spies as she hid them for the night among the flax on her roof. Look at v10 “we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt and what you did to Sihon and Og the two kings of the Ammorites east of the Jordan whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and in earth below’
First of all she had heard something of the reports of the mighty works of the God of Israel – the way in which he had exercised his power on behalf of his people, leading them through the Red Sea and then enabling them to utterly destroy two of the highly regarded and much feared armies in Ammorite territory, those of King Sihon & King Og. Those reports had filled her and the other inhabitants of the city with fear and dread. But unlike the rest of her fellow city dwellers it seems Rahab came to a settled conviction in her heart, that this God of Israel, unlike the gods that she had believed in and which were represented by the stone and wooden and silver and gold idols with which she was surrounded, unlike them, this was a God who not only seemed to be very real, but who had proved the reality of his existence in the most tangible of ways. And Rahab became convinced in her mind and in her heart that Israel’s God was the true God. Look at end of v11 “the Lord Your God is God of heaven above and earth below’ What a confession of faith from a woman who all her life had been imprisoned in pagan idolatry. She confessed belief in the God of Israel and in the fact that such was His power that his purposes for His people – i.e. the giving the Land of Canaan to them - were going to be fulfilled. “v8 – I know that the Lord has given this land to you…”
She had heard of the mighty works of God and on considering what she had heard came to believe in Him. She believed in a new God, a God totally and diametrically opposed to the gods of Jericho, but a God above all other gods, a universal God. In the midst of the Canaanites, the ammonites, the ammorites, in the midst of their horrible, polluted worship, ladenw ith sex symbols and sex practices – Rahab affirmed her faith in the true God, the God of Israel.
Paul tells us faith comes by hearing. Rahab didn’t hear much, she didn’t know much, but what she heard and what she knew she considered, believed and acted upon.
And friends doesn’t this remind us that no-one is beyond the reach of God’s saving power. If God could save someone like Rahab, with all the religious ignorance and immoral baggage that she carried with her, if he can save someone like that, he can save anyone.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us in 59/1 “the arm of the Lord is not too short that it cannot save…’
Some of us have loved ones and friends who are as much in spiritual darkness as Rahab was when it comes to their knowledge and understanding of the One true God some of them when it comes to their moral conduct are carrying as much immoral baggage with them as Rahab carried. And on the human level we would say that the odds on them coming to faith are ‘unknown’, it seems, humanly speaking impossible. Friends Rahab reminds us that the things that are impossible with men are possible with God. Rahab stands beside other wonderful trophies of grace in the scriptures, former muderers, former thieves, former terrorists, and so on and together they bear testimony that ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.’
But The fact that Rahab did come to saving faith, the fact that she did come to believe in and to trust the God of Israel in spite of her disadvantages and what on the human level were seemingly insurmountable barriers is surely also a challenge to many today, perhaps to some of you here this evening who enjoy far more spiritual privileges than she ever enjoyed, and who despite those privileges have never come to faith. We live on the other side of Calvary. The spiritual light we have is far brighter than that enjoyed by those who lived in O.T. times. Many today have heard the full-orbed message of the gospel. They have heard it from their parents, they have heard it from their Sabbath school teacher, they have read the message on posters, they have heard it proclaimed from the pulpit of their Church. And yet despite all this they still refuse to repent and believe the gospel. Some of you may be in such a position tonight. The spiritual privileges you enjoy are beyond number, to you much has been given in as far as being acquainted with the things of God and the way of salvation but even as you sit in your pew tonight you are not saved. You have never trusted Christ. Friend Rahab challenges you this evening to believe, and if you don’t, on the day of judgement she will rise up against you and condemn you for not believing.
But then secondly I want you to also consider with me
2) The Undeniable Evidence By which her faith was Authenticated
James tells us in his epistle that faith without works is dead. The truth he is stressing there is that when a person has true genuine faith, that faith will manifest itself in very clear tangible ways. And as an example of this truth he points to Rahab. The reality, the genuineness of Rahab’s faith was demonstrated in two ways in particular, one of which James highlights and that was in
(i) Her Dealings with The Spies:
You are familiar with the events recorded here in the opening verses of the chapter. The two spies set out from the Camp of the Israelites and arrive at Rahab’s house in Jericho. Now in order to get something of an insight into what was going on here and how Rahab demonstrated her faith in and allegiance to the God of Israel I want you to notice two things. First of all
(a) The Challenge She Faced
Here were these two spies who had come to her house. They were from a foreign group of people, a people who posed a real threat to her native city. Her own king had been informed that they were hiding in Rahab’s house and having sent some representatives along to her house he questioned her concerning this. Now Rahab had two options. Having lately come to believe in the God of Israel and confessed her belief that He was going to destroy Jericho and give it to the Israelites, she could abandon that belief and turn again to her old way of thinking and hand the spies over to the authorities. By doing this she would be seen as a true patriot and would not expose herself to the possibility of being regarded as a traitor for harbouring spies, nor to the inevitable death penalty for such an offence. That’s the first thing she could have done. Alternatively she could put her own life at risk, hide the men, send the kings representatives on a wild goose chase and help the spies escape. Such a course of action involved her maintaining her faith in the God of Israel and proving the reality of her faith by identifying with and ministering to the needs of God’s people in the persons of the spies. So this was the challenge she faced. And the question that we ask as we come to the end of verse 2 is ‘Rahab whose side are you on? Where does your allegiance lie Rahab? Whose God is your god? Whose people your people? Don’t tell us Rahab, show us, show us by your actions. What you do Rahab will show us where your true loyalty lies.
The Challenge she faced. Then note secondly
(b) The Course She Followed
Faced with this challenge, what did she do? Well the ensuing verses tell us. She hid the spies, sent the messengers away on a wild goose chase and subsequently helped the spies escape from the city. This was daring stuff. If she had been caught she would have been lynched. But you see her faith in God was so real and so strong that she was prepared to put her own life at risk in order to do what she knew to be right and to help these servants of Jehovah. She was willing to risk everything for the sake of proving the reality of her faith in the God of Israel. We cannot justify the lies she told, as recorded in v 4,5. The lies are recorded, this is an accurate account of what she did, but the fact that her lies are recorded in the Bible does not mean that the Bible either approves of them, excuses them, or holds this up as an example to be followed. She was a very new convert with very little understanding of God’s Law and of His moral standards. No doubt as her knowledge and understanding of these things increased in subsequent years her conduct in such areas improved.
But the point that we need to focus on, the point James focuses on, is that she proved the reality of her faith by her works.
And friends where true faith, true saving faith in Christ exists, it will be seen. A persons life will demonstrate and authenticate the reality or otherwise of their profession of faith. Yes it is important to make profession with the lips but it is equally important to prove that profession by our life. And where the life consistently contradicts the profession then no matter how often or how strongly a person says they have faith, the faith they have is not the saving faith of the Bible for such a faith is a faith that has a transforming effect upon and produces good works in a persons life.
But Rahab proved the reality of her faith not only in her Dealings With The Spies but also in another way too and that was in
(ii) Her Desire For Her Family:
She was thoroughly convinced, rightly so as we know, that the God of Israel was going to overthrow Jericho and that the inhabitants were going to be slaughtered in the siege. Now believing this to be so what was her attitude towards and desire for her wider family circle in the light of the forthcoming destruction? Well notice
(a) The Concern She Showedv12
She wasn’t only concerned for her own safety, she was also concerned that her family might be saved. The thought of her being spared but her family being destroyed burdened her and she pleaded that they too might be saved from what would otherwise be certain death.
(b) The Covenant She Made
She wanted the men to guarantee her family’s safety. This they covenanted to do but as part of the covenant they made the condition of deliverance was laid down that when the siege began and when destruction came upon Jericho her family members had to be with her in her house. The house was the place of refuge, the place of safety. Any relative outside the house would be destroyed. Only those within would be saved. And by way of identifying the house of safety, by way of showing who were to be protected and saved in the midst of the destruction, a scarlet rope had to be hung from the window of her house.
By a Covenantal arrangement deliverance was guaranteed to all who were in the house but only to those who were in it.
We learn from chapter 6/25 that Rahab and her family were saved, they were delivered. You can imagine how Rahab must have went round her relatives in the days leading up to Jericho’s destruction. Each day while the men were marching round the city walls and doomsday for Jericho drew ever nearer she was warning her relatives of what was soon to happen. Telling them that she knew Jericho was going to be destroyed. Informing them of the promise of deliverance she had received and on that basis urging them to come with her to her home and shelter in that place of refuge where alone deliverance was guaranteed.
I wonder do we Christians have the same concern for our relatives that Rahab had for hers. She knew they were in danger, she knew destruction was coming and knowing that there was a way of escape from that destruction she informed them of it and urged them to avail themselves of it. We have loved ones and friends who are in danger, in danger of eternal destruction in Hell. We know there is a way of escape, we know there is a place of safety. Have we told them about it? Have we urged them, have we implored, have we with earnestness pleaded with them to flee from the wrath to come and join us in that place of safety where there will be no condemnation.
Here then in these very clear tangible works, in her dealings with the Spies, in her desire for her family, we see the undeniable evidence by which Rahab’s faith was authenticated.
That brings me thirdly and finally this evening to consider
3) The Wonderful Blessings With Which he Faith was Rewarded
As I say if you go to 6/25 you discover the immediate blessings Rahab enjoyed. She enjoyed deliverance from death both for herself and for all whom she had persuaded to take refuge with her in the appointed place of safety. She also was fully incorporated into the covenant community of God’s people – ‘and she lives among the Israelites to this day’ We also know from Matthew 1/5 that having been incorporated into the Community of God’s people she was blessed in time with a husband by the name of Salmon, and with a family. And as if all these blessings were not enough, we learn from that genealogical record in Matthew 1 that she was a direct ancestor of The Lord Jesus Himself. Trace the family tree of our Lord back through its various branches and there you find the name RAHAB – a wonderful trophy of grace a glorious reminder that where sin abounds grace can abound all the more.