1 & 2 Thessalonians
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1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Names of God
Sermon on the Mount
Year of St. Paul
Joshua 2 - Rahab Hides the SpiesLesson 2 - Faith for salvation
Exposition by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
- To relate the effect that the Israelites had on the inhabitants of the land: "our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you" (2:11),
- To highlight the saving faith of a gentile whose descendents include the Davidic line of kings and Christ Jesus himself, and
- To demonstrate God's wonderful grace to a prostitute despite her profession.
I've tried in a short story "You're Israelites, Aren't You?" (http://www.joyfulheart.com/evang/rahab.htm) to communicate what happened as clearly as I can. In this exposition I'd just like to comment on a few of the customs of the time and some of the larger issues the text points to.
Rahab's faith (2:11)
It's pretty obvious that Rahab had decided quickly to hide the spies. It put her life at risk, but she had become convinced by the stories that had circulated in Canaan about Israel's God. She had concluded "the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below" (2:11). That was quite a statement of faith.
Jericho probably worshipped the fertility gods worshipped in the rest of Canaan (though I don't know that archaeologists have uncovered household gods in the ruins of Jericho). Baal was worshipped as the supreme male fertility god, the storm God, sometimes represented by the horns of a bull. He was considered to have power over rain, wind, clouds, and therefore over the fertility of the land itself. Ashtoreth was a female goddess commonly worshipped in Canaan. Worship sometimes involved intercourse with female prostitutes and male homosexual prostitutes at shrines as a ritual to insure fertility in the land. While Rahab probably wasn't a shrine prostitute -- she was an entrepreneur and had her own house -- she was affected by the beliefs around her.
But when she heard the stories of the exploits of Israel's God, she believed in him and wanted to associate herself with him and be involved in his cause. James asserts, "But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder." (James 2:18-19)
James indicates that it is possible to have intellectual assent concerning the truth of something without having real faith. Demons believing that God is the only true God is the example he gives. The demons weren't saved by their belief because they didn't act in accordance with it. They trembled in fear and continued to resist God. The residents of Jericho heard the same stories as Rahab and were filled with fear. But instead of taking action to join themselves to this God, they prepared for battle. Rahab, on the other hand, sided with the true God at risk to her own life. Her confession of faith, "the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below" showed that she had replaced her previous belief in Baal (to whom were attributed those characteristics), with a belief in the LORD.
My friend, do you have Rahab's kind of saving faith in God, a faith that aligns you with him rather than with the secular culture? Or is your belief mere intellectual assent, the kind that believes and trembles? Maybe Rahab can be an encouragement to you to take some steps of faith and enter into true faith.
Incidentally, Rahab calls God by his given name Yahweh. As you are probably aware, whenever in your English Bible you see LORD in small caps rather than in upper and lower case it refers to the name Yahweh. God is generic (like Hebrew "El"), while Yahweh is specific.
A trophy of grace
Rahab's faith is lauded three times in the New Testament. First, in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1:5-6, a Rahab is given as the mother of Boaz:
"Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse, the father of King David."
While she isn't specified as Rahab "the harlot," it's pretty likely that she was. In this genealogy only five women are mentioned, each for a particularly noteworthy place in history: Tamar (vs. 3), Rahab (vs. 5a), Ruth (vs. 5b), Bathsheba (vs. 6), and Mary (vs. 16). If this Rahab weren't the famous prostitute, she probably wouldn't have been mentioned at all, especially in company with Tamar (who posed as a prostitute so her father-in-law would impregnate her), Ruth (a Moabite whose tender story is told in the book by her name), and Bathsheba (with whom King David committed adultery).
It's pretty clear that our God is in the redeeming business. Instead of hiding "irregularities" in Jesus' family tree, they are pointed out as trophies of God's grace and forgiveness. No matter what you may have done in your past life, God is ready to forgive you and give you a new start. In fact, your repentance from sin and turning to him brings joy to him -- so much so that he orders a party in your honor, which the already-faithful people don't even receive (Luke 15:7). Our God is the God of the Second Chance. Praise Him!
The second time we find Rahab mentioned in the New Testament she appears in the Hebrews 11 "Hall of Faith": "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient" (Hebrews 11:31). It indicates that the citizens of Jericho were being punished because of their "disobedience." God was punishing their sin as he had promised Abraham centuries before: "In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure" (Genesis 15:16).
Now their sins of idolatry and licentiousness had reached this full measure. Yet the chiefest sinner, if you will, in Jericho, who put her faith in God, was saved, both from temporal destruction and eternal destruction.
The third time we see Rahab in the New Testament, James says of her, "Was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?" (James 2:25). She is mentioned in the same breath as Abraham, the father of faith, whose faith was "credited to him as righteousness" (James 2:23 quoting Genesis 15:6). This is sometimes called "imputed righteousness." In the same say, God counts your faith as righteousness and forgives you through Jesus Christ.
Rahab's Deceitfulness (2:4-5)
But how are we to deal with Rahab's deceitfulness? This is not an easy issue, nor can we treat it fully in the space here. However, I think these are the important points, which I could liberally document from Scripture.
- The Scripture is clear that lying is sinful. Falsehood is universally condemned.
- God is known as a God of truth. He never lies. We are called to emulate him, and to be a people of truth.
- Even though some men and women of God did tell untruths (Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, David, and Peter), there are never commended for it. Rahab is commended for "welcoming the spies" (Hebrews 11:31) and helping them "when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction" (James 2:25). She is not commended for her lie per se.
However, consider that in everyday life we commonly place limits on truthfulness.
- Some people have a right to know things, others don't. "It's none of your business" is often an appropriate response to a probing questioner.
- Being truthful does not necessarily mean telling everything you know.
- In time of war, we consider it permissible to deceive enemies with feints and disinformation. We even seek to deceive burglars with lights on timers to make them think we're home when we're not.
Rahab's case doesn't seem to be that far from our own century, where people such as Corrie ten Boom (http://www.joyfulheart.com/books/tenboom.htm) hid Jews in their homes from the Nazis who sought to destroy them. The very act of hiding someone is an act of deception. Does the end justify the means? When an enemy soldier comes to the door and asks, "Are you hiding any Jews in your home?" what do you answer?
- "No." A bald-faced falsehood, or
- "Yes." A truthful statement, but an invitation for the soldiers to carry out their evil that makes you complicit in their evil intent.
I suppose there are other things that could be said that would not be a lie. "You're welcome to come in and look around," is neutral. It is not a lie, though it intends to deceive the soldier into thinking that you have nothing to hide, which is not true. How many times have you thought of what you should have said after the conversation is over? Too often!
As a nation in the fall of 1998, we are trying to assess President Bill Clinton. He claims to have been legally accurate in a statement that was meant to deceive the American people. But it seems like a self-serving lie designed to keep him in office. This does not help people view him as a person of integrity, or trust him. Being factual but deceptive to protect oneself doesn't seem to point people to the God of truth.
The President is accused of an even more serious deception than lying to the American people: lying under oath. The Third Commandment says: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who takes his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7). When people are sworn in court "so help me God," they are taking the name of the Lord. They have taken a solemn oath to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." If they don't tell the truth after having sworn by God to do so, then they have taken the name of the Lord in vain. We see this in Rahab's story below.
It's one thing to give into the temptation to lie to keep ourselves out of trouble. Our motive is clearly selfish, and God instructs us to tell the truth.
But it's another thing to tell a falsehood because we know that if we tell the truth, innocent people will die. Lying is an evil, but it seems like "the lesser of two evils" because we don't know how to do what we know to be right without lying. Life is sometimes messy like that, though we gradually gain wisdom from our sins and mistakes.
When Jesus was pressed by questions meant to trick him, his Father gave him supernatural wisdom to confound his enemies. We need that kind of wisdom in the face of evil.
So what do we do when we feel forced to tell a lie? Justify ourselves? No, that becomes a slippery slope that leads to justifying lying more and more often. Rather we should confess to God our sin of lying and ask for forgiveness, and also ask for wisdom in the future to know how to tell the truth without compromise.
Odds and ends
The scarlet cord (2:18).S.D. Walters has suggested that the scarlet rope may have been the mark of a prostitute, a "red rope" district, if you will. I adopted this idea in my short story, though this is just conjecture. However, scarlet in the New Testament is associated with sensuality. The Great Prostitute in Revelation 17 sits on a scarlet beast, and was dressed in purple and scarlet (Rev. 17:4).
Stalks of flax (2:6).I find it interesting that Rahab wasn't just a prostitute. The flax drying on her roof indicates that she also prepared linen thread and perhaps clothing in a cottage industry like the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:24. Flax is produced from the herbaceous plant Linum usitatissimum L. which grows up to 4 feet in height, so it probably wasn't too difficult to hide the spies among its drying stalks. "The cut flax was tied and set up to dry, then soaked in water from five to fifteen days to loosen the fibers, after which the fibers were drawn over the edge of a stone or board and beaten with a wooden mallet, and finally refined by combing." (Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller [revised by Boyce M. Bennett, Jr. and David H. Scott], Harper's Encyclopedia of Bible Life [Harper & Row, 1978], pp. 377-378)
Swearing by the LORD (2:12)
Rahab tells the spies what they must do to escape the King's men searching for them, but before she sends them off, she asks for a special assurance:
"Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign...." (vs. 12)
She is asking them to "testify under oath" that they will keep their promise. Who knows better than Rahab how easy it is to lie to keep yourself out of trouble. Her livelihood had depended upon it. Since she believes in the great power of Yahweh, she wants the spies to take Yahweh's name as an assurance that they will keep their word. If they break their word it would be breaking the Second Commandment, "taking the name of the LORD their God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). Rather than it being a sign of Rahab's unbelief, this is probably another indication of her belief in the true God.
When you take the time to examine Rahab, you find a remarkable woman who demonstrated a remarkable faith. But God's forgiveness is even more remarkable. This week I received an unsigned note from a man who objected to one of my unnamed articles on forgiveness:
"With all due respect, the article about forgiveness seems to be nothing more than exactly that which murderurs [sic] and criminals want to hear so that they can keep committing their crimes, because God and His good people are suckers and will keep on forgiving them no matter what they do!"
Forgiveness is hard for even us Christians to accept. We are not nearly so inclined to forgive as God. Nor are we inclined to forgive sins again and again. But, contrary to my anonymous friend, I believe our God is full of forgiveness, full of grace, full of mercy. No, we can't trifle with God. When we do, we experience his uncomfortable discipline in our lives. But he does forgive. Again and again. He forgave Rahab her prostitution. He forgave David his adultery and murder. He forgave Peter his denials. He forgave Paul his persecution. And he will forgive you. Trust him like Rahab did, and he will forgive you.
Father, give us faith like Rahab to see who you are and what you are doing in our times, and to align ourselves with you. Give us courage to do what is right, even when in doing so we risk all we hold dear. And give us courage to proclaim your great grace far and wide. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Copyright © 1985-2013, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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Other Bible Study Books
- 1, 2, and 3 John
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter & Jude
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
- 2 Corinthians
- Abraham, Faith of
- Christ Powered Life (Romans 5-8)
- Christmas Incarnation
- Colossians and Philemon
- Great Prayers of the Bible
- Jacob, Life of
- Jesus and the Kingdom of God
- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
- Lamb of God
- Lord's Supper
- Luke's Gospel
- Moses the Reluctant Leader
- Names and Titles of God
- Resurrection and Easter Faith
- Sermon on the Mount
- Seven Last Words of Christ