Through the story of Rahab, Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship shows that above all the most important factor in the Christian’s life is belief. For Rahab, as for believers, faith meant salvation.
part 2 a scarlet cord
Last week we began a new series in which we are exploring some of the historical narratives that capture some fascinating moments in the lives of the children of Abraham. The essence of the OT is the unfolding and fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.
One of those promises was that of the Land. In Gen 12, God told Abraham, “Go to the Land I will show you…To your offspring I will give this land.”
But, there was one big hiccup…or so it seemed. This chosen people of God became slaves to the Egyptians. But, after around 400 years of slavery in Egypt God made good on his promise to the descendants of Abraham, raised up his servant Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Along the way to enter the land, Moses sent twelve spies into the land. When they arrived, they found that the inhabitants of that Land were massive, giants, they made the Israelites seem like grasshoppers in comparison. Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua believed God; they had faith that even though the people of the Land were as giants, that God would fulfill his promises. They had faith in the promises of God.
However, the other ten spies gave a bad report and discouraged the people. As a result of the widespread lack of faith, God decreed that the entire generation would never enter the land, they would not receive the inheritance, they wouldn’t enter the rest, and that they would die in the wilderness. However, the two spies that believed God, who exercised faith, Caleb and Joshua, they were the only two men of that generation who God allowed to enter into the land to possess it.
Moses died just before God brought Israel into the Land and God raised up Joshua, one of the two faithful spies, as his successor as the leader over Israel.
We are going to look at a fun story today that captures the beginning of the Land conquests under the leadership of Joshua.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Joshua 2.
2 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
So, if you’re Rahab right here, what do you do? You have admitted some foreign spies into your home and now the king has sent word to you to bring them out. What do you do? Do you obey the king? Or do you help out these spies? Okay, let’s just be real about who these spies are. They are your enemy. They are here to spy out your land that they are planning to take from you to possess as their own. What do you do?
The seemingly obvious answer is to bring them out. First, they are the enemy, and second, the king ordered you to. You have to obey the king, right? Let’s keep reading and see what Rahab does.
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
Okay, so she lied. She had deceived her own people, she helped the spies, hid them, and told her own people that the spies left through the city gate, hurry if you leave now, you might catch them. If we were to try to assess this lady, Rahab, at this point, I think we would conclude that she has some serious flaws, several strikes against her. The story opens up with the fact that she’s a prostitute. That’s strike one. She takes in foreign spies – enemies, helps and hides them. She’s a traitor. That’s strike two. And then when the king mandates that she give them up she deceives her people. She’s a deceiver, a liar. That’s strike three.
This Rahab is a liar, a traitor, and a prostitute. Let’s keep reading.
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 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 Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
Rahab explains her actions. She gives a reason for her treason. And it’s a good one. Yes, the king requested that she release the spies. But the spies were sent by God – not just some idol of wood or stone, but the God who is God in heaven above and on the earth below, Yahweh, himself.
The reason for her treason? Gods’ fame. She declares that she and her people have heard about how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea and how they defeated the Kings with whom they went to war along the way. As a result, their hearts were melting in fear. Through God’s mighty acts, he made a name for himself and for his people.
We see in Rahab a heart of faith. She heard of God’s mighty acts and she responded with faith. She could have heard about God’s acts, but then said, “Look, I don’t know for sure about this whole Yahweh God, I mean, I wasn’t there to witness the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, and the defeat of Sihon & Og. We can’t prove that it happened, so I’m not so sure I want to just put all my faith in this God.” But she heard the word and she believed. She exercised faith and put that faith into action. We see this faith in action through her choice.
WHO TO HONOR?
She had to make a choice: would she rat out the spies or help them? Would she tell the truth and honor her king or would she honor the Israel of God and the God of Israel? And she chose the better route: God. If she honored her own people and honored her king, she would have perished along with them. But, because she believed, because she had faith, she acted accordingly and she was saved.
12 “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 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”
She recognizes that her salvation lies in her connection to Yahweh through the people of Yahweh; her salvation would come as a result of her faith.
14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.” Look at the certainty in these spies. Look at their faith. When the LORD gives us this land. Not if the LORD gives it to us.
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”
17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”
21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.”
So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
Turn over to chapter 6. After the spies report to Joshua, the Israelites cross the Jordan River on dry ground during flood stage and then circumcise all of the uncircumcised men. Once the men healed they prepared to take the city of Jericho. That’s where we pick up in Chapter 6.
1 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.
2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
This is not exactly the kind of battle strategy you would expect. You would expect Joshua to pull out a map of the city and do some strategic super secret agent style action; “you take a third of the men and come around the east corner; you take a third of the men, scale the wall where Rahab lives, and I will take a third of the men and come from the west.” This is a far cry from that. The battle plan is to just march around the city once a day for six days? And then on the seventh day, march around it 7 times, blow trumpets, and shout…and the walls are just going to fall down? This isn’t strategic super secret agent. It’s more like mission impossible literally – sounds impossible. Sounds bizarre, preposterous, ridiculous, but that is what God decreed and if you read through the OT narratives you will see that time and again God seems to delight in doing the seemingly impossible for his glory, for his fame.
6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 7 And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”
And Joshua did it. He did this bizarre plan. He obeyed the LORD. But this shouldn’t surprise us because after all, Joshua was one of those 12 spies who believed that God would do what God said he would do no matter how seemingly impossible. Joshua recognized that for God all things are possible and that God is faithful to his word. He does what he says he will do even when it seems impossible – and that is what requires faith.
Ordinary doesn’t require much faith. The more extraordinary, the greater faith required!
The results of usual or expected methods can either be explained away or attributed to the strength of man. But the results of the unusual, the miraculous, are hard to explain away or attribute the glory to man. It’s hard to give man the glory that God deserves. And again, God does the seemingly impossible to make a name for himself for his glory.
8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” 11 So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there…
They did this for six days.
Can you imagine being a citizen of Jericho? You have already heard about this people and their victories. Your hearts have already been melting with fear and now they are marching around your city. Now you hear their footsteps. You hear the sound of the trumpets. You are just waiting in anticipation for the moment they storm the city.
15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.
Here we see that the Israelites were faithful to keep their word, their promise to Rahab. She kept her end of the agreement, tied a scarlet cord in her window, kept her family in her household, and the Israelites are taking the city, but they are going out of their way to spare Rahab. While the rest of Jericho perishes, she and her household are saved.
Now, recall those strikes that Rahab had against her. She was introduced to us as a prostitute. She committed treason by aiding the enemy spies and she lied & deceived her own people.
There are two passages in the NT in which Rahab is actually commended for her actions. She isn’t condemned for these strikes; rather, she is commended for her faith.
Faith is one virtue that is consistently commended throughout the Scriptures. An entire chapter of Hebrews is devoted to commending the faithful.
Hebrews 11:1-2 1Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
Faith is when you don’t have it in your hand right now, you don’t see it, but you are confident that you will, you believe that you will.
This chapter opens up defining faith and saying that it’s what the ancients were commended for. Then the rest of the chapter unfolds by listing ancient after ancient after ancient who were faithful, who believed and acted in faith. Skip down to verse 30:
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient (or unbelieving).
Our story in Joshua makes the list, the hall of faith. The reason the walls of Jericho fell was because the Israelites believed. If the Israelites didn’t believe God, if they didn’t have faith, but instead they decided to do their own strategic battle plan – some super secret agent action, then you can guarantee that they would have been destroyed. But both the Israelites and Rahab believed that God was going to do as he said. In her faith, Rahab welcomed the spies and tied the scarlet cord in the window in faith; she and her family were spared, while the rest of Jericho perished.
In another NT passage – we have a similar commendation.
James 2:25 In the same way, 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?
Once again, the NT praises Rahab – the prostitute – for her belief. She wasn’t condemned for prostitution, treason, or deceit; she was commended for her faith.
The bottom line is that RAHAB FEARED GOD MORE THAN MAN (she had a choice to either show loyalty to the King of Jericho or the King of the Kings).
I believe that there is a timeless precept there that we can apply in our own lives.
It has to do with our loyalty. Where is our loyalty? In what or in whom is our faith? I believe that we should in all things strive to do what is right and be honest, be truthful, avoid being deceptive, obey the governing agents, be loyal to our country. However, if we, like Rahab, are in a situation where doing all of those things means that we will be dishonoring God, disobeying God or failing to be loyal to God, then, like Rahab, we must side with God. Our loyalty must be with God, first and foremost. Like Rahab, we must fear God more than man.
WHAT WAS THE BASIS FOR RAHAB’S FAITH AND WHAT SHALL BE THE BASIS FOR OUR FAITH?
While there is a sense in which faith is being sure of what is hoped for and certain of what is unseen, Biblical faith is not an entirely blind faith, but a reasonable faith that has sufficient grounds.
AS A BASIS FOR HER FAITH RAHAB POINTED TO GOD’S MIGHTY ACTS IN HISTORY and to GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS WORD. She heard that God was going to do the same to Jericho as he had done to Egypt and the Amorites. She didn’t witness those events and God hadn’t yet destroyed Jericho, so there is an unseen element. But her faith was in what God said he would do, and it was based on His track record. Her faith was based on His Word and his faithfulness. She didn’t conjure up some whimsical idea in her mind. Nor can we.
In the same way, our faith must be grounded in the word of God. We have no reason to believe that God is going to do something that we arbitrarily conjure up in our minds, like I have faith that I’m going to ace my math test even though I didn’t study or I have faith that God is going to make me a millionaire or I have faith that I’m going to place first in the chess tournament, I have faith that God will send me a man named Dequan. We have no grounds on which to base such faith claims.
The faith that is commended in the Scriptures is a faith in what God promises and the grounds for such faith is God’s track record of faithfulness.
God promised that He would bless Abraham and make him the father of many nations…and he did. God promised that He would give Abraham’s descendents a Land flowing with milk and honey…and he did. God promised that he would send his Messiah to restore his people to life and heal them…and he did.
Faith in those promises so commendable because of the nature of those promises. They were promises that seemed impossible, that seemed to be against all odds. The more radical and outlandish and seemingly impossible the promises of God, the greater the faith required.
Abraham was old. His wife was barren. The promise of children seemed to be against all odds, it seemed impossible. The Israelites were going to take a Land from a people who were so ginormous, they made the Israelites seem like grasshoppers. The promise of receiving that Land seemed impossible, it was against all odds. The Messiah – not what they expected, it was against all odds that this Jesus was the guy.
Though God’s promises seemed impossible, against all odds, though the means of fulfillment were not what people expected, they were as God intended and decreed. They were according to God’s word.
Again, our faith must lie in God’s word. As a starting point, we must believe that God’s word is true and that it is good for us.
God nearly always used people to communicate his word to people. God communicated through Joshua that the Israelites were to march around the city every day for six days and then on the seventh, do it seven times, blow trumpets and shout. As weird and outlandish as it sounded, they had to trust God and believe that what God prescribed was for their good.
Just as God spoke through Joshua, prescribing for Israel the means by which they would take the land, so also, we have in the NT God speaking through words of JESUS, and the inspired apostles, who had authority as prophets. While those words weren’t spoken or written directly to us, the precepts are timeless, true, authoritative and applicable for us today.
We can have faith that what God’s word prescribes about sexuality is for our good. What God’s word prescribes about stewardship is for our good. What God’s word prescribes about prayer is for our good. What God’s word prescribes about marriage is for our good. What God’s word prescribes about submission & relationships is for our good.
We are called to believe God. And just as Abraham and Rahab and all those others listed in Heb 11 lived out their faith we, too shall live out our faith, showing that we trust his word, that he knows what is best for us by walking according to those precepts.
A FAITH THAT SAVES – A LIVING FAITH IN ACTION
The Scriptures speak of Rahab’s faith as a means of her salvation.
In the same way, we exercise that kind of saving faith in Jesus. Our rescue from the bondage of sin and the penalty of sin in being separated from God, our salvation, lies in our faith in Jesus – faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the promised King, the spotless lamb who was without sin, whose precious blood atoned for our sins and reconciled us to a Holy God.
As Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher said, Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.
Rahab understood this. For Rahab, if she believed in the power of Yahweh, but then her own people of Jericho defeated Israel, what did she lose? Nothing. She wouldn’t have perished. But, if she believed, and her belief proved right, what did she gain? Salvation.
And we can do sermon series after sermon series in which we cover a broad spectrum of passages , topics, doctrines, ideas, and virtues, but one virtue that God commends consistently in all ages and especially in the present age is that of faith. We are called above all to be people of faith; we are called to be believers!
And in all reality, the whole Christian life can be summed up very simply and succinctly in Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Let’s be a people of faith.