Joshua 2:1 - 24 & 6:22 – 25, Matthew 1:1 - 6
I imagine that many of us have heard Mark Twain’s definition of faith.
The author of the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, once famously said “Faith is believing, what you know ain’t so”!
Well, in this story of Rahab, we get some help finding out what faith actually is. And this episode is helpful as we think about faith today, especially Christian faith, because Rahab is a terrific example of faith , trust, in God.
But Rahab is more than just an example of faith. She is part of the process by which God makes it possible for us to have faith.
See, like each of these women in this short teaching series, Rahab plays an essential role, in how God preserves for himself a people, that ultimately comes to fruition in the coming of Jesus, and his life, and death and resurrection.
So in looking at Rahab, we see how God was preparing for the coming of Christ, even centuries beforehand. And so her experience helps us understand the salvation that God won for us through Jesus.
Anyone can have faith in the God who saves
We’re diverging from our usual pattern of working our way through whole books of the Bible, and just looking at the stories of these 4 women. But one of the challenges of reading the Bible this way, is that we haven’t necessarily seen what’s come before;
We don’t have the context,
We don’t know where this episode fits in the story of salvation, God’s plans to send Jesus into the world, to suffer and die for rebellious humanity.
And so our first point, you can see it on the outline there, “Anyone can have faith in the God who saves”, will also be our opportunity to get the context, and understand who Rahab is, and where she fits in the one, long, story of the Bible.
The book of Joshua opens in about 1400 BC. Moses, who led the people of Israel out of Egypt has died, and now Joshua is leading God’s people, and right now they’re camped on the Eastern side of the Jordan river, about to cross into what’s often called the Promised land.
And this Promised Land is where Rahab lived. See how the passage begins,
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.
The land was also known as Canaan, but the reason it was called the Promised Land, was because centuries earlier God had promised the ancestors of the people of Israel, starting with Abraham, God had promised that Abraham’s family, would become a great nation, and would inhabit this land.
But that’s a bit of a problem for Rahab, isn’t it? She’s living in this land, that God had promised to someone else!
I don’t know if you heard in the news a month or so ago about a man in the UK who tried to sell his flat, only to discover that he didn’t actually own the flat he was living in, but that he owned the one next door!
There are 15 flats in this particular block, and 10 of the owners were unknowingly living in flats that were owned by someone else!
But actually Rahab’s problem is even worse than that, isn’t it? A good conveyancer will be able to sort out that guy’s problem with his flat, but here, it’s not just that Rahab is going to get kicked out, but the city is going to be destroyed.
God had commanded his people to drive the inhabitants of the nation out.
Now, that might seem incredibly hard for some of us to get our heads around. Why would God do this? , and we don’t have time this morning to go into as much detail as some of us might like, but let me say 2 things, both of which also lead us towards that point that anyone can have faith in the God who saves.
Firstly the Bible is clear, that the conquest of Canaan was God’s judgment on the sin of the people who lived there.
So in Deuteronomy 9, as just one example, we get a repeated statement from God, speaking to Israel it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you.
And you don’t have to read too far to see just how appalling the wickedness of these nations was. So just a couple of chapters further on, in Deuteronomy 12 God speaks of Canaanites sacrificing their children, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates, he says, They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.
Or in the New Testament, Hebrews 11, the writer records 31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed, with those who were disobedient.
The Bible’s consistent testimony is that God is a consistent and fair judge, and so in response to the unrelenting wickedness of the people of Canaan, God would act in judgment.
See, it’s not ethnic cleansing. God doesn’t want them driven from the land because they’re Moabites, or Hittites, or whatever, but because they’re utterly wicked.
But secondly, even within God’s righteous judgment on the horrific sin of the people, there is opportunity for salvation.
God’s judgment is always just, and anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Anyone, can have a saving faith in God.
Rahab lived among the enemies of God’s people.
Rahab lived in a culture that was absolutely allied against God.
And she’s a prostitute.
She’s a pagan prostitute, whose people are God’s enemies, and she lives in a city that God in his righteous judgement says must be destroyed.
There’s nothing at all about Rahab, that says she’s a likely candidate to come to saving faith in God.
There’s nothing about her, that would make you say, “Here’s someone who God will draw into his plans,
Here’s someone God will use to save his people.
But isn’t that so often how God works?
The people whom God chooses, the people he draws into his work, are not the obvious candidates by human standards. I mean, look at us!
We’re actually not so different to Rahab, are we? I mean, most of us are a lot more respectable on the outside,
But we are products of a world that is opposed to God,
Each one of us has lived in rebellion against God, and yet here we are, gathered by God, and many or most of us, have exactly the kind of faith that we see Rahab has.
No matter what else we learn about Rahab’s faith, let’s make sure we understand this;, that real, saving faith is available to anyone,
From any nation,
With any occupation,
With any background at all. No one is excluded from coming to faith, by their circumstances.
Now, we stand at a different point in the story to Rahab, don’t we?
We look back to the cross of Christ and see the ultimate salvation that God won, but faith in Christ today is just as open, just as accessible, as that looking forward faith was back in the day of Rahab.
The person who, you think, is probably never going to come to faith in Jesus,
Maybe you’ve been praying for them all your Christian life,
Or as long as you’ve been married to them,
Or as long as you’ve known them,
They are not beyond the reach of God,
Faith is not out of reach of them,
Don’t give up hope,
And also, keep speaking the good news of the gospel to them.
Because Rahab’s experience reminds us that faith comes through hearing.
Faith comes through hearing
These 2 spies who are sent secretly verse 1, are already given away by verse 2, and the king of Jericho knows that they’ve been at Rahab’s house.
The narrator is very deliberate in his language, to make sure there’s no suggestion of a sexual impropriety between these men and Rahab. At various points he deliberately chooses words to avoid sexual connotations.
So, why go to the house of a prostitute at all? Well it was probably somewhere where men could go, without drawing too much attention, and travellers are probably also passing through there, making it a reasonable sort of place for gathering intelligence.
But remember, also, God’s hand is in this.
He wants to draw Rahab into his work. God’s sovereignty is at work here, just as much as the choices of these 2 spies.
But perhaps they weren’t very good spies, because they’ve already been given away, but when the kings messengers come to Rahab’s house, she’s already hidden these men, verse 4, and then sends the king’s men off in the wrong direction. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left
Now, this is all quite remarkable, and we’ll see in a few moments, the significant cost that Rahab is prepared to pay here, but in verse 8, we find out why Rahab is willing to act for the good of God’s people.
It’s because she’s heard of the God of Israel.
As is always the case, Rahab’s faith had come through hearing.
Look with me from verse 9, 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.
Notice the repeated language of hearing.
And, we don’t know how Rahab heard the things that she did. It’s not hard to imagine that even in the days before mobile phones and Twitter, that news of Israel’s exploits would have reached those living in Jericho.
But while Rahab talks about you, meaning the people of Israel,
melting in fear because of you,
, what you did to Sihon and Og,
, everyone’s courage failed because of you,
Actually her emphasis isn’t on the people of Israel, though is it, but on God?
She starts with what God has done;, I know that the Lord has given you this land,
She finishes with who God is, the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
She’s heard of the Israelites, yes, but more importantly, she’s heard of the God of the Israelites.
It’s God who’s driving these events,
It’s God who’s been defeating his enemies,
God’s preserving a people, this nation of Israel, so that they can be a blessing to all the nations of the earth,
It’s God who loves his people so much that he is enacting a plan that will see them saved from sin and its consequences forever.
You might have heard people say, “It doesn’t matter what you have faith in, as long as you have faith in something.”
But that doesn’t fit with what we see here, does it?
Rahab could have chosen to put her faith in the walls of Jericho, couldn’t she?
But that wouldn’t do her any good.
She could have chosen to put her faith in the gods of Jericho. But we’ll see in a minute that she already knows that’s not going to do her any good.
She could have actually put her faith in the people of Israel.
But Rahab knows none of those is a suitable object of faith.
She needs to put her faith in the God who acts for his people, and who acts to save his people.
Those of us who are Christians, are convinced that people need to come to faith. That’s why we exist as a church. The TMB 10:52 document you received this morning, outlines that;, to see people come to faith, and to see people grow in faith.
But we don’t want people simply to have faith in church,
Or to come to faith in our leaders,
We want people to come to faith, to put their trust in Jesus, in God, made flesh.
To put our faith in anything else, is to be disappointed.
Rahab heard and understood who God is
And so, what Rahab has heard about the God of Israel, has led her to conclude, verse 11, the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
The Canaanite religions divided up the world into different areas of responsibility for different gods. Baal who you might have heard of, was considered the god of nature, and storms,
Ashteroth was a goddess who was responsible for fertility and childbirth and those kinds of things.
Rahab is saying those so-called gods, are not gods at all.
Baal is not in charge of the storm clouds, Ashteroth’s not the one who decides when babies are to be born.
That last phrase, in heaven above and on the earth below is only found in the Bible three times before this. And each time this phrase gets used, it pictures God as sovereign over all of creation.
This affirmation about who God is, perhaps doesn’t seem very remarkable to us who are Christian, or who perhaps haven’t been exposed to the claims of other gods, but this is really mind-blowing that someone in Rahab’s position, living in a pagan city, outside of God’s people, would come to this realisation.
And notice also that Rahab speaks of God by his personal name, Yahweh. That’s what’s behind the LORD there in verse 11 in capital letters.
The narrator doesn’t want us to think that Rahab is just out to save her own skin.
This is a genuine statement of faith.
She has come to know who God is, through what she has heard.
She has come to know that the LORD God is the only God worthy of worship and trust.
And her conviction about who God is, and how he has acted in the past, give her reason to trust in God for the future,
Reason to trust God with , her future.
Which is really, what faith is, today, isn’t it?
Nothing has changed in that regard.
We don’t come into a relationship with God differently today, to how Rahab came into a relationship with God, 3 and half thousand years ago.
Faith comes by hearing.
Everyone one of us who is a Christian today, has a story that shares at least something in common with Rahab here; We came to faith, because we heard.
Sure, we see people’s Christian example,
We might say, “there’s something appealing about that person’s life”,
But somewhere along the way, we heard the message of Christianity,
Somewhere along the way somebody spoke to us of the claims of Christ.
Faith comes through hearing.
Without hearing, we couldn’t ever know that Jesus died as our substitute, taking on himself the penalty that we deserved for our rebellion against God.
Back in the olden days, when I was in year 7, my family were part of the Darwin Baptist Church. In the late 80s, Darwin had the feeling of being even more remote and isolated than it is now, most people stayed for a few years, and then left, and so in year 7, it turned out that I was the only kid in my Sunday school class.
Now, I don’t know what you imagine having me as the only member of your Sunday school class would be like, but as well as having no classmates, there was also no Sunday School teacher.
But the pastor’s wife, a lady name Lyn, decided that if I was going to turn up to Sunday school which ran before church, then she would also turn up to teach me.
And so we had a Sunday school class of one, for at least some of that year.
Now, my parents were Christian, Sunday school wasn’t the first place that I heard the message of Jesus, but that lady knew, that faith came from hearing, and if I was to grow in faith, then I needed to hear the message of the gospel, and so she laboured faithfully, so that I might hear.
That was 26 years ago, and I’m still challenged by her example, to consider who is hearing the good news of the gospel from me?
If faith comes through hearing, then people need to hear.
Have a listen to these words from the Apostle Paul, as he writes to the Christians in Rome, to tell them how important it is that people hear the good news of Jesus, if they are to have faith.
These words are printed on your leaflet.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Romans 10:13 - 15
How can someone be saved?
How can someone believe , that is, have the kind of faith that Rahab had?
Only through hearing.
And while most of us will never have the kind of place in God’s plans that Rahab did, we can absolutely play a part in God’s purposes by being those through whom people can hear the claims of Christ.
Of course, in Rahab’s case, when she hears and comes to trust in the God of the Bible, and when Paul speaks about people hearing, it’s probably not just a single episode of hearing the gospel that gives birth to faith.
Rahab had heard many things about God.
Few people today come to a saving faith in Jesus through hearing the message of the cross just the first time.
But being reminded here of the importance of hearing, should serve as an encouragement to us to keep speaking,
To keep giving people an opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus, and to respond in faith.
Faith expresses itself in action
And that’s important isn’t it, because true faith expresses itself in action.
Faith is only real faith, if it overflows from “this is what I’m convinced of”, into my life.
And you’ll remember Rahab got a mention in the letter of James, because her faith was proved genuine when it spurred her into action.
James wrote in chapter 2, 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? 26
So Rahab has heard things about God, who he is and what’s done,
She’s convinced that these things are true, not just myths or superstition,
And so she believes that the God of the Bible really is the true God of the heavens and earth.
And because of her faith, she acts.
She hid the spies, verse 4,
She sends the kings messengers away, verse 5,
She asks for her life to be saved, and her family, also, verse 13,
She lets them down through the wall, verse 15,
Verse 16, she tells them where to hide, and how long they need to hide for,
She tied the scarlet cord in the window, verse 21,
And then over at the end of chapter 6, she gathers all her family together,
And then ultimately, she makes her home among the people of Israel!
The scarlet cord: a sign of salvation in judgment
The tying of the red cord in the window, is one of the iconic aspects of this episode, isn’t it? She get straight to it, doesn’t she? Verse 21, when they had departed, she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
Some Christians see the colour of this scarlet cord as , what’s called a “type”, a prefiguring of the blood of Jesus, since Jesus’ blood is also a means of salvation.
But I don’t think the Bible authors probably intend us to make that kind of connection. The only time that the colour of blood is described in the Bible, a different word is used, more like our word for red, as opposed to the word for scarlet. And nowhere in the New Testament, is there ever a parallel drawn between this red cord and the blood of Jesus.
But I think a clearer parallel, is not to do with the colour of what’s done, but actually that something had to be done at all.
Back in Exodus chapter 12, God told his people that he was going to act in judgment against the Egyptians who were holding them as slaves, and so he commanded his people to paint the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses with blood. The blood was a sign for the people that God would pass over their houses, and God’s judgement wouldn’t fall on them.
And just like in this episode, salvation was promised to those inside, only if they followed the instructions, and only if they stayed inside.
In both cases, we have a sign that symbolises God’s gracious deliverance, in the midst of his judgment on evil.
See, God is always eager to save,
And God graciously provides a way out from the punishment for sin.
Of course, we who stand much later on, when God’s plans for salvation and judgement have unfolded much more, we see in Jesus, the gracious way out, so that we don’t have to pay the penalty for sin ourselves,
And we also see just how eager God is to save, even to the point of giving up his own son.
Our faith in Jesus expresses itself in action
But come back with me to thinking about how Rahab’s faith expresses itself in action.
Can you imagine saying to her, as people sometimes like to say today, “I’m a person of faith, but I keep my faith private. I keep my faith separate from my public life.”
She’d look at you with quite a quizzical look, wouldn’t she?
Of course faith affects your life!
Of course faith spills over into how you make decisions. Anything less than that and it’s not faith, it’s just knowing stuff.
See, I find it quite sad, that even though she says, in verse 11, When we, presumably we who live in Jericho, when we heard about all this, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed.
You kind of hope that there’s this long line of Jerichoians, marching out of the city towards the Israelite camp, all wanting to put their trust in God.
But there’s not is there.
Rahab hasn’t heard anything different to everybody else. They are absolutely convinced that God is giving the land to the people of Israel, and yet they do nothing.
They carry on with life as it’s always been.
It would be utterly foolish to say, I know that the Lord has given you this land, and yet to go on with life in Jericho, as if nothing was ever going to change.
And so knowing what she does, it makes perfect sense to express that knowledge in faith, and to say 12 “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family,
And yet there are times I think when we know things, and yet we act as if we don’t know them.
We say, if we’re Christians, that we have faith in Jesus, but our faith doesn’t always lead to action.
The breadth of our faith is so much greater, isn’t it?, living after Jesus, as we do, which makes Rahab’s faith all the more remarkable.
She was convinced of what God was going to do in the short term, in judging evil and wickedness, but she had no idea of the plan that God was working towards, a plan that she had a key part in, through safeguarding the spies, she doesn’t know where it ends.
She doesn’t know that the salvation she’s about to experience, is really just a foretaste of the salvation that God was going to win for all his people in Christ Jesus.
We see that though, don’t we?
We look back to the cross of Christ, and we see the price for sin and rebellion being paid once and for all.
We know what it cost God to do away with sin, and to welcome rebels into his family.
We know that that greater salvation cost God’s Son, Jesus, his life.
We know so much more than Rahab, and so our faith can be so much fuller, and yet, there are times when even we, who know so much, and can believe so much, fail to put our faith into action.
We believe that Jesus died to put an end to sin, and yet we still pursue sin,
We believe that Jesus died to purify for himself a people, eager to do what is good, and yet we dabble in ungodliness, and gossip. We feed our desires for pleasure, or satisfaction.
By faith we’re convinced that people can only be saved from an eternity separated from God and his blessing by hearing the good news of the gospel, and yet we often keep silent when God gives us the opportunities to speak of the hope we have in Christ.
By faith we’re convinced that God has sent his Spirit to dwell in all his people, and that he’s given us his Word which contains everything we need for life and godliness, as the Apostle Peter says, and yet we resist making decisions in obedience to God because we’re waiting for some external sign or notification.
We believe that Jesus is coming back, and yet we all too easily occupy ourselves with the things of this world, rather than the concerns of the Kingdom of God.
Faith is only true faith,
It’s only saving faith,
Our faith is only as good as Rahab’s faith, if it leads to action.
Faith counts the cost
And so finally, I think it’s worth noting, that one particular aspect of the action that Rahab’s faith leads to, is the counting of the cost of faith.
There can be no doubt in Rahab’s mind that in putting her trust in the God of Israel means taking a fairly sizable risk.
She hides the spies who are her people’s enemies,
She deceives the messengers sent by the king of Jericho,
She is turning her back on her city, and acknowledging that it is going to fall under God’s judgment,
At any point the king’s messengers could have searched her house, and she’d no doubt be killed as a traitor,
And then, at the end of chapter 6, Rahab has to make a completely new start, among the people of Israel.
Faith in God, for us expressed as faith in Jesus, has a cost.
For many of us, up until this point of our lives, the cost of faith has not been all that great.
Most of us were born in countries significantly shaped by the Christian faith of many generations, and so the cost of faith hasn’t generally been what it is for many people around the world.
For them coming to faith in Christ can mean the loss of family,
Loss of employment,
Imprisonment, torture, or even death.
But just as Rahab turned her back on the gods of her age in coming to faith in the true and living God, for us to reject the gods clamouring for the attention of our age, that may be seen by some as implicit criticism of their choices,
Our faith in Jesus must shape our decisions, we’ve seen that, and so that might draw attack from people around us.
When I was a teenager, I think I secretly hoped that our church would be famous, that people all around would think the church was great.
And yet I came to realise that the church is never going to be loved by those who are opposed to God and his purposes. People might like some of the stuff we do, and aspects of the Christian message might resonate with various ones, but part of counting the cost of faith means being prepared for opposition.
But the cost is worth it.
For Rahab, her whole identity changes.
As a result of her faith in the God who saves, she is no longer a Canaanite, and instead joins God’s people Israel.
And this unlikely heroine, features in the family tree of Jesus, in Matthew chapter 1.
A pagan prostitute makes it into the family line of Jesus, simply through God’s kindness, and her faith in the God who saves.
I’ve had several people say to me in the last few weeks, “I wish I had your faith.” Well, here’s a better example than me, of the kind of faith our gracious God longs for us to have.