by Tom Wacaster
Following the death of Moses, the mantle of leadership fell on Joshua’s shoulders. It would be his responsibility to lead Israel across the Jordan, engage the enemies of God, and conquer the land promised to Israel. Like any wise military leader, Joshua sent out spies to investigate, determine the lay of the land, and assess the strength of the enemy. “And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men as spies secretly, saying, Go, view the land, and Jericho. And they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lay there” (Joshua 2:1). The remainder of that chapter provides us with the details of this woman Rahab along with her remarkable faith in God. Two dozen verses record the story. In comparison to other giants of faith such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Paul, little is said of this woman. But what we have is enough to encourage and enlighten us, and then motivate us to greater faith in our Lord. So strong was her faith that the Holy Spirit saw fit to make mention of her faith; not just once, but twice. “By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient, having received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:31). “And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). The story of Rahab has thrilled the hearts of Christians seeking to maintain faith in God in the midst of an evil generation. Who would doubt that the Israelites spoke of Rahab on numerous occasions after settling the land? The story of Rahab, the conquering of Jericho, and the victory of Israel all stand as a testimony of the value and necessity of great faith in God. Let’s take a closer look.
First, consider her background. She was a prostitute. Don’t try to cover that up, don’t ignore it, and don’t try to soften it by telling me the word means she was actually an “innkeeper.” I’ll trust the ASV, KJV and NKJV here. But there is more. She was part of a culture whose sin had exhausted the patience of God. She was a Canaanite, raised in a civilization whose idolatrous practices included the sacrifice of innocent children to the false god Moloch.
Second, consider her actions. No, she is not to be excused for lying. Situation ethics cannot find a foothold here. She is not commended for her lies; she is commended for her faith in God by hiding the spies. With the exception of the lie she told the king’s servants, her actions speak volumes about her character. When the spies came she welcomed them into her house. That in and of itself was quite extraordinary. These men were strangers; they no doubt looked different, talked differently, and acted differently than she and those with whom she was acquainted. She also hid these two men from the authorities. There was a reason she did this, and I’ll expand on that momentarily. The very fact that she hid these spies indicates that she recognized there is a higher authority to which she must answer. Finally, when the time came, she followed explicitly and immediately the instructions of those two men. “And the men said unto her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business...Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by” (Joshua 2:14, 18). No sooner had the two spies left when “she bound the scarlet line in the window” (Joshua 2:21). Finally, against all reason, when the time came for the complete fall of Jericho, she, at the command of these two men, gathered her family into the house—her father, mother, brethren—and she stayed there while all around her was collapsing.
Third, she demonstrated her faith in God. Is this not the lesson in James? “Was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?” Evidently she was not of the mind set that mental assent is sufficient for salvation.
The story of Rahab is both interesting and instructive. Without application to our life, however, the story is nothing more than that—a story. So, consider if you will, some lessons to be learned.
First, we should never discount the possibility that someone like Rahab would be good soil for the gospel. Do we prejudge someone worthy of our time and effort and conclude they are bad soil because of some external trait or practice? Raised in paganism and engaged in common prostitution, who would have ever imagined she could have faith in God? Oh, to be certain it was a crude faith, based only on what she had heard. But the spark was there that could be fanned into a mighty flame of unswerving faith in Jehovah. Let us not turn our backs on anyone whom we might be tempted to prejudge as not being worthy of the gospel.
Second, we learn that it is possible to be faithful to God even in the midst of a corrupt society. Indeed, Rahab was a jewel in the midst of corruption. With the rapid decline of morals and belief in God in our own country, we might be inclined to wring our hands in despair as we contemplate the prospects of what our children and grandchildren will face in their lifetime. My parents, their parents, and no doubt even their parents, all had a deep concern of what the next generation had to face. As the world has sunk deeper in sin, and the darkness about us seems at times to overwhelm us, we must never forget that it is possible to serve God regardless of how bad the world around us may become. We need to be reminded that this world is not our home; but we also need to be reminded that we are to let our light shine even in the midst of this darkness. Alexander Papaderos, a doctor of philosophy, worked for many years trying to bring peace between the bitterly divided countries of Europe after WWII. His motivation for doing so stems from his childhood and a very odd event which took place. “When I was a small child,” he said, “during the war we were poor and lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.... I kept one, the largest piece.... By scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine - in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became mature, I grew to understand that this was a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. The light [or truth] is there, and it will shine in many dark places only if I reflect it.” He concluded: “I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of the world...and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise.”
Finally, let us learn that faith in God, even in the midst of corruption, will open the door for great blessings. Rahab and her family were saved from the destruction of Jericho. But more than that, she received a blessing that she never dreamed possible. As it turns out Rahab was the great-great-grandmother of David, from whom came the Christ (Matthew 1:5). We tend to measure things by the here and now; God measures things by the there and then. Who would have ever imagined that a common harlot, with a crude faith in God, would ever play such an important role in history? Like Rahab, you and I can, through faith in God, be a jewel even in the midst of corruption.