WONDER WOMEN — RAHAB
by Pastor Mike Fortune
July 24, 2010
- Fear can motivate the ungodly to faith [Joshua 2:1-11; Psalm 111:10; Revelation 18:4-5]
- God commends faith not lies [Joshua 2:12-21; Proverbs 12:22; James 2:25]
- God can redeem anyone, even lying prostitutes and professed followers of God who lie [Joshua 2:22-24; Joshua 6:22-23,25; Hebrews 11:31]
Rahab refused to believe she was part of a lost generation. And because of her faith in the “God of heaven above and on earth below” [Joshua 2:11], this Wonder Woman reminds us that God can redeem anyone. Not just doubting divas [as we discovered last time] but also lying prostitutes. She knew as well as everyone else living in Jericho that God had performed some mighty acts in freeing the Hebrew slaves from Pharoah in Egypt [Exodus 10]. Joshua 2:10 says everyone in Jericho had heard about their miraculous escape from Egypt and how the children of Israel walked across the Red Sea on dry land in Exodus 14. They had heard of the victories over the Amorite kings [Deuteronomy 2:24-3:11; Numbers 21:21-35] which was a fulfillment of the prophecy God shared with Abraham four generations earlier in Genesis 15:16. There God said when the sin of the Amorites reached its full measure, they would be destroyed. And eventually, they were.
So now the Israelites were camping in the acacia groves seven miles east of the Jordan River north of the Dead Sea [Joshua 2:1]. Jericho is right across from them seven miles west of the Jordan River. Jerusalem is southwest of Jericho another 17 miles. Moses is dead [Joshua 1:1]. In addition to the generation of Israelites who had come out of Egypt. Exodus 12:37 says originally there were some 600k men not to mention women and children so way over a million. But before many of them died, Numbers 13-14 explains the reasons why.
Perhaps you recall that Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan. Numbers 13:31 says 10 came back saying conquering Canaan could not be done. And everyone except Caleb and Joshua believed the spies who didn’t believe [Numbers 14:30]. But despite their lack of faith, Moses intervenes for these rebellious people and Numbers 14:20 says God forgives them all. But as a consequence, God also said in Numbers 14:29 that none of the unbelieving Israelites older than 20 years old would be able to go into the Promised Land. So for forty years—one year for each of the forty days the 12 spies explored the land—the unbelieving children of Israel were sentenced to wandering in the wilderness before dying in the desert [Numbers 14:34-35].
In our passage today, their time of wandering is over and the next generation is preparing to cross into Canaan. But before they do, like his predecessor, Joshua sends spies across the Jordan River to “look over the land.” But unlike his predecessor, he only sends two. And even those, Joshua 2:1 says he sends in secret. He wasn’t about to let the multitudes weigh in on this next opportunity to enter into Canaan! And that’s where our episode begins today so turn with me to Joshua 2:1-24.
“1Then 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. 2The king of Jericho was told, "Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land." 3So 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." 4But 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. 5At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men 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.) 7So 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. 8Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you 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. 10We 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. 11When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
“12Now 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 13that 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." 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." 15So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16Now she had 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." 17The men said to her, "This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18unless, 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. 19If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20But 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.”
“22When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. 23Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24They said to Joshua, "The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.’”
I don’t like point number one. So I don’t expect you to either. But I want you to know I called my pastor mentor Bill Jackson this week to see if there was another way of reading the text. But he said there isn’t, so here it is church, like some nasty medicine you didn’t like to swallow when you were a kid. Point number one: Fear can motivate the ungodly to faith. Did you hear what Rahab said in verses 9-11? “I know that the LORD has given this land to you 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...11When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
But what kinds of folks respond well to fear? In my experience, children respond well to fear. I remember when Joshua was little. And we lived on a busy street. We put a long 8 x 10 plank toward the bottom of the driveway so he wouldn’t accidentally ride his tricycle or motorized Jeep into the street and get run over. We told him over and over, if your ball goes beyond that board, come get us. Do not walk into the road or you’ll get crushed like a bug on a rug!
After Lydia arrived, and along with her came other neighborhood kids, he became the moral policeman making sure nobody even got near that board. So you have to warn children not to run into the street or stick their hands into the electricity sockets or bad things could happen! So fear, especially when we’re children, can literally save lives. I thought maybe that’s why Psalm 111:10 says, “10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.”
But if that’s what that Scripture means, then God is expanding the sampling of people that are motivated from fear. Not just children but apparently even grown adults who follow his precepts and have good understanding can also be scared into the kingdom of God since Psalm 111:10 says, “All who follow His precepts have good understanding.” And a casual reading of this passage in Psalm, without checking its context or knowing that the Hebrew word for fear in this passage is not the same as the word for fear in Joshua 2:9-11, could lead the reader to such a conclusion.
But I was relieved to learn this week when I did the word study on Blue Letter Bible dot com and compared Joshua 2 and Psalm 111 that they are not the same words. But even if they were, the context makes clear they’re not the same understanding of fear. Proof of this can be found in Psalm 111:4 where it says. “4He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate.” So context demands the kind of fear that is the beginning of wisdom just a few verses later in Psalm 111 is obviously the gracious and compassionate kind of fear. Which is really an old English way of saying reverence or love.
Therefore, the scary kind of fear that Rahab has of the Israelite’s God is not the same kind of fear that God says leads to the beginning of wisdom. In Joshua, it is obviously the other kind of fear. The kind parents use on their children to keep them safe. And this kind of fear works well with children. But it also works well with ungodly adults like Rahab who have little to no interest or knowledge of obeying the precepts of God. Not because they don’t want to once they learn, as we will see in closing, but primarily because they don’t know His ways! Nobody ever taught them and the culture in which they live doesn’t promote them.
Ungodly adults unfamiliar with God or his ways are therefore the other kind of person clearly motivated by fear. And Rahab was definitely ungodly. She is first introduced to us in Joshua 2:1 as “Rahab the prostitute.” And as far as we know, she was a willing prostitute personally profiting enough from her business that she secured a house overlooking the wall surrounding Jericho [Joshua 2:15]. Archaeologists tell us that Jericho actually had two walls [The Interpreter’s Bible, p.562] with a space of twelve to fifteen feet between. The inner wall was much stronger. Because of the pressure of space—Jericho was scarcely six acres in area—houses began being built over the gap between the two walls. Rahab’s house was one of these. So even though her window looked out from the outer wall, this doesn’t mean she was living large in a penthouse. She was apparently successful enough in her shady business to own a home, but we should not conclude as some commentators do, that she was fabulously wealthy because of it. She simply lived where she could as the citizens of Jericho quickly outgrew their city.
But some of the rabbis prior to Jesus’ time became embarrassed by the fact that a woman with Rahab’s background was spared in the destruction of Jericho and brought into Israel as a proselyte. So they too called their rabbi mentors and tried to find another way around reading the verses of Joshua 2:1 and 6:17 and 25 that describe Rahab has a harlot or prostitute. They said since the word for prostitute is similar to the word for ‘feed’, perhaps she was just an innkeeper. Who fed the spies. Unfortunately, everyone knows this is a stretch. That’s why when she’s mentioned in the New Testament, the Greek word used to clearly describe her is porne where we get the word pornography to describe her.
In its hopeless rebellion and infidelity that Rahab’s vocation epitomized, Jericho in this sense is kind of like the ungodly world system that is ripe for judgment before Jesus comes again [Joshua—The Pattern of Victory, Alfred Martin, Moody Bible Institute 1981, p.17]. One is reminded of the warning call of God as He prepares to judge Babylon. Revelation 18:4-5 says, “4Then I heard another voice from heaven say: "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.’”
We don’t have to like fear or ourselves be motivated by it. But we should concede based on Joshua 2 and Revelation 18 that fear can motivate the ungodly to faith. For that, Rahab and her entire family were eternally grateful. Perhaps, if God has his way, there will be more Rahab’s and families though ignorant of God’s precepts and ways, who will choose to express faith in the “God of heaven above and on earth below” before Jesus returns. Shouldn’t we pray this way?
Moving on, here’s point number two: God commends faith not lies. I promised you last week that Rahab’s story this week would blow our bumper sticker ethics to smithereens. So yes, the Bible commends Rahab. And yes Rahab lied to protect the lives of the two spies. But rightly understood, the Bible does not commend Rahab for lying. It commends her for her faith in spite of her lying not because of it. We know this is true because Proverbs 12:22 says “22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.” And Titus 1:2 reminds us that God Himself cannot lie therefore He cannot condone or commend lying.
Yes, God used Abraham as a prophet according to Genesis 20:7 even though he lied. And God could use a prostitute to save the spies’ lives even though she lied. But the common denominator in the lives of Abraham who Genesis 15:6 says believed the promise of the LORD and was credited righteous and Rahab who gave lodging to the spies and sent their pursuers off in a different direction is the faith it required—not the fibs they supplied.
That’s why James 2:25 “25In 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?” God commends faith not lies. But aren’t you glad God can redeem anyone? Not just lying prostitutes. But also professed followers that lie? This is point number three.
In May 1942, a well dressed woman came to a door with a suitcase in hand. She told the people inside that she was a Jew and that her husband had been arrested several months before, and her son had gone into hiding. Occupation authorities had recently visited her, and she was too fearful to return home. After hearing how this family had helped their Jewish neighbors, she asked if she might stay with them, and Corrie ten Boom's father readily agreed. Thus began "the hiding place". Because of the number of people using their house as a safe place from the Nazis, the ten Booms were encouraged to build a secret room in case a raid took place. After inspection, it was decided that the room would be built in Corrie's bedroom, as it was in the highest part of the house, which gave people who were trying to hide the most time to avoid detection (as a search would start on the ground floor). The hidden room was behind a false wall, designed by a member of the Dutch resistance. They were able to sneak bricks and other building supplies into the house by hiding them in a briefcases and rolled up newspapers. When finished, the secret room was about 30 inches deep; the size of a medium wardrobe. A ventilation system allowed for breathing. To enter the secret room, a person would have to open a sliding panel in a cupboard, and crawl in on their hands and knees. In addition, an electronic buzzer was installed to give the house's residents warning of a raid. Once when the Nazis raided the ten Boom house in 1944, six people used the hiding place to escape detection.
Eventually the Germans arrested the entire ten Boom family on February 28, 1944 at around 12:30 with the help of a Dutch informant. They were sent first to prison where Corrie’s father died ten days after his capture. Corrie's sister Nollie, brother Willem, and nephew Peter were later released. But Corrie and Corrie’s older sister Betsie were sent to a concentration camp in the Netherlands and finally to a notorious concentration camp in Germany on December 16, 1944 where Corrie's sister Betsie died. Before she died, this sincere follower of God told Corrie, "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still."
Corrie was released on New Year's Eve of December 1944. In the movie made about her life appropriately entitled The Hiding Place, ten Boom narrates the section on her release from camp, saying that she later learned that her release had been a clerical error. The women prisoners her age in the camp were killed the week following her release. She said, "God does not have problems. Only plans."
Jeremiahs 29:11 says those plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future. And when we’re confronted with people whose plans include the opposite, Scripture doesn’t say we should lie. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego didn’t. And God miraculously protected them from the flames of the fiery furnace. But Corrie ten Boom did. As did her extended family bravely hiding Jews from the Nazis and their concentration camps. And while millions of Jews still died during the Holocaust, some were spared because of her bravery.
So we must be sensitive to the fact that some professed followers of God lie not from fear but from faith. And until and unless we are in that impossible situation or one like it that Jesus said could happen in John 16:2, we must leave judgement to God. Because we might make the same decisions Corrie made. But the good news Rahab reminds us of is that God can redeem anyone. Whether they’re lying prostitutes or confessed followers of God who lie.
Joshua 6:22-23 concludes. After God miraculously delivered Jericho into Israel’s hand, “22Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, "Go into the prostitute's house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her." 23So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel. 25But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.” Hebrews 11:31 adds, “31By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient [or unbelieving].”
Point number one: Fear can motivate the ungodly to faith. Point number two: God commends faith not lies. Point number there: But God can redeem anyone, even lying prostitutes and professed followers of God who lie. Would you please read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 in closing from off the screen? “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen. For more info, read John MacArthur’s book Twelve Extraordinary Women pp. 51 - 68.