Please open your Bible at Hebrews 11. We have just two more weeks in our series, Living by Faith.
God teaches us in Hebrews 11 through a series of examples. Each one highlights an aspect of the faith to which we are called.
We have looked at the lives of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob. We have looked at the faith of Joseph, and the faith of Moses.
Who would you expect to come next? Joshua was the successor to Moses and without doubt he was a man of extraordinary faith. Joshua was one of the twelve spies sent into Canaan by Moses. When the spies returned, ten of them brought a bad report. “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey…however, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large.” “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Num 13:27-28, 31).
But Joshua and Caleb said, “If the LORD delights in us, He will bring us into this land and give it to us” (Num 14:8).
Joshua was a man of great faith. It was under Joshua’s leadership that God’s people finally entered the Promised Land. It was Joshua who directed the people to march round the fortified city of Jericho till, by the power of God, the walls fell down. That story is recorded in Hebrews 11:30.
Joshua was without doubt a great hero of faith, but his name does not appear in Hebrews 11.
The next person named after Moses is not Joshua, but Rahab. “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb 11:31).
Of all the examples of faith in Hebrews 11, Rahab is the most surprising. God had given His promises to Abraham and his descendants. Rahab was not a descendant of Abraham. She was not one of God’s people.
And Rahab had not lived a righteous life. She had been a prostitute. Yet here she is held up for us as a model of faith! If you want to know about genuine faith, look at Rahab! The Holy Spirit must have something very special to teach us from Rahab’s story and that story is told in Joshua 2 which was read for us earlier.
When God’s people were about to enter the Promised Land, Joshua sent two spies to gather intelligence about Jericho. And when these men came to the city, they lodged with Rahab.
Clearly the spies had not been successful in concealing their identity. Word got out that two “men of Israel” had come to town (vs. 2). And since it was known that God’s people were moving towards Jericho, it wasn’t hard to work out why these men had come.
When the king of Jericho heard about the visitors, he sent messengers to Rahab with an order that she should hand over the men who had come to her house.
Rahab must have guessed that this would happen, and before the king’s messengers arrived, she had taken the spies up to the roof of her house and hidden them under stalks of flax. When the king’s messengers arrived, she sent them off on a wild goose chase. “The men have already gone,” she said… “I don’t know where. But if you pursue them quickly, you’re sure to catch them.”
So off went the king’s messengers, chasing after the spies who were hiding under the flax on Rahab’s roof.
Then the Bible records, “And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out” (Josh 2:7). The search for the spies was on, and once the gate was shut, the city was in lockdown. No one could enter the city, and no one could leave.
So now the spies had a real problem. They were trapped! How could they escape from the city when the gate was shut?
Rahab’s house was on the edge of the city. It was built into the city wall (vs. 15). The front of her house looked over the streets of the city and the back of her house looked out to the open country outside. When darkness came, Rahab let the spies out of the city on a rope hanging from her window.
Why did Rahab do this? Why did she put loyalty to these men higher than loyalty to her own king who demanded that she hand the men over?
Rahab saw that a great conflict was coming. She was faced with a choice. She chose a side, and she made a commitment. And Hebrews tells us that she did this by faith.
1. The Simplicity Of Rahab’s Faith
“By faith Rahab… did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb 11:31).
The first thing we learn from Rahab’s faith is that you don’t need vast knowledge before you can believe.
You don’t need to have all your questions answered before you can trust.
Rahab had a very limited knowledge of the truth. She was not an Israelite. No prophet had ever spoken the Word of God to her. She would have known nothing of the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or of the revelation that they had received. But Rahab did have some knowledge of the Lord. Notice that she says, “I know that the LORD has given you the land” (vs. 9).
When you see the name LORD in four capital letters in the Old Testament, it signifies the name God revealed to Moses. Yahweh: I AM WHO I AM (Ex 3:14). And Rahab refers to God, by name, four times (vs. 9, 10, 11, 12).
Notice what Rahab knew about God.
a. Who God Is
“the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (vs. 11). “Your God is the Sovereign Lord: He reigns in heaven and He rules over the earth. The idols of Jericho will fall before Him.”
Rahab knew who God is. And she knew what God had done.
b. What God Had Done
“we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt” (Josh 2:10).
This amazing story had got around. Israel’s God had parted the waters and piled them up like a wall on either side of His people. God’s people crossed on dry land and then the waters came crashing down on the oppressors who pursued them. “Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey Him?” (Mk 4:41).
Rahab knew who God is, and she knew what God had done. And she knew:
c. What God Was About To Do
“I know that the LORD has given you the land” (Josh 2:9). Rahab was part of a community with a long history of evil. And God had determined that they would be destroyed.
Back in Genesis 15:16, God said, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached full measure.” (Gen 15:16 NIV).
The sin of the Amorites was great. But God was merciful. He held back judgement for four hundred years until their sin reached “full measure.”
Rahab knew that she was part of a community whose sin had reached “full measure.” She realized that her city would be destroyed. “I know that the LORD has given you the land” (vs. 9).
Here’s what we learn from Rahab’s faith:
Faith rests on who God is, what He has done, and what He will do.
Who is God? God is the ruler of heaven and earth.
What has God done? God sent His Son to save His people, by giving Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and rising from the dead.
What will God do? God will bring justice. He will destroy all evil. And He will bring His people into all that He has promised: the new heaven and earth that will be the home of righteousness.
Rahab’s faith was very simple. She had no Bible. No pastor. No believing friends. But she knew that there is a great God in heaven. She knew that He would bring judgment on the earth. And she knew that God was with His people.
You don’t need to know everything about the Bible before you can believe. You don’t have to have all your questions answered before you can be saved.
Here’s what we all need to grasp: God reigns in heaven and He rules over the earth. He is who He is. He is not whoever you want Him to be.
He will judge all sin, and destroy all evil. But He has sent His Son to save His people. And if we are among His people, we will be saved.
Faith rests on who God is, what He has done and what He will do,
And on that basis, faith commits to God’s people.
2. The Depth Of Rahab’s Commitment
“By faith Rahab… did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb 11:31).
Hebrews makes it clear that it was “by faith” that Rahab did not perish. But the evidence, the proof that her faith was genuine, was that she gave a friendly welcome to the spies. The strength of Rahab’s faith was shown in her commitment to God’s people.
We have seen that faith believes what God has revealed and trusts what God has promised.
That’s what faith is. But the whole message of Hebrews 11 is that faith shows itself to be genuine by what it does.
In Abel, we see that faith listens to God, and faith led Abel to offer a sacrifice. In Noah we saw that faith fears God, and faith led Noah to build and ark. In Moses we saw that faith depends on God, and faith led Moses to leave Egypt and prepare for future ministry. In Rahab we see that faith commits to God, and faith led Rahab to identify with God’s people.
Faith shows itself by what it does!
This is the great theme of the letter of James in the New Testament: And James takes Rahab as one of his shining examples. “And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (Jam 2:25).
You read that and you say, “justified by works?” How come? Paul says that we are justified by faith (Rom 5:1).
James and Paul use the word ‘justified’ in two different ways. Paul speaks about the declaration by which God makes us right with Him. James speaks about the demonstration by which we show that our faith is authentic.
Paul speaks about a sinner set free. James speaks about a believer proved genuine.
Hebrews is right in line with both James and Paul. It was by faith (as Paul would say) that Rahab did not perish. Rahab believed who God is, what He had done, and what He was about to do and by faith she was saved. She did not perish with those who were disobedient. But (as James would say), the evidence that Rahab’s faith was genuine was that she committed herself to God’s people and put her life at risk by protecting the spies.
Rahab took a huge risk in welcoming the spies. If the spies had been found on her roof, Rahab would have been done for. And the strength of Rahab’s faith was shown in the depth of her commitment to God’s people.
We live in a highly individualistic culture. So, it is easy to get the idea that faith is a purely private matter between me and God. But Hebrews is telling us that faith shows itself in commitment to God’s people, and for us today that means the church.
Rahab made a lifelong commitment to God’s people. After the destruction of Jericho, we read that
Rahab…has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho (Josh 6:25).
Faith shows itself in commitment to the people of God. And the strength of Rahab’s faith was seen in the depth of her commitment to God’s people.
3. The Promise Of Rahab’s Safety
Before Rahab lowered the spies to safety from her window, she asked them to swear a solemn promise.
“Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house” (Josh 2:12).
Rahab pressed the spies not just for a promise, but for a promise that was made in the name of the Lord
because she knew that a promise with God’s name attached was a promise that would be kept.
The spies gave a solemn promise in the name of the LORD. “Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household” (Josh 2:18).
Rahab trusted a promise that had God’s name attached to it. “swear to me by the LORD …” (vs. 12).
The promise was clear: Tie the scarlet cord in the window, and anyone who is in your house will be saved. And Joshua records, “She tied the scarlet cord in the window” (vs. 21).
Faith commits to God’s people because of who God is, what He has done, and what He will do. And faith trusts God’s promise.
Some time after the spies had gone, the people of God appeared on the horizon. When Rahab saw them coming, she gathered all her family.
When you come to believe you have a great desire that your loved ones should also believe and be saved. And Rahab was concerned not only for her own safety, but also for the safety of her father and her mother, her sisters and brothers and all of their families too (vs. 13).
So, Rahab gathered her family. “This city is going to be destroyed. Come to my house and you will be safe.”
I wonder what they made of it? I expect Rahab had caused her mother and father no end of worry through the years. What would you feel if Rahab was your daughter? Rahab what are you up to now?
No doubt she explained her simple faith to her family. There is a great God in heaven. He is about to bring judgment on our city for all the evil we have done. But I have been given a promise of safety, given in His name. Believe that promise with me and come into my house. The family gathered – packed into Rahab’s house. What did they make of the strange scene as God’s people marched round the city in silence? And at the end, nothing happened.
On the second day, God’s people marched round the city again. Rahab watched from the window.
And at the end of the second day, nothing happened.
It was the same on the third day, the fourth day, the fifth day and the sixth day. But every time Joshua’s army marched round the city they would see the scarlet cord hanging from Rahab’s window. “The people in that house are with us. When the walls come down, make sure they are taken to safety!”
Then on the 7th day, God’s people marched round the city seven times. Then the sounded the trumpets, And the great walls of the fortified city fell down.
Remember, Rahab’s house was built into the city wall (Josh 2:15). So, when the wall came down, one side of her house collapsed completely. Rahab and her family were completely exposed to the armies outside.
But Rahab’s house had been marked by the scarlet cord. She was one of God’s people. And so she was ushered to safety along with her father, her mother, her sisters, her brothers, and all of their families.
1. God’s grace covers real sins.
Rahab had lived a deeply immoral life. Her sins before she believed were many. And Scripture records her lie to the king’s messengers which clearly was after she believed.
Some writers seem to pay more attention to the lie that she told than to the truth she believed. But there is no doubt that she broke the 9th commandment. “The spies are gone” she said. I don’t know where they are, but if you hurry you will catch them.”
The Bible never defends the lie. God commands us to speak the truth. But Hebrews passes over the lie, and focuses only on Rahab’s faith. That’s grace. God’s grace covers real sins. Draw near to God in faith and repentance, and whatever your past may have been, you will be forgiven, accepted, loved and saved. No sin, however great, can stop you from receiving the mercy of God if you will trust His promise as Rahab did.
“By faith Rahab… did not perish with those who were disobedient” (Heb 11:31).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
2. God’s grace offers real hope.
If ever there was a person who would be likely to think, “There may be hope for others but not for me,” it was Rahab.
Rahab could have said, “What I have done has shaped who I am,” But Rahab found hope because she believed.
Jeremiah records an occasion when God called people to turn from their evil ways. And this is what they said, “There is no hope” (Jer 18:12 KJV). And because there is no hope, “We will follow our own plans.”
But the story of Rahab says, “There is hope!” Where there is even the simplest faith, the door to a new and different life is open.
3. God’s grace brings real change.
We’ve seen that Rahab became one of God’s people. But the best part of the story was still to come, and it is told at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.
Rahab married a man by the name of Salmon, and they had a son whose name was Boaz. “And Boaz was the father of Obed, Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of king David” (Matt 1:5).
Rahab became the great-great-grandmother of king David, and it was into the line of David that Jesus Christ was born.
That’s what God’s grace did for Rahab. Think what His grace can do for you!
© Colin S. Smith
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