(Originally published September 22, 2016)
Lesson 2 of our Bible study, which covers Joshua chapter 2, opens with a question concerning the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Why, if God had already told Joshua that he would be victorious in his conquest of Canaan, would Joshua send spies into the land? The commentaries I am drawing from all agree that this presents no problem at all. In fact, as C. F. Keil points out, Joshua was required to do his part in securing the work committed to him as, “the help of God does not preclude human action, but rather presupposes it.” [Commentary on The Old Testament, C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Volume 2, by C. F. Keil, Hendrickson Publishers] Indeed, the life of faith is a call to action for all believers, and we will see this theme play out through the rest of Joshua chapter two.
As I looked at this incident in the commentaries they each expressed their opinions as to whether God did or did not, in fact, tell Joshua to send the spies. Simply because it is not recorded in Scripture doesn’t mean that he never directed Joshua to send them. Boice goes further and believes that God told Joshua to send them, not only because God had expressly told Moses to send 12 spies 40 years prior, but,
“…if this is the case, then it is reasonable to think that the spies are sent to save Rahab and not merely to bring information. Joshua did not need information about Jericho, what he needed were the arrangements for saving Rahab and her family.” (italics mine)
[Joshua, An Expositional Commentary, by James Montgomery Boice
Published 1989 by Baker Books]
When I first read this it gave me chills. Of course Joshua didn’t need a strategy for Jericho—God was going to give him a rather unorthodox plan for the taking of the city. But Rahab needed to be contacted and given the way to salvation for herself and her family!
I have often heard that in John 4, when Jesus and his disciples are going from Judea to Galilee and we are told that “…he had to pass through Samaria…” that there actually were other routes they could and might normally have taken, because Jews made it a point to avoid Samaria. But Jesus had to pass that way because he knew that he had an appointment by a well with a woman who needed salvation. Likewise, Joshua had to send the spies because arrangements needed to be made for Rahab and her family to be saved.
The next thing we looked at in this lesson is the effect of the presence of the Israelites upon the inhabitants of the land. As Rahab tells the spies, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of you.” (Joshua 2:9)
Keil and Delitzsch point out that this dread is the fulfillment of the song that Moses and the Israelites had sung in Exodus 15 after crossing the Red Sea, particularly verses 15-16
“Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; Trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; Because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, Till your people, O LORD, pass by, Till the people pass by whom you have purchased.”
Rahab goes on to relate the stories of the great miracles of deliverance they have heard, and the battles the Israelites have won which have served to bring this dread upon the Amorites. And then,
“And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 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, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” Joshua 2:11-13
To which C. F. Keil responds:
“God’s omnipotence had been clearly displayed, thus filling all the surrounding nations with fear and dread… But these miracles of divine omnipotence which led the heart of this sinner with its susceptibility for religious truth to true faith, and thus became to her a savour of life unto life (2 Corinthians 2:15-16), produced nothing but hardness in the unbelieving hearts of the rest of the Canaanites, so that they could not escape the judgement of death.”
The very same miracles which convinced Rahab that the God of the Israelites is “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath,” and was therefore worth putting her life on the line to follow, these miracles also hardened the hearts of the rest of the Canaanites and spelled their doom.
We then considered that Rahab clearly saw that she was on a sinking ship and the LORD appeared to her to be her only lifeline to escape certain destruction. To help us understand her attitude we were directed to Matthew 11:12, a verse which has always puzzled me.
“The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and forceful (violent, vigorous) men lay hold of it.”
In his commentary on the book of Matthew, William Hendriksen helpfully explains:
“…vigorous or forceful men, people who dare to break away from faulty human tradition and to return to the Word in all its purity, no matter what the costs to themselves, such individuals are eagerly taking possession of the kingdom; that is, in their hearts and lives that kingship or reign of God and of Christ is being established.” (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Matthew, Published by Baker Academic, 1973)
So, in this, we see Rahab exhibiting her faith by risking her life to protect the Israelite spies, by breaking with her own past and with her people in forsaking Jericho, and in identifying herself with the Israelites and therefore passing from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light by choosing to give up her citizenship in Jericho to become a citizen of Israel.
This had to be unbelievably difficult for Rahab. Jericho was her home, the Canaanites—specifically the Amorites—were her people. How could she sleep for the next week knowing that she had betrayed her countrymen? What a violent rending of her heart and conscience this must have been. And yet, where else could she go? Her heart and mind were convinced that destruction was imminent and her only escape was to flee the city for the people of God.
But, hold the phone. We are assuming that Rahab had true faith when we make statements like this. How can we know that Rahab truly had faith? We are directed to two passages in the New Testament which answer this question.
“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” (Hebrews 11:31)
You may recognize the address for this verse as sitting smack in the middle of the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” Hebrews chapter 11 details the faith of such heroes as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses,… and, Rahab the prostitute. These all have in common the faith which is, “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (By which) the people of old received their commendation.” (Heb 1:1-2) In verse 16 we are given the breathtaking statement that “…God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
How incredibly shameful it seems to read in every place she is mentioned in Scripture that Rahab is still called “the prostitute.” And yet, God wipes that shame away with lavishly glorious grace when he takes her and tells her that he is not ashamed to be called her God.
And here, again,
“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?” (James 2:25)
This mention of Rahab is tacked onto the end of an argument James is building for the necessity of good works in the life of a believer, works which prove (or, as he words it, justify) the faith of one who believes. He begins in 2:20 with an argument from the life of Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, whose work of faith when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar proved that he believed God, and it was this belief that was accounted to him as righteousness—not the work that earned him righteousness, but a faith that was accompanied by works.
To better grasp this I turned to yet another commentary.
“(James) knows that Abraham looked at the stars, believed, and thus was justified before God. But James also knows that Abraham’s faith demonstrated its vitality by its works.
Whether James consciously corrected an abuse of Paul’s teaching or not, he certainly corrected an erroneous concept of faith. Adolf Schlatter, a Swiss scholar, said it this way:
“That I say I have faith cannot possibly free me from sin, guilt, and punishment. How could something I say be my deliverance? Not that I say I have faith, but that I exercise faith, that saves me, situates me in God’s peace, brings me God’s grace, and is my righteousness before God…. If faith gave me merely words, then it would be of use, after all, to say I have faith. But that is a sinister thought. Is that all I am, a thinker and a talker? God has given me life, and that means he has planted a will in me that can act—that must act, with unalterable necessity…. service to God is action…. I should thank God that I can act as one who trusts.”
So works are not the ground of grace, but they are grounded in grace and faith.” (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, James, P&R Publishing, 2007)
This was helpful in understanding how Rahab’s actions were the result of her faith, and not a work that earned her salvation. In James, furthermore, we see that Rahab, the prostitute, is set into the same context of faith as Abraham, the patriarch. Abraham, whose faith acted in a God-ward direction, and Rahab, whose faith acted in a man-ward direction, both showing that true faith is adorned by actions which verify and vindicate their claims to belief.
Speaking of Abraham, it was he who first heard the promise of God that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars, would be 400 years in captivity, would be brought out of that captivity by God’s judgement on the nation they served, and would take possession of the land of Canaan. It would take this long because, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:16) So God would use the nation of Israel, Abraham’s numerous descendants, to bring his own righteous judgement upon the Amorites in Canaan. In the book of Joshua, chapter 2, they have now arrived at the cusp of this long-awaited judgement.
But first, God, in his great mercy, will save Rahab, the prostitute, a God-fearing woman.