Sermon preached on Joshua 2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/22/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Rahab – “For the LORD your God, He is God”
We continue today surveying through Bible through the lens of certain key women in the Scriptures. Today we come to Rahab, and we also come to another new period of time in redemptive history. Remember, where we came from. We started in the beginning with Eve and saw there the first promise of a savior to be born to the seed of the woman. Then we saw how God began to concentrate his plan to bring forth the savior through a particular people – the nation of Israel. And so we considered the matriarchs of that nation: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, and then for the tribe of Judah, Tamar. Last week we then jumped ahead to the time when that family had grown into a numberous people, but found themselves enslaved in Egypt. God brought them out of the Egypt in the Exodus. And we studied Miriam as one leader during that time of the Exodus and the subsequent wandering through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Well, as we pick up that story again today, the time of the wilderness wandering has come to and end. People such as Miriam and Moses have passed away. The new leader, Joshua, was to lead God’s people into the Promised Land. This was to involve military conquest. And so this is the time in Israel’s history known as that — the Conquest. It’s the conquest of the land of Canaan, so that the Israelites could finally receive the land promised to them. But in the process, God would use the Israelites as his hand of judgment against the seven nations of people already living in this land of Canaan. God had told Abraham several generations back that it wasn’t time yet for God’s people to take control of the Promised Land — because the sins of its inhabitants were not yet complete. But by this time, evidently it now was. God was going to bring a sort of final judgment on these peoples and in turn then give the land to Israel as a gift. This is kind of like what the flood was during the time of Noah. It was divine judgment that brought the end to many people. This conquest of Canaan by the Israelites was like that for the seven nations living there. God told them in Deuteronomy 7 that they were to not spare them in any way, but to completely destroy them. Sobering — and scary if you were one of these inhabitants. Your final judgment was approaching. Your doom was imminent. The day of reckoning was at hand for these inhabitants. In fact by the time we get to our passage for today, it had already begun for some of the peoples of the general area — those Amorites living under the rule of King Sihon and King Og (they were to east of the Jordan river, beyond the main part of the Promised Land.) But now the rest of the peoples in Canaan knew that they were next. Well, Rahab was one of those people.
And so by the time we get to our story here in Joshua 2, the military campaign to take the heart of the Promised Land was beginning. Here we see in verse 1, that Joshua, their leader, sends two spies to go spy out the land. He especially wants them to spy out the city of Jericho, which was a powerful walled city at the time. Well, the spies arrive in Jericho and take up lodging at Rahab’s house, who we are told was also a harlot. That’s the setting for the story. And that’s when the story begins to heat up with some conflict. And it’s here that we see Rahab showing kindness to the spies. You see, as the spies are at her house, somehow the king of Jericho learns that these spies had arrived in town and gone to Rahab’s house. That’s verses 2-3. So Rahab, a citizen of Jericho, does what we might not expect. She immediately hides the spies, lies about them to the king’s men, and ultimately helps them to escape unharmed. In Rahab’s words to the spies in verse 12, she had shown them kindness in this. I agree! Not to mention that this put her own life at risk. Ancient law code at that time would have seen her actions here as deserving capital punishment if she were caught helping these enemies of the state.
So, why would Rahab help the spies? Well, this is important for us to observe and acknowledge. She tells us why in part in verses 9-11. The simple answer is that she had come to have faith in the one true God. She had come to believe that the God of Israel was the real God who had the power above all. This is expressed in verses 9-11, but let’s study it a little more to really appreciate this confession of her faith. Verse 9-11, Rahab says to the spies:
I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For 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 the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
And so a few things stand out here in this confession. She takes up the name of the LORD — notice all the capital letters in the English translation. She’s mentioning by name Yahweh. She’s acknowledging that he’s given the land to Israel. It’s as good as done in her mind. And she has certainly come to this conclusion because of the facts. She’s heard about how God destroyed the Egyptians before Israel at the Red Sea — remember that’s what Miriam had sung about. And more recently, Israel had utterly destroyed the two Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan. Of course, it was God who gave them the victory there too. And then notice how she responded to this — fear! In verse 9 she describes the terror that has come upon them because of this. In verse 11, she says their hearts melted when they heard about all this. They lost their courage because of it. Notice how she puts this in the plural. This is not just Rahab’s emotional response to it. In general, this is the people of the land’s response. Fear and terror and dread at the impending doom coming from the LORD through the Israelites.
And so this is her way of saying, that it would be futile to try to resist Yahweh. It’s her way of saying that it’s time to change allegiances. See, her confession emphasizes at the end the realization that she had come to. That the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, he is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. In other words, he is the one true God, who is God over all. Here she admits the futility of her past pagan religion and idolatry. Now she acknowledges that there is a one true God, the God of Israel. The God who is God over all, in both heaven and earth! This is her confession of faith. This is why she’s willing to disobey her civil government, because she knows it would be working against the higher government of the LORD God. And so here she is looking to change her allegiances. She shows kindness to these two spies as an expression of her faith and as an attempt to change allegiances.
And so it’s in light of this faith, that Rahab then makes a plea to these spies. She asks that her kindness be returned to her, verse 12. She asks that she in return be shown kindness and receive salvation from the coming destruction – for her and her family. She asks that they even swear to this by the LORD. That too is part of her faith — she recognizes that their power to destroy Jericho comes from the LORD, so if they bind their promise to protect her in the name of the LORD, then the one who would otherwise give them victory will be bound to enforce their oath upon them. This is like a prayer request to be saved from the final day of judgment. To flee the coming wrath. I think of John the Baptist who asked some Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for baptism, “Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?” Well, in Rahab’s case, we already have seen how she knows the wrath is coming. We can appreciate her plea here then. She wants to be saved. She has shown this kindness as an expression of faith in the God of Isreal. She believes he is coming to destroy. So she realizes her only hope is to show kindness to Israel and beg for mercy in return. By the way, realize that the whole point here in how Rahab was previously characterized shows that she deserved to be wiped out with the rest of the people of Jericho. She was a harlot, and based on the Bible’s description of the wickedness of the Canaanites, that is not surprising. This judgment was coming just like it had come on Sodom and Gomorrah in the past. She had earned it as much as any of them. A future good deed doesn’t fix all your previous wrongs. But faced with no other option, Rahab hopes beyond hope that she could yet be spared. And so she puts everything on the line and begs that she’d be spared.
And in grace upon grace, her plea is answered. The spies in light of her kindness respond with kindness in return. And they make an oath to protect her and her family, with two conditions. One, she and her family must keep secret the spies’ plans. Two, she and her family must hang a scarlet cord in the house where they will take refuge. If she keeps those, then the oath will be honored. Then they will be saved. She of course agrees to this, verse 21. I love how they promise this to her in verse 14, “Our life for yours!” In other words, they swear on the penalty of death that they will repay her kindness by treating her and her family kindly and faithfully when they come back for the land. And so her faith and plea finds kindness and salvation. Hebrews and James both credit her faith her in this great salvation. A sinner saved by grace through faith. A Gentile sinner at that!
What I also love about this passage here with Rahab, is you see two different responses with regard of the fear of God. You see, the passage ends in verse 24 acknowledging how it wasn’t just Rahab afraid of the coming of the Israelites. It was all the inhabitants of the land. This is fulfillment to a prophecy, by the way, that Moses had made in Exodus 15 in the Song of Moses. He prophesied that the inhabitants of Canaan would melt away in trembling and fear and dread in the light of the LORD’s power coming through his people. Well, here we see that happening. Rahab is one example. But all the Canaanites have this fear. But yet there are two different responses that we see. For the most part, you have such fear as expressed by the King of Jericho. It’s a fear that comes from unbelief and defiance. It’s a fear that hardens your heart against God. That stands in willful defiance and says I won’t submit to God. I will oppose the followers of this God. I will fight against them. That was virtually everyone’s response of fear among the Canaanites. But then you have Rahab, and presumably her family along with her. She was afraid. But it was a fear with faith. A fear that believed in this God of Israel. It was a fear then that softened her heart toward God. A fear that expressed repentance. A fear that submit to God as king over all. Two very different expressions of fear from the unbeliever and the believer. Well, for Rahab, her fearing faith meant for her salvation from the God of all grace.
And indeed that is what came to pass for Rahab. In Joshua 6:17, when the Israelites take the city by God’s mighty hand, Joshua orders them to kill everyone except for Rahab and her family. The original spies go in and bring Rahab and her family safely out of the city. Interestingly, it says in Joshua 6:23 that they brought them out and left them outside the camp of Israel. At that point they were surely ceremonially unclean, given their previously pagan status. But Joshua 6:25 goes on to talk about Rahab’s future, saying how Rahab dwelt in Israel to that day. Surely, implied in that is that they became part of Israel and lived among them as those who had come into the nation of Israel by conversion. Surely that included for Rahab a turning from her previous idolatries. And so Rahab and family are spared from this final judgment, and they become a part of Israel.
But of course, how could someone like Rahab, a sinner, be truly forgiven? Well, we know it’s through the saving work of Christ. And, that’s where Rahab’s story continues to amaze. You see, Rahab ends up becoming the Great-Great Grandmother of King David. (If you remember the story of Ruth, well we are not told there, but Rahab is Boaz’s mother.) And this means of course, that Ruth’s greater grandchild is her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? We’ve returned this week to study another woman by whom God was continuing that line of promise. Here we have a sinful Gentile woman engrafted into the line of promise. Through Rahab’s seed, even, Jesus would eventually be born! We like to talk about how Jesus in the New Testament has his church reach out to sinful Gentiles to include them in the promise. But even long before that, God was already including sinful Gentiles into that promise along the way. Rahab is one of them. We can and should relate to her in this regard. God saves Rahabs, and that means he saves people like us too. We too, find salvation in Christ as sinful Gentiles are brought into God’s people by grace.
And so then in our last main point for today, Rahab’s story causes us to find several applications to our own salvation. We’ve already begun to see that. Let me further draw together some of the main ideas in this passage and by way of analogy apply it to how we have found salvation in Christ. First, as pointed out, Rahab is one who flees the coming wrath of God and finds salvation. Don’t think Rahab was not like the other people of Jericho. She was a Gentile sinner who deserved God’s wrath too. But in putting her hope in the Lord, she was saved. We too have earned God’s wrath and curse, but can flee it unto Christ and be saved.
Second, we see here that Rahab’s family could be saved along with her, if they would but embrace her position toward the Lord and toward God’s people. If they had not, they would have died, verse 19. Well for us, we can remember how Jesus said he brought division to families. This reminds us that we must ultimately unite with those of the people of God, regardless of whether our earthly families come with us or not.
Third, the ways the spies say “our lives for yours” to Rahab, reminds us that Christ had to give up his life in order for us to be saved. And frankly, even for it to be right that Rahab be saved. The only way Jesus could save us was to give up his life for us.
Fourth, the spies promised by oath to save Rahab and her family. Later in Joshua 6, that oath is clearly remembered and they are saved. Well, we are saved by divine oath in Christ, and if Joshua didn’t forget to spare Rahab from the doom that fell on the city, know that Christ won’t forget us when he comes on the day of judgment. He will save us from that final day of God’s wrath.
Fifth, Rahab showed kindness first to the spies, that she might gain their kindness in return. As for Christ, the Scriptures make it clear that the opposite is the case. God shows us kindness first by sending Christ to die in our place. Romans 2:4, for example, talks about how God’s kindness is meant to lead us towards repentance. And in Titus 3:4 it refers to God sending us Jesus as the kindness of God, and that the result is our being saved from our sins.
And so these are a few ways that Rahab’s story gets us to look forward to our own story in Christ. These really are not different stories. But rather Rahab had the same story with us from a distance. She’s part of the developing story in which the light of Christ’s salvation was becoming clearer and clearer. And Rahab herself was included so immediately in the story by becoming in the line of promise as she later marries Salmon and gives birth to Boaz. But you too are included in this story, grafted into the same olive tree of God’s people, if you have put your faith in Christ. Believe in him. Trust that he is the God of heaven and earth, and your only hope to be saved from the wrath of God. See Christ’s first coming as God’s kindness to you to spark you to repentance. And then rejoice as you join with and dwell together with all God’s saved people; now, and into eternity.
And so in final conclusion, I would leave us with a final application. There is an application here with regards to evangelism. Back then, those were very unique times. God in a very unique situation, told Israel to bring judgment on sinful pagans. They were to devote them to destruction. They were to not spare any. Deuteronomy 7 makes that very clear. And yet, despite that, in this one amazing out-the-ordinary situation, a harlot woman and her family is saved from that judgment. How could that be? Well, it was grace. It was the intrusion of the final day of judgment that destroyed Jericho. But, it was the intrusion of divine grace that looked ahead to Christ that saved Rahab and her family. Ordinarily, at that moment in history, Rahab and family should have been destroyed by Israel. It was out of the ordinary, a picture of grace, that saved her.
Today we live in very different times. Quite the opposite actually. It is not ordinary or typical for the church to bear the physical sword and come down wiping out sinful pagans. The New Testament would not have us to do that. Even for Old Testament theocratic Israel that was not a standing order, it was only for that initial specific conquest of the Promised Land for seven specific nations of people. Instead, what is ordinary today is that we are supposed to go to sinful, pagan, people and share Jesus Christ with them. We are to show them the kindness of Christ held out in the gospel and call them to repent and find salvation from the coming judgment. That’s what is to be ordinary for us.
Again, for Israel, at that moment, the ordinary thing was for them to wipe out someone like Rahab. But they didn’t. The spies presence in her house and life made a difference that brought salvation to her. But for us, the ordinary thing is for us to not wipe out sinners with the sword. The ordinary thing is for us to evangelize them. It is our express mission that we are to reach out with the gospel of grace to sinful pagans, even harlots, even homosexuals. We should be a presence in their lives that witnesses to the gospel of grace.
But though that’s our ordinary mission now, I have to ask us: is that what we actually do? These spies were confident enough in their relationship with God that they could even spend the night in a harlot’s home! But do we tend to want to not have anything to do with such people? Do we tend in our minds to cut them off as dead from our lives? Do we judge them with final judgment in our minds, when this is not the time or our role? Do we do this, when we are supposed to be an intrusion of God’s grace on earth? When we are to be ambassadors of the kindness of God to sinners like Rahab? If we were the spies, would Rahab never have been saved because we never would have even step foot in her home?
Saints, God has sent us out among the pagans right now. And now we are not to be acting covertly as spies. We are to be overtly present as bestowers of divine grace. Not to wait until someone repents and cleans up their act to show them kindness. Not wait for them to show kindness to us first. No, but to show forth Christ’s kindness first to them; that they would turn and repent and be saved from the coming judgment. Let us be people gracious enough to evangelize even those with sordid pasts. God saved Rahab. He has saved us. Let us be used of him to save others as well. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.