Jericho was destroyed. The walls of the city had fallen flat after the march of Israel around them. God had given the nation of Israel the victory over this first foe she confronted in the promised land, which showed that God was on the side of His people.
Prior to this destruction of Jericho, however, Joshua had sent two spies to search out the countryside and the city in order to determine the lay of the land and the strength of these cities. These spies were sent out before Israel actually crossed over into Canaan. The nation was encamped just east of the Jordan River a few miles north of the Dead Sea in a place called Shittim. The spies were able to enter the city gates of Jericho while it was day. The gates were yet open to the public since the nation of Israel was still on the other side of the Jordan River. But with the visit of the spies the gates were now closed and locked. The king of Jericho had learned of the presence of these spies and sent his men to find them. These men escaped detection because of a woman named Rahab. The spies fled to her house at night and Rahab hid them.
It is there that we learn of the event recorded in Hebrews 11:31. We read, “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” Rahab revealed her faith by receiving and hiding the spies. Then when the henchmen of the king of Jericho were no longer watching her, she let the spies down the outside of the wall of Jericho and they escaped into the hillside near the city.
What we study today, then, took place prior to the destruction of Jericho. The writer to the Hebrews addresses what took place at that time as an event that had already passed. Notice: “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not.” Jericho had been destroyed, we learn, but this woman named Rahab and her family were spared from this destruction. This was true because prior to Jericho’s utter destruction, Rahab hid the spies.
The faith of Rahab is unique from the other accounts of faith here in Hebrews 11. It is so because Rahab was not an Israelite. She had not been born or raised in the line of the covenant and church. She was not a Hebrew woman born into the line of Abraham. On the contrary, she was born out of the line of the cursed son of Ham. Rahab was a Canaanite through and through. The account before us therefore reveals that although God saves in the line of generations, nevertheless He is also gracious to graft others into His covenant.
What stands on the foreground in our text, however, is the faith of this woman. Rahab was aware of God’s promises to Israel and was convicted in her heart that those promises would be fulfilled. This becomes evident in the words she spoke to the spies as well as in her actions. Rahab by God’s grace was given eyes to see the salvation of God’s people. She chose to cast in her lot with them.
I. Her Faith
As we noticed, Rahab was a Canaanite, probably of the people of the Jebusites that inhabited this central part of Canaan. Jericho was a horribly wicked city, which means that Rahab participated in the sins of this city—the idol worship and the fornication that surrounded it. We are told in our text as well as in Joshua that Rahab was a harlot. This means she sold her body for sexual favors. She was a woman of ill repute, one that we would label today as a prostitute. Her home was a place of prostitution. In fact, from the account we read in Joshua it appears that it was a place where men would pay to lodge either for a couple of hours or for a night. It might even have been advertised as a lodging place, since the two spies from Israel chose her house specifically to stay for a night before leaving the city. It is for this reason that some commentators want to say that Rahab was nothing more than an innkeeper. She ran a motel, of sorts. But the term harlot both in the Hebrew and the Greek cannot be mistaken. Rahab was a prostitute. Her home was used for the specific purpose of practicing her illicit profession. Neither can it be said (as unbelief accuses) that these two spies had stopped there for a time of pleasure. The spies were unfamiliar with the city of Jericho, and, seeing a place to lodge, they stopped there with no intent at all of indulging their lusts. The account gives no reason for any other interpretation.
From the account here in Hebrews 11, as well as the account of James in James 2:25, we find that Rahab was a believer. We read in James, “Was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” Now, we well understand that the life of a harlot and the life of a believer are incompatible with each other. A young woman cannot live by faith in God and at the same time live in sin against the 7th commandment. This implies that something had happened to Rahab. God had worked in her heart at some point. Was it after the spies had lodged there or before? We cannot be sure. She probably had done some investigating on her own before the spies came, since we learn from our text that she received them with peace. She did not immediately send them away in hatred and fear of who they were. But one thing is certain: she received the spies into her house, hid them, and then sent them away by faith!
That all of this was an act of faith ultimately revealed itself in her conversation with the spies after hiding them. In Joshua 2:11 Rahab confesses, “for Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.” In her confession she uses the name Jehovah. “Jehovah is God. I know that. I believe that. My gods and those of the land cannot be God. Jehovah is God in heaven and earth.” Further, she makes the spies swear to her, not in the name of her gods, but in the name of Jehovah, to save her and her household alive when Israel destroyed Jericho. Sometime in her life prior to this visit of the spies—probably after she learned of the presence of Israel—God turned her heart from her sin of horrible fornication to Him and His commandments. With faith always comes repentance over sin. She must have repented and turned from her sin and in faith now embraced the God of Israel.
What stands out here both in Hebrews 11 and in James 2:25 is this faith of Rahab: “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not.” In all the instances recorded in Hebrews 11, the aspect of faith that is emphasized is the activity of faith. You see, initially when a child of God is brought to salvation, sometimes without their even knowing it, God works in one’s heart the ability to believe, that is, the power or potential to believe. God does this by grafting that child of God into Jesus Christ. The result is that the life of Christ, the life that is from above, is worked in the heart of a child of God. His thoughts and desires are renewed or recreated through the work of Jesus Christ and His Spirit. This takes place, as we have noticed before, at the time of regeneration. Then, when grafted into Christ, a person is repelled by his sin and turns from his wicked ways.
This power of faith, worked in the depths of the heart of a child of God, changes him or her from an unbeliever into a believer. The believer is actuated by this new life in Christ and comes to a conscious knowledge of and confidence in God. This knowledge and confidence is the activity of faith that resides in the heart of every believer. It is this faith that is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Rahab’s faith became the evidence to her that Jehovah God was real and that He reigned in the heavens over heaven and earth. She could not see Him with her eyes but she knew He was real and that He alone was God. Faith became sight to her, or, to put it another way, faith was the spiritual eyes that made her see Jehovah God and to confess His name. Furthermore, faith was alone evidence to her that God would destroy the Canaanites and give His people Israel the land of Canaan for a possession.
Further, faith was the substance of things hoped for. She hoped, against hope, that she would be numbered among God’s people Israel. She asked that her house be spared from the destruction of Jericho. She asked the spies to swear by the name of Jehovah to spare her and her family. Why? She wanted to cast in her lot with the people of God. She wished to be numbered among Israel and no longer among the wicked of this world. That is faith. She had a firm hope, in that God of Israel, that she too would be allowed into His favor and fellowship. I say Rahab hoped that, despite her own unworthiness. She knew now that she was worthy of being cast aside and destroyed with Jericho. She was a horrible sinner who pleaded on God’s mercy. Swear to me by His name that I will be saved!
In order to demonstrate the faith of Rahab we have jumped ahead somewhat in the events that transpired in her house. The two men of Israel that lodged in Rahab’s house were not technically speaking spies. They did not sneak into the city of Jericho in order to find perhaps a weak point in its defenses. Joshua did not send them strictly to the city of Jericho to see how strong it was or to see who was there to defend the city. The word spies seems to imply that. Actually, the word used here in our text in Hebrews is that of “inspector.” James uses the word “messengers,” which actually means “an envoy sent to carry out the intent of a ruler,” in this case, Joshua. The account in Joshua 2 simply speaks of these men as those sent to search out the country. In other words, these men were simply sent out on the errand to discover the lay of the land, including that of the city of Jericho. Joshua wanted to know what he and the armies of Israel would be up against.
The king of Jericho, however, interpreted this intrusion into his city as an act of war. Of course! He was terrified of Israel, as Rahab said. As soon as the king found out that these men had come to lodge in Jericho, he immediately set out to arrest them. It was not as if these two spies were being hotly pursued by the king’s men and ducked into the house of Rahab to hide. They had gone there to lodge. It had been reported to the king of Jericho that these men had entered into the house of Rahab. The king sent his soldiers to Rahab’s house. They stood outside her door and called to her: “Send out the men that came to you to find a night’s lodging! You probably do not know but these men came to search out our country!”
II. Her Works
Rahab already knew this. She had already received the spies with peace. As we mentioned earlier, unbelief would have reacted either with terror at their presence, or hesitation at the least. It would have reacted with immediate rejection and a report to the authorities of their presence. But God had already worked in this woman’s heart. She believed what she had heard concerning the God of Israel. That she received them with peace means that she received them as friends and not enemies. Her intent was to shelter them and, as she soon discovered, to protect them too from those who sought to capture them. By faith she received the spies. At that moment she had thrown in her lot with the people of God. The fruit of faith is works. Rahab in faith received the spies—a work. She hid the spies—a work. She helped them escape—a work. Faith always results in good works in a person’s life. These works become the evidence of a true and living faith. But then, let us continue with the account and consider the actions of Rahab in the order of events.
The king’s men were now at Rahab’s door. She quickly sent the spies to the roof of her house telling them to hide themselves under a pile of neatly arranged stalks of flax. We learn in Joshua that before they even had time to hide themselves, Rahab opened the door and confronted the men sent from the king. Again, here was an act of faith. She received the spies and actually hid them from the king of Jericho.
One more addition to the account is not told us in Hebrews 11. Rahab lied to the men who had come to take these men out of her house. “Yes, two men came into my house. I did not know who they were. I did not know they were Israelites. They stayed awhile and then left when it was dark, right around the time that the gates of the city are shut. They just left. If you pursue after them I’m sure you will overtake them.” Rahab lied in order to protect the spies. We will not attempt to justify her lie. It is striking, however, that neither Hebrews 11 nor James 2 makes mention of this lie as an act of faith. The king’s men departed having believed her lie. Evidently, they never checked the house.
There was an additional act or work of faith: Rahab sent the spies out another way. She asked to be spared when Jericho was destroyed. The spies promised her she would if she stayed in her house. She was to bind the scarlet rope that she used to let the spies down the wall in the window of her house. All this was done in faith. All these were good works that Rahab performed. We emphasize that, in order to reveal that the faith spoken of here in the passage we consider was a true and living faith. A dead faith is a fake faith. It is a faith that says nice things about God, Christ, and salvation but it does nothing. A living faith is an active faith. It is a faith that produces good works in the life of a believer. If Rahab’s faith were a dead faith without fruit and without works, she would not have received the spies in peace, she would not have defied the king’s men, she would not have helped the spies to escape. By faith, that is, through faith, we are saved. Not, mind you, on account of faith or on the basis of faith. Neither on account of the works it produces. Faith is but a means by which God imparts to His children the life that is found in Jesus Christ alone. But when that life of Christ is found in us it makes us alive unto God. As a result, we consciously reach out and embrace Him as our God. The life of Christ in us produces good works, works that flow out of our union with Christ.
The works of Rahab were evidence of her faith. By that faith Rahab did not perish with those of Jericho who did not believe. She and those with her in her house were saved.
III. Her Example
When speaking of her escaping the judgment of God upon Jericho for its sin, we speak of more regarding Rahab. We speak of her salvation. You see, Rahab was justified by her faith. I know James speaks of her being justified by her works. But we must understand the proper relationship between faith and works. Faith and works are not synonymous with each other. Scripture points out that works always and ever flow out of faith. They flow out of a conscious union with Christ. Faith produces works. The works that are evidence of Rahab’s faith simply reveal the salvation that God had worked in this saint. What? A harlot is a saint? Yes, she was one of God’s elect people saved in the blood of Jesus Christ. Rahab was justified by faith. Her sins were covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. Christ paid the price for her sins. Through the work of Christ, the guilt of sin was removed. She belonged to Christ? She surely did. Her faith bound her to the Messiah who was to come. She was viewed by God in Him. Her sin being now covered in the sight of heaven, she surely is a saint, and as such is an example to us.
In this lies the beauty of this account before us today. There is no sin so great that cannot be forgiven. God forgives sinners! A prostitute? Yes, a woman who sold her body to men for gain! She can be forgiven. A murderer? Yes! A drunk? Yes! The only sin that God does not forgive is stubborn unrepentance. Jericho perished in its stubborn disobedience to God and His commandments. Rahab, a harlot, did not perish. She was forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ. The call goes forth: repent and believe! Come to Christ where alone forgiveness is found. Those whom God draws by His grace to Himself and to Christ He will in no wise cast out! Salvation is a free, unmerited gift! It is a good thing—or else every one of us listening today would perish in our sin.
In this godly woman of the Bible we find but another example of the amazing work of God’s grace. It is comforting to know for those of us who have been grafted into the line of the covenant. It is of comfort to those who are already members of the church of Christ. God saves sinners like us. Now, may we walk in the works that such a living faith produces in us.