The Faith of Rahab

May 26, 2024 / No. 4247M

Dear Radio Friends,

A few short years after the passing of Miriam, whom we considered in our last broadcast, the nation of Israel stood on the brink of the land of Canaan. The nation had conquered all the kings and their kingdoms east of the Jordan River. These were mighty kingdoms that had giants as soldiers. But God had given Israel the victory over these foes, and now three tribes of Israel possessed their lands. Aaron had died at Mt. Hor. Moses also had died, on Mt. Nebo. Joshua had replaced Moses as leader of Israel. The nation was now encamped just east of the Jordan River a few miles north of the Dead Sea. From this camp Joshua sent out two men to search out the land west of the Jordan River. This included one of the most powerful cities in Canaan, the city of Jericho. It is in this city we meet the next woman of faith we consider: Rahab.

From Eve, the mother of all living, to wives of the patriarchs, Sarah and Rebekah, to the bondage of Egypt and Shiphrah and Puah, to the wanderings in the wilderness with Miriam, and now to the conquest of Canaan. Rahab stands out in this list of women because Rahab was not an Israelite. She was not a Hebrew woman but a woman of the cursed son of Ham. Rahab was a Canaanite through and through. The account before us today, therefore, reveals that although God saves in the line of generations, nevertheless He is also gracious to graft others into His covenant. Rahab was grafted into God’s church and covenant at a time when this was a rarity. So she holds a unique place as a woman of faith in the line of women we have been studying. We consider today the Word of God concerning Rahab in Hebrews 11:31: ” By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”

As we mentioned, the conquest of Canaan had begun. Israel was poised to cross the river Jordan soon. Jericho would be the first city that would be utterly destroyed by the armies of Israel. But the event we read of here in Hebrews took place prior to the destruction of this city. We focus our attention on Rahab and the two men sent to search out the land surrounding Jericho and this city itself.

The Faith of Rahab

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 the verse we consider 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 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 a night. It might even have been advertised as a lodging place since the two spies from Israel decided to lodge there for a night before leaving the city. It is for this reason that some commentators 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. Men from Jericho or from the region around it would stay for a couple of hours or a night of sinful pleasure. Neither can it be said (as some do) 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 leaves no reason for such an 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. James asks the question, “Likewise also 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 be both at the same time. That tells us something of Rahab therefore. God had worked in her heart at some point. Was it after the spies had lodged there or before? We cannot be sure. Could the spies have spoken to her of the purpose of God regarding Israel and she was brought to repentance and faith as a result? It is hard to say, but during her discourse with the spies she does reveal her faith in God. She said in Joshua 2: 11 the last part, “for Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.” Notice she uses the name of 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 they destroy Jericho. Some time in her life prior to this visit of the spies, God had turned her heart from her sin of horrible fornication to Him and His commandments. With faith always comes repentance from 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 too 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, when a child of God is initially brought to salvation, sometimes without his even knowing it, God works in his heart the ability to believe, 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 is worked in the heart of a child of God. His thoughts and desires are renewed or recreated. He is repelled by his sin and turns from his wicked ways. This power of faith works in the depths of the heart of a child of God, turning him from an unbeliever into a believer. He is actuated by this new life in Christ and he comes to a conscious knowledge of and confidence in God. This knowledge and confidence are the activity of faith that now resides in the heart of a 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 alone was evidence to her that God would destroy the Canaanites and give His people Israel the land of Canaan for a possession. This had not happened yet, but she was confident that it surely would come to pass.

But faith is also 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 strongly desired 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 reveal 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 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 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. 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 sent his men 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 simply gone there to lodge. The king of Jericho learned that these men had gone to the house of Rahab to stay. The king’s men demanded of Rahab that she send out the men that came to her to find a night’s lodging! The men sent by the king probably thought Rahab did not know that these two Israelite men had come to search out their city.

Remember, the discourse to which we already referred in order to show Rahab’s faith had not yet taken place. This took place after Rahab revealed her faith by her works.

Her Works

Rahab knew that these two men were Israelites when they came to lodge with her. She also knew why they had come. If she were still lost in her sin, she would not have received them into her house. Unbelief would have reacted either with terror at their presence and with hesitation, at the least, to allow them to enter her home, or 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. When these two men came, she received them with peace, we learn in our text. This means that she received them as friends and not enemies. Her intent was to shelter them, and, as she soon discovered, to protect them from those who sought to capture them. The receiving of the spies in this way was an act of faith. She had thrown in her lot with the people of God at that moment. But then we learn more in the account in Joshua 2 that is not mentioned at all here in Hebrews 11. The king knew these men had entered her house. It was probably reported by a neighbor that they were there. So the king of Jericho sent his men to the door of Rahab’s house to take the spies and punish them with imprisonment or death.

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 2:8 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—a rather glaring omission, I would say. 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. Her faith was new to her. She did not trust at this point that God would have protected the spies. God in His providence, however, used her lie to keep the spies safe. But the ends do not justify the means. Just as Shiphrah and Puah lied to Pharaoh, so also did this young believer lie to the men the king of Jericho had sent. We will not attempt tonight to justify her lie. The same can be said of Rahab as was said of the midwives: “for the sake of what was good, God forgave her the evil” (Augustine). It is striking, neither Hebrews 11 nor James 2 makes mention of this lie as an act of faith. Be that as it may, the king’s men departed having believed her lie. Evidently, they never checked the house. It was then that Rahab came up to the roof and explained to the men what we examined already earlier in our broadcast. She confessed her faith. There was one more act of faith that our text here in Hebrews 11 does not note. James tells us that by faith Rahab sent the spies out another way. She asked to be spared when Jericho was destroyed. The spies promised her she would be spared if she stayed in her house. From the window of her house she must hang the scarlet rope that she would use to let the spies down the outside of the wall. All this was done in faith. All these were good works that Rahab performed.

We emphasize that now to show that the faith spoken of here in our text was a true and living faith. It was a 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 true and living faith always 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. 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 becomes active. We know God and trust Him and therefore reach out and embrace Him as our God. We do that consciously. Then that 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. And 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.

Her Salvation

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 is not itself a work, neither are works and faith synonymous with each other. Scripture points out that works flow out of faith. They flow out of a conscious union with Christ. Faith produces works. When James speaks of Rahab’s being justified by works, he is insisting on the truth that her faith was a living faith—a faith that revealed itself in her works. We learn in Scripture, however, that Rahab was indeed justified by faith. Her sins were covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. They were paid for by Him. Her guilt for all her sins was removed. She belonged to Christ. How was that possible for a woman who lived long before Christ’s death on the cross? She cast her lot in with Jehovah God. She in faith joined herself to the people of God, the church of the Old Testament. That church carried in her bosom the Christ. By faith she was joined together with the coming Messiah. He soon became her hope.

Here is 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 everyone of us would perish in our sin.

We learn in Joshua 6 that this young woman, Rahab, found a place among the people of God in Israel. God by His grace grafted her and her family into the line of His church and covenant. This was a rarity in the Old Testament. God took this woman who was of the cursed seed of Canaan and made her a part of His church. We also learn in Matthew 1:5, in the genealogy of Christ found there, that Rahab became a mother of Christ. Very few women are mentioned in that genealogy. Rahab is mentioned by name. In this godly woman of the Bible we find but another example of the amazing work of God’s grace. It is heartwarming for those of us who have been grafted into the line of the covenant today. God saves sinners. God saves us.