[To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.]
Isn't it amazing to see whom God chooses for service in His kingdom? In the natural sense, humans tend to select those individuals whose appearance—looks, height, build—meets their standards. Ability and intelligence also play a part in the selection process. The best and the brightest are assumed to be the right individuals for the important tasks. In some cases, one's family name may be the factor in whether or not an individual receives a particular opportunity.
Sometimes overlooked are those who do not make a great first impression or haven't received honors and recognition. People with lower-level jobs, limited education, and a minimal range of skills are often bypassed. It is amazing the bias, prejudice, and discrimination which often comes into play.
Isn't it wonderful how God doesn't use the same criteria! He sees the heart and what each person can become. He knows the potential when given the opportunity. Such is the situation when Rahab, an unlikely woman to be in the lineage of Christ, had her faith rewarded.
Rahab lived in the city of Jericho on the eastern edge of Canaan near the Jordan River. The population was probably about 3,000, with the area of the city being somewhere between 7 and 13 acres. People mainly worked outside the city and returned at night for housing and safety. Jericho was a double-walled city. The outer wall was 6 feet thick and the inner wall 12 feet. The walls stood 15 feet apart and rose 30 feet above ground.
From a human perspective, Jericho stood as a mighty fortress providing safety for its population. It's significant that God led Israel to this city as the first military target in Canaan. From a military perspective, this was brilliant strategy. By taking possession of the middle ground, the Israelites were cutting off the routes from north to south. Also, the destruction of this major fortress would send a message to the Canaanites. They would constantly have in mind the power of Israel and her God, Jehovah. However, that would not stop them from fighting against these perceived invaders.
That Rahab played a pivotal role in this story is amazing. Her occupation raises eyebrows. Her faith appears so strong while lacking so much knowledge of God. Her reward emphasizes God's grace and abundant blessings.
I. THOUGHTFUL AND COURAGEOUS (Joshua 2:1-24)
A. The Risk (vv. 1-7)
(Joshua 2:5-7 is not included in the printed text.)
1. And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there.
2. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country.
3. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country.
4. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were.
Everything was ready for Israel to conquer and take possession of the Promised Land. At this point it appears God hadn't given Joshua any specific directions or battle plan. Being a military man, he understood the need for inside information prior to attacking. So Joshua sent two men to secretly gather information about the land and the city of Jericho. Upon arriving in Jericho, they stayed at the home of Rahab.
Why would these men go to the house of a prostitute? Initially, it appears questionable. Further knowledge points to the same Hebrew word being used for "female innkeeper" and "harlot." It is likely that Rahab had rooms to rent and her services could be purchased for those who so desired. Some have suggested their staying at her home would give them less visibility. Visits of strange men would not raise suspicion as would their staying in another location.
Any attempt of being incognito failed. Keep in mind the relatively small size of the city. It would be difficult not to be seen. Also, the report to the king specifically pointed to their being Israelites. Verse 3 says the king was told these men's purpose in coming—they were spies!
Immediately messengers were sent to Rahab with the directive to bring these men to the king. Would she obey the king of her city or take the risk of hiding the men who represented Israel? She decided to protect the Israelites, but what would she say in response to the king's men?
Without hesitancy Rahab glibly lied. Her story contained three separate falsehoods: (1) She claimed not to know where the men were from. (2) She stated they left just before the time of the evening gate closing. (3) She indicated a lack of knowledge as to their direction but assured that swift pursuit would result in their being caught (v. 5). She was a sinner who followed the way of sin in spite of knowing something of Israel's God. Sometimes this type of action is difficult for us to understand. Yet, if we pause and think about it, we should recognize some imperfections in our lives which have been changed through the process of commitment to Christ, growth in the Word, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
All along the two spies were hidden on the flat roof under bundles of flax. Since the roofs were used for storage of drying grain, the flax became a convenient hiding location. There would be no reason to search the roof having heard Rahab's story. Also, it would be logical for spies to operate under the cover of darkness and leave at that hour. All the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall into place.
B. The Request (vv. 8-14)
8. And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof;
9. And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.
10. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.
11. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.
12. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father's house, and give me a true token:
13. And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.
14. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the Lord hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.
After the king's messengers left, Rahab spoke to the men on the rooftop. In verse 9 she acknowledged God's having given Jericho to Israel and that His terror had fallen on the people. She said, "All who live in this country are melting in fear" (NIV). They somehow knew of the distant past when God miraculously opened the Red Sea for Israel. Also known to them was the immediate past as God enabled Israel to destroy the army of the Amorites (Numbers 21:21-35).
These two events on either side of a 40-year span point to God's enabling of His people. Nothing could stand in His way. As a result, the people of Jericho's courage had melted. Where there once was strength, only weakness now resided. Apparently the people sensed the hopelessness of the future.
In verse 11 of the text, Rahab made a major confession regarding the God of Israel: He is the God of the heavens and earth. This can be seen as a statement in which she abandoned the gods of Canaan for the sovereign Almighty God.
Having made a confession concerning the true God, Rahab then requested kindness for herself and her father's household. She asked that the favor shown to the spies would be returned in like kind. She provided security and safety despite the king's request. Would they return a similar act of kindness when Israel's army invaded? Rahab also requested a token or sign of this agreement. The spies responded by agreeing to spare her life and those of her family in exchange for her actions. There was one requirement: Rahab must remain silent about their actions and intent. This points to the need for Rahab to continue on the path of commitment to God and His plans for Israel.
C. The Escape (vv. 15-24)
(Joshua 2:15-24 is not included in the printed text.)
Rahab's assistance to the spies went far beyond that of the initial hiding. Next they must leave the city unnoticed. Through the use of a rope, the men were lowered to the ground outside the city walls. It's not likely this rope remained tied to the window; otherwise it would be a "dead giveaway" of the duplicity and aiding of the spies. She was, however, to place a scarlet marker of some type in the window. Symbolically it seems similar to the blood on the doorposts when the death angel passed over Egypt. The scarlet cord became the sign of security.
Rahab's thoughtfulness can be seen in her directing the spies to go to the mountains for three days. By that time those watching the fording places would have given up and gone home. The spies followed her directions and returned safely to report to Joshua.
Before leaving, the spies reminded Rahab of the requirements of safety. The scarlet marker needed to be in place. Family members were to stay in her house and not wander into the streets. She was to maintain complete silence about their activities.
These verses remind us of the need to follow God's plans and directives. Our salvation isn't a do-it-yourself job in which we determine the parameters of belief and action. God sets the stage and writes the script.
II. HONORED FOR BRAVERY (Joshua 6:17-25)
A. The Plan (vv. 17-21)
(Joshua 6:18-21 is not included in the printed text.)
17. And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers we sent.
20. So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
God's plan for the capture of Jericho combines simple obedience of the people and divine intervention. They will march, trumpets will be blown, and the people will shout. Then the walls will fall flat. This part of the lesson opens at the beginning of the seventh day as the instructions are being given. On the six previous days, the Israelites had marched silently around Jericho once each day.
Though the people of Jericho are to be killed, a specific exemption is given. Rahab, once again labeled as a prostitute, and her family are to live. Only the people inside her house are to be spared.
The saving of Rahab and her family stands as a monumental distinctive in contrast to the destruction of the people and the city itself, and the burning of its contents. There is to be no taking of spoils for the captors. Only the silver, gold, bronze, and iron articles are to be taken and designated for the Lord's treasury (v. 19). Jericho will be a burnt offering to the Lord. It is of interest to note how archaeological digs have confirmed the fate of Jericho. The burned portion of the rubble is far greater than that found in other cities that were captured and spoiled.
B. The Reward (vv. 22-25)
22. But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot's house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her.
23. And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel.
24. And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.
25. And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
Besides saving her and her family from destruction, Rahab's reward increased. She was allowed to continue to live in the land and was incorporated into God's people. This is not the picture of an outcast being tolerated. No, Rahab was a woman who, by faith and action, bravely made a commitment to God and His people. She had heard of Israel's God and His mighty works, and when the opportunity arose, she began her walk of faith by the risky business of hiding the spies and aiding in their escape.
Something similar occurs when we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. With this commitment we become part of another people, God's family. We may live in the same region, but now there is a new citizenship.
III. MADE RIGHTEOUS BY FAITH (Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:21-26)
A. Christ's Lineage (Matthew 1:5)
5. And Salmon begat Booz [Boaz] of Rachab [Rahab]; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse.
Believers tend to skip over the genealogies which are recorded in the Old and New Testaments. The names are often difficult to pronounce. Yet they serve a vital part in validating other portions of Scripture and providing new information. In the New Testament, both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke include a genealogy of Jesus. Matthew traces Jesus' lineage through Joseph, His legal father. Luke records Jesus' lineage through Mary, His mother. Each reflects the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7), which promised a descendant would be on His throne forever.
In Matthew's genealogy we find Rahab's inclusion. Normally women are not included in these lineage lists. Matthew includes two—Ruth and Rahab (in one verse)—and both have "a past." Ruth was not an immoral woman, but she was a Moabitess, one of the forbidden people for intermarriage. Rahab was known for her sexual immorality. We are thereby reminded that Christ does not hold the past against any person, but opens the door for restoration for those who will believe and live a new life. Christ also raises the status of women, as can be seen so often in Luke's Gospel. One example is Mary Magdalene, who moved from being demon-possessed to become an ardent follower of Jesus.
Rahab's inclusion in Christ's lineage reflects a person who had "two strikes" against her. First, she was part of the Canaanites, who were to be completely destroyed for their sins. Second, she participated in immoral sexual behavior. But when she turned to God in faith, He responded in love, acceptance, and protection.
B. Rahab's Faith (Hebrews 11:31)
31. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
This section (along with James 2:21-26) stands as the heart of the lesson. It pulls together two dimensions in Rahab's life—her faith and her actions. Also, these verses remind us as believers of the dual dimensions which should be evident in each of our lives.
Hebrews 11 is frequently referred to as the Hall of Faith. Inclusion in this lineup doesn't make any one of them better than believers who have lived since then. It does provide a wide variety of examples of people demonstrating faith in God regardless of the circumstances or the amount of their knowledge of God. This chapter follows a chronological order. In verse 30 the faith of Israel in God's plan of attack on Jericho is shown. Immediately following we read of Rahab's faith, which was the reason her life was spared. The writer then points to the action which resulted from her faith. She believed what she heard God had done in the past, she believed God and His people would triumph over her city and its surrounding land, and she acted on her faith.
Recognizing who the men were when they came to her home, Rahab had a choice. Would they be received in peace or revealed as spies? Receiving them in peace demanded taking a risk. There was no assurance of her personal fate when choosing to hide the two men. Only later would she enter into an agreement with the spies providing for the safety of herself and her family.
C. Living Faith (James 2:21-26)
21. Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22. Seest thou how faith wrought with works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23. And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James' writing in his classic chapter on faith and works blends and expands the concept seen in Hebrews. He used the examples of Abraham and Rahab. Faith cannot stand alone and be inactive. What one believes within must, of necessity, be reflected in activities consistent with that faith. When God called Abraham, he left his homeland and by faith went to a land he had never seen.
In Genesis 22, God directed Abraham to take his son to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him. Abraham did not ask questions. Instead, we see actions and words of faith. Abraham rose early for the journey (v. 3). He directed his servants to stay at a certain place and stated he and Isaac would return (v. 5). Abraham reassured Isaac of God's provision when asked about a lamb for sacrifice (vv. 7, 8).
In God's completed plan of salvation, we know we are justified by faith in Jesus as we confess our sins before Him. We are then declared righteous. This righteousness needs to be lived outwardly through actions/activities that reflect who we are and what we believe.
In James 2:25, the writer seems to be pointing to the uselessness of Rahab's having faith but not following through. Without her positive actions toward the spies, she would not have obtained righteousness. She would never have been in the lineage of Christ. Instead, Rahab and her relatives would have died with the rest of the city.
Verse 26 summarizes the whole concept. James says "the body without the spirit is dead." He is using the analogy of the human body and the life-giving spirit to demonstrate the relationship between faith and works. Faith then is basic to the Christian life—belief in who God is and what He can do. Righteous works reflect the vitality and reality of our faith.
One caution needs to be inserted here. Works alone do not make us righteous in the eyes of God. Neither does faith alone make us acceptable in the sight of God. Faith is the beginning. But it must be accompanied by actions that are consistent with the faith we claim.
The life of Rahab shows the tremendous contrast between one's past and future potential. The key is faith. Only when she chose to place her lot with the people of God and hold to faith in Him was she able to escape judgment. Death became life as she combined her faith and works.
GOLDEN TEXT CHALLENGE
"BY FAITH THE HARLOT RAHAB PERISHED NOT WITH THEM THAT BELIEVED NOT, WHEN SHE HAD RECEIVED THE SPIES WITH PEACE" (Hebrews 11:31).
Faith is an absolute necessity. Without it, prayers return as empty as they went out; attempt at worship is wasted time; trying to live a holy life is useless effort; and good deeds are of no effect. "Without faith it is impossible to please him" (v. 6).
To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.