Sunday School Lesson: Rahab, an Unlikely Ally
Rahab: Sunday School Lesson Introduction
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
"Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from" (Joshua 2:1-4).
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
"Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 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 Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. “Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.” “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land” (Joshua 2:8-14).
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
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
"The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city" (Joshua 6:17, 20).
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
"Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel. Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house. But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day" (Joshua 6:22-25).
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
"Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse" (Matthew 1:5).
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
"By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient" (Hebrews 11:31).
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
"Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:21-26).
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.
Rahab: Sunday School Lesson Conclusion
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 prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient" (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).
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