Today we will be returning to our summer series based on Women in the Old Testament by turning to Joshua 2:1-24, Rahab: On God’s Side. Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who chose God over her own idols. Rahab, and the people of Canaan, had been watching Israel approach and God placed fear in their hearts as Israel set their sights on the land promised them by God. We’re often surprised by the people God chooses to work out his plans through, often choosing people we never would. Rahab becomes part of God’s people and even becomes one of the ancestors of Jesus! We will also be installing Henry Eisses as elder as part of our service.
Rahab—On God’s Side
July 10, 2022
This morning’s story is all about spies and intrigue, about a prostitute who becomes a traitor, and God using the most unlikely people to move his plan of redemption forward. Who says the Bible’s boring! Israel has been wandering through the wilderness for 40 years and it’s time for them to claim the land God has promised them. They’re no longer a gaggle of slaves trying to figure out what it means to be free; they’ve had 40 years to learn how to be God’s people through following the commandments and the way of living that God has given them. They’ve learned to trust in God, and how to be warriors able to conquer the land promised to them by God.
Joshua, before going up against Jericho, a powerful city guarding the way into the promised land, sends spies to scout out the land and the people, just like Moses did 40 years earlier. Unlike 40 years earlier, the spies come back with a positive report due to meeting with a prostitute named Rahab. Now these spies don’t seem to be very good spies as they’re noticed pretty quickly by people who tell the king, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” We can ask, “Why would they go to the house of a prostitute,” since the Israelites have many laws against prostitution and holiness. Yet there’s wisdom in going to Rahab’s place as she would know the thinking of many of the men in the city and what they thought of the Israelites encroaching onto their land.
The Jewish website thetorah.com reminds us, “Again and again, God chooses unlikely human instruments, either flipping systems of social power or making it supremely clear that the true power belongs to God alone, or both. To be sure, Rahab represents such marginality in several ways: She is a woman – and a single, childless woman at that. She is not part of Israel, but one of the people of a city that is about to be conquered. And finally, of course, she is a prostitute.” We wouldn’t choose a foreign prostitute to be the hero of God’s story, but God often chooses the weak, the rejected, and the undesirable to accomplish his plans, or as examples of faith, or to remind us that this is all God’s doing. Rahab is wise to the ways of the world and yet she’s attuned to God in a way that even many of the Israelites may not have been.
After hiding the spies and sending the king’s men on a wild goose chase, Rahab shows incredible insight into what’s really going on, “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.”
Rahab recognizes that Israel’s God is giving his people the land of Canaan, and nothing that the Canaanites do will be enough to stop Israel or Israel’s God. Rahab, in her line of work, has heard what her own people are saying about the Israelite people; that they’re terrified of them. This fear has been building up for years, and we know from Deuteronomy 2:25 that this is because God began working in the Canaanite’s hearts 40 years earlier, “This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”
Fear weakens people, nations, and even churches. John talks about that in his first letter, 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” When we come to that place where we finally understand the depth and power of Jesus’ love for us, a love expressed on the cross where he takes away our sin by taking it on himself so we can fully experience the Father’s love and our fear is driven out. The Canaanites follow gods they’ve created for themselves, and so they find themselves against God and Rahab knows that’s a losing game as she sees the fear in her own people, a fear that weakens them.
Rahab recognizes that God is the one who has protected the Israelites during the past 40 years from the kings and nations that went up against Israel. Kings like Sihon and Og found out just how powerful God is, and when they were defeated by Israel, “their hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed.” God’s been working behind the scenes for a long time now and the spies are just discovering this for themselves now. The fear and trembling that lead to the Israelites doubting God 40 years before is now deep in the hearts of the Canaanites. God has turned everything upside down. God is reminding Israel that they’re not going to conquer the land in their own strength, that the land comes from God and he’s giving it to them. They simply need to be faithful to him.
Then comes the most astonishing words from Rahab, “for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” She acknowledges that Israel’s God is the Lord of the universe; that God is over everything, even other gods bow down to Israel’s God. This is extraordinary and completely unexpected. Rahab makes the switch in her allegiance from her people and gods to God and the people of Israel, “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.” The spies agree to her request, giving her a scarlet cord to tie in her window to keep her and her family with her in her house safe. This echoes to the blood spread on the doorframes of the Israelites when the angel of death spared their lives when they left Egypt.
Rahab commits herself to Yahweh, choosing God by helping the spies escape with the knowledge they need, only asking that she and her family be spared. The unspoken request is that they will take care of her and her family by accepting them among the people of Israel despite her past. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Matthew 1 tells us that Rahab marries into the Jewish people and becomes part of the family line of Jesus through King David, “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” God’s ways are definitely not our ways and he knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. God can, and often does use people we believe are unworthy and have nothing to offer us or God. We underestimate the grace of Jesus; we often judge wrongly about others because we cannot be bothered to really get to know their heart or soul. In Jesus’ family line are a number of people we would never want to admit could ever be an ancestor of the Son of God. Jesus comes to save us from all our sin. he is working in our hearts way before we’re aware he’s calling us. Faith often shows up in unexpected people, Hebrews 11:31, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”
Rahab chooses God and God welcomes her into his family. John tells us that all those who believe in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life; this is why he went to the cross, to wash away all our sin, to offer grace to all those who come to him to find hope, grace, and forgiveness, no matter what our past looks like. Jesus calls us to believe in him, and to repent and love God with everything we are, and to love our neighbours. We’re not saved in our own strength, but only through faith in Jesus.