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The Faith of Rahab...Hebrews 11:31

Many years ago, I had an experience that taught me about the type of bold faith that receives mercy. One day when I was working in construction, I jumped into the work truck to go and get some supplies. I did not wear my glasses because they had been broken and I had not taken the time to get new ones. Unfortunately for me, a policeman pulled me over because the tags on the truck were expired. When I gave him my driver’s license, he immediately saw that I had a restriction. I was not wearing my glasses so he wrote me a three-hundred-dollar ticket and 3 points were removed from my driving record.

I knew that I was guilty but I wanted to see if I could go to court and get the judge to give me mercy. Before my court date I went to the optometrist and got my vision tested and a new pair of glasses to strengthen my case. My eyes were actually good enough that I did not have to drive with glasses so I was given a form from the Doctor to prove this.

When I arrived at the courthouse everything was a new experience for me. I sat in a room full of people who were going to go up before the judge. We were all instructed by the bailiff that after a group of people went before the judge, we would all go down to the county clerk’s office together to pay the fines so we were to wait in the courtroom until he gathered a group together.

Unfortunately, I was called to go stand before the judge before anyone else. My ticket was read aloud and the judge asked me one simple question, “How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?” Well, I knew I was guilty so I said, “I am guilty”. As soon as I said this the judge said I was to pay $300.00 and have three points taken off of my drivers record. Then he dismissed me to go back and sit down.

I took my seat and wondered why I was not given an opportunity to plead my case or ask for mercy? Then the next man went up before the judge. His traffic violation was much worse than mine. In addition to this he was a repeat offender. After reading the violation the judge asked him, “How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?” The man plead guilty just as I did but then as the judge was about to pronounce his verdict, he interrupted the judge and said, “I would like to ask that the court would give me a little mercy”.

I remember thinking to myself, “That is what I should have done to have received mercy!” Then I thought, “Surly, this man will not receive mercy. He is a repeat offender and his offense was far greater than mine.

The judge looked at the man and asked him to repeat what he had said. The man said, “Your honor, I know that I am guilt of this violation but I would like to ask that the court would give me a little mercy”. The judge looked at the man and lowered his fine and took less points off of his drivers record. In that moment I was upset with myself for not having done the same thing that this gentleman had done. I was even mad at this man who had received mercy when I didn’t.

I mentioned this story because we see this type of bold and courageous faith in Rahab this morning. Because her faith she receives mercy from the LORD. Let me caution you this morning that we ought to be careful how we respond to Rahab. As we consider her faith, we may want to respond in the way that I did to the man in traffic court. We should see the faith for which she is commended for in Hebrews 11:31and marvel at it and follow her example. Or we can see the mercy she receives and become angry because this woman receives the mercy that she did not deserve by any means of accounting.

Our text this morning is found in Hebrews 11:30-31 which says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

I will be honest, much of this week I was captivated by the faith of Rahab that I for all intents and purposes became unaware of a certain part of this verse. Because of this I would read this verse in this way, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish...because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” I almost became oblivious to the words right in the middle of this verse. But as I sat down to write this sermon, I immediately began to appreciate the part of this verse that I had overlooked all week. The verse says, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

With these five words in the middle of this verse the author of Hebrews reminds us of the disobedience of the inhabitants of Jericho. The people of Jericho were guilty and God is just and righteous to judge them. Several commentators described the sins that these people were committing and they were shocking.

The word ‘disobedient’ means that they rejected and disobeyed in the most important matters that relate to God. They had rejected God in the matters that pertain to the gospel message. In other words, the people of Jericho refused to believe the message that they had heard.1 They were unbelievers who would not be persuaded to comply with what should have been believed and acted upon. Instead, they resisted God and were rebellious against His Sovereign rule.

This makes us ask a question, “What was the gospel message that the Canaanites had heard that they were disobedient too?

The good news of the gospel must have come to this city for two reasons. First, Rahab hears the gospel and responds with faith and is saved. Secondly, the people of Jericho are found to be disobedient to the message of the gospel and they are destroyed. I can see two ways in which the gospel was presented in the story concerning Jericho and Rahab. First, everyone had heard about what the LORD had done over the last 40 years. Secondly, Rahab heard the gospel from these two spies. Let’s consider both of these points.

Let’s consider these two things for a moment. First, everyone had heard about what the LORD had done over the last 40 years. In Joshua 2:10-11 we read these words, “For we (all) have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.

Notice that the LORD probably brought this message to the city of Jericho many times while the people wandered in the wilderness for forty years. One message came concerning what the LORD had done in Egypt. Another message came concerning the two Amorite kings and their cities. All the people in the Promised Land had come to hear about these things.

This makes me ask a few questions.

  • Where is the good news when we hear that God had defeated Egypt and the Amorites and now His people are coming to possess the land that they currently live in?

  • Where is the good news when the people in Jericho discover that their city has been designated by the LORD as a city that is ‘devoted to destruction’?

  • Where is there any good news in the message that will inevitably make the hearts of all the inhabitants melt away?

  • How is this type of message supposed to be efficacious in saving anyone?

I think these questions may be particularly relevant today. Our culture likes to emphasize the fact that God is love. And because He loves everyone, we suppose that God is not angry with anyone and we assume that that His wrath is not upon sinners.

Rest assured there is good news in the message that brought these people so much fear! This week I watched a lecture by Dr. Al Mohler entitled “Truth and Consequences”. In that lecture he asked this question, “Is it good news or bad news to be told about the reality of how things really are?” He answered that question by saying, “It’s good news.” Then he explains, “It may come as hard news, but it is actually good news. A biblical worldview always reminds us that the truth is never bad news. Not when understood by a Christian within the context of biblical Christianity.

Then Dr. Mohler asked a rhetorical question, “What could be revealed to us by God that would not be good news?” He then said, “That (bad) news that God gives us might be hard to hear and to understand, but it is still good news. And the LORD gives us this hard message for our good.

Let’s apply this principle to our text today. The people of Jericho heard a hard (bad) message. When they heard this message, they could have responded in one of two ways. Like Rahab, they could display a bold faith which would seek mercy. Or they could hear this message, and like Pharaoh, they could harden their heart and rise up to fight against God’s people.

When the people of Jericho heard that “the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea when Israel came out of Egypt, and when they heard about what had happened to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan and how they were devoted to destruction”, the vast majority of the people hardened their hearts and prepared for war. They did not respond in faith so as to be saved.

Over the last several weeks we have been pointing out that we do not often understand just how important is to live by faith. God knows just how important faith is so he acts in ways that will cause believers and unbelievers to reckon the importance of faith. We saw this when the LORD directed His people to leave the easy path that led to the Promised Land and He turned His people towards the way that would entrap them between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea.

The LORD did this for two reasons. First, He put Israel in an impossible situation so that they had to walk by faith and rely upon Him. Secondly, we see today that He was also doing this so that it would be a gospel witness to all of the other surrounding nations. God would do this by magnifying His Name and His power throughout all the earth (Exodus 9:16- “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”). There were some who would come to Him for refuge and find salvation. There were many others, however, who would rise up against the LORD and His sovereign authority (Psalm 2).

As this message went out to the nations the peoples would be aware of two important truths. First, they knew that God could bring judgment upon them and destroy them as He had Egypt. Secondly, they knew that God will save anyone who will humble themselves and respond with faith as the Israelites had done at the Red Sea.

Rahab describes what happened to the people when they heard this message. She says in Judges 2:11, “And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.This reaction does not shock any of us, does it? Even the demons know these things about God and they shutter because the LORD is God in the heavens above and the earth beneath! (James 2:19)

Many of us have heard the bad news concerning our sin. Sin truly is our greatest danger! When we first realized that sin is our greatest danger our hearts melt within us (Romans 6:23a, Hebrews 11:29, Revelation 20:11-15). When the reality of our sin was made known to us, we said with Jesus’ disciples, “Who then can be saved?’” (Matthew 19:25)

Aren’t you glad that Jesus goes on to say, “With man this (salvation) is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” This is why the apostle John says that salvation is not by men; rather, it is from the LORD Jesus Christ. He says this in John 1:9-13, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

When Jesus came into the world the world did not know Him and His own people did not receive Him. What hope is there for salvation when Jesus Himself was in the world and no one believed upon Him? John gives us the answer to this question by saying, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Similarly, there was hope for Rahab to be saved because salvation is from the LORD.

We have now considered the universal call that all the nations had heard concerning the LORD. Now let’s consider the second message that comes directly to Rahab that overcame her fears and produced faith in her. We see this in James 2:24-26, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

These two men were sent out to spy out the city of Jericho. They were, however, more than spies, they were ‘messengers’ who spoke the Gospel to Rahab. {APPLICATION: You are not just a worker at a company; you are a messenger. You are not just a parent; but a messenger to your kids. You are not just a volunteer somewhere; you are a messenger. You are not just out doing a hobby; you are a messenger.}

This must have been a powerful message that these men spoke to Rahab (Romans 1:16-17). And the Holy Spirit was at work because Rahab did not receive ignore this message which was given by two men that she had been taught to hate. No, she received their word as if it came from the LORD Himself and the message came with power and full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Like you and I, Ephesians 2:12, describes the condition of Rahab before saving faith came. She was ‘separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

The only way that Rahab, or any of us will be saved from the hard message concerning our sins when we respond in faith to the Good News about God’s salvation. As Rahab said, it is only the God who is the ‘God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, who is able to save us from our sins(2:11). {APPLICATION: Over the last several weeks we pointed out that Moses gave the people the Law of God but he preached and discipled that next generation that they had to live by faith. It is faith that justifies a person and sanctifies them, not the Law. By faith they uphold the Law of God. Now, these two disciples of Moses go to Jericho and preach the message of faith to Rahab. This would not have happened if so many disciples of Moses in Jesus’ day would have come and preached to Rahab. We read in Matthew 23:15- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.}

When you consider Rahab, she seemed to be one of the most unlikely candidates to receive mercy from the LORD.

  • Rahab lived in a land that God was giving to His people as an inheritance. It was a wicked, sinful and idolatrous land.

  • She lived in the walls of the city that LORD had devoted to absolute destruction. The Israelites were commanded to devote everything to destruction and to keep for themselves no treasure.

  • Rahab was not married and had no husband to protect her. On the contrary, she was a prostitute.

  • She was a descendant of the Amorites who were devoted to destruction by the LORD.

I’d like for you to notice that Rahab does not try to receive mercy by denying any of these facts that I just mentioned to you. No, like Paul she would have said, “I am the worst of sinners...what a wretched person I am!” When Rahab speaks to the two spies, she admits that she is part of this wicked people who lived in Jericho. She identifies with them and acknowledges the reality of this situation. We see this in Joshua 2:9-11, ““I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

True saving faith does not deny or cover up sin in an attempt to receive God’s mercy as if He can be tricked or fooled. Rahab, a sinful Gentile woman, is given the gift of saving faith by the LORD and so she reflects Proverbs 28:13 which says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but the one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” The rest of her neighbors, however, who do not have faith conceals their transgressions and they harden their hearts so that calamity will soon come upon them.

Notice that not only does saving faith acknowledge our wretchedness and sinfulness, but it also receives God’s grace which justifies and sanctifies them. Those who have saving faith will acknowledge their sinfulness and then consider everything a loss so that they can know Christ (Philippians 3:8).

Rahab was joyful as she came out from the rubble of Jericho. She was happy despite the fact that she had to leave everything behind. Rahab and her family had been saved and redeemed from an impossible situation. She was condemned to die but she had received mercy and eternal life. She had a new life to live among God’s people. She had greater blessings to enjoy both now in this life and in the kingdom that was yet to come.

A person with saving faith will accept the fact they have been adopted into a new family. They are now children of God both by legal status and also by receiving a new nature! Rahab was a prostitute and an idolater, but now she was none of these things. She was once a citizen of Jericho and well learned in their customs, but now she is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

She had received mercy and grace and so she began to walk in righteousness and holiness. One day she married a Jewish man, Salmon, and gave birth to Boaz who married Ruth, the great-great-grandmother of David. It was through this line that Jesus Christ was born. (Matthew 1)

For all of this we also see in our text this morning that Rahab’s faith was still immature and imperfect. When the king sent guards to get the spies from her home, she lied to them (2:2). We see in this that faith in its infancy is still prone to have many weaknesses. Thomas Manton makes this comment, “Before faith Rahab was a harlot; in believing she makes a lie. God doth reward the good of our actions and pardons the evil of them, not to encourage us in sinning, but to raise our love to Him who forgives us so great a debt, receives us graciously, and pardons our manifold weaknesses.”

I appreciate this same sentiment in the London Baptist Confession which says in section 16.5 & .6 which speaks about ‘Good Works, “Since our good works are good, they must proceed from His Spirit, and since they are performed by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they cannot withstand the severity of God’s punishment… But believers are accepted through Christ, and thus their good works are also accepted in Him. This acceptance does not mean our good works are completely blameless and irreproachable in God’s sight. Instead, God views them in His Son, and so He is pleased to accept them and reward that which is sincere, even though it is accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections.

It is because of Christ that we can be forgiven and receive mercy. And we see a type of Christ in this story when the crimson cord was put in Rahab’s window. This cord foreshadowed the blood of Christ that one day would be shed on Calvary for the salvation of all who would believe upon Him. Joshua 2:18, 21 says, Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father's household...and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.)

A.W. Pink noticed something in this cord that I appreciated. He said that when Rahab hung this scarlet chord out of her window it would have been a courageous confession for all people to see. He said, “By placing the scarlet cord in her window, she, as it were, publicly displayed her colors and made it known under whose banner she had enlisted.” He continued, “How her conduct puts to shame those who after a long profession of the truth are ready to tremble at the first approach of danger, and deem it prudence to keep at a safe distance from those who are exposed to persecution.2

We also see in both Rahab and the two spies that saving faith is not just concerned with, true faith cares about others. The spies preached to Rahab to provoke faith in her. When faith came Rahab sought the safety of the rest of her family. We read in Joshua 2:12-13, “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father's house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.

Rahab’s faith was a patient faith which was steadfast in the process. She immediately hung the chord in the window, then gathered her family into her home and then they waited. They did not know what the plan was. She did not know how long they would have to wait for the people of Israel to take the city. It took a while for the Israelites to even show up. Then they witnessed an unusual process as the people would walk around the city day after day and then go back to camp.

Through it all they waited. They only came out when the spies came to get them. They had been warned by the spies what would happen if they left that house, “Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless (19). Yet they gave her this promise, “But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head.” (19)

As I have thought about all of these things there was one question, I kept asking myself. Do I come to the scriptures and allow its testimony to bring me to faith like Rahab? Or do I read the scriptures and harden my heart like the people of Jericho?

They heard what the LORD had done decades earlier to Egypt but they hardened their heart. They heard what the LORD had done to the Amorites but they disobeyed the LORD. I too have heard these stories. How will I respond? How will you respond? With faith or with disobedience. Will you fear but have no faith. Or will our fear lead us to faith and trust in Jesus alone for our salvation?

1Friberg Lexicon

2Exposition of Hebrews, A.W. Pink, p. 844


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