First Mennonite Church
January 8, 2017
Rahab’s Story: A Story of Risk Worth Taking
Text: Joshua 2: 1-18
Before I go over this text, I would like to acknowledge that every time we go to the bible we do so looking for characters we can emulate. We admire Abraham, Sara, Ruth, Daniel, Mary, Paul, and so on. But when we take a passage like the one we have for today, it is hard to find aspects we can relate to with the main character in this story. And it is not hard to see why. Rahab is called a prostitute. Yet the character in this passage presents us with a topic of human experience that should lead us to reflect on the reasons why prostitution exists. Only about two weeks ago there was something in the news about an Uber driver rescuing a young girl from being prostituted. It is easy to say that people and especially women who get involved in this kind of activity are simply lacking moral grounding in their lives. It is easy to say this kind of activity is morally and socially reprehensible. What we often fail to understand is the underlying factors that lead to it. Just as in ancient times poverty was one of the causes that led people to choose between slavery and prostitution. I many cases indebtedness drove decent families to give out their children as slaves or to prostitution. Today, the need to sustain an addiction has led some women to prostitute themselves. In other cases the victims are runaway girls. Child abuse and neglect have led many girls to run away from their home and often times these young women become victims of organized crime.
The reason Rahab did what she did to the king and his men can be seen through the lens of someone who took her revenge from an exploitive king over his people which led Rahab to prostitute herself in order to keep her family alive.
According to the book of Joshua, Israel was encamped on the East side of the Jordan River and was ready to cross into Canaan. The land of Canaan was inhabited by various peoples and ruled by various kings. And the first city-kingdom bordering the Jordan River was Jericho, a fortified city. While Israel’s army was coming with slings, arrows and spears, the city of Jericho was protected with thick stone walls.
We should remember that as Israel marched toward the Promised Land it left a wake, a footprint of fear and amazement among the people it had passed through. And that was not because of their skillful use of the sword and spear, but because Yahweh, their God had been at their front and back. Yahweh, the Almighty God, began his victory march from the moment He defeated Pharaoh and his mighty army at the Red Sea.
As Joshua prepared to begin his conquest, he sent spies into Jericho, which chapter 2 narrates so beautifully.
What Joshua did not know was that their reputation as God’s people had spread faster than they could move. So when the two spies arrived at Jericho not long before the city gates were shut, they were hosted by a woman who lived along the city walls. Her name was Rahab. For what purposes did the author have to indicate her profession or as to what reasons he did not withhold from telling, we do not know. But we are told that she was a prostitute.
Rahab recognized these men were not locals but from the marching army of Yahweh which came out from Egypt. And she knew what their intentions were; the king and whole city knew Israel had been sending spies to every city along its path. Therefore, the arrival of the Israelite spies was reported to the king. He therefore sent men with the orders that Rahab should deliver these spies into the king’s hands. But the spies had been tucked among the stacks of flax in the rooftop.
Rahab knew the terror and panic that have stricken her people. And she confessed to her guests in the rooftop, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and so on….”
She also confessed, “The LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.”
Why did Rahab choose to break away from her people? Why would she take the risk of hiding the spies? Rahab deserted her people and became a traitor to her king. She sided with the outsiders who were spying on her city. Why would she do that? In Hebrews 11, verse 31, the writer interprets Rahab’s action as an act of obedience
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
Throughout the book of Joshua God’s work of salvation for Israel had the purpose of instilling fear of God. In Joshua four, verse 24, Joshua reminds Israel that each act of God in their favor was to move them to obedience. In chapter 9, some of the Canaanite nations were moved by fear and came to Joshua to make covenants of peace. God’s work of liberating and establishing Israel was intended to move Israel to obedience and for the nations to come to know Yahweh as God of heaven and earth. Rahab despite her occupation came to that knowledge. She was not disobedient as her people who instead of submitting to God, resisted him. Hebrews highlights her obedience as an act of faith.
James uses her as an example of someone having faith in the same category as Abraham’s. James wrote:
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead (James 2:24-26).
For Rahab there was no risk too big she would not take in order to prove she believed in Yahweh, and she wanted to be part of his people. She risked her own life. She became to deserter to her people and a traitor to her king. But she was crowned with the title “hero of faith” and became the part of the ancestral line of none other than Jesus, the Messiah of God and our Redeemer.
Her confession of faith not only was so well articulated, but it also reflected an enviable conviction we should strive having. She said to the peeking spies hidden among the stacks of flax: “The LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.”
Something most have happened in Rahab’s heart the day she first heard the stories of God’s marvelous act that her heart was transformed. A divine light broke into the darkness of her soul and she came to the knowledge of God, not only as the God of the Hebrew people but as the God of heavens and the God of the whole earth and all its inhabitants. Rahab was willing to risk her life to live only in obedience to this God she now feared and believed in. Her restlessness was quenched and her loneliness dissipated in the merciful hold of God’s arms of protection. Her fear was transformed into faith and her faith moved her to obedience. Her longing to live a life of fullness of joy and real security was promised to her if she would only heed to the instruction of the spies of Joshua.
Rahab surrendered her heart before God. She pleaded for grace and to be spared. She interceded on behalf of her extended family. She chose to become a traitor and defector in her own nation because she was convinced God is the God of heavens above and God of earth below.
Dear brothers and dear sisters, Rahab can teach us we need to take risks for the sake of obeying God.
Will you stand for righteousness?
Will you stand for justice and peace?
Are you willing to offer more of yourself to God?
Everything God does in our favor is intended to move us to fear God, that is to have reverence for God. Fear of God inspires faith and faith is demonstrated through obedience. May our faith and fear of God move us to action this year.
Let me, therefore, close with the words of James 2: 24-26
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. Amen!