Second Reformed Church

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Rahab" Sermon: Hebrews 11:31


[Hebrews 11:31]

December 15, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            By faith we receive the Word of God – we hear what God has said, and we believe it is true.  We are assured that all the promises of God will come to pass, and everything we have not seen that God has said is true, we believe with steadfast confidence.

            Faith is not based on guesswork and whimsy; faith is the receiver of the Word of God – a Word that we can hear and know and believe, because we have come to know Who God is – we have come to know God’s character, and so we recognize His Word and receive it as true and faithful.

            We come to the last figure in Hebrews chapter 11 who is spoken of “at length.”  And she is different from all the other figures we have looked at – she is a woman, she is a Gentile – not a Jew, and she is a prostitute.  Her inclusion in this list could be seen as scandalous, because she is a woman, she is not one of the chosen of Israel, and she made her livelihood in sin and encouraging others to sin.

            Yet, as we consider her history, as we find it in the Word of God, we find:

            God has chosen people from all nations and graciously forgiven even great sins of the truly repentant.

            Faith proves itself in action.

            True faith is the reception of God’s Word.

            And, examples of faith are an encouragement to faith.

            Last week we considered Joshua and the taking of Jericho.  Today, we are taking a step back – and we note that this is another difference with Rahab – she is the only major figure in Hebrews 11 who is listed out of historical order.

            Why is she included in the list of examples of the faithful for the Hebrews suffering under Rome?

            One reason is surely to show them that God’s plan has never changed.  God has chosen people from all nations and graciously forgiven even great sins of the truly repentant.

            Rahab was a Gentile; she was not a Jew.  The Jews – Israel – were the people of God.  And while it was true that God did have a special relationship with the nation of Israel – above all other nations – it is not true that God only chose Jews to be saved.  Rahab is one example.

As Paul wrote to the Romans, he wrestled with the heartache that not all biological Israel would be saved – not all the biological descendants of Abraham would be saved, and he explained how it could be that all Israel would be saved, but not every Israelite would be saved, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6-8, ESV).

Paul explains that God did promise that all of the children of Israel would be saved, but the Word of God has not failed – all of the children of Israel shall be saved.  However, just as Abraham’s son Isaac inherited the promise, but Ishmael did not, so we are to understand that being a child of Abraham is not a matter of biology – it is a matter of faith.  All those who believe God’s Word are children of Abraham.  One does not need to be a biological descendant of Abraham to be a child of the Promise.

As Paul explained, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV).

The Gospel was given to the Jews first, but it is also given to the Gentiles – to every other person.  The person who receives the Word of God by faith and believes, is a child of Israel and Abraham.  Everyone who believes in the Word of God and the Savior God promised in it are children of God.

So, while not many non-Jews believed in the days of Rahab, she did believe, and God adopted her as His daughter.

Yet, when we hear that she was a prostitute, we bristle – just as the Pharisees bristled when they accused Jesus of being a friend of prostitutes.  Jesus explained to them at different points that He hung out with prostitutes because they had the good sense to know that they needed to be forgiven, whereas some religious types don’t.

And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29, ESV).

All sins are forgivable if a believer is truly repentant.  Rahab was a prostitute, but she repented and was forgiven.  You have a penchant for some sins over others, and you can be forgiven if you repent and believe.

And then, she was also a woman.  In a culture where a woman’s word did not stand up in court, God has chosen to reveal Himself through women, including Rahab.  God likes to use the downtrodden to reveal Himself.  As Paul explains:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV).

That’s a good passage for us to keep before us both for when we deem someone as unworthy of the Gospel and when we think that God is pretty lucky to have us.  No one is too low for us to bring the Gospel, and we have no special merit in receiving the Word of God and believing because faith and believe are gifts of God by His Grace.

So let us remember – in the days of Joshua, in the days of the New Testament Church, in the days of the 21st century Church – God has chosen people from all nations and graciously forgiven even great sins of the truly penitent.

            Rahab’s history takes place between the death of the last of the Israelites God condemned in the forty year wandering and before the conquest of Jericho.  Joshua took the people of Israel up to the eastern border of the Jordan River, having defeated the kingdoms along the way.  Now, Joshua was ready the lead the people against the frontier town of Jericho and begin the conquering of Canaan proper.  But before they go in, Joshua sends two spies.  And we read:

“And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, ‘Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.’ Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, ‘True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.’ But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.”

The two spies snuck into Jericho and went to the house of Rahab the prostitute.  Why did they go to her house?  Not for sinful reasons.  Perhaps because men coming and going at her house would not raise suspicion.  However, the people of Jericho – and the king of Jericho – knew that Israel was on the march, and they recognized them when they arrived.

So the King sent a message to Rahab, demanding that she hand over the spies.  But Rahab lies and tells the kings men that the spies made it out of the gate before they locked the door, so to run after them.  In reality, she had hidden them on the roof of her house and covered them with roofing material so they would not be found.

What shall we say about this?   Surely lying is a sin, is it not?  Aren’t we told to submit to the government?  Or is this an exception because the government was engaged in sin?  It would seem, in the face of such a difficult moral question, the best we can say is that her lie was a sin, but her saving of the spies was approved by God.

What we can see more clearly is that Rahab proved her faith by rescuing the spies at the risk of her own life.  We see here that faith proves itself in action.  Rahab believed in the Word of God – and we’ll talk more about that shortly, and she acted on her faith and protected the spies God sent to accomplish His Will in Jericho.

We’ve talked about faith and action – or faith and works – quite a bit in our Sunday morning Bible study.  We have seen that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone – our works do not merit anything towards salvation – we can never do enough good to be right we God – we can only be right with God because God chooses to give us His Grace and make us right with God. 

However, James writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”  (James 2:19, ESV).  James was writing to people who had heard the Word of God and believed that the Word of God is true, yet it had not changed their lives at all – there had been no proof of their faith through action – through living it out.  James explained that it is a good thing to know the Word of God and to believe it is true, but even the demons do that!  The proof of a true faith is that it is lived out in action – if we have received the Word of God savingly, it must change the way we live and act.  We must be different people.

Rahab heard the Word of God and believed it – she received it by faith – and then, when the opportunity came to save the spies, she acted and saved them – proving her faith in action.  And we must do likewise – it is not enough to sit around knowing the truth – though we are not saved by our works – if we have believed savingly, we must do good works – we must bear fruit – we must live out our faith and all we have believed.

After Paul explained to the Ephesians that salvation is by faith alone, he wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

We who have been saved by God through Jesus Christ, must now, as new creatures, prove our faith by doing the good works He predestined us to do.  Faith proves itself in action.

We continue the history:

“Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, ‘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. 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. 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. 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.’ And the men said to her, ‘Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.’

“Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. And she said to them, ‘Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.’ The men said to her, ‘We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 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. 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. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.’ And she said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.”

Here we see Rahab’s faith – and we see that true faith is a reception of God’s Word:

First, Rahab reflected on the history of what God had done for the Jews.  She confesses that she knew that the Lord God had given Jericho into their hands, because they all knew that God had freed them from slavery and parted the Red Sea so they could escape, and now they had bested the nations on the east of the Jordan and taken the land for themselves.

Second, Rahab confesses her faith in the God of Israel, as she confesses that God the Lord God is the God of heaven and earth – the One True God – the One Who has prospered Israel – this is the God she believed in.

And third, she asked, in the name of that God, that she would be protected – she and her family – as members of those who believe in that God – and she made the spies swear that they would recognize her as a sister in the Lord and save her and her family when they took Jericho.

It is unlikely that Rahab had access to anything in the way of the Scripture – only the books of Moses, and perhaps Job, would have existed – but she received the Word of God by faith by hearing Who the God is Israel is and what He had done for them, and she believed.  Thus, her faith was seen in believing the promises God made to Israel.

In the same way, our faith is seen in believing the promises that God made to Israel and all those in the Scripture.  True faith is a reception of God’s Word.  As Paul explains, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

This section of the history concludes in a way that shows us that examples of faith are an encouragement to faith – that is why the author of Hebrews listed all these figures and pointed to them as examples of faith that we would understand what faith is and so we would be spurred on to faith – to receiving all that God has said as true and sure – that we would be assured in the faith and convicted of the truth – the reality of everything God has said and promised. 

And so we read:

“They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us’” (Joshua 2:1-24, ESV).

The spies went to the mountains and hid for the time that Rahab had encouraged them to hide, and then they returned to Joshua and told Joshua about Rahab and what she had done – their promise to her and her faith – both exemplified in confession and action.  The reaction was that Joshua was encouraged and assured that God had given – not merely Jericho – but all the land of Canaan into their hands.  In Rahab’s faith, Joshua saw God’s promise all the more clearly and held to it with greater assurance – and, as we saw last week, went forward, according to the instructions that God gave him, and conquered Jericho.

The encouragement that Joshua received in hearing these words should encourage us to read our Bibles and hear the history in it that our faith would be encouraged as we see the faith of other saints of God.  One of the more difficult texts to read is the book of Revelation, but we need to read it keeping in mind that John wrote the text to Christians suffering under the persecution of Nero that they would be encouraged and assured that Christ is and was and will ever be victorious – so they – and we who read it two thousand years later, would be encouraged, that there is nothing in all the world that will stop Jesus from returning and restoring the Creation – bringing about His Kingdom – fully – on earth.

After the Bible, we find encouragement in reading good Christian biographies – let me encourage us to read biographies of the saints of these latter years, who in these last days have stood for their faith and lived lives proclaiming the Gospel.  They are an encouragement.  You might want to consider beginning with Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, in which he presents short accounts of the life and death of Christians in the early Church.

If there is a Christian figure you are interested in reading about – in addition to reading your Bible – ask me, and I will help you find a good biography of someone who may encourage you in your faith.

There is yet one more reason that Rahab is important and worthy of inclusion in this list, as we read in the genealogy given by Matthew:

 “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:2-6, ESV).

Rahab married Salmon, who father Boaz, who father Obed, who father Jesse, who fathered King David – Rahab was the great, great grandmother of King David, who was the ancestor of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.

It is through this pagan, woman, prostitute, who came to faith in the God of Israel, who saved the spies that Jericho could be conquered, that Jesus Christ was born.

“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

So, let us remember:

God has chosen people from all nations and graciously forgiven even great sins of the truly repentant.

Faith proves itself in action.

True faith is the reception of God’s Word.

Examples of faith are an encouragement to faith.

We may be nothing in the eyes of the world – we may have even lived scandalous lives, but Jesus Christ makes us new creatures as God adopts us as sons and daughters, making us His through faith, that we might do those good works that God predestined us to do.

All those who believe are being used to the Glory of God.  Even me – and you.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we bow humbly before Your Wisdom and Grace, that You would choose someone like Rahab to be Your daughter, to continue Your promise to give Your people the land of Canaan, and to be an ancestor of our Lord Jesus.  May we be humble, urgently proclaiming Your Gospel, and praying the You would use us to Your Glory.  For this is our joy.  And it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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