Rahab: An Unconventional Faith
Bible Text: Hebrews 11:31 | Preacher: Brenden Peters | Series: Heroes of the Faith | Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11, where we are continuing our sermon series on the Heroes of the Faith, looking at the Old Testament individuals, mentioned in Hebrews 11, and the faith they had that made them the heroes they were.
And I just want to remind us that these individuals are real, ordinary people, who are far from perfect. Each one of them had their own failures and shortcomings. They’re not in Hebrews 11, because of how extraordinary they are, but because they’re ordinary people who believe and trust in an extraordinary God.
This list of individuals does not excuse sin; it does not condone everything that they did. Each week, we are reminded of how we stand rightly condemned before a good and holy God for our voluntary rebellion against Him.
But we are also reminded of how God has made a way, whereby sinful and fallen men and women may find deliverance from the penalty of sin, and that way is through faith in Jesus, whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins.
Each week, we are reminded that our sin is great but that God is greater, and that He takes ordinary, sinful people and does extraordinary things in their lives.
And this leads us to the next individual in our series—the second of two women mentioned in this chapter. Her name is Rahab. And Rahab is unique by way of the fact that the writer of Hebrews refers to her as Rahab the prostitute.
And I think Rahab’s inclusion in this chapter shocks us a little bit. We can rationalize away the recorded failures of the previous individuals we have already looked at. We’re not surprised their names are in Hebrews 11.
But when we read that a prostitute made it into the Heroes of the Faith, we wonder if the writer of Hebrews made a mistake. We wonder if he forgot who he was talking about. But Rahab actually has something important to teach us about faith, and that is, that faith is unconventional.
You see, the world looks for the biggest and the brightest and the best, but God looks for the broken and the hurting and the needy. The world is concerned about outward appearances, but God is concerned about the heart. So, if it seems like Rahab is out of place, what I want us to see, this morning, is that we are all out of place, and that this unconventional faith is good news for all of us.
So, let’s begin by looking at Hebrews 11:31. “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”
1. This morning, I want us to look at three truths that Rahab teaches us about this unconventional faith. First, we are saved by grace through faith.
Turn back to Joshua 2. The people of Israel have been rescued from 400 years of slavery in Egypt, and they have wandered around the wilderness for 40 years, due to their disobedience. But now, God has brought them back to the Promised Land, where He is going to give their enemies into their hands.
And in Joshua 2, beginning in verse 1, it says, “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. 2 And it was told to the king of Jericho, ‘Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.’ 3 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.’ 4 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. 5 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.’ 6 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. 7 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.”
Joshua sends two men to spy out the land, especially Jericho. And it says that “they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there.”
Over the years, many Bible commentators have tried to remove the stigma of the word, “prostitute,” by saying that Rahab was more like a hostess or a tavern keeper than an actual prostitute. However, the way the word is used here is consistent with the rest of the Old Testament. Rahab was a prostitute.
The reason why the king of Jericho sends his men to Rahab’s house was likely because any man who came into the city would almost eventually make his way to her house. Rahab lived in a corrupt, depraved, pagan culture.
This is where the spies were lodging, not because they wanted the services that Rahab’s house provided, but because God was already working in her heart. In other words, God sent the spies to the house of a prostitute for a reason.
And this might make some of us a little uncomfortable, because we couldn’t imagine doing what the spies did. Did they realize where they were? Did they realize what this looked like?
What this does is it confronts any self-righteousness in us that says that they had no right to be where they were, when God clearly had them there for a reason. But we can get so caught up in outward appearances, can’t we?
In 2012, Erin Stevens, a pastor’s wife from Tennessee, began a ministry to strippers and women in the porn industry. She believed that God was calling her to reach out to these women in need. So, she did.
It started with her visiting them before the night shift, bringing them a hot meal and answering any questions they had about life and faith. She heard their stories about how they got into doing what they were doing. Eventually, she was able to help some of them graduate from school, find a job, and even come to faith in Christ. Some have even begun to do the same thing for other women.
This doesn’t happen if we are more concerned about outward appearances than we are about people’s souls. This doesn’t happen if we aren’t willing to show the same grace that we have been shown, toward others.
Verse 4 tells us that Rahab took the two men and hid them. But look at what she says to the king of Jericho, in verse 4. “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.”
On the surface, there is really nothing in it for Rahab. I mean, the spies are spying out the land of Canaan, so that they can take it over and destroy everything. If anyone found out that Rahab was hiding spies in her house, she would have been put to death.
If Rahab wanted to, she could have handed those spies over to the king to be killed. But she doesn’t. Instead, she gives the king’s men false information, in order to save the spies. Why would she do that? What’s in it for her?
Look at verse 8. “Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof 9 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. 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. 12 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 13 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.’ 14 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.’”
The reason why she hid the spies, our text says, was because she heard about what God had done and her response was one of fear and adoration.
“As soon as we heard it,” she says, “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 is coming from a pagan, living in a pagan culture. This is coming from someone who had no belief in God, prior to the Israelites doing all of these things in the power and might of God.
She could have very easily rationalized the situation, saying, “They just haven’t met their match with us, yet.” But she doesn’t, by the grace of God.
In Ephesians 2:4-9, we read, quite possibly, the clearest explanation of grace in Scripture. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The good news of the gospel is that you are never too far from God that He cannot reach you. It doesn’t matter where you are at, in your walk with God, whether you believe in Jesus or whether you don’t believe in Jesus, you are never too far from God.
And that’s a comfort for us, because we have the tendency to think that we have done too many bad things in our lives for God to love us. We know that John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” But then, we say, “That can’t apply to me. If God really knew what I’ve done, He wouldn’t say that about me. He wouldn’t want me.”
But what that does is it pits my sin over and against the grace of God. When we say, “God wouldn’t want me, if He knew what I’ve done,” we’re saying that our sins are greater than God’s grace. And that’s just not true.
Romans 10:9-10 says that “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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
Do you know what this passage does not say? It does not say that if you’ve done this and this and this, then it doesn’t matter how many times you confess your sins, you will never experience the grace of God. It doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say that, because the grace of God is greater than anything we’ve done.
It’s like the hymn says, “Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.”
If we want confirmation from God’s Word, this morning, that God can reach into the brokenness of humanity and make the dead in sin come to life in Christ, then we find it here in the unconventional faith of Rahab. God took a prostitute in a pagan land, and rescued her by His grace, and her response is faith in God: “I know that the Lord has given you the land.”
The world says that you need to be good in order to be acceptable, but this unconventional faith says that we are acceptable on the basis of the goodness of Jesus. The world says that we need to earn our salvation, but this unconventional faith says that our salvation has already been earned for us, we just need to acknowledge our need of it.
2. And so, the first truth that Rahab teaches us about this unconventional faith is that we are saved by grace through faith. The second truth is that our faith is demonstrated by our works.
Look at verse 15. “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. 16 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.’ 17 The men said to her, ‘We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 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. 19 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. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.’ 21 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.”
Where faith is real it will be seen. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and not as a result of anything we do. But if we have faith in Jesus, then our life is going to reflect that.
What this reveals to us is that there is no in-between faith. There is no middle ground, where you can believe in God when it’s safe and comfortable to do so, only to live contrary to God the rest of the time. You’re either all-in or all-out when it comes to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. There are no on-the-fence Christians. This passage confronts that notion.
Rahab hid the spies and sent them out another way, but the evidence of Rahab’s faith is seen when she tied that scarlet cord in the window. There is such rich significance to what she does here, because it signifies that her allegiance is to the God of Israel and no longer to her people’s gods, that she finds safety in the God of Israel, and that she has put all of her chips in on the God of Israel.
Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
For Rahab to put out that scarlet cord is symbolic of her casting her sins upon the God of Israel. She has put her faith in their God and trusts Him to be faithful to His Word to forgive her and cleanse her of her sin.
Charles Spurgeon writes of what Rahab’s actions were saying: This woman was saying, “If I must die for these men, I will; I am prepared, bad name as I have, to have a worse name still. I am prepared to be handed down to infamy as a traitor to my country, if it is necessary, for taking in these spies. For I know it is God’s will it should be done, and I will do it at all costs.”
Our faith is demonstrated by our works. Ephesians 2:10, right after the apostle Paul gives this explanation of grace, says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
This unconventional faith teaches us to live out what we believe. That’s hard to find in much of the world.
I think about someone like David Green. For those of you who might not know who David Green is, he is the founder of the craft store chain, Hobby Lobby. What started out as humble beginnings making frames, turned into a company that now employs 28,000 people across 555 stores making over $3 billion in yearly sales.
He gives millions of dollars to various charities, his stores are closed on Sundays for his employees to observe church, he pays his employees twice the minimum wage, and he has been part of getting gospel literature into millions of homes around the world.
This is someone who, from a worldly perspective, would have every reason to cling tightly to what he has. And yet, Forbes magazine quoted him as saying, “If you have anything or if I have anything, it’s because it’s been given to us by our Creator. So I have learned to say, ‘Look, this is yours, God. It’s all yours. I’m going to give it to you.’”
This is an unconventional faith in action. This is an unconventional faith demonstrated by works. This is an unconventional faith that says I have been saved by grace through faith, therefore all I am and all I have belongs to God. This is an unconventional faith that says denying myself and taking up my cross and following Jesus is the path that leads to life.
3. And this brings us to the third truth that Rahab teaches us about this unconventional faith, and that is, that our faith makes us a channel of God’s blessing.
Turn over to Joshua 6:22-25. After Jericho is destroyed, it says, “But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, ‘Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.’ 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”
Hebrews 11:31 says, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”
You don’t know what extraordinary things God will work through you, unless you step out in faith. You don’t know how God will make you a channel of His blessing, unless you trust Him with your life. I can only imagine that Rahab’s family thought she was crazy, until they realized that her actions had brought salvation for all of them.
But it goes even further than that. Turn over to Matthew 1. Matthew presents us with a genealogy, from Abraham all the way to Jesus. But there is one name in Jesus’ genealogy that I want us to notice.
Look at verse 1. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.” And the genealogy continues all the way down to Jesus.
Rahab not only makes the list of Heroes of the Faith, but she also makes Jesus’ genealogy. A prostitute, one who would have been considered less than, one who would have been considered out of place, is in Jesus’ family tree.
This is more than just salvation for her family. Rahab is part of the family line that would bring salvation to the world. Only God can do that.
Do you know what this does to those who say that Rahab is out of place among the Heroes of the Faith? It says that they don’t know God very well, because if Rahab seems out of place, then we all should seem out of place.
Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There are no exceptions. We are all out of place with God by nature.
But praise be to God that when we hear the gospel, and confess our sins, and put our faith and trust in Jesus, Romans 8:16-17 says that “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”
The world tells us that there are many ways to God and salvation, all equally valid. But this unconventional faith, according to Acts 4:12, concerning Jesus Christ, says that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Jericho is a picture of this evil world, opposed to God. Either you are by faith on God’s side, or you are comfortably living in Jericho, thinking that you are safe. Either you are going to be out of place with God and His people, or you will be out of place with the world. Which would we rather be?
The faith of Rahab teaches us about the amazing grace of God that can save even the worst of sinners and bring them into an abundant life in Christ Jesus. Do we desire that faith, however unconventional it may seem? Do we desire that faith for our families? Do we desire that faith for those we might believe don’t deserve it?
Only God can reclaim the lives of the worst of sinners. We see it in Rahab, and if you are a follower of Jesus, then you should see it in yourself, as well. Only God can take the ordinary and do the extraordinary in and through them. May God continue to increase this unconventional faith in Him. Let’s pray…