Learning From Rahab – Ray Stone

Ray Stone

Joshua 2:1-6 gives the account of Rahab’s part in the defeat of Jericho by the Israelites. It’s a fascinating story, in a succession of fascinating events. Many people, however, misuse her actions to justify the unjustifiable! As we learn from Rahab, we must be sure we get the right lesson from her, and recognize the error that is sometimes drawn from the account.

Let’s get Rahab into her context: The Israelites were camped on the East side of the Jordan River, preparing to–finally!–enter into Canaan itself. As far as the generation that had come out of Egypt was concerned it was 40 years too late, but the new generation had learned during their God-sentenced wilderness wanderings to “trust and obey”, as the old song says. Moses by now had been given his final view into the Promised Land, having been forbidden to enter in because of his presumptuous sin (Deut. 32:48-52), and died there on Mt. Nebo, his interment taken care of by God in an undisclosed location (Deut. 34:5-6).

Joshua takes the leadership, and plans his first foray into the Land of Promise proper (Josh. 2:1), sending spies into the city of Jericho. And this is where Rahab enters the picture, for it is her house that becomes their center of operations. The spies entered the city under cover of darkness, but Jericho’s king apparently had a very good intelligence-gathering system—he knew they had slipped in, and knew where they had gone (Josh. 2:2-3).

It might be interesting to pause right here and try to fill in some blanks: How the spies found Rahab, or she them; why she decided to aid them, who after all were enemies of her king; etc. Good questions, for which we have no accurate answers. She is called a “harlot” (Josh. 2:1); some have surmised that that really just meant innkeeper, offering her house to strangers needing lodging. It is true that some called harlots did in fact run houses of lodging (see Judges 16:1 and I Kings 3:16). So, they say, that’s how the spies wound up at her house—the equivalent of renting a motel room! The only flaw in that theory, and it is a big one, is the New Testament reference to her. Koine (Common) Greek, the language of the New Testament, is much more precise than the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, in which one word could carry many different meanings. Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 both speak of Rahab, and both designate her a harlot—in Greek there is only one meaning for that: A prostitute. She may well have been running an inn, but that wasn’t all she was doing! The New Testament by inspiration confirms it; it is useless to try and whitewash her occupation.

How the spies arrived there we’re not told—happenstance, or God’s providence, or His direct revelation—we just don’t know. But why she agreed to help them, we do know: “She said unto the (spies), I know that Jehovah hath given you the land, and that the fear of you is fallen upon us…” (Josh. 2:9); “For Jehovah your God, He is God in Heaven above, and on Earth beneath” (v. 11). In short, she was a woman of new-found faith, based on what she had heard, and seen for herself, of God’s nature. So Rahab is included in the New Testament’s Hall of Fame of Faith: “By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient, having received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11: 31). What an honor to be listed with such lofty company! The last entry in a list that starts with Abel (Heb. 11:4) and includes such notables as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, etc. Last on the list, yes. But as Harry Stone of the sitcom “Night Court” said about his appointment to his judgeship, “I was the last name on the list—but I was on the list!”

Rahab knew Israel’s history, all the way back to their origins in Egypt and escape through the Red Sea 40 years before (Josh. 2:10). She examined the facts and drew the right conclusions. Here was the God of all the world; not One to be fighting against (Acts 5:39). She was no doubt a loyal Jerichite, but she realized, as would Peter centuries later, that there is a loyalty that supersedes any citizenship or Earthly patriotism: “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).

So when her king demanded she turn the spies in, she instead “took the two men, and hid them” (Josh. 2:4) under some stalks of flax on her flat roof. She admitted to the king’s men, “Yes, the men came unto me, but I knew not whence they were…” and that was probably the truth. But then Rahab started lying: “…and it came to pass about the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out; whither the men went I know not: Pursue after them quickly; for ye will overtake them” (Josh. 2:5).

That lie had its desired effect: The king’s men believed her, and “pursued after them the way to the Jordan…” (v. 7). But then another problem arose: “As soon as they that pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.” Now the spies were trapped within the city! But Rahab had the answer for that too. Since “her house was upon the side of the wall” (Josh. 2:15), with a window overlooking it, the spies simply went out the window on a rope and escaped. Thus they were able to bring their very favorable report back to Joshua, so preparation could be made for taking the city—a fascinating account in its own right!

To finish out Rahab’s story, she was spared from the destruction of Jericho in return for her aid to the spies, and became a Jewish proselyte. She eventually married a Jewish man, Salmon (Matt. 1:5), and bore a son, Boaz, who would be the great-grandfather of David himself. For those interested in such things, Boaz married the Moabite woman Ruth, which union produced David’s grandfather Obed (Ruth 4:13-17)—son of half-Gentile Boaz and full-Gentile Ruth. Do the math; that made Obed 3/4 Gentile, which means David himself carried nearly 1/4 Gentile blood! Somehow it seems God never cared much about racial purity, knowledge the modern world could make good use of.

But let’s get back to Rahab. Some today employ her story to further the principle of “situation ethics”, the philosophy of Pragmatism—”the end justifies the means.” The bold assertion is that her lying about the spies furthered the plans of God; without that lie Joshua would not have had the military success he did. Lying, then, can sometimes be a good thing, depending on the circumstances which demand it. But let’s nip this in the bud before we even examine it closer: The apostle Paul states the principle clearly, and denies it in the same breath:

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And why not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil, that good may come? Whose condemnation is just! (Rom. 3:7-8).

Rahab “received the spies,” gave them a safe haven—that was good. She told the king’s men, “Yes, they came here, but I didn’t know who they were”—as noted before, that was probably the truth; still good. But then she fabricated a story out of whole cloth, to lead the men on a wild-goose chase: “About dark they left—I don’t know where they were going, but if you hurry maybe you can catch them!”—while the whole time they were hidden just over her head, up on her roof! Now you be the judge: Was that lie justified? Let’s ask it another way to make the issue clearer: Did God depend on Rahab’s lie to bring about His will? If you answer “yes” here’s the logical consequence of that:

  1. God is so powerless that He must use underhanded methods—things He Himself labels sin—to accomplish His work.

  2. Ephesians 4:25 really says, between the lines, “Put away all falsehood—except when it would further My cause.”

  3. Proverbs 6:17 should read, “The Lord hates…a lying tongue—unless it’s doing His work.”

The absurdity is obvious! “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). John 8:44 gives us the source of lies—all lies: “Ye are of your father the devil…when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” If a lie could further the work of God, but all lies originate with Satan, then Satan would be using one of his own weapons against himself! That won’t happen; once when Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan, He laid that notion to rest quickly: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan casteth out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?” (Matt. 12:25-26). Satan would never allow his own tool to be used against him; he’s smarter than that. Mark it well: In spiritual matters, you cannot “fight fire with fire”—use sin against sin; it will never work. Don’t accept that conclusion concerning Rahab, as convenient as it might be.

Yet the quandary remains: The fact is, Rahab did lie in an attempt to help the spies. And the fact is, God blessed her, sparing her life and that of her family for her efforts. So let’s give it a second look: She was blessed—for what, exactly? Hebrews 11:31 says it was because she “received the spies with peace.” James 2:25 adds “she received the messengers, and sent them out another way.” She was rewarded for her brave and righteous act of welcoming the spies into her home in peace. Rewarded because she believed in God and in His power, that faith based on the evidence she had seen and heard. She recognized His all-encompassing sovereignty, and cast her lot with His people over and above her own. Jesus’ words concerning a Roman Centurion could have been said of her as well: “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matt. 8:10).

Rahab was “justified by works” (Jas. 2:25), and James specifies which works: Not “telling a lie” but “receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way.” She risked her life to help God’s people, and was rewarded for it—not because of her sin of lying, but in spite of it! Did she have to lie, to protect the spies? Rahab certainly thought so, but she was wrong. God, Who controls the destinies of men, controlled that situation as well, and would have provided a way for His will to be done without resorting to sin. Rahab’s failure to seek out that way simply reflects on her immature faith as a spiritual babe.

Rahab wasn’t the first to succumb to this temptation, nor would she be the last. Do you think God was happy with Abraham and Sarah when they tried to help God’s promise of a son by using Hagar as a surrogate mother?

Or, consider the deception Rebekah and her son Jacob used against Isaac in his old age (Gen. 27), to gain the blessing of the first-born that God had promised to Jacob (Gen. 25:23; Mal. 1:2-3) even though it traditionally belonged to Esau. Their unneeded interference caused a rift between the brothers that lasted at least 20 years (Gen. 31:38). There is a better way than using evil to try to bring about good!

So, learn from Rahab—but be sure it’s the right lesson:

  1. Sin is absolute, not relative. It is determined by God’s word, not by the situation. God is never served by sin, and if it seems so in any circumstance, be warned it’s Satan trying to gain advantage over you with his devices (2 Cor. 2:11).

  2. No matter the stakes, Christians never have to resort to underhanded means—lying to someone, stealing from them, cheating them—to get God’s will accomplished. God doesn’t need that kind of help! If that’s the only way you can see to get something done, it’s better to leave it undone. “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17).

  3. There is no room in the church of our Lord for hidden agendas, behind-the-scenes manipulations, or what’s commonly called “politicking”, talking out of both sides of your mouth, to serve God’s ends. Christians do everything “above the table”. The temptations are great: We see things done that way in the world, in business, in society, in politics, and see the successes that often follow; and get to thinking that’s the way to get things done for God as well. But it isn’t. No matter how lofty the goal, how noble the cause or how honorable the end, we cannot use worldly means to get there. To do so simply condemns ourselves and may well cost our souls.

  4. The lesson from Rahab is not to “lie for God”—it is, rather, to draw right conclusions from God’s evidences, and realize Who deserves your allegiance. Do God’s things God’s way, and you can look forward to Heaven in the end.

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Author: Editor

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