************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:31 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 11, 2017
What was so great about Rahab's faith? I dare say 9 out of 10 Christians would give the wrong answer if I were to ask them this question: What was so great about Rahab's faith?
"That's easy," you may say. "Rahab showed the greatness of her faith when she hung the scarlet cord in her window." If this was "Jeopardy" or "Family Feud" I would buzz your answer as being wrong.
The problem is that we have heard so much about the scarlet cord over the years that we tend to focus only on that. We've been told that the scarlet cord points forward to the blood of Jesus. So commentators and preachers and lay-people too tend to focus on just this one detail.
What was so great about Rahab's faith? Look at what our text for this evening says:
(Heb 11:31) By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.Because why? Because she hung the scarlet cord? That's not what Hebrews says. "Because she welcomed the spies."
To understand and appreciate Rahab's faith we need to take a close look at Joshua 2.
I A Prostitute Visited
A You know the setting. The original people of Israel who left Egypt have all died in the wilderness because of unbelief. Even Moses has died and Joshua is now the leader. Israel is standing again at the border of the Promised Land. Joshua thinks back forty years to when he and Caleb and ten others were sent to spy out the land. He decides to do the same thing but limits the number of spies to two men.
(Josh 2:1) Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. "Go, look over the land," he said, "especially Jericho."
This all sounds so easy. But don't fool yourself. The people of Jericho knew the Hebrews were coming. They were on special alert and were watching for the army of Israel. So the spies took every possible precaution. It started already with the Jordan River. The spies had to cross the Jordan River. Joshua 3 tells us the Jordan was at flood stage. This means the spies had to travel up river until they could find a spot where they could cross. And then come back down towards Jericho. From a totally unexpected direction as far as the people of Jericho were concerned. We can assume the spies wore a disguise so they would blend right in with all the other travelers and merchants who entered Jericho. Otherwise they would have been arrested on sight.
B So what did they do once they entered Jericho? "They went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there" (Josh 2:1). Why a house of prostitution? That's where travelers stayed in the Ancient World. That's where you could find a bed and food. And, how did they know where to find a house of prostitution? Here we come to the scarlet cord. There is a body of evidence to suggest that prostitutes identified their homes with a scarlet cord. Today we say "red-light" district but back then they said "red-cord" district. So they entered Rahab's home knowing she was a prostitute. They thought they would blend right in with all the other travelers who entered Jericho.
C The plan didn't work very well, did it? Right from the start Rahab figured out they were Hebrew spies. And some other nameless person also figured this out:
(Josh 2:2-3) The king of Jericho was told, "Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land." (3) So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: "Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land."The secret spy operation was falling apart.
The two spies were in great danger. They could not leave Rahab's home through the front door because people were looking for them. They couldn't jump out the window to the ground outside the walls because the distance was too high; they would injure themselves, be seen, and be captured.
D What is going on here? What is really going on? Was it fate, chance, bad luck, coincidence that they were at Rahab's home? Was Rahab the one righteous person in Jericho? We can't say that. Remember her occupation: she was a prostitute. There was nothing righteous about her. Her life was a mess. Furthermore, there were other homes with scarlet cords. So why this prostitute?
We Reformed Christians know that the hand of God was at work behind the scenes to save one of His own. Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 2:19 that "The Lord knows those who are his." Let me put it this way: According to the sovereign purpose of God the two spies endangered their lives in the home of Rahab because she was one of God's elect. And, God brought the two spies to Rahab's home because it pleases Him to save the worst kind of sinners.
We need to see ourselves in Rahab. We, too, are sinners. Lost in sin. Headed to destruction. But God knows His own. He knows His elect. So He chose to save us just like He chose to save Rahab.
E Let's go back to our text from Hebrews. How do we know Rahab is one of the elect? Because she has faith. True faith. Commendable faith.
(Heb 11:31) By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.Rahab welcomed the spies.
Rahab's welcome was an act of faith, a big act of faith. Look at how Joshua 2 puts this when the king's soldiers come to her door:
(Josh 2:4-7) But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. (5) At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them." (6) (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) (7) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.Rahab lies. Three lies. Verse 4 - she claims she doesn't know where they come from. Verse 5 - she makes it sound like they snuck out the city gate. Verse 5 - she claims she doesn't know which way they went. The Bible doesn't condemn these lies but the Bible doesn't commend them either. It keeps silent on the matter because what counts is that she welcomed the spies.
Rahab welcomed the spies. Back then this would mean the death penalty if she were caught. On the spot. She was a traitor to her city, her people, her king. She was guilty of treason. She put her life and the life of her family in danger.
Why would she do this? "By faith." "By faith." Acting on the basis of faith.
II A Prostitute's Faith
A Rahab welcomed the spies by faith. Listen again to the words of our text:
(Heb 11:31) By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.Remember what faith is? Faith is a response to revelation. Faith is what the Spirit works in us through the Word. So where did Rahab's faith come from? She is an Amorite. She has never been under the Word of God. She has never celebrated the Passover. She has never seen the pillar of fire. She has never entered the Tabernacle nor participated in any of its sacrifices. She has never celebrated the Sabbath. She has not eaten the manna. She has not heard the Ten Commandments or seen the tablets of stone on which they were written. So where did her faith come from? What kind of faith could she possibly have?
The book of Joshua unfolds this for us in the very next verses of our Bible reading:
(Josh 2:8-11) Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof (9) and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. (10) We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. (11) When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you ...She heard. She heard about God. The Word of God was brought to her.
What did Rahab hear? How God dried up the water of the Red Sea. How God defeated Sihon and Og. Now, don't forget, this is forty years later. Who here talks about stuff that happened forty years ago? For instance, does anyone here still talk about the great New York city blackout of 1977? Does anyone here talk about the U.S. returning the Panama Canal to Panama in 1977? Does anyone here remember or care that the first Apple II Computer went on sale in 1977? Of course not! Yet, forty years later, Rahab and her customers and her countrymen are still talking about what God did at the Red Sea and to the two kings! Obviously, it made a big impression on Rahab and the people of Jericho.
Rahab heard about God. Rahab heard from God. And by grace she believed. She became a woman of faith.
Our response should be awe and adoration and wonder. Look at what God can do. Look at the people He can save. Including you and me. Because we are no better than Rahab.
B By faith Rahab welcomed the spies. In response to the Word of God. And she acknowledged God as God. Listen to the last part of verse 11: "for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below." LORD is capitalized in our pew Bibles. Meaning what? Meaning the original word in the Hebrew is "Yahweh." An Amorite prostitute uses the covenant name of God.
This God is God. He is God of everything in heaven. He is God over the angels and spirits. He is God over Paradise. And, He is God of earth. He is God of Jericho. He is God of Canaan. He is God over people and animals and birds and fish. Every square inch belongs to Him. Rahab sounds like a Calvinist, like she graduated from Dordt College. Isn't this amazing? Isn't this wonderful?
Rahab makes clear that all the land of Canaan and all the people of Jericho have heard of this God and what He has done. People were scared of this God. They knew He was coming. They knew He was bringing His people. They knew He was coming in judgment. They could never claim ignorance. They could never claim they were not given a chance to repent. In fact, they were given forty years to repent. Forty years of passing on the stories. Forty years as the God and people of Israel got closer and closer. Forty years!
So what happens to all the other people of Jericho and Canaan? Let's go back to our text:
(Heb 11:31) By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.Do you hear their title? The other people of Jericho were the "disobedient." Rank defiance. Rebellion. They heard the truth. And they refused to believe. They chose what sinners always choose if left alone by the grace of God: they chose not to believe; they chose disbelief. Rahab, and Rahab alone, believed. She, and she alone, had faith. She, and she alone, makes the confession "The LORD your God is God."
So what happens to the other people of Jericho? They were killed. They were under the judgment of God. By the grace of God they were given endless opportunity to repent. But they didn't.
We hear the twofold message of the Gospel here, my brothers and sisters. The message of divine judgment always includes the invitation to repent and believe. I give that message to you tonight. Someday the LORD is coming. Someday the God of heaven above and earth below is coming. Like Rahab, do you believe this God is God? Or, like the people of Canaan, do you choose not to believe. Let me warn you, if this is your choice, your future involves judgment and hell fire and the wrath of God.
C By faith Rahab welcomed the spies. In response to the Word of God. She acknowledged God as God. And, she sought deliverance from the judgment of this God.
(Josh 2:12-13) Now then, please swear to me by the LORD [she uses the covenant name of God again] that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign (13) that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.She knows judgment and death is coming. She knows it is just around the corner. She knows her family, her city, her people all deserve judgment. She knows she is guilty before God. So she asks for deliverance. And the spies, as servants of the LORD, assure her of deliverance.
You know what happens in Joshua 6. For six days the Israelites march around the city of Jericho. The seventh day they march around the city seven times. The trumpets blow. The people shout. The walls fall down. The soldiers of Israel charge straight in and destroy every living thing with the sword.
(Josh 6:22-23) [But] Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, "Go into the prostitute's house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her." (23) So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.
III A Prostitute Given Grace
A Listen again to the marvelous, beautiful, amazing words of our text:
(Heb 11:31) By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.Rahab was not killed. Her family was not killed. Listen to how chapter 6 states this:
(Josh 6:25) But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho--and she lives among the Israelites to this day.Did you catch that last line? "She lives among the Israelites to this day." She lives. She didn't die. She lives. Among the Israelites. Not outside the camp. Not ostracized because she is that evil woman from Jericho. She lives in the midst of Israel. With the people of God. As part of the covenant family. God's grace is so amazing.
B BY FAITH. BY FAITH. BY FAITH. Think back over the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. How many women are mentioned? Sarah, but she is mentioned only because of her connection to Abraham. The mother of Moses, but we aren't even told her name. Now we have Rahab held before us as a hero of faith. I emphasize this because in New Testament times women were not especially valued.
C BY FAITH Rahab. She is not even a Jew. She is not even a Hebrew. She is an Amorite. But God made a promise to Abraham that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him. God never intended the blessing of the covenant to be just for Israel. Rather, through Israel the blessing of salvation was to come to all the nations. We see the fulfilment of this promise of salvation in Rahab.
D BY FAITH the prostitute Rahab. A prostitute. A red cord lady. Many times when the Bible mentions Rahab it also mentions prostitute. Why, do you think? Not to demean Rahab! Rather, to emphasize the grace of God.
Imagine, a prostitute has faith. Imagine, a prostitute believes. Imagine, a prostitute confesses the name of the covenant God. Imagine, a prostitute declares God to be God of every square inch.
Now get this: Rahab ends up in several of those long, boring genealogies that we find throughout the Bible. She is part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. She abused herself as a woman but God used her womanhood to become part of the Messianic line.
God loves to save sinners. Jesus is the Friend of sinners. Are you a sinner? Like Rahab? You have come to the right place. You have heard all you need to hear. So, like Rahab, believe. Like Rahab, have faith. Come to the Savior. Come today.
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