January 20, 2010

Ordinary People: Joshua 2


1 Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there. 2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.”

4 Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.” 6 (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) 7 Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate.

8 Now before they 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, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. 10 For 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 the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. 12 Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, 13 and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.”

14 So the men answered her, “Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the Lord has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way.” 17 So the men said to her: “We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, 18 unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household to your own home. 19 So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear.” 21 Then she said, “According to your words, so be it.” And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They departed and went to the mountain, and stayed there three days until the pursuers returned. The pursuers sought them all along the way, but did not find them. 23 So the two men returned, descended from the mountain, and crossed over; and they came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all that had befallen them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us.”
—Joshua 2:1-24


God has a way of working through very ordinary and unlikely people.

Consider the two spies, for instance. Who were they? Nobody knows. They remain anonymous. They were ordinary people and had nothing that set them apart from anyone else.

The same was true of Rahab. There was nothing remarkable about her life. Her occupation was slightly irregular perhaps, but other than that she lived a life that was nothing short of mundane. She certainly doesn't appear to be someone that God would desire to have in His kingdom. Not from our perspective at least.

Rahab, in fact, was a very unlikely choice, because in the Israelite mind she had three strikes against her:

Rahab was a Canaanite, not an Israelite. The Canaanites were the enemy. According to God's own command they were to be driven from the land. Yet here is one of the enemy showing kindness and compassion to the Israeli spies. From the example of Rahab, we can know that we are treading on dangerous ground when we start labeling people because they belong to a certain class of people.

Rahab was a woman. Women were not equal in this culture—indeed, in most cultures throughout history. I should observe here that this is not and never has been God's attitude toward women. In this case, God worked through a person named Rahab, who just happened to be a woman, which tells us that God doesn't play favorites. God can work through anyone, even the ordinary and unlikely.

She was a prostitute. This was a rather unusual occupation for one whom the Lord would call upon to assist His people. . . . and it makes us a bit squeamish to talk about it. In reading Joshua 2, have you ever wondered about God's judgment? Why would God choose a prostitute? God did it to teach us something about His own character. A part of His character that is difficult for some of us to accept. It doesn't bother us that Rahab was a Canaanite, and it doesn't bother us that she was a woman. But the idea of God working through a prostitute can make us a little uncomfortable. God sees potential in everyone, and not just in those who see themselves as the "religious elite," but even those from whom we may turn away.

There are a couple of lessons here that speak to us on a very personal level.

God has more Grace than His people have

Have you ever asked yourself whether God really can forgive you for something you did? When I consider a question like this, I immediately think of the prodigal son. After spending his inheritance, he hit bottom; he lived in a pigpen and survived on what little food he could wrestle away from the pigs. That is a parable about grace, forgiveness, and acceptance—all qualities of God.

Many Christians are struggling with guilt and broken dreams. The story of how God used Rahab, a prostitute, offers a renewed hope. God will use each of us in his kingdom. Also remember the reaction of the prodigal son’s older brother—he rejected him. Consider Rahab for a moment. She was a Canaanite, a woman, and a prostitute. She would not have been welcomed into the Israelite camp; God’s people would have shunned her. Even when others may not offer grace and acceptance, God does, because God has more grace than most people . . . and he wants us to be like Him.

It is a sin to play favorites

James (2:1) warns us not to favor the rich over the poor. The same warning applies to playing favorites between any groups of people. Just because a person belongs to a certain economic group (rich or poor), is of a different racial origin, is male or female, tall or short, fat or thin, handsome or ugly, doesn't mean God cannot still use them. God has a way of working through the most ordinary and unlikely people. But the question still remains:

Why did God choose Rahab rather than someone “more respectable”?

Rahab knew the power of God

The home of Rahab was a good choice for the spies, because the sight of men entering the home of a harlot would not attract much attention.

What the spies found when they entered her home, however, must have surprised them. They found a woman who knew that the Israelite God was the only true God. Throughout Canaan, people knew of the Israelites wandering in the desert. And they had heard how God protected them and led them. Rahab had taken what she learned about the Israelites to heart and came to know and have faith in the Israelite God. In His graciousness, God had changed Rahab and revealed Himself to her.

For us, Rahab is an illustration of the power of God, who transforms the lives of those who come to Him in faith. God changes people with His power and His grace.

Rahab had to courage to take risks

She had to make a quick decision. She had heard about the Israelites, and now there were two of them in her house. The king wanted to capture them, but she did not hesitate to hide them on the roof of her house, and in so doing put her own life in jeopardy. There was a code in the region back then called Hammurabi’s Code. It specified that: “If felons are banded together in a prostitute’s house and she does not inform the palace, that prostitute shall be put to death.” Representatives of the king came to her house and asked her if the Israelite spies were there, and the spies were hidden on her roof. If they were found by the king's men, Rahab would have been put to death for hiding them.

She had hidden them well, too. They were under the stalks of flax drying on the roof. Flax was harvested by being pulled up, dried, and then soaked for 2-3 weeks in a container or pool of water. Bacteria grew and separated the fibers on the outside from the pulp on the inside of the stems. After the time of soaking, the flax would be laid out to dry, usually on a rooftop or another sunny place. The flax could be piled up a few feet high and was turned every day or two until it was dry. Because of the bacteria, it was quite a smelly process. Verse 6 tells us Rahab hid the men in the drying flax. It probably was not comfortable for the spies, but it was smelly enough and unpleasant enough that the men sent from the king probably would not have looked in the flax had they searched for the spies.

Rahab believed in the power of God

When Rahab tells the spies about the effect Israel has on the citizens of Jericho, she reveals what it is that sets her apart from the rest. Why would she risk her life to save these two men who were enemies of the Canaanites? She recognized that these men weren't just from another country, they were God's people:

8 Now before they 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, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. 10 For 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 the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
—Joshua 2:8-11

Rahab realized that this was no ordinary nation with another ordinary god carved out of wood or stone. As she put it so well, ". . . for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath."

What kind of risks do we take for God? What kind of risks would we be willing to take? God is all-powerful; we can trust Him to be faithful. He asks us to be like Him—faithful, righteous, defending others; even taking risks. I think God wants us to be a people who have the courage to take some risks, trusting in His power and His promises.

Israel was creating widespread panic, not because of their great military strength, but because God was with them. Isn't it amazing? This supposedly ungodly, unregenerate prostitute was able to believe in God because she had heard about His power. She had not seen it for herself, she had only heard about it, and believed. Christians need to be the first to acknowledge God's power in the world.

Rahab had an active faith

James points out Rahab's faith to us: “. . . was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? (James 2:25). In Hebrews 11—the chapter that commends the heroes of the faith—we find Rahab’s name alongside of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David.

Isn’t it interesting that God chose a person whose lifestyle was abhorrent, but whose faith was alive and active. When it comes to being useful in God's kingdom, God is more concerned with whether our faith is active, than whether we have made all the correct choices. The crux of the story is that God seems to want us to have the courage to take risks for Him, no matter how imperfectly we have lived. I would not have picked Rahab as an example of faith, but God did. She acknowledged Him for Who He is—the God of power Who chose a people to be His and to represent Him to mankind.

And now, the rest of the story . . .

When the Israelites took the city of Jericho, Rahab and her family were safe. The story is in Joshua 6, which tells us that after Israel conquered the land, Rahab and her family lived peacefully among the Israelites. Rahab’s place in the history of our faith offers a surprising irony . . . in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), we find the name Rahab. Among her direct descendants are David, King of Israel, and Joseph, the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus.

God certainly uses ordinary people.

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