“…her words and her actions bore witness to a God given, front loaded, heart of faith.“
In the second chapter of James we are given two examples of those who proved that their faith was real by their actions. Abraham and “Rahab the Harlot”.
Unarguably, Abraham’s actions as found in Genesis were a testament to his faith and a fitting seal of a long life of faithfulness and nearly everyone knows who he is still today.
But then, there is Rahab. She is just dropped into the picture out of the blue, a woman with no known history of faithfulness and no long recorded history of interactions with God for us to marvel at. Yet she ends up with a lead role in the story of the making of Israel.
You have to wonder, of all the people in the Hebrew scriptures— Noah, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, King David, Elijah, Ruth, Solomon, Jeremiah, Esther—great heroes, prophets and examples of integrity and tenacity—of all the possible examples, to put on par with Abraham as examples of those justified by faith in action, James uses Rahab the harlot.
Really? Rahab the harlot?
Obviously her last name wasn’t harlot but that was her designation, a title actually. Like Builder Bob or Sam the butcher. James makes it clear in that way just to whom he is referring, there is no mistaking—but still, Rahab the Harlot?
You all know that means she’s a prostitute right? Not exactly a career choice that a woman who wants to become a beacon of light and an example of faith in the Kingdom of God, should draw to—let alone even go and stay with, as the spies that Joshua sent to her hometown of Jericho to check out did. Really guys, you went straight to a prostitutes house to find sanctuary?
I just love the realness and grittiness of the bible. God uses real people to do his greatest works, and he doesn’t gloss over their flaws. It gives me hope.
So, why Rahab? Why would God lead the spies there and why would James use her to make his point?
Easy—She was able to show them the money. She probably didn’t talk a lot of bible speak or come across as a religious person, she was, after all, a harlot in a pagan city. But when it came down to it, she was able to show the fruits of her faith in the one true God by her actions.
In that regard I think James was quite ingenious in using her as an example of what he is telling us here when he says that we are to show our faith by our works. There was nothing else about her,at least not that we are aware of, that would have merited her a place in the family of God, as a recipient of what was apparently a saving faith totally apart from the law and any religious expression in regard to Yahweh.
There is nothing about her, no moral witnesses, no history of her talking the right talk, saying the right words, praying the right prayers, no self-proclaimed rights to righteousness, seemingly nothing to merit her becoming listed as an ancestor to King David and thus to the Messiah, Jesus himself—she was not even Jewish! Let alone a worshipper of their God.
5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king. Mat 1
But when called upon to fulfill her destiny, to become a key player in the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people that he would deliver them from slavery and give them the land of Canaan, she acted with a courage that would set her apart as someone who truly had a faith in the God whose mighty acts she had only heard about. She had a faith in this unknown God who had apparently been whispering to her heart— that he was indeed real and loved her.
How do I know that? How do I know that God had been whispering to her heart? Because God does it all the time, and he has done it to me. And because her words and her actions bore witness to that God given, front loaded heart of faith.
Do you all know the story? From the book of Joshua?
The children of Israel had been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, lived in the desert for forty years eating manna from heaven and were now finally ready to enter in and take the promised land under the leadership of Joshua.
But first, they have to get past Jericho. The fortress city that dominates the first region of the country the Lord is giving them as their new homeland, the very land he had promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham, where he would become a great nation.
So Joshua, as any good military leader would, sends of a couple of spies to do some reconnaissance. The spies make it into the city of Jericho largely unnoticed but word soon gets around that they are not just ordinary nomads coming to trade goat milk for pottery.
They are part of that very large group of former slaves from Egypt known as the Hebrews who have just crossed the Jordan river and are wreaking havoc on anyone who tries to stop them, and many have. So the spies seek out a place to hide, preferably someone who can give them a little insight as well, and somehow or other, I have to wonder at the thinking that led them there, but they end up in the home of a local prostitute named Rahab.
But, it turns out, little goes unnoticed in this town and word gets back to the King himself that there are enemy spies staying at Rahab’s house on top of the wall. So he sends troops to arrest them. But Rahab gets word that they are on their way so she takes the Israelites up on her roof where she has flax laid out in the sun to cure, and hides them underneath it. When the king’s men show up she tells them that the spies have already left and that if they hurry they might be able to catch them, so off they go.
After a time Rahab has the spies come out from hiding and tells them that she can lower them over the wall from her window, as her house is on the massive wall that surrounds the city, with a rope so that no one will see them leave and that they can then go in a different direction, avoiding those who are pursuing them.
But first she wants a promise. She has helped them at great risk to herself. But she realized that they were on the winning side, because she believed in an unseen God, heard the stories of his power to deliver those who serve him, and she fears him more than she fears the soldiers banging on her door.
She believes that the Israelites will indeed take the city she dwells in and that all their enemies will be destroyed. So she asks them to remember how she helped them and to spare her and her family when they return to take the city.
The spies tell her to tie a scarlet cord in her window as a sign and a reminder to the Israelite army that they are to spare her and all in her house. And indeed that is what happens. When the Israelites return and do their now famous seven day march around the city walls and blow them to smithereens with nothing but a shout and a trumpet blast, Rahab and her family are spared and become a part of the nation of Israel.
Now, thinking about this story, it seems that her part in the big picture conquest of the promised land was pretty small. I mean, Jericho probably would have been taken regardless of the spies eluding capture, but that is not the point.
The point of the story, the point of God’s favor and blessing on Rahab, and the point that James is making, is that it is not the significance or standing in man’s eyes, it is not the outward appearance or having a clean record of holiness and purity—it’s what are you doing today, it’s who are you when the chips are down, how do you respond when your hour comes and God is giving you an opportunity for action, calling you to fulfill your purpose, to make a real difference, to bless and help someone in a real tangible way.
Rahab literally saved the lives of two men and endangered her and her family in the process; two men she had never met before from a strange people she had only heard horror stories about—the Hebrew refugees from Egypt who are mowing down everyone who gets in their way. But, they have this God. . .
And what this God saw in Rahab the Harlot was a heart that wanted to do what was right, that said yes to him when it mattered the most, and when it was probably the hardest to say yes.
God said ‘show me the fruit Rahab’, and she did. And her faith saved her.
A faith lived out is a faith lived in. A faith walked out is a faith that will carry you home.