22 – 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.
24 – Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house.
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.”
30 – By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people had marched around them for seven days.
31 – By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
Like many of you I have several different Bibles in my library….Bibles of all shapes and sizes. I have a copy of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, a New English Bible, A New International Version , and a New Century Version. I also have An Old Revised Standard Version, a New Revised Standard Version , an Old King James Version , a New King James Version, an Old American Standard Version, and a New American Standard Version . I have a copy of The Living Bible and The Message. I have a Parallel New Testament and an Expanded New Testament and an Amplified New Testament. I even have a Spanish New Testament , a Greek New Testament, and a copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew.
I have lots of Bibles! But of all the various copies of God’s written word on my shelf one of my favorites is one that Sue gave me when we were dating. It’s called The New Testament In Modern English. It’s a little hard cover New Testament printed for use in schools and it was translated by that great British scholar, J. B. Phillips. Actually, to our American ears, it is more of a paraphrase than a translation but I love the way Phillips puts things. For example, instead of the King James version of I Peter 5:7 which goes like this, “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” Instead of that, Phillips “translates” it in this way, “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon Him, for you are His personal concern.” In Romans 15:14 most translators speak of the importance of Christians admonishing one another or correcting one another or instructing one another, but Phillips translates the Greek thusly: “For myself, I feel certain that you, my brothers…..are capable of keeping each other on the right road.”
Don’t you like the way He puts things? Isn’t that good?! You know, sometimes I think it would be both enjoyable and beneficial for us to study the Bible together by simply bringing different versions and sharing the various nuances of translation! Well, Phillips’ version of the New Testament has always been very popular…but when he printed his first edition in the early ’50’s he got into trouble.
Apparently as Phillips began to translate the first chapter of Matthew he decided to leave out the first 17 verses, which lists Jesus’ genealogy. You see, he initially began his translation not for publication but to use in a Bible study he was conducting with the young people in his church. He was a youth minister of sorts and the teens he was working with were having trouble understanding the King James Version. He wanted to make the Bible readable and understandable — I guess he felt that this seemingly endless list of hard-to-pronounce biblical names might be boring to the youth in his care. He certainly didn’t want to lose his audience in the first 17 verses of the New Testament! And omitting the genealogy is somewhat understandable, for it can be boring. Longs lists of “who begat who” doesn’t make for the most stimulating public readings!
Well, when people read Phillips’ version they got upset and so he went back and inserted the genealogy in a revised edition of his New Testament. And in spite of my love of Phillips’ translation, I agree with the criticism that he received. For, the genealogy of Jesus Christ is just as much God’s word as any other portion of the Bible. God inspired Matthew to include this list because it has important messages for us…things we need to hear.
And, we begin to understand one of these messages when we look closely at these names and see that there were all kinds of people in Jesus’ family tree. There were kings and heroes of the faith who were dedicated to God. But others on the list had been sinners on a grand scale prior to their coming to God. The list also includes: murderers, prostitutes, and all kinds of unsavory characters. I guess you could say there were several “knots” on Jesus’ family tree! And it is very interesting to note that there were four women on the list — all of whom were unlikely candidates for membership in this list. One was Ruth, a former idolater; another was Tamar who, masquerading as a prostitute, tricked her former father-in-law into fathering her children; The third was Bathsheeba-and we all know of her sin with King David. And…the fourth is Rahab….a harlot….a Canaanaite resident of Jericho who yearned to know the God of Israel.
Now here is one truth we discover when we study Jesus’ genealogy: God didn’t pick those whom we would refer to as “the best people” to be a part of the Messianic line. In fact, scripture records that God has a habit of picking unlikely people, obviously flawed people, to further His kingdom. From our perspective it seems that God loves to turn things upside down. He chooses the most unexpected people to work with. He specializes in social outcasts.
Remember Matthew 21 records that Jesus once told the Pharisees, “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” But that in itself is a wonderful discovery. Since God used flawed people in the Messianic line, then that means He can use you — and even ME-to do great things in His kingdom. For…we are ALL flawed! So, the good news here is that who we are or what we have done need not prevent us from benefitting from a faith relationship with God.
God told Jeremiah, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.”
So, anyone who repents of their sin and seeks God will find Him and can join Him in His work. God can and does use crooked sticks to draw straight lines! Anyone can be a HERO OF THE FAITH! And this morning we are going to look at one of those “flawed” people…the harlot turned heroine named Rahab. For not only was she listed in Matthew 1 . Her name is also found in Hebrews 11 as one of the individuals who lived a life characterized by genuine faith in God. In James 2:25 she is held up as someone who, like Noah, showed her faith by her works. But the adventure that made her famous is recorded in Joshua chapters 2 and 6, and I want us to study them together, because in so doing I think we will learn two more “faith facts” to add to the information we have already gathered on this subject in past weeks.
Let’s begin with a quick look at the setting. We first “meet” Rahab as the people of Israel are about to cross the Jordan river and enter Canaan. From your studies in Sunday School over the years you no doubt remember that God had promised Abraham that He would establish his descendants in the land of Canaan. This is why it is referred to as “The Promised Land.”
Well, the beginning of the book of Joshua is the historical record of the fulfilment of that promise. The people of Israel are about to cross the Jordan and lay claim to this land that God had promised them.
So in a sense it’s D-DAY and, like any good commander, before the invasion begins Joshua wanted to gather information about the enemy.
So in Chapter 2, verse 1 it says, “Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.'” Now Joshua specifically mentioned Jericho as the focus of this recon mission because it was a formidable fortress city guarding the pass leading westward into the mountainous regions of Canaan.
So it was important to find out as much as possible about it’s defensive capabilities before they mounted an attack.
No doubt Joshua wanted them to bring him information of Jericho’s walls and gates, its state of preparation, the number of its inhabitants, the size of its army, etc. You should also know that in those days there was no centralized government in Canaan. Instead, each city ran it’s own affairs.
So, Jericho was sort of like D.C. in that it was independent from other states around it. Actually, it was more of a “city-state” than a city…It had it’s own army and king or “kinglet.”
Well, apparently the spies were able to enter Jericho undetected. Perhaps they posed as traveling merchants or traders. And in the process they encountered an unexpected and very unlikely ally in this harlot named RAHAB. Perhaps they decided to enter her home since the presence of strangers in this kind of house would not arouse undue suspicion. Also her profession would mean that she was knowledgeable of public affairs…no pun intended. Another reason to choose her house was that it offered a method of escape since it was located on the city wall….it’s windows faced outward.
You know, for about 250 years some biblical critics claimed that this story was mythological or at best historical fiction, because there was no evidence that there were houses built into city walls in the ancient near east. But the excavations in Jericho after the turn of the century showed that the city was surrounded by double walls with twelve feet between them. And they found evidence that simple houses were built on top of timbers that were spread between the two walls.
Well, the spies failed in their efforts to remain undetected ….officers of the king apparently noticed them as they went to and from Rahab’s house in their surveillance of the city. And they reported their whereabouts to their master.
Well, the king immediately dispatched soldiers to Rahab’s house. He no doubt expected Rahab to do her patriotic duty and turn the spies in but instead she committed the capitol offense of treason! She hid the men and sent the guards who came looking for them on a wild goose chase. Rahab must have sensed there was something unusual about these two men….something different from the other men who frequented her home. Perhaps these spies were the first to come through her door without sinful intent.
Well, after the soldiers left, Rahab asked the spies to spare her life and the lives of her family when the city was destroyed. And the spies agreed. They instructed her to leave a scarlet rope hanging in the window of her home so that the army would know not to destroy it and then she helped them escape via a rope from a window on the wall and gave them instructions so that they could avoid capture and return to Joshua and the rest of the army.
Okay, that is basically the story.
Now what can Rahab’s life thousands of years ago teach us about faith in our day and age? I want to focus on two things. First of all I think that Rahab’s life shows us…
1. THAT PEOPLE NOTICE REAL FAITH AT WORK.
After the soldiers left on their wild goose chase, Rahab spoke to those two spies. She told them that she had heard of the miracles God had been doing with and for the people of Israel, how He had dried up the Red Sea so that the entire nation could cross on dry ground and that He had led them to conquer the Amorite Kings Og and Sihon, including the total destruction of their walled cities. She had heard of the God of Israel and she had believed in His power. In fact she spoke of the takeover of all Canaan by the Hebrew people as if it were already an accomplished fact. In verse 9 of chapter 2 she says to them, “I know that the Lord has given this land to you.” She also said that all of Jericho was afraid of the people of Israel. Listen to her words.. “..a great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.
Rahab and her countrymen saw God at work in and through His people!
And this is what led her to leave her sinful lifestyle and embrace a faith in God. Rahab said, “…for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
Now, in this statement she referred to God as “YAHWEH.” She didn’t use a Canaanite name for God, but the covenant name that the Hebrew people used for their personal God. You see, when people like Rahab see things happening in the lives of other people that can only be explained by God, they want to have that kind of covenant relationship with God as well. They believe that God really is God because they see His people doing things that could only be explained by His presence and power. And you know, if Rahab thought that what she had HEARD about God’s power was something she need only wait a few more chapters to SEE firsthand His power flowing through His people. You remember the story….acting on God’s instructions the people of Israel marched around the huge, impregnable walls of Jericho for seven days. And on the seventh day they marched around it not once but seven times and on the seventh time they gave a loud shout and the walls fell down all of the walls that is, except the portion containing Rahab’s home. And — all the residents of Jericho were destroyed….except Rahab and her family.
So Rahab saw with her own eyes and heard with her own ears…the power of the God in Whom she had placed her faith and trust.
Rahab’s experience helps us to see that a genuine, deep faith-relationship with God involves an individual or group of individuals trusting God enough to allow Him to use them to do things…things they could not do on their own. And the world pays attention when this happens! And it makes them hunger to know God.
Now,how many of you have heard someone say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do?” I have….I have even said it myself a time or two. And I wish I hadn’t-for this statement is simply not true! If I have real faith in God, He WILL ask me to do things I can’t do!
Throughout scripture we see God continually giving people tasks that they could not accomplish on their own strength. He ordered Gideon, another Hero of the Faith listed in Hebrews 11, to reduce the size of his army from 32,000 to 300 so that it would be obvious that victory had God’s power as it’s source. He empowered Samson to defeat an entire Philistine army using only the jaw bone of a mule as a weapon. II Corinthians 4:7 says He does this, “to show that the power is from Him and not from us.”
Henry Blackaby writes, “The kind of assignments God gives are always God-sized. They are always beyond what people can do, because He wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength, His provision, and His kindness to His people and to a watching world.” Christian, people are watching and when they see us doing things that can only be explained by the power of God, it awakens their hunger for faith as it did in the life of Rahab.
Tonight if you come back at 5PM you’ll see our children present a story from 2 Chronicles that is an excellent illustration of this principle. Their musical is entitled, That Great Jehoshophat and you may remember that scripture records that a vast army of Moabites and Ammonites and Meunites came to make war against Israel. Good King Jehoshophat proclaimed a fast and encouraged the people to seek God’s counsel. He prayed “O God…we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (II Chronicles 20:12 ) And God responded, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s…You will not even have to fight it. Take your positions and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. And I don’t want to give away too much about tonight’s musical but, Jehoshophat did as God instructed and God totally destroyed the invaders before Jehoshophat and his army even got to the battlefield. And then II Chronicles 20:29 says, “The fear of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.”
See? They recognized the effects of the faith relationship between Jehoshophat and God. The world pays attention when we let God use us to accomplish GOD-SIZED tasks! A faith relationship with God is one in which people look at the way you live your life and say, “God is in that. God is doing something in that person’s life.”
Now think about it Redlander. What kind of faith relationship do you have with God? Is it a safe but shallow one in which you only do what YOU can do? You know so often our world is not attracted to the Christ we serve because they cannot see Him at work. They only see us at work doing only the things we can do in our own weakness. But, if we have enough faith to let the world see God at work in us, He will attract people to Himself. Remember Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Me.”
Rahab’s faith story shows that if we lift God up by allowing Him to do impossible things through us, our peers will notice…and they will be drawn to Jesus! And then…the second thing Rahab’s life shows us is this…
2. GENUINE FAITH IN GOD SHOWS PEOPLE THAT THEY CAN BEGIN AGAIN.
You know, when I was in college I learned to play golf with some of my BSU buddies. We found a community golf course not far from campus on the banks of the Tennessee river where you could play all day for $2.50 and club rental was only a buck! Well, entertainment that cheap was too good to pass up! So we played all the time.
Now, I have never been any good at this game! In fact I did a great deal to raise the water level of the Tennessee river whenever I played that course! But I quickly learned to take advantage of what is known as “the mulligan rule.” The rule goes like this….say you approach the tee on the 2nd hole, select your best driver and proceed to hit the ball and watch as it takes off…..at a 90 degree angle, landing in the river.
Well, when this happened and it did quite frequently, my friends would say, “Don’t worry about it Mark. You don’t even have to count that one. It won’t appear on your score card. We’ll pretend it never happened. Just get another ball and try again.”
So, I was given a clean slate…a fresh beginning. I could start over. That’s the mulligan rule. Think of it as a “grace note in an otherwise unforgiving game.”
Well, thanks to this rule, I was able to keep my golf score on 9 holes just under 100!
Now, think about it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to take mulligans in other areas of life? Teens….wouldn’t it be great if your Algebra 2 teacher called tomorrow to let you know that you had flunked your final exam this past week and you said, “I’ll take a mulligan on that one.” And she said, “No problem!” Or adults, think how wonderful it would be if you wrote a check for groceries at GIANT and it bounced but when they called, you said, “I’ll take a mulligan, please.” and they said, “Sure, by the way, thanks for shopping at GIANT!” Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply begin again when we forgot to send in our taxes, or blew up at our kids, or said something unloving to our wives or made a huge mistake at work?
This would be great but the problem is….mulligans don’t work in real life. Because life keeps score! Life is not a game. It’s for real! The reason my college buddies were so liberal with mulligans was we all knew the game didn’t really matter. But mulligans don’t apply when the game really counts for in the real world there has to be justice. There has to be an accurate accounting. If you’re playing Tiger Woods for the Masters and you’re tied on the final hole and you dogleg your drive, you can’t say, “Uh, Tiger, I’ll take a mulligan here.”
No, there are no mulligan’s on the PGA tour. The integrity of the game counts. The rules matter. And this is the way it is in life. You reap what you sow. Your score is a brutally honest reflection of what you did. In chapter 8, verse 3 Job asks a rhetorical question, “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?”
And the answer is, of course not! As Isaiah exclaims, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts!” God is JUST! So He won’t say to murders or liars or gossipers or thieves or adulterers, “Take a mulligan. Let’s pretend it never happened.” No! Someone must pay for all the wrong on the scorecards of our lives. And the wonderful news is that Someone has! Jesus paid our debt. He took the consequence of our sins upon Himself. And because of that God yearns to forgive us and help us start over. As John Ortberg says, “If there is one way that human beings consistently underestimate God’s love, it is perhaps in His loving longing to forgive.” God has invested an unbelievable amount in the forgiveness He offers us all.
So He yearns to forgive us and help us to start over in life. Warren Bennis once wrote of a promising junior executive at IBM who was involved in a risky venture for the company and ended up losing ten million dollars in the gamble. He was called into the office of Tom Watson Sr., the founder and leader of IBM for 40 years….a business legend. The junior exec, overwhelmed with guilt and fear, blurted out: “I guess you’ve called me in for my resignation. Here it is. I resign.” Watson replied, “You must be joking. I just invested ten million dollars educating you; I can’t afford your resignation.”
And I think this illustrates why God longs to hear us repent so He can forgive…so He can be faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness….so He can cast our sins as far as the east is from the west and remember them no more….because He invested the life of His only Son in us….so we CAN begin again! Ortberg says, “Redeeming is what God is into. He is the finder of directionally-challenged sheep, the searcher of missing coins, the embracer of foolish prodigal sons. His favorite department is Lost and Found.”
So you see, when we come to know God through faith we discover that we can start over in life, no matter what our past life was like.
II Corinthians 5:17 describes the mulligan principle when it says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creature; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”
So the past makes no difference. Otherwise Rahab would have had no chance to join God in His work.
So, when I think of Rahab…I think of the GRACE OF FAITH. For…Rahab’s faith graciously took her from her sinful past and placed her alongside other heros and heroines of faith like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and David. After the literal fall of Jericho, She was taken back to live with the people of Israel. She married a man named Salmon-whom tradition says was one of those two spies-and they had a son named BOAZ. Boaz was the father of Obed who was her grandson. And Obed was the father of Jesse, who was her great grandson. And he was the father of David, who was her GREAT, GREAT grandson. And as Matthew chapter 1 reminds us, of the line and lineage of David came JESUS CHRIST, the only Son of God. I guess you could sum this all up by saying Rahab shows us that we can turn from our sin and come to GOD…just as we are and when we do, He will do great things in and through us.
You know, I love Phillips’ translation of John 3:17, “God has not sent His Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it -through Him. Any man [or woman boy or girl] who believes in Him is not judged at all.” Our God believes in second chances. Through Jesus Christ He makes it possible for us to not be judged for our past mistakes.
So, this morning why not take Him up on His offer and take a mulligan! Come, just as you are and ask God to forgive you of your sin and help you start over in life. He longs to do so! Maybe you are a Christian and you want to start over in your walk with God. You realize that you’ve been playing it safe and now you want to have enough faith to let God do GOD-SIZED tasks through your life.
Why not make that commitment right now….by saying, “God I want people to look at my life and see You at work. Give me the FAITH I need to make this happen.” That commitment might involve your deciding to move your letter and join this church….in the work God gives us to do here at Redland. We invite you to make your decisions public as we stand and sing.