Note: Unfortunately the recording for Kasey's preach (By Faith - Week 2) on August 14th was lost due to some technical difficulties. However, we still wanted to be able to share her sermon with you. We've asked her if she could condense her sermon notes into a blog post, and she kindly complied. Check out the blog below if you missed her sermon!
Of all the people mentioned in the hall of fame of faith (Hebrews 11), Rahab (the female, Gentile, prostitute) is my favorite. When she harbors the Israelite spies in Joshua 2, she is hiding her enemies, people she knows are about to destroy her city, her home, and everyone she has ever known or loved. She has the opportunity to turn them over to her government but she doesn’t. In fact, she lies and commits treason in order to save them. Why? The cynical answer would be that her hospitality is merely opportunistic. But Hebrews 11:31 tells us that her hospitality came from her faith.
When she says to the spies: “I know that the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below,” (Joshua 2:11) she’s expressing a covenantal kind of knowing. Moses and Solomon used similar phrases to describe God. When she describes her treatment of the spies as “kindness,” (Joshua 2:12) she uses the Hebrew word hesed, often used to describe the faithfulness and mercy of God. When she ties the scarlet rope in her window she’s making a public proclamation of her alignment with the king of heaven and earth rather than the king of Jericho. What used to identify her house as the house of a prostitute now identifies her house as a house of YHWH’s salvation.
Tying that scarlet rope in the window was a huge risk for Rahab. She has the spies’ promise that she would be saved if she did so, but no guarantee. Maybe she was 100% confident. Maybe 76% or 44% or only 23%. We don’t really know. And it some sense it doesn’t matter- the faithfulness of the one she trusts matters much more than the strength of her faith in him. The points is that she, and all the other heroes of Hebrews 11, made choices based on what they believed about God, regardless of the data, regardless of the choices other people were making.
Rahab’s faith is vindicated immediately: she and her whole family are saved. She is able to leave Jericho, prostitution, and poverty behind to join the people of Israel. She is even honored as an ancestor of Jesus himself. Her one moment of risky, faithful hospitality echoes down through the generations. But if we keep reading Hebrews 11, we realize that this isn’t always the case. Many who lived by faith never got what was promised to them. Many suffered and died. But they were able to act as they did because the knew, or believed, or maybe just hoped against hope that faithfulness to Jesus was the pathway to true life and resurrection, even when it involved suffering and death in the short term.
Rahab’s story calls us to throw out our scarlet ropes, to cast our lot with the Lord of heaven and earth rather than the other gods we are tempted to bow to.
She calls us to faith that expresses itself in risky action even when the short-term results are not guaranteed. Rahab has much to teach us about what the life of faith looks like.
But I don’t think that’s the only reason her story is in our Bible. I think she’s included not just because of what she did but because of who she was.
Remember, Rahab was, by all accounts, an outsider when she met and showed hospitality to the spies: a Gentile, a woman, a prostitute. Even so, she knew things about God that insiders knew. She covenanted with God like the insiders had. She imaged the character of God in a way insiders had been called to do. She thought, spoke, and acted like an insider while she was still technically an outsider.
As an outsider, she showed the insiders what faithfulness to God looks like.
It easy for us to see ourselves as better than people we consider to be outsiders because they do not know what we know, believe what we believe, or behave as we behave. Yes, we have cast our lot with Jesus and been saved from sin, death, and evil. In this sense we are unique. But we must remember that this is on account of God’s mercy, not our superiority. Yes, we want to invite people to come in and be saved like Rahab was, but we can’t assume that we have a monopoly on God or that he’s not working in places we aren’t. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. At at the end of the day, I think that’s why Rahab is in our Bible: because we need her just as much as the spies did. We need her example of risky faith, but we also need her to remind us never to take our “insider” status for granted, or to eschew the “outsiders” and what they have to teach us.
What invitation does Rahab’s story hold for you?
Maybe you need to be encouraged that no one is too far “outside” to be accepted into God’s people.
Maybe you need to be challenged to cast your lot with God in a new area of life even though the outcome is uncertain?
Maybe you feel convicted about the way that initially gratitude for and humility in the face of God’s abundant grace and calcified into a sense of superiority and feelings of judgment against those you perceive to be outsiders.
Maybe you’re moved to thank God for the faith he’s given you, for your scarlet rope moments, or the people who make up your hall of fame of faith.
Whatever invitation you sense, remember that the God Rahab knew and trusted is the one inviting you. He keeps his promises. He is good. You don’t have to be afraid.
Kasey was raised in Boston, MA and spent six years on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Baltimore, MD before coming to Regent College in the fall of 2014. When she's not studying doctrinal theology, she can be found cooking, working on her latte art, running, biking, reading, following the Red Sox and befriending people with dogs. She hopes to teach theology when she grows up, whenever that is.