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The faith of Rahab

"A beautiful woman delights the eye; a wise woman, the understanding; a pure one, the soul." So said Minna Antrim. So was Rahab. The Talmud extols her physical beauty. We will content ourselves here with her understanding and purity.

What kindled the faith of Rahab? What formed its basic content? These are fair questions: she is the first Canaanite convert of the newly arrived Israel under Joshua. She is paradigmatic. Her conversion is a model conversion. The way she comes to faith and the nature of that faith form guidelines and paths for all that follow in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses dies, Joshua takes over, Israel prepares to cross Jordan, and here is this woman Rahab. What did she believe and why did she convert?

Her words carefully recorded in Joshua are these:

I know that the Lord has given you this land 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. 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. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Joshua 2:9-11

Her words fall into three related sections:

  1. "The Lord has given you this land." In other words, that piece of earth does not belong to the Canaanites. The Lord of that land has granted it to Israel. Those who resist will be cast from the land.

  2. "We have heard ...." The stories of the Lord's great power and majesty have gone before the Israelites. No human power on earth can challenge him. Creation itself does his bidding. His people are used as his instruments in the destruction of his enemies. Indeed, the Hebrew for "completely destroyed" is cultic in nature, referring to something given over to God as an offering. This power of God is wrapped up in his nature as Creator and Ruler, the true object of worship.

  3. "The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below." It is noteworthy that she uses the divine name throughout, and not a generic word for God. It is not an unknown god that she fears, but the God of Israel. This specific God rules all of creation. This God is active in human history. And this God blesses his people and triumphs over their enemies.

It is interesting that fear is the dominant emotion. Whatever shame or guilt she might have felt over her occupation is completely swallowed up in her awe of God. There is no marketplace dynamic in her choice: no comparison of Israel's government over against Jericho's, or social programs, military, education, or anything. Her fear of Israel is due solely to their relationship with this awesome God. His power is complete, he works on behalf of his people, and he is to be feared.

In her own words, everyone is gripped by fear of Israel. What sets her apart is that her fear causes her to embrace God and seek salvation working on behalf of his people. Fear turns to saving faith in God; faith is expressed in her service to God on behalf of his people.

What do we learn? Faith comes from hearing the message. The message is all about God: "the hope to which he has called [his people], the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe" (Ephesians 1:18-19). Fear of God turns to faith in God. And the wonderful message of the spies is that she can remain in the land and be blessed - God will welcome her into his people.

Her knowledge and the purity of her response are exemplary, and she takes her rightful place in the lists of the great saints in Hebrews 11.

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. (11:31)

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