Rahab and the Gospel

(Joshua 2:4-6)  4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
  5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
  6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

For reasons unknown to me, those in Reformed circles continually discuss the ethical problems posed by Rahab.

According to the strict reading of the account, she did not tell the truth to the officials who asked where the spies were. To not mince words, she lied.

Here is the problem. In her lie, she saved the lives of the men. In saving the lives of the men, she saved her own life and the lives of her family. And, to take it one step further, the scripture itself commends Rahab for her lie and states that it was done in faith.

(James 2:25) 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

So here is the ethical dilemma, for those who are wired for disputes over the law: Did Rahab sin when she lied?

On the one hand, we certainly do not want to say that the Ten Commandments are situational. Committing adultery and murder are wrong, no matter what the situation is. And the devil that is a liar. God’s people are to be people of the truth.

On the other hand, Rahab’s only other option was to say nothing or to tell the truth – either way, she would have condemned the spies to death and condemned herself and her family along with them.

So which is it? The debate will continue forever.

But may I suggest that the debate itself is wrong. The accounts of scripture are not given to us as moral tales. The point of Rahab is not the importance of truth telling. When you look at these accounts as moral fables as is done by countless children’s Sunday School books, you miss the point. The Old Testament is not a McGuffey reader or the Aesop’s fables of Israel. Jesus said all of scripture is about HIM.

All scripture is given to point us to Christ. Let’s look at the account of Rahab through the lens of the New Testament, as the apostles would have us do.

(Hebrews 11:31)  31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Let’s put the account in its proper place. The people of God, the nation of Israel, was bringing the judgment of God to Jericho. They were being led by Christ himself, the Captain of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:14). Utter destruction was the plan. The city of Jericho knew it, for they trembled at their arrival. Rahab testified that there was no more courage in the whole city. Judgment was upon them.

Rahab only had one chance – side with the people of God, and perhaps God in his mercy would spare her. The only other option was destruction.

We could, by the way, endlessly speculate on other options, but scripture does not. These are the only options in scripture.

When the official came to Rahab’s door, it was not an ethical exercise. It was very, very real. Save the lives of the spies and be spared yourself. Or hold on to your own self-righteousness and die.

Now was not the time for self-righteousness. Now was the time to choose a side. Throw in your hand with God’s people and the promised seed? Or be destroyed with the whole city?

So let me suggest reading this account through the eyes of faith, and learning from the example of Rahab, as the writer of Hebrews would have us do.

This world is heading for judgment as certainly as Jericho was. This judgment will begin in the house of God, and is already taking place. Incest, abuse, rape, oppression, spiritual bullying, extortion, casting out the widow and orphan take place continually – in the Church of God. Judgment is coming. And if this is the state of the church, how much worse is the state of those outside? When the salt has lost it’s savor, what will it be salted with?

Perhaps, as Rahab did, now is the time to say, “Lord, have mercy on us!” and cling to Christ, as Rahab did. Rahab saw his coming by faith and rejoiced. The Pharisees bickered over the law.

Paul wrote:

(Philippians 3:8-9)  8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
  9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Perhaps now is the time to exalt Christ, cling to him by faith, and count our own “righteousness” as dung. Remember that Rahab was a harlot – not exactly a moral paragon. Just as each one of us, we either receive the mercy of God, or we die on our sins. Now is not the time to bicker over the law. Now is the time to flee to Christ, as Rahab did.  Her choice was to either cling onto some weird self-righteousness (at least I don’t lie) and die. Or come to Christ in the shadow of the spies and live.

She chose to live – to count her own righteousness as dung, that she might gain Christ and know the power of his resurrection.

That – it seems to me – is the point of the account. The rest we can argue over until doomsday, but it doesn’t seem to be to be a fruitful use of time.


Filed under Gospel, Union with Christ

6 responses to “Rahab and the Gospel

  1. Bev Sterk

    I love, love, love this scene in “Return to the hiding place”… so powerful!
    God blesses those who choose to save LIVES! Hebrew midwives in Egypt and Rahab…
    if you haven’t watched this docudrama, I encourage you to do so!

  2. Helen

    This was a soul-strengthening redirection of my eyes to my gentle Shepherd. Now is the time to flee to Christ. Yes! And I cling to the hem of His garment. May His power flow out from Him to His daughter.

  3. Anu Riley

    I loved these lines, Pastor:

    ” Her choice was to either cling onto some weird self-righteousness (at least I don’t lie) and die.”

    I’m with you on that. But I can imagine counter comments like: isn’t it better to tell the truth, no matter what the consequences? Isn’t that the kind of example we should set?

    You brought up judgement on Jericho, relating it to the judgement on God’s house. In that list of sins you gave, lying is likely prevalent, in order to commit or cover up those sins. Or, the victims tend to be accused of lying.

    So you might have those that say: We can’t condone lying in one breath, condemn it in the next. Isn’t the devil the father of lies?

    Pastor, you put it all in its proper place when you wrote: “Let’s put the account in its proper place.”

    That is often what is missing when we bring up such delicate issues. To oversimplify something as complicated as truth telling, ironically tends to push justice aside in favor of that “weird self-righteousness.”

    If you hadn’t “filled in the blanks” with her entire story, we wouldn’t see the whole story. We would just see her lies and jump on that.

    Rahab dared to consider her own self-preservation, and the lives of her family. May be hard to believe, but “sinners” can and do have real attachments to their families.

    I hope it’s not too much of a stretch, but imagine if the catastrophe was natural, not supernatural. An impending hurricane, tornado, volcano meant the entire city was doomed. No way out. You’re all going to die, it’s just a matter of waiting for the inevitable.

    And two persons sneak in from the outside, asked you to hide them—-so you ask them if you and your loved ones can “evacuate” with them and live. Is this a selfish request?

    When victims come forward, they might be accused of being selfish. All they care about is themselves—-they are asking for justice on a personal level. For some reason, that seems abnormal to those that profess Christ, Who made it clear that it is right to seek justice. And expect it to be done.

    So you can hear the potential arguments: Rahab should have perished with the city rather than lie. Not only is lying wrong, but all she cared about was herself and those closest to her. She should have asked that the entire city be spared.

    OR, she should have asked for her family to be spared, but she should have stayed and perished. That would have been truly unselfish, a true act of faith. Plus, she was a harlot and she deserved to die. Why would God want a harlot to remain alive and continue in sin?

    OR, only the best of the best should have been spared. And a harlot is NOT on such a list. And Rahab should have seen and known that and kept that in mind. Save the smartest, richest persons who can and will contribute to rebuilding what was destroyed.

    What a selfish woman—did we mention she’s a woman and is therefore prone to lying? Not too bright either. Too bad a man wasn’t available.

    (By the way, I’ve heard that Rahab may have been more of an innkeeper. Any truth to that?)

  4. Christina S Hitchcock

    This reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s essay “After 10 Years,” which is well worth reading.

  5. Cheryl

    This actually ends up oversimplifying it, too. Scripture praises her faith–not her lying. You’re right that it doesn’t condemn her lying, but neither does it praise it. So if she had told the truth or evaded the question, trusting God to protect His people, would she have been sinning? That’s a pretty hard argument to make. God did not need her lie to protect His people. Nor did God need her lie to prove her faith or for Him to protect her.

    We can’t go beyond what Scripture says in either direction. We can no more praise the lie than we can condemn it.

    • James specifically praised her works, by which she evidenced her faith.
      And he mentioned her sending the spies the other way, which can only mean the opposite way that she sent the officers.

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