If you have been following the news over the last couple of weeks, you will know that the American Academy Awards are coming up – the annual ceremony when celebrities walk down the red carpet and Oscars are awarded to the best films of the past year. I think its fair to say that if the Old Testament book of Joshua was ever made into a film, it would be a Hollywood blockbuster. Joshua has all the ingredients of an Oscar-winning storyline. It’s a story of faith, hope, courage and conquest. A story of God giving the Promised Land to his people, the Israelites. A true story we will follow for the next six weeks at St Michael’s.
But before we begin the story, let me briefly set the scene. The year is about 1200 BC and the events of Exodus have taken place. The people of Israel have been rescued from slavery in Egypt, have been miraculously taken through the Red Sea, and have received God’s law at Mount Sinai. But for the past 40 years the Israelites had been wandering around the desert, waiting to inherit the land of Canaan that God had promised them. Sin and grumbling against God meant they had not yet been given the land he had promised them. And to make matters worse, the Israelite’s famous leader Moses had just died - the man who had led the exodus from Egypt was now dead and buried.
Thankfully, although Moses had gone God had not abandoned his people. Because as we begin the book of Joshua, the people of Israel have just arrived on the east bank of the river Jordan. God had at last brought them to the edge of Canaan, they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land. God has just appointed Joshua as the new leader of the Israelites, and has assured him that he will help the Israelites conquer Canaan. Battle is about to begin, and God is going to give them victory over their enemies.
But like any good general, Joshua wanted to survey the scene and spy out the enemy before engaging in battle. So as we join Joshua in chapter 2 today, he has just sent spies across the river Jordan to ‘check out’ the other side, including the city of Jericho. Joshua wanted to know what opposition Israel’s army could expect to face when they entered the land.
Verse 1 of our reading told us that when they went to Jericho, the spies stayed in the house of a prostitute called Rahab. A place from which they could spy the city and hopefully keep a low profile. But it seems that their arrival was noticed, and the king of Jericho was notified. As we read in verse 3, the king wasted no time in telling Rahab to hand over the spies sheltering in her house.
But with great bravery, Rahab hides the spies rather than handing them over to the king. She sends the king’s soldiers on a ‘wild goose chase’ out into the country, and hides the Israelite spies “under the stalks of flax she had laid out on her roof” (v.6).
In verses 8 to 11 she tells the spies why she was being so brave. She had come to realise that the Israelites were on the winning side. She had heard all that God had done for them – including the exodus from Egypt – and knew that he had the power to give the Israelites their promised land. Rahab had come to realise that the ‘pagans of Canaan’ had no chance against the God of heaven and earth (v.11).
Imagine if you saw me enter a tennis match against Andy Murray, or a begin a golf game against Tiger Woods – you’d know there would only be one winner! In the coming contest between God’s people and the godless citizens of Jericho, Rahab also knew there could only be one winner.
Faced with these facts, Rahab put her faith in the God of Israel. She decided to switch loyalties and side with him, rather than the king of Jericho. She wisely chose to turn to God for safety, mercy and salvation. That’s why in verses 12 and 13 she asks the Israelite spies to spare her and her family when they return to conquer the city. She says to them “please swear by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family…and save us from death”.
The spies willingly agree to her request. When the Israelites conquer her city they will spare her household and welcome them into God’s people. To identify her house in the coming conflict, they ask her to hang a scarlet cord from her window. That scarlet cord would be a sign that she was there – that Rahab and her house were to be rescued. (Just like the red blood of the Passover lamb marked the doors of Israelite houses in Egypt, Rahab’s red cord would ensure that God’s judgement would ‘pass over’ her home in Jericho).
With the deal done, Rahab lowered the spies out of her window in the city wall and enabled them escape in safety. They could return to the Israelite camp and tell Joshua all that they’d done in Jericho. The spies were able to tell Joshua about Rahab’s remarkable faith, and the deal they had done to save her and her household.
Rahab’s Salvation - and ours
If you like a good novel, especially a detective story, it can sometimes be tempting to flick forward to the end of the book to find out how the story ends – to discover ‘whodunit’. Well if today we were to flick forward a few pages to Joshua chapter 6 verse 25, we would see that Joshua and the Israelites were true to their word. When they did conquer the city of Jericho they spared Rahab and her family, and gave her a place among their own people. Rahab’s faith in God’s mercy was vindicated, and the scarlet cord in her window secured her rescue.
Rahab’s rescue is a dramatic story isn’t it. A story of spies and salvation. But what can it teach us today? Isn’t Rahab’s situation total different to ours today? In fact there are many lessons we can learn from Rahab. Here are just a handful before I finish:
- Firstly, Rahab was a woman of great faith, and her faith is commended as a model for us in the New Testament (for example in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25). You see, Rahab heard about everything that God had done, and believed in his power. Rahab heard of God’s promises to his people, and trusted they would come true. Christians today are people who have faith in the same God as Rahab and the Israelites. Christians are people who have heard about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and believe God’s power was at work through him. We should be people who trust God’s great promises of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus - people who cling to Christ for God’s mercy and grace.
- Secondly, like Rahab, our faith should lead to a change in our allegiance - to a switch in our loyalties. In Joshua chapter 2, Rahab’s loyalities go from the king of Jericho to the Lord God. Today, a Christian is someone who makes the Lord Jesus the king of their life, no longer ourselves. A Christian is someone who has given Christ their ultimate loyalty, not any worldly authority.
- And thirdly, we can also learn from Rahab that faith can be costly. Rahab took a great personal risk sheltering the spies in her roof. If they had been found, she would have been arrested and killed by the king of Jericho. For many people today too, Christian faith can be costly. It will involve resisting temptation, enduring persecution, and sacrificing worldly success. In this fallen world, following Jesus comes at a cost.
- Fourthly, and finally, the lesson of Rahab is that anyone can be saved. Anyone can become a Christian believer and so experience God’s salvation - whatever our background. Rahab was a pagan prostitute, but her past did not exclude her from God’s grace and mercy. Her nationality did not prevent her becoming one of God’s people. It did not stop her being invited to live God’s way in the world.
The Christian Gospel, you see, can be good news for anyone. Whoever we are, whatever our past, we can experience God’s salvation and a new start in life - just like Rahab did. I wonder, who do you know who would benefit from hearing about God’s amazing grace this week?