Joshua 2:1-21.
 
The Nature of Saving Faith


 What is faith?  If we were to ask that question of people on the street, surveying a wide variety of backgrounds, both Christian and non-Christian, we would certainly be offered a variety of responses.  Misunderstanding the nature of true faith leads to many errors that serve to bring people short of the abundant life that Jesus promises[1] when they search for truth in the wrong places and find only frustration,  disappointment, or powerless and fruitless security.  Consider some examples of errors concerning the nature of faith:

1.      The Evangelist holds a faith-healing service under a tent in our small town when Fred comes forward to have his back pain healed.  When The Evangelist prays for Fred with grand promises, lays hands on Him, and proclaims him healed, Fred’s pain still remains.  The Evangelist exclaims:  “Your faith is not strong enough!  It is your fault!”

2.      Mrs. Smith is aware of her husband’s grave illness and prays desperately for his healing.  When he ultimately dies, she grieves for years, blaming herself for his death, arguing that her prayers went unanswered because her faith was not sufficient.

3.      Mr. Jones has dedicated his life to the Word of God, and vehemently argues that he believes that everything in the Bible is true.  He believes that he has faith because he believes the basic doctrines of the faith, but finds himself frustrated when he sees others who demonstrate their faith in dynamic expressions of love, and an open confidence in their faith that he does not quite understand, nor truly desire.

4.      Ms. Adams feels a “need” for a new car, so, believing in the promises of God to meet her needs, prays to the LORD, claiming His promise.  Upon walking out to her driveway, she finds it empty, and questions the goodness of God.

5.      William knows well the difference between right and wrong, placing his trust in eternity on his belief that his good deeds outweigh his bad.  He has complete faith that God will bless his goodness.  After all, God loves him, right?

This list can continue to illustrate a variety of erroneous understandings of the nature of saving faith, errors that have characterized the plight of man since his creation.  The biblical text contains much teaching about the nature of true faith, and many illustrations of faith that saves.  The scriptures also illustrate examples of false faith that only frustrates and leads people to eternal separation from God.[2]  We might be reminded of the words written in Hebrews,

Hebrews 11:6.  But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

If it is, indeed, impossible to please God without the personal expression of true and living faith, it is extremely important that we understand the nature of faith.  When we make such an investigation we will find out some important truths:

Saving faith is not found by what we do.[5]  True and saving faith is found simply by placing our complete trust in God, submitting to Him as our LORD, and our Savior.  When we observe the biblical examples of those who found “favor in the sight of the LORD,” this truth about the nature of faith is a common denominator that connects them all.  When we observe the errors listed above, as well as the incomplete list of “Faith is not…”  we find that each fails to find empowerment through submission to God as LORD and Savior.  Each defines faith based on some work of our own. 

Every example of erroneous faith seeks to find faith by dependence upon ourselves rather than dependence upon the LORD.  Erroneous faith places the responsibility for our salvation in what we are doing right or wrong.  True faith is found not in what we are doing, but in what God has already done for us.

A simple illustration of this is found in the answer to one simple, guided, question:  “You believe in God, so does satan.  What is the difference between you and satan?”  If one cannot answer this question, one does not understand the basic doctrine of faith:  true and living faith is found in placing one’s complete trust in the One True God.  This is what satan and his minions will never do.

God has a plan and purpose for our lives, a plan that can be lived out only when we trust in Him, when we step by faith beyond our human limitations into the path that the LORD shows to us through His Word and through the guiding of the Holy Spirit.  Following that path can be a frustrating challenge when we fail to look through spiritual eyes and depend upon our own solutions.  The scriptures contain many examples of those who stepped out in faith, and probably some of the most vivid are found in the Old Testament as the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt and settled them in the Promised Land.  There were many obstacles that had to be overcome, obstacles that the LORD removed for those who trusted in Him. 

One example of a person who found faith is Rahab, the harlot of Jericho.  Her experience is significant enough that her name appears twice in the New Testament as an example of a person with genuine, saving, faith.  Her story can be an encouragement to all of us when we understand who she was, how she found faith, and what the result of that faith was in her life.

Joshua 2:1.  And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there.

We first hear of Rahab when Joshua is preparing to move the nation of Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan.  This effort required a measure of faith at both a personal and national level when the nation observed the seemingly overwhelming obstacles in their way.  The LORD commanded them to take the land, and the walled city of Jericho was their first major obstacle.  They lacked the military resources to defeat this city.  They would have to rely totally on the LORD in order to move toward the completion of His command.

This move started with the sending of “spies” into Jericho.  This situation was not unlike that experienced by the nation forty years before when spies were sent into the same land to do some “reconnaissance.”[6]  The nation would enter Canaan based on their trust in God to lead them and protect them.  Yet, prior to their entry they would exercise some wisdom to investigate the nature of their path.  This is not an example of a failure to trust in God as much as it is an effort to understand God’s plan as one would join Him in it.  God also had a special purpose for one visit that the men would make while investigating the state of the walled city of Jericho.

When the two spies came into Jericho they faced a dilemma.  They would need to remain in hiding since their identification as Hebrews would be obvious to the Canaanites, and their discovery would bring them certain persecution or death.  While in the city they needed to find a place to stay for the night, and they were drawn to an inn that was built into the city wall, offering them a quick escape route if it were needed.  It is here that they meet Rahab, the innkeeper.[7]

1.  THE DOOM OF SIN

The nature and person of Rahab is important.  First, she is a Canaanite.  Some have tried to argue that she was a displaced Hebrew, but the context of Israelite isolation for sixteen generations, coupled with her continued identification of herself as a Canaanite in the following verses serve to clearly identify her as a Non-Hebrew pagan. 

Second, she is identified as a prostitute, though there is no reference or inference to her serving as a pagan temple prostitute.  We can probably be satisfied to understand that she was a woman who was well-immersed in the culture of the world, identified and characterized by the sin that surrounds her.  Consequently, the nature of her sin is not as important as her sin-nature, a nature that all people share with her prior to their salvation.

These two important characteristics of Rahab simply identify her as a sinner: one who does not know God, one who lives under the authority of the world.  This is the same character that all people share if they do not place their faith in God.  We cannot point fingers at Rahab and declare her to be wicked or unclean since we all share with her the same original sin.

Rahab is doomed by her sin, just as every person who has not placed their faith and trust in the LORD is doomed to an eternity separated from Him.  Her doom is also spelled out in the command to Joshua to destroy every living thing in the city of Jericho.  The parallel to God’s offer of salvation is evident:  all who fail to place their faith in Him will be utterly destroyed in the final judgment, with that destruction characterized simply by eternal separation from Him.

Based upon her character, and based upon the command given to Joshua, Rahab is surely doomed.

Joshua 2:2.  And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country.

The plot thickens.  The Hebrew spies were unsuccessful in keeping their visit a secret.  Word of the presence of the Israelites in Jericho has been relayed to the King who, like all Jericho, understands the presence of Israel on the other side of the river to be a significant threat.  This not only places the lives of the Israelite spies in immediate danger, but presents Rahab with an imminent threat to her own safety.  If it becomes known by the king that she is keeping the spies, she will surely be put to death.  Consequently, we now can understand that there is more to Rahab than her identification as a doomed, godless, pagan.

Joshua 2:3.  And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country.

It is also evident that those who informed the king of the presence of the spies also knew where they were located:  in the inn that is kept by Rahab.  Rahab now found herself confronted by the king of Jericho, who demanded that she produce the spies.  As a resident of Jericho, a pagan who lives under the authority of the king, her response would expectedly be to immediately turn the spies over to the king.  However, a surprising and somewhat miraculous turn of events takes place:

THE LIGHT OF TRUTH

Joshua 2:4-7.  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: 5And 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.   6But 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. 7And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.

What did Rahab do?  Rather than turn over the Israelites over to the king, she did what was necessary to save their lives:  she lied.  Her statement was simple:  “Yes, they came to me, but they did not stay.  They left the city just before the gates were closed.  Since they are close by, you should be able to catch them.” 

Why would Rahab risk her own life to protect the spies?  Though the narrative does not yet explain the reason for her decision, we will find that her communication with the Hebrew men began to open her eyes to understand the nature and character of the LORD.  In her response we can find an illustration of the first step that leads one from pagan to saint:  having heard of the LORD, she is seeking truth. 

There is something about the character of these Hebrew men that is in sharp contrast to the nature of the other men she has known.  If she is, indeed, a prostitute, their interaction with her would have been a stark contrast to her expectations.  Thought the scripture is silent concerning the content of their discussions, it is obvious that these two men maintained their purpose for coming to Jericho and their testimony as to the nature and purposes of God. 

This circumstance speaks to the dynamic that takes place when a person who loves God faithfully encounters those who are immersed in this sin-sick world.  First, the faith of those who truly love the LORD is evident in their character and is visible to those who are lost.  The agape love of the LORD that shines through them is like a light in the darkness.  Their nature, paired with their undeniable testimony[8] can spark in the lost an interest in the things of faith.  Finally, as the lost person understands the contrast between the darkness of their own experience and the light of truth, that person often becomes open to the gospel.  We may refer to this person as a “seeker,” one who has taken the first step toward God and desires to know more.

Joshua 2:8-10. And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof; 9And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.  10For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.

After her meeting with the King, Rahab returned to the rooftop where she had hidden the two Hebrew spies.  It is evident that she wanted to continue the conversation that she previously had with them.  Apparently, during that previous discussion Rahab the seeker became Rahab the believer.  Her statement, “the LORD hath given,” uses the covenant name for the LORD Adonai, YAHWEH.  As a pagan Canaanite she would not know or understand this name of God.  She would simply think of the “God of Israel” as one of the many of the pantheon of geographically-bound gods that were worshipped by various people groups.  She would have referred to the LORD as “your god,” or “Israel’s god.”  Instead she speaks of a knowledge of God as LORD, a God who is real and accomplishes real things. 

She shares her belief, not only in God, but in His plan for Israel.  She has learned that this is the land promised to Abraham and his descendents, and they will, indeed, receive the land because of that promise that comes from the One True God.  The stories surrounding the experience of the Israelite nation over the last two generations was well-known both in Jericho and throughout all of Canaan.  The Canaanites are literally terrified by this huge population of Israelites who are about to overwhelm them.

A TESTIMONY OF FAITH

Joshua 2:11.  And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. 

This statement reveals two important facts that make this preliminary visit to the Promised Land quite different from the first one that took place about forty years ago.  It is apparent that the earlier spies did not interact with the Canaanites as these did.  Through that interaction they learned that the Canaanites were terrified by their presence.  This is quite a contrast from the testimony of the first set of twelve spies who carried no such message.

Second, this testimony by Rahab reveals her acceptance of the Israelite God as her LORD.  The pagans knew of the powerlessness of their mythical pantheons.  There had never been any of the miraculous interactions with their false gods that were well-known in the interactions between Israel and the LORD.  Her statement identifies that she recognizes that her Canaanite gods are simply myths, and the God of Israel is, indeed LORD over all, including herself.

FAITH’S CHALLENGE 

Turning to the LORD in faith now presents Rahab with a new conflict.  Until these two men visited, she was comfortable in her pagan Jericho.  Now she finds that she has no home here any longer.  She certainly has no desire to face the doom of this wicked city.  Likewise, when an individual comes to faith in the LORD, they face a similar state.  The Holy Spirit replaces the desire for the things of this world with a sincere desire to know more of God, to develop this new relationship with God, and to be obedient to Him.  This places the new believer in direct conflict with the pagan and secular world that he/she has just left.  The faithful believer, though still living in and immersed by a sin-sick world, is no longer home.  The faithful believer now resides in the kingdom of God, and is just a temporary visitor in this wicked place, awaiting the final reward of an eternity at home with the LORD in heaven. 

This “dual-citizenship” places the person of faith in conflict with the evil of this world.  Rahab found her new citizenship, not in Jericho, but in Israel.  Consequently, she made a request of the spies:

Joshua 2:12-13.   Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have showed you kindness, that ye will also show kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: 13And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.

The LORD has made a promise to all who place their faith and trust in Him:  to save them from the punishment that they truly deserve for their sin.  When a person comes to the LORD, they do so by faith.  They do not come to the LORD through the cessation of sin.  That is, faithful Christians still commit sinful acts.  However, that sin still serves to compromise their relationship with the LORD, and limit their usefulness to the Kingdom of God.  Sin still has consequences.  However, as a Christian, the Holy Spirit remains as a seal of their salvation.  Their sin is forgiven by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

The “sinner’s prayer,” the first prayer to the LORD by one who is coming to faith in Him acknowledges sin, and asks for forgiveness for that sin.   A typical and appropriate request by one who is making a prayer of profession of faith is, “LORD save me from the eternal punishment that I deserve.”  This is not unlike Rahab’s request of the Hebrew visitors.  The LORD commanded Joshua to destroy all of the population of Jericho when the city was entirely inhabited by the wicked.  However, when Rahab came to faith in the LORD, she placed herself under the protection of the LORD.  That protection would come at the hands of the Hebrew visitors from whom she heard the good news of God, and of His nation with whom she wanted her entire family to join.

Joshua 2:14-15.  And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee. 15Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.

The men were well-aware of the command from the LORD that all of the people in the city would be put to death.  However, they also knew the heart of the LORD who desires that all would be saved from eternal separation from Him.[9]  If her profession is true and sincere, she will be saved from the judgment that the LORD is bringing upon Jericho.  We might remember the promise of the LORD to Abraham’s nephew LOT when He stated that He would spare Sodom and Gomorrah the doom of total destruction if a faithful person could be found in their borders.[10]  These incidents serve as illustrations of the LORD’s purpose of grace as He extends salvation to all who place their faith and trust in Him.

Knowing the heart of the LORD, the visitors promised Rahab that she and her household would be saved if her profession of faith in the LORD was real.  Just as the LORD would use the nation of Israel to destroy the wicked city, the LORD would use the nation of Israel to save its newest person of faith. 

Joshua 2:16-21.  And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way. 17And the men said unto her, We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear. 18Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee. 19And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him. 20And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear. 21And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window.

The scripture refers to Rahab’s use of a scarlet-colored rope to assist in lowering the visitors from the exterior window of her inn to the ground below.  The visitors instructed her to tie the rope to her window as a sign to those who would come to destroy the city so that they would Passover her and her family.

The spies would now return home with a testimony that was quite different than the report given by the spies of forty years earlier.  They would report that the people in Jericho were terrified of their presence.  Furthermore, they would share the story of Rahab, the keeper of an inn located on the city wall.  The related to Joshua that Rahab came to faith in the LORD, and should be saved from the judgment that was about to come to Jericho.

FAITH’S REWARD

Joshua 6:22-24.  But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her. 23And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel. 24And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

One might be able to visualize the salvation of Rahab and her family.  Of those people who have any knowledge of the content of the book of Joshua, they are aware of the fall of the city of Jericho when the walls simply fell down when Israel approached the city in obedience to the LORD.  Rahab’s inn was part of the city wall.  Had the entire wall fallen, her house and those within it would have been destroyed.  It might be reasonable to speculate that, as one looked at the fallen walls, there in the midst of them was one small section that stood unscathed.  Huddled in that section of the wall was a terrified family.  However, obedient to the promise that Rahab made to the visitors, they stayed within that section of the wall when it fell all around them. 

The LORD protected Rahab and her family in a miraculous way.  It is likely that this event changed the lives of all of Rahab’s family forever.  They would have heard Rahab’s testimony of the reality of the LORD God of Israel.  A pagan family entered that home at Rahab’s request.  When the visitors returned to Rahab’s home they met a family of faith.  At Joshua’s command, the visitors were given the privilege of going to Rahab’s home, recovering her family, and delivering them to the nation of Israelites who were safely outside the now-broken city walls.  Rahab and her family would live the rest of their days as part of the family of Israel. 

We are familiar with the Greek form Rahab’s name.  Her Hebrew name would have been Rechab, with the ch pronounced similar the guttural use in the German word, “Macht.”  We find her name listed among the lineage of Christ,[11] having married into the house of Salmon, the great-grandfather of David, who would be King of Israel.  Some have argued that this could not be Rahab because of the law that forbids marrying foreigners.  However, after her profession of faith in Jericho, she was no longer a foreigner, but an adopted citizen of Israel, given all of the opportunities that were offered by the nation and by the LORD to those who place their faith and trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The experience of Rahab is an archetype of the process that takes place when one comes to true faith in God, a faith that saves one from eternal separation from God:

1.     Admit that you are a sinner.  Rahab, whether she was a prostitute or not, was certainly living a lifestyle of sin in a wicked city.  Like Rahab, prior to salvation we are all living a lifestyle of sin, and immersed in a sinful world with which we readily identify.  The first step to salvation is acknowledging that you are tainted by sin, and deserve eternal separation from God.

2.     Respond to the gospel in sincere belief.  Believe in your heart that God, the LORD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, YAHWEH who created all that is, came to earth as Jesus to bring people to repentance and faith in Him, and to pay the just penalty of sin for all who place their faith and trust in Him.

3.     Place your faith and trust in Jesus as LORD and Savior.  Faith is more than belief.  it is the full acceptance of Jesus for who He is:  not just The LORD, or The Savior (as even satan agrees), but Jesus is “My LORD”, and “My Savior.”  When one takes this step of faith, God then refers to that person as a “child of God,” like Rahab, adopted into His kingdom as a member of His family with all of the opportunities that are afforded to His children.

Some people think that their sin is too great for God to forgive.  However, this argument is assuming that their sin is greater than God.  God’s purpose transcends the identity of our sin, since all sin separates us from Him, from the littlest to the greatest.  It would be difficult to find any person in all of scripture who was as far from God as Rahab.  When we look at the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews, Chapter-11 we find people who committed great sins.  Even King David committed the sins of adultery and murder while he had a sincere faith in God, yet he stands among the stalwarts of faith.  Even the Apostle Paul persecuted Christians to the point of death prior to his conversion.

God’s offer of salvation is open to all who turn to Him in faith.  Consequently, faith is not found in anything that we do ourselves.  It is found in His plan for us, and by the work that He did on the Cross of Calvary so that all who trust in Him will find eternal salvation.  Why would we choose anything less?  


[1] John 10:10.

[2] An ever-present example in the New Testament is the belief that the religious leaders in Jerusalem had in their impeachable righteousness as they placed their faith on their own definition of keeping the written, oral, and traditional laws.

[3] James 2:19.

[4] Romans 3:23, et. al.

[5] Ephesians 2:8-9.

[6] Numbers 14.

[7] The identification of Rahab as the innkeeper is evident in both the context of the narrative and in the Hebrew word that is translated “harlot,” a word that can be rendered in a variety of ways. There is no shortage of controversy over her identification as a prostitute since the first clear and unimpeachable reference to this as her “profession” is not found in the Hebrew as easily as it is found in its first Greek usage in the Septuagint, a Greek paraphrase translation of the Old Testament that was commonly used in the first-century church.  The Greek term is propagated through the references to Rahab in the New Testament.  For the purposes of this study, we will hold to the preponderant Christian viewpoint that Rahab was both an innkeeper and a prostitute and leave the controversy for another venue.

[8] Matthew 5:14-15.

[9] 1 Timothy 2:4.

[10] Genesis 18:26-33.

[11] Matthew 1:3.