When my wife and I found out we were going to have our fourth child, people immediately asked us three questions: First it was, “Don’t you know what causes that by now?” Yes we’re well aware of what causes this. Then they asked, “Well, do you know what you’re going to have?” Yes, a girl. Immediately followed by, “Have you picked out a name yet?” Yes we have, but sorry I cannot tell you what it is. Finally, “When is the baby due?” End of May.
I have to admit that it makes me happy to see others excited about our new addition. I do not mind all the questions one bit. In fact, I especially love the question about her name. Like most parents, we take our children’s names seriously because names matter. Whether we will admit it or not, we subconsciously stereotype and form expectations of our peers and co-workers simply based on their first name. What do you think when you hear the name Mercedes or Bubba? Like it or not those names carry certain connotations.
While we are keeping our baby’s full name top secret, I can assure you that we will not bestow on our daughter the name of Rahab. We are not alone in this, according the U.S. Social Security Administration, Rahab has never made it into the top 1,000 girl names since 1900 (the first year for which data is available). I suspect it is based on the descriptive noun that is attached to her name throughout scripture, “harlot.” Time and again, the Bible reader is reminded of the fact that Rahab was a prostitute. (We’ll address this in the last post.)
Nevertheless, she was a woman of impressive faith. So much so, her story, that of a Gentile woman nonetheless, is recorded in the annals of Hebrew history (cf. Joshua 2:1-21; 6:17, 23, 25). Furthermore, the New Testament writers point to her faithfulness in an effort to fortify the fragile faith of Jewish believers (cf. Hebrews 11:31). Finally, James used her, alongside Abraham of all people, as a classic example of an active, working faith (cf. James 2:24-25). The only time we are not reminded of her past sin is when she makes a surprise appearance in the linage of Jesus (cf. Matthew 1:5).
Over the next few post, I plan to explore how this godly woman’s faith shaped her actions and life. It is my prayer that we will be challenged to a deeper and more faithful service for our Lord through this study.
As the book of Joshua opens, we find that after 40 years of wilderness wondering the children of Israel are poised to enter the Promised Land. Though it was a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; et. al.) numerous battles were to be fought against the Canaanite inhabitants before the land could be conquered. The first such encounter would be a key city in the Jordan Valley, Jericho. It is here, along the massive walls of this fortified city, that the story of Rahab’s legendary faith is recorded for all posterity.
In preparation for the battle, Joshua dispatched two spies to, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho” (Joshua 2:1a). The spy’s intent to remain undercover was somehow foiled, and they took refuge in “the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab” (2:1b-2). At some personal risk, she hid the Jewish spies from her own people, sending their pursuers on a wild goose chase (2:3-7). Then, when the coast was clear, “she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall” (2:15-16). It was her protecting the spies that the New Testament writers point to as an example of a working faith.
So what set Rahab apart from the other inhabitants of Jericho? She reported to the spies how all in Jericho had heard of the Lord God’s drying up of the Red Sea and His destroying the two kings of the Ammonites (Joshua 2:10; cf. Exodus 14:21-31; Numbers 21:21-35). Moreover she added, “And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and the earth beneath” (2:11). Everyone in this great city believed (or had faith if you will) in God and His mighty works, yet, their faith lead only to fearful trembling. (Their faith was useless, akin to the faith of demons cf. James 2:19). However, Rahab was different. Her faith lead to action and in turn, those actions led to the saving of her life and the life of her family.
Spend any time in church and hopefully, sooner rather than later, Ephesians 2:8-9 will be emphasized in a lesson:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
As Christians, this passage is a cornerstone belief of our faith. Our works cannot save us, rather, it is by God’s grace through faith we are saved. However, while we are not saved by works we are saved to work. Paul makes this abundantly clear in the next verse, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 10). Thus, good works are the subsequent and resultant fruit and evidence of faith.
This is the point that James drives home in 2:14-16 of his epistle. “Faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead” (2:17). Faith that is not accompanied by works is stone-cold dead and frankly is no faith at all. A mere profession of faith is unworkable without that faith being put into practice. The godly works of a believer proves the existence of their faith. He sums up his argument in verses 24-26 noting:
“You see a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
Rahab demonstrated the reality of her faith when she protected the messengers of God. Thus, she became a model of faith completed by works. A model we as Christians today should follow.
But we need to recognize that a working faith like Rahab’s is more than sitting in the pew each Sunday and fulfilling our weekly spiritual duty. Do not get me wrong, that is important, but having a working faith like Rahab’s is so much more. Staying in James’ epistle we find a definition of a working faith called religion in this passage:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle the tongue but deceives heart this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)
All Christians should be challenged by these two verses because it demands that our faith extends beyond our assemblies and worship services to the point it permeates our day-to-day lives.
James catalogs three characteristics of the truly religious person who has a working faith. First, they keep a tight rein on their speech (cf. James 3:2-6; 1 Peter 3:8-17). Second, they demonstrate sacrificial love by helping the helpless (cf. Matthew 25:34-36; 1 John 3:17-19). Finally, they keep themselves unstained by the world’s sinfulness (cf. James 4:4-10; Romans 12:2). This is the essence of the working faith.
God could have made the spies invisible or smote the people with blindness or used angels, but He chose to use a Gentile woman with courage to act on her faith. While our culture may not memorialize Rahab by naming our daughters after her, we as Christians should model our faith after hers. If I can help you with any spiritual need drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. May God’s blessing be upon us as we keep sharing the good news.