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Joshua 2 - Scarlet Faith

Sun, Oct 04, 2020
Passage: Joshua 2:1-24
Duration:20 mins 9 secs
The story of Rahab is one dramatic scene in God’s grand epic blockbuster. What we see in the life of this one sinful woman will one day be seen in the lives of sinners from every nation as God draws his blockbuster to an end when Jesus returns. And to a new beginning.

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Well, I wonder if like our family you’ve been giving Netflix or Stan or your preferred streaming service a good workout this year? We’ve certainly been getting our money’s worth! I think we’ve had more family movie nights this year than ever before. Which is great. Although there is the negotiation that has to happen before watching. That’s negotiation in capital letters. About which movie to watch. 

Now there are only 3 of us at home in our family. So you’d think this negotiation wouldn’t be too bad for us. But we certainly have our moments! I really don’t know how those of you with bigger families go. The issue is one of genre and rating. Down one end of our family we have a preference for G ratings. A preference for The Sound of Music, Pride and Prejudice, Emma – you get the vibe. I’ll leave you to guess who that might be. And then at the other end of the family we have a preference (not often fulfilled) for M or MA movies like I Am Legend. Which I have to admit was a great movie, even if I was awake half the night with flashbacks. 

It seems to me that Joshua is a prime candidate to be made into a movie. But what kind of movie? Coming off chapter 1, it’s feeling like a movie I’d be pretty happy with. There were all sorts of feel goods in chapter 1. A new leader commissioned for Israel, stepping up from being the 2IC. Some huge promises from the Lord. To give the Israelites a new land. To be with Joshua always. And some big challenges from the Lord. For Joshua to be strong and courageous. And for Joshua to carefully obey everything written in the Book of the Law. This is a promising start for a new Joshua movie at this point. At least in my book.

But things get much more complicated pretty quickly! Today we’re looking at Joshua 2, and Bella’s reading it for us in three sections. So over to Bella now for the first part of Joshua 2. 

1Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

2The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’ 3So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’

4But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.’ 6(But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

So even 7 verses into Joshua 2, we’re left with lots of big questions. And already it’s not quite the feel good story that it seemed it might be in Joshua 1. There’s some real tension in the air. The rating’s cranking up from a PG to an M. 

Canaan 2.0

First of all, Joshua sends two spies into the land to check it out. For anyone who knows the history of Israel, this rings alarm bells. Forty years ago, Moses also sent spies into the land of Canaan to check it out. He sent twelve spies, leaders of the Israelites from each of the twelve tribes. Caleb and Joshua himself were two of those spies first time around. And this was the report of those first spies to Moses and the people. 

27“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. … 

30Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

31But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. …  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”  Numbers 13:27-33

In Numbers 14 we see the disastrous result of this first spy expedition into Canaan.  The people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They wanted to choose a new leader and go back to Egypt. They sabotaged God’s gift to them of the promised land. So, God said none of those who were over 20 years old at that time would enter the promised land. Only Joshua and Caleb would go in. Because only Joshua and Caleb out of the twelve spies trusted God to go into the land. And so began 40 years of wilderness wandering for Israel. 

Will that happen again? 80 years of wilderness wandering would be incredibly devastating for Israel. 

And what on earth were Joshua and Caleb doing staying at the house of the prostitute Rahab? Perhaps that’s an overly naïve question? Or perhaps an overly suspicious one? The text makes no comment. 

The situation escalates when the King of Jericho gets involved and wants to find the spies. 

Rahab lies and says the spies have left and she doesn’t know where they’ve gone. Why does Rahab lie? Was it right or wrong for Rahab to lie? Why does she protect the spies by hiding them? 

The king’s men leave the city to pursue the spies. The city gates are closed. The spies are still hidden on Rahab’s roof. How will they get out if the gates are closed?

So many questions by the end of verse 7! Just like a good movie creating suspense. The rest of the chapter answers some of these questions. But not all of them. The questions that are answered are the important ones. So make sure you don’t get stuck on the questions that don’t have answers here. 

Let’s pick it up from verse 8. 

8Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you 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. 10 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. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

12‘Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them – and that you will save us from death.’

14‘Our lives for your lives!’ the men assured her. ‘If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.’

Rahab

Surprisingly, it seems that Rahab lied and hid the two spies because she wanted to talk to them about the Lord their God. And she wanted a deal. Rahab’s clearly no dummy. She’s worked out that she and her people are in trouble. And so perhaps she says what she thinks she needs to say to rescue herself and her family. Perhaps we should be cynical about Rahab. But perhaps not. 

If we take Rahab’s words at face value, they’re startling. 

This Canaanite prostitute says: we’ve heard about the Lord. How he dried up the Red Sea when you came out of Egypt. How you defeated, no actually completely destroyed, Sihon and Og on the other side of the Jordan river. Rahab recognises that the Lord is mighty!

And she goes on to say, that when she and her people heard about these mighty acts of the Lord, their hearts sank and their courage failed. Why? Because ‘the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below’ (v11). Rahab recognises that God is the King. She acknowledges the majesty of the Lord. 

Finally, in view of the Lord’s might and majesty, Rahab pleads for his mercy. Verses 12 and 13: 

12‘Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them – and that you will save us from death.’

In his might, majesty and mercy, Rahab recognises that the Lord is sovereign. In verse 9 she admits that she knows that the Lord has given this land to the Israelites. Note what she doesn’t do. She doesn’t complain about how unfair this is. She doesn’t say she and her people don’t deserve this. She simply recognises that God is mighty. That he is majestic. And she throws herself on his mercy. 

Rahab’s faith has grown out of hearing what God has done for his people. And she acts on what she’s learnt of God by seeking his mercy. Dale Ralph Davis says this: 

‘Genuine faith never rests content with being convinced of the reality of God but presses on to take refuge in God.’ (No Falling Words, 27)

I wonder how much you know about what God has done for his people? For his people Israel in the Old Testament. For all people through his son Jesus in the New Testament. If you don’t know much, let me urge you to find out. There’s no one less likely than Rahab to recognise might, majesty and mercy in the Lord God. You might recognise the same if you find out more. And if you do know about what God has done for his people, have you taken refuge in God? And do you continue to take refuge in him each day?

Is your picture of God a big one, like Rahab’s? Or does God fit into a small space in your life once everything else has taken its place first? What difference does the might, majesty and mercy make in your life each day? With the challenges you face? What difference does God’s might, majesty and mercy make as we continue in lockdown? As we struggle with being worn down. Tired. Longing for life to go back to ‘normal’. What difference does God’s might, majesty and mercy make for us as a church, as we wait for a new Lead Minister? 

Hopefully all the difference in the world. 

Rahab was facing the destruction of her city and her people. In the face of that calamity, she put her trust in the sovereign Lord. As we struggle with the uncertainty of this year. As we struggle through an Incumbency process that seems long and odd, will we like Rahab trust in our sovereign Lord? 

Lockdown is hard. Our family really hit the wall with it this week. The incumbency process has been long and difficult. But God is in control. Nothing can stop his purposes from being achieved. 

Rahab’s faith is startling in its conclusions about God. It’s startling in the face of the devastation she and her people face. My prayer is that each of us might also have a startling faith in the Lord God, who is a startling God even when life seems unbearably hard. 

After this deep and meaningful on her rooftop, the conversation between Rahab and the spies ends with the spies giving her the deal she wants. ‘Our lives for your lives’, they say. ‘If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.’ (v14).

Let’s hear the final instalment from Bella.

15So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 She said to them, ‘Go to the hills so that the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there for three days until they return, and then go on your way.’

17Now the men had said to her, ‘This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.’

21‘Agreed,’ she replied. ‘Let it be as you say.’ So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. 23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, ‘The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.’

Canaan Go

Well, the good news at the end of Joshua 2 is that Canaan 2.0 is now Canaan Go! These two spies come back with a very different report to that of the twelve spies 40 years earlier. ‘The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.’ (2:24) They are confident that the Lord will be faithful to his promises. 

And so if you’re anything like me, you’re back to hoping that Joshua the Movie will have a happy ending after all. You’ll need to come back for the next six weeks to hear about that. But do seek out for yourself the promises that God makes to us in the Bible. They’re built on the promises he made to Israel in the Old Testament, but they’re not exactly the same. God’s promises to us have been made in Jesus. Look for those promises in the New Testament. Be like the spies. Have confidence that God continues to be faithful to his promises to us. We live by faith, not by sight. 

Finally, as we finish up this morning, I want to think a bit more about Rahab. 

Why Rahab? 

My question is: why Rahab?

Was she the real deal when it came to her faith in the Lord? Or was she simply saying what she needed to say to keep her family safe?

Well as soon as the spies left, Rahab tied the scarlet cord in the window of her house. She acted on her faith. And in Joshua 6, we read that in response, the Israelites did indeed keep Rahab and her family safe when they defeated and destroyed Jericho.

Looking forward in the Bible, Rahab is held up twice in the New Testament as an example of faith. 

In the faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11:31 we read - 31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. 

And in James 2, she forms part of James’ argument that faith without deeds is dead - 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?   James 2:25

Rahab was a woman whose faith was displayed both in her words and her deeds. And she was part of Jesus’ ancestry. In the genealogy of Matthew 1, we meet Rahab again - 

1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah …  

5 Salmon [was] the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, -  Matthew 1:5

So it seems Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute was indeed a woman of faith in the Lord God of all the earth. Her faith was the real deal. 

Why Rahab? I think because her story is a wonderful example of the beauty of the mercy of God. 

The mercy of God to sinners of every description. And the mercy of God to each and every nation. 

We know that we’re all sinners, but perhaps some sinners are more acceptable than others when it comes to the church. Rahab was a prostitute. Clearly a sinner. But Rahab’s faith in the God of all mercy brought her into God’s kingdom. Perhaps like Paul, she recognised herself as the worst of sinners. 

15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.  1 Timothy 1:15-16

Rahab and Paul show us that there is no one who is beyond the pale for God. Don’t ever think you’re beyond God’s forgiveness. And don’t ever think someone else is beyond God’s forgiveness. How do we go with this as a church, do you think? Are we willing to include anyone in our community, no matter what their past? What type of person might you have trouble including? Inviting over for a meal? I think many of us struggle to include someone just because they’re new, let alone if they have a difficult past. God welcomes anyone of faith, no matter what their past. And so should we. 

Not only that, are we willing to welcome people of any nationality into our community? Because that’s also God’s plan – to have people from every nation in his Kingdom. 

Right from Abraham, God’s plan was that - 

all peoples on earth

    will be blessed through you.”  Genesis 12:3

We’ve seen today that Rahab the Canaanite was welcomed into the Israelite community as a follower of the Lord God. 

Jesus’ plan for his apostles was that - 

you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8

And in Revelation 5, this song to Jesus, the Lamb proclaims this vision - 

9  … “You are worthy to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

    and with your blood you purchased for God

    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.   Revelation 5:9

Every tribe, every language, every people, every nation. How amazing would it be if St Hils looked more like this! So what can we do to help our church become more accessible to people of every background? How could our congregations become more multi-cultural? How can we better support our Mandarin congregation that meets each week at Mont Albert North? We’ll be meeting Peter and Anita in our Meet the Church segment today as a very small first step. 

The story of Rahab is one dramatic scene in God’s grand epic blockbuster. What we see in the life of this one sinful woman will one day be seen in the lives of sinners from every nation as God draws his blockbuster to an end when Jesus returns. And to a new beginning. 

 

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