January 20, 2019
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen – so says the author of Hebrews. Certainly, that definition of faith has a forward look – a future focus. Think about it: you don’t have to have faith in something you’ve already seen, right? I don’t have to have faith Clemson will beat Alabama, again, in the national championship game – they already did a couple weeks ago. I watched it – or, read about it – boring as it was since it was a slaughter. If you had said three weeks ago, it would be a blowout – most would not have believed it – that would take faith. But not now – just read about it.
So, faith is an assurance, a conviction, in things not yet seen – namely, that God will fulfill His promises in the future. How can we be sure? Well, He has proven Himself faithful over and over in the past. We can even read about it, like reading the newspaper. And so, Hebrews 11 gives us a long list of faithful people of the past who believed God – that He would faithfully fulfill His promises as yet unseen.
And as a demonstration that our faith is rightly placed, the author has turned his attention to some mighty acts of God, from the past, that are meant to encourage our faith. Look what He has done on behalf of His people – it’s amazing. But therein lies the problem: because of a lack of faith, many don’t believe the stories of the past. Sure, they may be recorded – but they’re just myth or legend. Religious propaganda. If skeptical, cynical unbelievers can get you to doubt the veracity – the truthfulness of the Bible, the battle is half won. You’re well on your way to discarding the whole thing. And so, I would suggest faith even has a backward look – that the stories we read in the Bible are true – incredible as they are. Unbelievable, ridiculous. They happened – even if modern scholarship scoffs. So do you believe the stories? If you do – since they actually happened – they will bolster your faith for the future.
Last week, we finished our look at Moses – a man of great faith. And his faith was rewarded – God did some incredible things. Namely, in the tenth plague against Egypt, He sent the death angel to kill the firstborn of every house. Well, except for those houses which displayed faith, by displaying the blood of a lamb on their doorways. As a result, the death angel passed over them. Incredible. Do you believe that? And so Pharaoh finally let the people go.
But then, of course, he changed his mind – leading to another unbelievable story of God’s faithfulness – and the people’s faith in Him. They get to the Red Sea, and cross on dry ground as God parted the waters. Amazing – unbelievable story. It’s supposed to encourage us – if you believe them.
So we arrive this morning at our last two specific stories in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. Like last week, they are familiar stories – stories which are supposed to increase our faith, not our skepticism or cynicism. Again, the author is trying to encourage us with the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promises. Even if that faithfulness involves incredible, unbelievable stories. Let’s read these related stories found in Hebrews 11:30-31.
Two short verses that summarize yet another great, unbelievable story in the Bible – the conquest of Jericho. And the truth is, the story is even more amazing than we know. We face the same challenge as last week – familiarity. But don’t allow that familiarity to bore you. This is better than Clemson beating up on Alabama. And, we read about it in the first few chapters of Joshua. Will you believe it? I hope so – because it’s supposed to encourage your faith.
Joshua has assumed command of the children of Israel after Moses’ death. He’s to lead them in conquest of Canaan. At the beginning of Joshua, they’re still on the east side of the Jordan River – the Land of Promise is west of the river. In chapter 2, Joshua sends in a couple men to spy out the land – specifically, the high-walled city of Jericho. History and archeology tell us there were actually two walls – the outer wall 11 feet high – the second interior wall was 25-35 feet tall. Between those two walls was a plastered escarpment – pitched at about 35 degrees, making scaling the walls or a battering ram difficult. Does that mean walls keep people out? I’ll let you decide that. It worked for Jericho – or did it? (Op-Ed)
Between those two walls, people lived in small homes – apartments. This is where Rahab lived. We’ll come back to her, since the author takes the story in somewhat reverse order. The spies come back with a favorable report – the inhabitants of Jericho are melting in fear because of us – the city is shut up tightly. Joshua 6:1 says no one went out, no one came in.
Great, so the first thing the Israelites must do is cross the Jordan River, which was actually at flood stage. At that time, the river could be almost a mile across – almost not fordable. But, God had promised them the land – to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants. And further, He had promised Joshua that He would be with Joshua just like He was with Moses. Keep that in mind.
Because, what famous story comes to mind about Moses – how about the one in the previous verse – when God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk across on dry ground. He does the same thing forty years later – this time, under Joshua. This time, the Jordan River parts, and the people walk across on dry ground. In fact, chapter 4 says, as a result, the people revered Joshua, just as they had revered Moses. Mission accomplished. (Crossing of the Jordan)
They camp about two miles from shut-up Jericho, in a place called Gilgal. Again, no one is going into Jericho, no one is coming out. But it is a fortified city. If they are to successfully take the Land, they must take Jericho. You see, it was right in the middle of the land – they would slice right through – divide the north from the south – divide and conquer. Which is exactly what they did. After Jericho and Ai, they turn south for a southern campaign, then back north for a northern campaign. Military strategists still marvel at the battle plan – it was brilliant.
But, how to take Jericho, this highly fortified city? We read an interesting passage at the end Joshua 5 – right before chapter 6 and the conquest of Jericho. They’ve crossed the Jordan, and one evening, commander Joshua decides to do a little reconnaissance of Jericho himself. After all, the city is shut up tightly. We read these words:
13 Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”
14 He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”
15 The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
This is an amazing encounter. Joshua is trying to figure out how to take this city. He’s right outside the walls, and looks up – and there’s a man standing with his sword drawn. No doubt, adrenalin is flowing. If this is one of the city’s inhabitants, he’s an enemy, and Joshua is about to engage in combat. He draws his own sword, runs over to the man and says, “who are you – are you for us or for our adversaries?” Basically he asks, who goes there, friend or foe?
That’s a pretty simple question – not that hard – are you for us or against us? But the man responds, no. What do you mean no? Maybe you didn’t hear me. This is not a yes or no question – it’s either for us or against us – one or the other. But the guy responds no. Rather, I come now as captain of the host of the LORD. What? His response is this – I’m not for you, I’m not for them. I’m for Me. I’m captain of the host of the LORD. The question is, are you for Me, Joshua. Joshua gets it – falls to his face. He knows he’s in the presence of someone greater.
How greater? Look at the next verse, “The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place you are standing is holy ground.’” Does that sound familiar? Yes it does. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He said the same thing to him – take off your shoes, Moses – this is God speaking, and you are on holy ground. Then we remember, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you, Joshua. Take off your shoes. And the question is not, am I on your side – the question is, are you on My side?
I think the Lord often has that question for us. How often we marshal God to us or our purposes. As if He is the heavenly butler, called to do our bidding. I’ve got this all figured out God, now do what I want. Not God, what do you want us to do, but God, what will you do for me. Take off your shoes, Joshua, for the place you’re standing is holy. And he does so, with his face to the ground. This story always gets me. What would I do if I came face to face with a holy God? Great to finally meet you God – now here’s my to-do list. This is called a theophany – that is, a physical appearance of God to His people. He does so several times in the OT – before He takes flesh in the New Testament in the person of Jesus. Have you come face to face with God? Have you bowed your knee? I suppose it depends on whether you believe the stories.
Which brings us to chapter 6 and the Battle for Jericho. You likely know this story. Remember, there are no real chapter divisions between chapter 5 and 6. Joshua is on his face before God. The city is shut up tightly. And the Lord said to Joshua in 6:2ff:
2 The LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors.
3 “You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days.
4 “Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark [that is, of the covenant]; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.
5 “It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”
So, Joshua summoned the people, and told them the plan. Can you imagine? Can you imagine what his generals said? Um, we’ve been strategizing, and we think we should build a siege ramp. Or we should just wait them out. We should – well, anything but that plan, Joshua. But this was God’s plan. Here’s my question – why? This was not the normal way to take a city. What was this about? Yes, later God gets into the battle in chapter 10, as we saw last week – when He hurled huge hailstones at the enemy. But what was this about? This was quite unconventional. Why?
I can come up with a least a couple reasons. First, it was to build their faith. Yes, these people had come out of Egypt – but they were the young ones. Everyone over the age of 20 had died in the wilderness, because of unbelief. Now it was time for the next generation to believe – to trust that God, their God, was with them. Are you going to trust Me, as ridiculous as the plan sounds?
And second, I think God was reminding them who was in charge. Why, the inhabitants were melting in fear, hidden behind locked and barred doors and gates. And you think it’s because they’re melting in fear because of you? Yes, there are 2 million of you – but I’m the one who delivered you from Egypt with a mighty hand. I’m the one who unleashed the 10 plagues – remember that? I’m the one who sustained you for forty years in the wilderness. I gave you water to drink, manna to eat. Your clothes and your shoes didn’t even wear out. I parted the sea for you to leave Egypt, and the river for you to enter Canaan. Remember that?
I’m the one what led you in battle against the kings on the east side of the Jordan, and I’m the one who lead you in battle on the west side. You think this is about you? They’re melting in fear because of who? Because of Me – let’s get that straight. This is My battle – you are My people. The battle belongs to the Lord. I think sometimes He does the same thing with us. We win a few battles, we cross a few rivers – a few seemingly overwhelming, unconquerable obstacles – and you get full of yourself. Can I remind you who did it? Can I remind you, this is about My glory, and I will not share it with another.
Well, how did the Israelites respond? They believed. By faith they acted. It was a crazy plan – but they did it. And God got the glory. The rest of chapter 6 tells us they walked around the city once each day for six days in complete silence – only the eerie sounding of the seven priests blowing the seven rams’ horns. Oh, and don’t miss – the ark of the covenant – which symbolized the very presence of God – led them. Because this was about Him.
Don’t miss also there is no mention of the inhabitants of Jericho saying or doing anything. Many of my commentaries talk about how, undoubtedly, they began gathering at the top of wall, hurling down abuse and taunting the Israelites. Watch a Veggie Tales video and see the French Peas making fun of the few Israelites marching around. Really – is that right? Why would they do that? They were melting in fear. I don’t think there’s anything recorded because I don’t think they said or did anything. They were quaking in their sandals. Too frightened to say or do anything. Please, just go away. Some of us will be in Jericho either later this week or early next week. And we will find it was small city – maybe 25,000 people. How many Israelites were there – camping two miles away?
Well, then came the ominous seventh day. On that day, they marched around the city seven times – again in silence. But at the end of the seventh revolution, we read:
16 At the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city.
17 “The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.
20 So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city.
They took the city – and everyone in it was put to the sword. Everyone except Rahab the harlot and everyone who was with her in her house. Which brings us to her story. We have to rewind to chapter 2 – back when Joshua first sent the spies to Jericho. I always find it interesting – Moses sent 12 spies, but Joshua only sent two. Why? Because only two came back the first time with a good report – he was playing the odds.
So, the spies go into Jericho to check things out. They go to the house of Rahab the harlot. A stroke of genius – of course she would have men at her house. The king of Jericho somehow found out they had come, and sent for them to be captured. But Rahab hid them on the rooftop, among the stalks of flax spread for drying. She told them the men had left. She protected them. Why? After the men who had been looking for the spies left, she went back to the rooftop, and we read her words – here’s why:
8 Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof,
9 and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you.
10 “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.
11 “When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
12 “Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth,
13 and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”
That’s amazing. She got it right. While the Israelites were saying, they’re melting in fear because of us – Rahab understood they were melting in fear because of the LORD – “for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath.” That is a statement of faith. Which is why our author says, “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient [the rest of Jericho], after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”
This was a tremendous act of faith. If the men had been discovered, they would have been captured and killed, as well as she. There’s no telling what they would have done to her. But by faith in the true and living God, she hid the spies – and trusted God. At what could have been great personal cost. You see, it cost something to live by faith.
This is the author’s point. His readers were fearing for their lives because of their faith. And so the author points them to Rahab. The harlot. She lived in the city wall – we know because when she helped the spies get away, she let them down with a rope out her window, which was on the city wall. Which is amazing. Remember, when the Israelites circled the city seven times on that seventh day – let out a shout – the wall fell down flat. Apparently all the wall, except where Rahab lived. Another miraculous part of the story – if you believe it.
She believed God – and God spared her life. It’s interesting – this list of people by name begins with Abel, righteous Able, who offered a worship of faith. It ends with Rahab – the harlot – who offered an obedience of faith. That’s what James says in his book – 2:25 – “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way.” She was justified by faith, and proved it with her works.
I find it interesting both the author of Hebrews and James refer to her as Rabab, the harlot. We’re talking 1500 years later. Will that title always stick to her? I think it serves as a reminder to us who we were – before God saved us. Undeserving, unfaithful, rebellious sinners. But by faith, He has transformed our lives. And it’s good, perhaps, to remember what He saved us from – who we were before He changed our lives.
In closing, I want you to think of something else that struck me. Why send the spies to Jericho in chapter 2? Sure, Joshua didn’t know until the beginning of chapter 6 how he was going to take the city – with that crazy plan – but God knew. And He knew back in chapter 2 – so why did He allow the spies to go to Jericho? Why didn’t He say, there’s no need for that? Was the information gathered necessary for the conquest of the city? Not exactly. If you’re going to conquer the city by destroying the walls – what information was needed on the inside of the city? Nothing.
So if the spies went not for necessary reconnaissance, for what, or better, for whom did they go? To save Rahab. As God was about to destroy the city and its inhabitants – there was one of His own there. And He sent the spies to preserve her life. Because, you see, there’s one other place her name appears in the NT. It’s in Matthew chapter 1, where we read of the lineage of Joseph – the earthly father of Jesus. You see, for Jesus to be the Messiah, He had to come from the line of David. And in verses 5 and 6, we read these words, “5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king.”
Rahab was in the line of David, the king. And while this is Joseph’s line and not Mary’s – Luke 3 records that Mary, too, was of the line of David. Which means that Rahab the harlot’s blood was flowing through David’s veins – and through Jesus.
What a beautiful picture of grace. Rahab the believer – the one who acted on her faith – was in the line of the Messiah – our Savior – Jesus Christ. She may have been a harlot – but her life was forever changed by the grace of God. How bad have you been? Who were you? What grace has He shown you?