Rahab: The Unlikely Hero / Joshua 2:1-24Heroes Series Part 1
St Paul UMC Fremont
Pastor Sun Hee Kim
1 Then 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 [a] named Rahab and stayed there.
2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So 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.”
4 But 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. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men 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.
8 Before 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 [b] 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. [c] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted 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.”
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 Now she had said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”
17 The men 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 anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 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.
22 When 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.”
INTRODUCTION: WHAT DOES A HERO REALLY LOOK LIKE?
Today, I am so excited to be starting this new sermon series, a series entitled, “Heroes: The Ordinary Turned Extraordinary”. What we’re going to be doing in this series is taking a close look at some characters of the Bible that God used in just amazing ways. And what we’ll find, over and over again, is that these characters – these individuals named and talked about in Scripture – for all practical purposes are not those that we would have expected to fit the bill as God’s chosen servants. But as the saying goes, “God does not choose the qualified; He qualifies the chosen.” Indeed, we will hear some amazing stories of how God took ordinary men and women like you and me and did some amazing and extraordinary things through them. These individuals ultimately become heroes in the story of God.
And today, to kick off this series, I want to talk about Rahab, an individual who I would consider to be one of the most unlikely of heroes in the Bible. But before we get into the details of the story of Rahab that we just read in Joshua chapter 2, let me quickly share with you the story of another individual who has come to be known as quite the hero in her own right.
Now, it is my guess that not too many people here has ever heard of the name Agnes Bojaxhiu (pronounced, “bo-ya-choo”). And rightly so. It was not a name that was intended for fame and glory. In fact, the name belonged to an individual for whom I think the word “humble” was really created. Now, for the many of us who live in this dog-eat-dog world where individuals have become conditioned to be driven by the “me-first” mentality, I think it would be rather difficult for us to really understand what it means to be humble and have a disposition of humility rather than that of pride. But for Agnes Bojaxhiu, it was just the opposite; apart from humility, I don’t think she really knew anything else.
It was at age twelve that she received her calling to her particular way of life – to serve rather than be served, to seek glory for God and not for herself, and to give more than she would ever receive. And so, several years later, she left her home in Yugoslavia to go to Darjeeling, India where she joined the Loreto Sisters. This was the beginning of what would lead to a lifetime of selfless and humble service not only to God but also to those she would eventually come to call the “poorest of the poor”.
Now, I don’t think that she had ever expected that her efforts to love the unloved would ultimately impact so many people around the world. I don’t even think that her plans ever went very far beyond just trying to help those who were immediately in front of her. But the truth of the matter is that her compassion yielded much fruit and her love extended beyond the boundaries of her own imagination. And the amazing thing about all this is that none of this was ever for herself. Whatever she did and whenever she did it, it was always an extension of her total selfless disposition. She never sought praise nor credit for what she did, but in the very humble manner that she was accustomed to, she tried to make herself as invisible to the world as possible.
And herein lies the irony. As much as she sought humility and as much as she was driven by selfless compassion, the more the world praised her for her good works. In 1979, she was the honored recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and even then, she did not accept this honor in her own name, but rather in the name of “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” It is clear that such acclaim only drew out of her even more humility.
“I am only the pencil,” she would say, “with which God is writing a love letter to His children.” Such humbleness is hard not to recognize and honor. And all of such that she received, she deserved every bit of it. But the thing is she never wanted it.
And I’m sure that most of you have figured out by now who this Agnes Bojaxhiu really is. She is none other than the deeply loved and highly honored Mother Teresa of Calcutta whose death in 1997 stirred the hearts of many around the world. News coverage of her death and subsequent tributes to her life of service and ministry were indeed quite expanse. All the networks covered it. And all the newspapers headlined her unfortunate death. As for her funeral, thousands were present and millions more around the world tuned in via satellite hookup – a simple reflection of just how many people’s lives were touched by the efforts of such a humble woman.
Certainly, I believe that Mother Teresa’s life has impacted my life as well. And when she died, it got me thinking a lot about my own life and wondering if what I am doing really matters. If I am living my life to be used by God in the same way that she was? And perhaps, some of you may have gone through similar soul searching speculations before. And maybe like me, some of you have come to the overwhelming conclusion that there is no way that you could ever be like the saint that Mother Teresa was. I mean, she was one of kind. She excelled in so many things. She has given so much to humanity, and though she might have been short in physical stature, spiritually speaking, she was certainly head and shoulders above any crowd. And all of this is indeed true.
But you know, when you really think about it, Mother Teresa was not a person who was really more gifted or endowed than anyone else here. In fact, her colleagues from the Loreto Sisterhood have described her as pretty “average”, ordinary if you will. I know that seems a bit hard to swallow, but it’s true. What we need to know about Mother Teresa is that she was not great in and of herself, but rather she was a demonstration and testimony of how God is able to take ordinary, everyday people like you and me, and turn them into the most extraordinary vessels that you could possibly imagine.
IF GOD CAN USE A PROSTITUTE
This is the repeated story of the Bible. Over and over again, we see this particular script written on page after page. Ordinary Joe or Ordinary Jane, being used by God in extraordinary ways. And this was the case of Rahab as we read in Scripture today. In fact, Rahab’s story is even more amazing in the sense that she is not just the ordinary turned extraordinary, but she is the implausible made plausible. She is the unlikely hero. And yet, God chooses her for great purposes beyond what I’m sure she could have possibly imagined.
Now, I don’t know what comes to your mind when you think about what a hero would like, but back in the days of Rahab, no one would have possibly imagined that a hero could look like her. In fact, Rahab is indeed the most unlikely hero who in her day and culture had many strikes against her. She simply did not seem like Bible hero material. First of all, we know that she was a Canaanite. The Bible in Joshua 2 sets up the scene where the two spies are sent to Jericho. That’s where they (and we) meet Rahab for the first time – in the capital city of Canaan. This is her home which makes her a Canaanite and not a Jew. Now this is important to note, because for all practical purposes, from the perspective of the Jews – God’s chosen people – Rahab as a Canaanite would have been considered a foreigner and therefore unclean. She would be seen as a heathen and enemy of God. That’s strike one.
But the second strike was that Rahab was a woman. Okay, I know this observation is not necessarily something that you need Sherlock Holmes to point out for you. But frankly, women were not considered very significant back in those days. In fact, there is an old daily Jewish prayer that simply went like this: “I thank God that I was not born a woman.” This attitude was quite prevalent in many of the ancient societies back then and in fact, I believe, women are still fighting for their rights in many of those societies even today. Rahab was a woman. That’s strike two.
Now, the third strike is most obvious. Can you guess what it is? That’s right. It’s right there in verse one of Joshua chapter 2. Rahab was a prostitute. Strike three. And let’s assume here for a moment that it doesn’t bother us that God was working through a Canaanite. Obviously, not everyone could be an Israelite, right? And let’s even imagine that in the chauvinistic culture in which Rahab lived that God could actually work through a woman. But the idea of God choosing a prostitute for Kingdom sized work? That’s simply amazing to me. But that’s exactly what happened. God chose a woman – a Canaanite prostitute to save the lives of two of God’s servants who were sent on a mission into enemy territory.
The Bible tells us that the lives of these two spies were in danger. The King of Jericho had found out that Israel had sent these individuals to spy out their land. Not only that, the King of Jericho was told where these two spies were staying – at Rahab’s house. Now, it doesn’t take a genius here to figure out what the King of Jericho wanted to do at that point. He wanted those two spies found, captured and most likely, executed. So he sends his men to Rahab’s house with the message for her to hand them over. Rahab’s response? She hides them on the roof and sends the King’s men on a rabbit chase elsewhere. At this point, we need to know something very clear. Rahab took a risk. She put her own life in danger in order to save these two spies. This unlikely hero, this Canaanite woman who was in fact less than ordinary, was made extraordinary for God’s purposes.
SOME ADDITIONAL DETAILS ABOUT RAHAB WE NEED TO KNOW
Now, let me pause here for a moment to point out a couple details that we may easily overlook – details that are absolutely important to this story. There is a clue in the verses that we read that though Rahab is identified as “the prostitute”, it is very likely that she is no longer in that profession. Clue number one is that the Bible says she hid the spies underneath stalks of flax. I’m not sure if you understand this or not, but gathering flax was a tedious and laborious task. Industrious women like Rahab would spend hours gathering these stalks to make cloth. If Rahab was still a prostitute, chances are that she would not be gathering flax. She simply would not have the time for this kind of respectable work, and yet, the Bible said that she had gathered enough flax to cover two grown men. Apparently, she must have been in the cloth business for some time. There is this clue here that tells us that she went through some transformation in her life. Although the people in Jericho might still refer to her as a prostitute because of her past, we can assume that her life had significantly changed.
I want to believe that her life had changed because of what she had come to know of the God of Israel. This is what we read of her own proclamation in Joshua 2:9-11:
“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…. When we heard of it, our hearts melted…for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
The Bible reveals that Rahab knew the God of the two spies, the God of creation, the God of heaven above and the God of the earth below. And there is this sense that regardless of theological technicality, for all practical purposes, she was a believer and she had put herself in a place where she can be used by God. It didn’t matter what her past was. It didn’t matter what others still thought of her now. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a Jew. Somehow she knew and understood the power of God and then made a decision to surrender herself to that power. And in that moment, the less than ordinary became extraordinary, the unlikely became a hero for God.
THE BIBLE’S ONGOING TRIBUTE TO RAHAB AND ONGOING INVITATION TO US
You need to know that Rahab’s heroic act is actually celebrated over and over again in Scripture. If you look in the Gospel of Matthew, she is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, then James refers to her as he talks about what it means to have faith that leads to action, and then finally, in what we will call the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews chapter 11, it says this about Rahab:
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
I don’t know if you can fully grasp this, but to once have been a Canaanite prostitute and mentioned this many times in Hebrew Scripture, even in the lineage of Jesus – this is simply amazing. But here’s the more amazing thing. If God can use someone like Rahab – take the less than ordinary and through her do some extraordinary things, he can do the same with you. He’s done it through Agnes Boyaxhiu and through countless others throughout history. And I want you to consider today the possibility that in your own unique way and in your own unique situation that you, too, can become a hero and be used for some significant purpose in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps, it might not be as dramatic as lowering spies down the wall to their safety and to their lives, and perhaps it might not be as significant as moving to Darjeeling or Calcutta to work with the poorest of the poor, but it could certainly be something as simple as “being the pencil with which God writes His love letter to others.”
Friends, I believe God is calling each and every one of us to do some extraordinary things today. God is in the business of making and using heroes. And you don’t have to be qualified to be called. But certainly, if you say yes to the call, God will qualify you and use you in ways that you have never imagined before. So, let’s be a Rahab or an Agnes and invite God to use us – boldly, intentionally, willingly and most importantly – extraordinarily. Amen?!