Surprising Mercy, Surprising Faith

Good morning. I invite you to join me in turning to the book of Joshua, in the Old Testament. Joshua is the 6th book of the bible, right after Deuteronomy. On Sunday evenings I have been preaching through the book, and we will continue our study this morning in chapter 2 of Joshua’s book.

The book of Joshua begins as the people of God are about to enter the promised land. They have been brought out of slavery in Egypt, walked through the red sea on dry ground, they’ve followed the leadership of Moses through the 40 years of wandering in the desert, and now they are on the cusp of entering into the Land that God had promised long ago to their father Abraham.

In chapter 1 we saw God clearly passing the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Joshua is the one tasked with leading God’s people into possession of the land that he is giving to them.

And multiple times Joshua and the people are exhorted to be strong and courageous, because God will be with them. Indeed, courage is a dominant theme of this entire book. Be bold, don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, for God is with you wherever you go.

And it is on the heels of this exhortation for Joshua and the people to be full of courage that we find ourselves this morning, again looking at a story of courage, but not the story that we would expect.

No, the narrative takes a surprising turn, a turn involving spies and intrigue and deception, a bold confession of faith in God, and a promise of safety, dare I say, a promise of salvation from coming the judgement.

Let’s turn to our text, Joshua chapter 2:

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.”

Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from.

And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.

Before the men[b] lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt 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 devoted to destruction.[c] 11 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 on the earth beneath.

12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said[d] to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.”

17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head.

20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.”

We will frame our study this morning in terms of two major points, two surprises, we might say. First, we will see Surprising Mercy, and then in point two, surprising faith. Surprising mercy and surprising faith.

Let’s begin by looking at our story and seeing the Surprising Mercy of the Lord.

By my count, there are at least three different instances of the mercy of the Lord in this chapter. A first instance is that the Lord uses Rahab’s sinful actions to bring about great good. He mercifully uses Rahab, and specifically chooses to work through her sinful lies to bring about the good of preserving the lives of the spies.

The story begins with Joshua sending in the spies to scout out the land around the city of Jericho. They go to the house of a prostitute named Rahab. The text doesn’t say exactly why they went there. Presumably because that would be a place where foreigners would not be uncommon, and where people don’t ask too many questions, both ideal for a spy seeking to lay low.

Somehow word reaches the king of Jericho that there are some Israelite spies lurking around, and so the King sent to Rahab saying, “bring out the men.” Now, to the reader, the story is starting to get tense. We’d expect this Canaanite prostitute to hand the men over.

But not only does she not do that, she hides the men, and then lies about the situation. She says, “those guys were here, but I didn’t know where they were from, and they already left. I don’t know where they went. Go quick and you can catch them.”

Now, some people really get all twisted up with this section of scripture because we have a woman, praised twice in the New Testament for her faith, which we will get to in a bit, but she’s praised for her courageous faith in helping the spies, but she also lies. Isn’t lying wrong? How can she be both commended as a model for faithfulness, while also lying?

A couple of brief observations. First, we should note that this passage makes neither an endorsement nor condemnation of her deception, it simply recounts it. The point of this passage is not centered upon her deception. I’ll argue later that the chapter focuses on her confession of faith, which we will see in a minute.

Second, we should also remember that when we interpret scripture, we should interpret the less clear portions in light of the clearer sections. That’s fundamental to good bible reading. Read the harder passages in light of the easier to understand passages.

And there are many passages that make clear that lying, deception and falsehood are not consistent with holiness. For example, Ephesians 4 says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor…and let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth.”

Indeed, Revelation 21 specifically mentions liars as being destined for the lake of fire. Being a liar makes us more like Satan, who Jesus calls “The father of Lies.”

Believers aren’t called to imitate him, but rather to imitate God, who is all truth. Jesus said of himself, “I am the way and the truth.”

So lying ought to be avoided because it is inconsistent with the very nature of our savior, and makes us more like the father of lies than like our heavenly father.

But, back to our story. If lying is wrong, and yet her faith in this passage is commended by two different New Testament authors, how do we put these two things together?

I think we put them together by remembering the mercy of the Lord. God was kind to use the feeble, though perhaps well-intended, works of Rahab to save the spies. To things can be true: she was both exercising commendable faith, while doing so imperfectly and sinfully.

Even though she was trying to do a good and noble thing, she chose to do it in a sinful way, of speaking untruth. And yet, in the mercy of God, her faith in this passage is still commendable.

Even when our good works are mixed, which they always are in this age, God’s mercy can still shine through. This ought to be an encouragement to each of us. Like Rahab’s story here, God can and does use our imperfect deeds to bring about good in this age.

Even when our deeds might be tainted with sin, God’s mercy is still stronger. He delights in showing his grace, even through the frail and impure actions of his children.

That point is made even more clear with the second way that we can see God’s mercy in this chapter, and that is with the very presence of Rahab herself. The very fact that we know Rahab’s name is a mercy at all. Let me explain what I mean.

If we step back and look at the narrative of this book, it would seem that the story would flow more naturally from chapter 1 straight into chapter 3. In chapter 1, God promises to take his people into the land and give it to them. Chapter 3, they enter into the land, and then right after that, they take Jericho.

There’s no reason at all, humanly speaking, for chapter 2 and the spies to be in the story. God told them in chapter 2 that he would give them the land. Why send the spies at all? I’d argue that the sending of the spies was not so that the people might be successful in battle. That much was already secured.

In God’s plan, the spies were sent in because He had a child to save. One of his elect, Rahab, needed to be saved, and if it wasn’t for the spies, she would have been killed just like the rest of the Canaanites in Jericho. The very fact that Rahab had the chance to run into the spies and demonstrate her faith is evidence of the mercy of God to her.

This chapter is about the conversion of a pagan, a Canaanite, indeed, a Canaanite harlot. And it reminds us that in scripture God’s mercy often extends to unexpected places. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. There are many similarities between Rahab and that Samaritan woman, from her ethnicity to her moral choices.

Or remember the story of the woman in Luke 7 who anoints Jesus’s feet and wipes them with her own hair. Do you remember what the Pharisee was thinking to himself? If Jesus knew what kind of sinner this woman was, he wouldn’t let her even touch his feet.

But that’s exactly the point that Jesus came to proclaim. It’s not the healthy that are in need of healing; it’s the sick. It’s not the righteous who need mercy; it’s the sinful. It’s the wicked. It’s the harlots and the pagans. It’s people like me and you. And Rahab’s story is a beautiful reminder of that.

Nobody is too sinful. Nobody is too far gone to be without hope. Nobody is too dirty or defiled, to be beyond the reach of the mercy of God.

Maybe you’re here today and you feel like a Rahab. Separated from God, keenly aware of how you’ve lived a life of sin. Take heart. She was praised as a model of faith, and her God can be your God, if you will believe like she did.

But before we get to her faith, let’s mention one last instance of mercy in this text, and it is found at the end of the chapter. You probably skipped right past it without noticing it, but it is God’s mercy in encouraging his people. Encouraging his people.

The spies eventually get back to Joshua and report saying: “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.”

In one sense, the spies return home with no new information. God had already told the people that he would give the land to them, and that the people of Canaan would melt away. Moses explicitly predicted that the people of Canaan would melt away in Exodus 15:15. So why go through all the trouble and danger of sending spies?

Wasn’t God’s prior promise of success enough? Well of course it was sufficient. His promise was enough.

And yet, God is also kind to his people. He knows their frame. He knows that we are weak and often fearful, and are tempted to doubt his promises, tempted to forget what he has already given to us. And so, in his mercy, doesn’t he often send us reminders of his promises, to strengthen us when we are weak in faith?

Have you ever experienced that? You’re in a moment of weakness, but something comes along, and is a gift of the lord to buoy your faith?

Maybe it was a word of encouragement from a brother or sister.

Maybe it was a passage of scripture that you really needed in that moment.

Maybe it was a kind action from an unexpected place.

Or maybe it is the week by week drops of mercy from God to sustain you as you walk toward your heavenly promised land? I’m talking about the weekly gathering of believers, the preaching and teaching from scripture, the prayers and the singing, and the Lord’s supper.

Like manna from heaven, each of these are bits of mercy, vessels of His grace, sent by God and evidences of his love to you.

Just like he encouraged the hearts of the Israelites before they went into battle by reminding them of what he’d already promised to them, so too does God remind all of us, every week, of his promises for us, and the inheritance that awaits us.

Don’t overlook the mercy of the Lord, and don’t neglect the sweet encouragement that can be found when we reflect upon his promises, and what he’s done to ensure our final victory, and our eventual entrance into the heavenly promised land that he has prepared for us.

Now, let’s move on to the second main point and that is Rahab’s surprising Faith. Rahab’s surprising Faith.

Look with me again at what she says to the spies, starting in verse 9.  Let’s break down her words, because in them we will notice something of the essence of true faith. Verse 9:

I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt 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 devoted to destruction.

In Rahab’s faith we can see 3 words which encapsulate her faith, and they all start with the letter M.

First, We see in verse 10 that she confesses the Might of the Lord.[1] The Might of the Lord. He dried up the water of the Red sea, referring back to the exodus, and He devoted to destruction the Amorite Kings named Sihon and Og. You can read about that in Numbers chapter 21.

She had apparently heard about the mighty works of the Lord. We don’t know how, but she had heard.

But her confession doesn’t stop there. She moves on from recounting the might of the Lord, to describing the Majesty of the Lord. The majesty of the Lord. Look at verse 11:

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 on the earth beneath.

This is the confession of genuine faith. God is in heaven, and I am not. This is the same proclamation that the Israelites were supposed to uphold, says Deuteronomy 4:39. But here we have a pagan professing it.

Unlike her pagan upbringing, which taught that there were many gods, and that each nation might have its own local God, she instead confesses that there is only one true God, and that he is utterly supreme over both heaven and earth. His majesty is not shared with another.

But if you notice closely, what we have so far is not yet true biblical faith. She assents to the might of God, as demonstrated by his works of judgment and redemption. And she affirms the majesty of God as supreme ruler over all. But assenting to those truths is not the same as saving faith.

Indeed, as James reminds us in the New Testament, even the demons know that God is mighty and majestic. No, we have to keep reading to see the third component of her confession, which is her belief in the Mercy of the Lord. The mercy of the Lord.

Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”

Here we see the heart of true faith. Genuine faith is never content to merely confess that there is a god, or even that the god of the bible is the true God. NO. Genuine faith presses on to take refuge in God.

As one commentator put it, true faith “never stops with brooding over the nature or activity of God but always runs to take refuge under his wings.”[2]

Her faith was more than a mere ascent to the might and presence of God. She pressed further, seeing within his character not merely a terrible dictator, but a good and merciful Lord.

That’s why the author of Hebrews goes on to commend her faith by saying: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Hebrews 11:31.

Her faith was genuine, which we know, because it produced within her great works of faith. James 2:25 tells us clearly that Rahab was justified, or her faith was vindicated, because she helped protect the spies.

She was no mere speaker of the truth, she was a doer. Or we might say, she put her money where her mouth was.

Consider how much she had to lose in this episode. She was risking her own life to protect the spies and to deceive the king’s messengers. If she were to be caught, she’d be toast.

She was also repudiating her own country, her heritage, and her people, the Canaanites.

And yet, duty to God was a greater calling, and so her genuine faith is demonstrated through helping the people of God. True faith always is built upon the confession of who God is, and overflows into good works.

So how about you? Are you able to look at your life and see good works in keeping with your confession? Do you help the people of God, like Rahab did? We’re not called to enter into physical warfare to get a plot of land in Palestine, but we are called into a spiritual battle.

How often to we help others in the church? Taking them in, showing hospitality and mercy, lifting them up when they need help, supporting them when they need it?

Are we like Rahab, willing to suffer in order to demonstrate the genuineness of our faith and our allegiance to God? Or do we just stick to what is comfortable, what feels safe?

Or maybe we can apply this point in a different way. Rahab’s faith was built upon what she had heardabout the mighty works of God in the Exodus and in defeating pagan kings. She believed, because she had first heard, which we would expect because faith comes by hearing, Romans 10.

But I ask you, how often do you speak of the might works of God? How often do you talk about the greatest act of mercy being Jesus Christ dying on the cross to save sinners?

There are certainly Rahab’s in your life who need to hear that message, and who very well may believe, but in order for them to believe, they must first hear.

Let us be generous in our speaking of the works of God, remembering, Like Rahab, that our God is merciful. But in order for people to embrace that merciful God, they must first hear about him.

Indeed, Remember when God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 34, how did he describe himself? “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Merciful and gracious, that’s how he describes himself.

Spread the good news of the mighty works of our majestic God. No sinner is too far gone, and nobody is too pagan that the mighty Lord cannot redeem.

And the whole time, remember that message yourself. That each of us is just like Rahab. We’re born, not into the household of God, but we were born into a pagan nation, a nation of sinners, condemned to death. But God, being rich in mercy, delighted to send his son to die in the place of sinners.

And all that is required for life in him is to believe. Believe the message, like Rahab believed what she heard, believe that Christ has come, and taken the punishment that wicked sinners like me and you deserved, and he bore it on the cross.

Dying for sin, and atoning in our place. And simple faith in him, a fleeing to him for mercy, like Rahab trusting in the Lord for mercy, that’s all it takes for us to escape the coming judgment.

But the coming judgment of the world isn’t coming at the edge of a Hebrew sword. It won’t happen when the walls of our city fall, like Jericho’s will in chapter 6.

The judgement to come will happen when Jesus returns. He will separate the sheep and the goats, the true believers and the unbelievers. Those possessing faith like Rahab, will be ushered into eternal paradise, into the spiritual promised land.

But those who continue to reject God will receive a worse sentence than any person at Jericho received. The hard-hearted will enter eternal judgment in hell.

Don’t let that be your case. Trust in Christ today, and you can be saved from the wrath to come. Simple faith, faith in the promise of God, that those united to Christ by faith will be spared from eternal death. That offer is for all today.

Indeed, that promise, of eternal life through Christ dying in our place is also pictured in our text in another way, and also in the elements of the Lord’s table, which we will celebrate in moment.

The text leaves us with Rahab sending out the spies, lowering them down by a rope from the window. And then she ties a scarlet cord in the window, so that when the army comes, they know which house is to be saved.

I won’t elaborate on all the connections, but this scarlet rope points us backwards to the Passover event, right before the exodus, where the angel of the Lord went over every house in Egypt, killing the first born, and showing mercy only to the households that had blood over their door posts.

Blood and judgement and mercy are inextricably linked in scripture, and the blood-colored cord highlighting Rahab’s house becomes the means of her escape from judgment, to be passed over. So too, you’ll recall, does the New Testament call Christ our Passover lamb.

His blood is the means of our escaping judgment. His blood is what averts the wrath of God. His blood is the propitiation of our sins, which means his atonement absorbs every drop of righteous wrath that was aimed at us.

Instead of wrath, believers now receive blessing. Instead of death, we now have life.

This is pictured for us in the table, where the body and blood of Christ, pictured in the elements, are separated. But like manna in the wilderness, or like a good report from the spies, God encourages the hearts of His people by a reminder of his promises.

Christ has been slain, so that you might be spared.

If you’re trusting in Christ yourself, if you have simple faith, like Rahab had, then we invite you to this table. If you’re like the Saints of God mentioned in Acts 2, who were devoted to the teaching of God’s word, to fellowship, to the breaking of Bread, and to prayer, then we invite you to partake with us.

If you haven’t yet trusted in Christ, or if you are out of fellowship with another congregation, first be reconciled to Christ and to his body, and then join us at the table.

[1] This paradigm (Might, Majesty, Mercy), adapted from: Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua: No Falling Words (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2010), 27.

[2] Davis, 27–28.


You might also like...