Taken and adapted from, “The Heroes of the Faith”
Written by, A.W. Pink
“By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not,
when she had received the spies with peace.”
The inestimable value of spiritual faith is strikingly demonstrated in the case we are about to consider…
The Apostle had cited the faith of such illustrious characters as Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Moses; he had mentioned that of a believing company as they had passed through the Red Sea and had marched around Jericho; now he gives an instance of one who had been a notorious sinner, as though to shame us if our faith falls short of hers who had formerly been a harlot. Having shown that the patriarchs, who were so highly venerated by the Jews, were honored by God solely on account of their faith and its fruits, we next behold how an alien woman, belonging to an accursed race, was, because of her faith, adopted into the Old Testament Church.
“It hence follows that those who are most exalted are of no account before God unless they have faith; and that, on the other hand, those who are hardly allowed a place among the profane and the reprobate, are by faith introduced into the company of angels” (John Calvin).
Rahab was a Canaanite, and therefore by nature “an alien from the commonwealth of Israel” and “a stranger from the covenants of promise.” In her conversion and admission into the Old Testament Church, she was, in a peculiar manner, both a type and a pledge of the calling of the Gentiles and their reception into the Church of Christ in New Testament times. Thus did coming events cast their shadows before them. In such cases as Rahab and Ruth, God gave early intimations that His redemptive purpose was not confined to a single people, but that it would reach out unto individuals among all nations. Their incorporation among the Hebrews was a plain foreshadowment of the “wild olive tree” being grafted in and being made a partaker of “the root and fatness of the [good] olive tree” (Rom 11:17).
The salvation of Rahab was a signal instance of the sovereignty of God.
“She was not only a Gentile, but an Amoritess, of that race and seed which in general was devoted unto utter destruction. She was therefore an instance of God’s sovereignty in dispensing with His positive laws as it seemed good unto Him; for of His own mere pleasure He exempted her from the doom announced against all those of her original [tribe]” (John Owen).
Being the supreme Potentate, God is not bound by any law or consideration other than His own imperial will; and therefore does He have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens (Rom 9:18).
Most blessedly do we also behold here the amazing grace of God. Not only did Rahab belong to a heathen race, but she was an abandoned profligate, a “harlot.” In singling her out to be the recipient of His saving favors, God indeed made it evident that He is no respecter of persons. By her own choice she was given up to the vilest of sins, but by the divine choice she was predestinated to be delivered from that lust which is the most effective in detaining persons under its power—washing her whiter than snow by the precious blood of Christ and giving her a place in His own family. It is in just such cases that the unmerited favor of God shines forth the more illustriously. There was nothing whatever in this poor fallen women to commend her unto the favor of God, but “where sin abounded grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20).
Not only may we behold in Rahab’s case the exercise of divine sovereignty and the manifestation of divine grace, but we may also pause and admire the wondrous working of God’s power. This is best perceived as we take into careful consideration the almost unparalleled element that enters into her case. Here the Holy Spirit wrought entirely apart from the ordinary means of grace. There were no Sabbaths observed in Jericho; there were no Scriptures available for reading; there were no prophets sounding forth messages from heaven. Nevertheless, Rahab was quickened into newness of life and brought into a saving knowledge of the true God. Let it be duly noted that this woman, who had previously wallowed in open sin, was regenerated and converted before the spies came to her house. Their visit simply afforded an opportunity for the avowal and public manifestation of her faith.
Let us also contemplate the marvelous workings of divine providence on this occasion. As the two spies, sent forth by Joshua to reconnoiter Jericho, drew near to that heathen stronghold, they had no idea that one of God’s elect sojourned there; and had they been aware of the fact, they had no means of knowing how to locate her in a city of such size. Admire and adore, then, the secret hand of God that directed them to the very house in which His child abode. “The Lord knows them that are his” (2 Timothy 2:19), and in the cloudy and dark day He searches them out. The same God who sent Ananias to the street called “Straight” to deliver Saul from blindness, guided the two spies unto the house of Rahab to deliver her from death. In like manner, wherever there is one or more of His elect amid the darkness of heathendom, He sends His Word or His servants to enlighten and edify the same.
Aspects of Faith
But it is with the faith of Rahab we must be chiefly engaged on this occasion. It will be observed that she is mentioned in Hebrews 11 after the destruction of Jericho, though “she received the spies in peace” before that city was destroyed. The reason for this is because her preservation—which was the fruit of her faith—was after the hosts of Israel had encompassed that city seven days. In seeking to ponder what is recorded in Scripture concerning the faith of Rahab, we propose to look separately at the ground, the effect, the nature, the confession, the breadth, the imperfection, and the reward of the same.
1. The Ground of her Faith
“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). This does not mean that faith is originated by hearing the Word of God, any more than the shining of the sun imparts light unto the eye; no, faith is imparted by a sovereign act of the Spirit, and then it is instructed and nourished by the Word. In the prophetic song of Moses at the Red Sea it was declared,
“The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased” (Exodus 15:14-16).
A striking fulfillment of the above prediction is found in the words of Rahab to the two spies:
“I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9-11).
This it is which explains the reference in Hebrews 11:31 unto the other inhabitants of Jericho, who perished because they “believed not.” The knowledge that they had of God and His wondrous works, through the reports that had reached their ears, rendered them without excuse.
What has just been before us affords an example of a most solemn fact that is oft-repeated: how souls are affected by the truth, and how quickly the impressions made wear off. The inhabitants of Jericho were deeply stirred by the reports of God’s judgments upon the wicked; they feared it was their turn next, and their hearts melted within them. How, then, are we to explain the fact that they did not all of them immediately and earnestly cry unto God for mercy? We believe the answer is found in Ecclesiastes 8:11, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” As the hosts of Israel encompassed Jericho each day and then returned quietly to their camp, space for repentance was granted its inhabitants; but when six days had passed, and the walls of the city remained as strong as ever, they felt quite secure and hardened their hearts.
How, then, are we to account for the difference in Rahab? In this way: with them it was simply the stirrings of conscience and the workings of their natural fears, which soon subsided; but in her case the power of the Holy Spirit had wrought within her—God had “opened her heart,” and consequently she “attended unto the things which were spoken” (Act 16:14). In other words, Rahab had been sovereignly quickened into newness of life, by which she was capacitated unto a saving knowledge of God Himself and the receiving His Word with meekness. Thus it was with the Thessalonian saints, whom the Apostle reminded, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). It is only in such cases that a radical and lasting effect is produced.
We must learn, then, to distinguish between three things: the divine gift of faith, the foundation provided for its support, and the assurance that issues for its resting upon that foundation. The gift of faith is imparted at regeneration, being one of the attributes of the new nature: “all men have not faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:2) because all are not born again. The firm foundation that is provided for faith to rest upon is the sure Word of God: by it alone is faith supported—instructed and fed. The assurance that issues from faith’s resting upon this foundation is that confidence and certainty which fills the heart when God’s Word is received implicitly into it. Thus it was with Rahab. Quickened by the Spirit, faith was planted within her soul; hence, when the report reached her of God’s wondrous works, she received it “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)—and therefore did she say, “I know that the LORD hath given you the land.”
2. The Effect of her Faith
The faith of God’s elect is a living, energetic principle, which “works by love” (Gal 5:6) and produces fruit to the glory of God. Herein it differs radically from that notional and inoperative faith of frothy professors, which goes no deeper than an intellectual assenting to certain doctrinal propositions, and ends in fair but empty words. That faith which is unaccompanied by an obedient walk and abounds not in good works, is “dead, being alone” (James 2:17). Different far was the faith of Rahab. Of her we read, “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). This does not mean that her good works were the meritorious ground of her acceptance with God, but that they were the evidence before men that a spiritual principle had been communicated to her, the fruits of which justified or vindicated her profession, demonstrating that she was a member of “the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).
In “receiving the spies with peace,” she made it manifest that she had a heart for the people of God, and was ready to do all in her power to help them. That clause of our text which we are now considering summarizes all that is recorded of her kindly conduct unto those two men in Joshua 2. She welcomed them into her home, engaged them in spiritual conversation, made provision for their safety, hid them from danger, and refused to betray them. We believe there is a latent reference to her kindness (as well as to Abraham’s) in Hebrews 13:1-3, for the word translated “messengers” in James 2:25 is the same as is rendered “angels” in Hebrews 13:2: “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Alas, that so many professing Christians today, instead of heeding this exhortation, are almost ready to rend each other to pieces over every difference of opinion.
3. The Nature of her Faith
A. A singular faith
“The city of Jericho was about to be attacked; within its walls there were hosts of people of all classes and characters, and they knew right well that if their city would be set upon and stormed they would all be put to death. But yet, strange to say, there was not one of them who repented of sin, or who even asked for mercy, except this woman who had been a harlot. She and she alone was delivered, a solitary one amongst a multitude. Now, have you ever felt that it is a very hard thing to have a singular faith? It is the easiest thing in the world to believe as everybody else believes, but the difficulty is to believe a thing alone, when no one else thinks as you think—to be the solitary champion of a righteous cause when the enemy musters his thousands to the battle. Now this was the faith of Rahab. She had not one who felt as she did, who could enter into her feelings and realize the value of her faith. She stood alone. O it is a noble thing to be the lonely follower of despised truth.
“Rahab’s faith was a sanctifying one. Did Rahab continue a harlot after she had faith? No, she did not. I do not believe she was a harlot at the time the men went to her house, though the name still stuck to her, as such ill names will; but I am sure she was not afterwards, for Salmon, the prince of Judah, married her…You cannot have faith and yet live in sin. To believe is to be holy. The two things go together. That faith is a dead faith, a corrupt faith, a rotten faith, which lives in sin [so] that grace may abound (Romans 6:1-2). Rahab was a sanctified woman. O that God might sanctify some that are here” (Charles H. Spurgeon).
B. A Self-Denying Faith
[Hers was] a self-denying faith. This is seen in her preferring the will of God before the safety of her country, and sheltering these men who were strangers before the pleasing of her fellow-citizens. But it appeared most conspicuously in the venturing of her own life rather than to betray the messengers of Joshua, who were worshipers of the true God. Her action was fraught with the most dangerous consequences to her; but her fidelity to God made her scorn the threats of her citizens, the promiscuous events of war, and the burning of her city. Thus, by faith she, in effect, renounced all for God. When He calls us to do so, we must part with all that we hold near and dear in this world. Spiritual faith is best evidenced by acts of self-denying obedience (condensed from Thomas Manton).
4. The Confession of her Faith
This is recorded in Joshua 2:9-11, which shows it was made at the first opening she had. It was quite a comprehensive one: she owned the wondrous works of the Lord, was assured He had given Canaan unto His people, and acknowledged Him as the God of heaven and earth. Thereby she renounced all the idols of the heathen, glorified God with her lips, and illustrated the rule we have in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Moreover, by placing the scarlet cord in her window, she, as it were, publicly displayed her colors and made it known under whose banner she had enlisted. How her conduct puts to shame those who, after a long profession of the truth, are ready to tremble at the first approach of danger, and deem it prudence to keep at a safe distance from those who are exposed to persecution.
“It is the nature of true, real, saving faith, immediately or at its first opportunity, to declare and protest itself in confession before men, for confession is absolutely inseparable from faith.
Where men, on some light and convictions, do suppose themselves to have faith, yet through fear or shame do not come up to the ways of expressing it in confession [as] prescribed in the Scripture, their religion is in vain. And therefore our Lord Jesus Christ, in the gospel, doth constantly lay the same weight on confession as on believing itself (Mat 10:33; Luke 9:26). And the fearful, that is, those who fly from public confession in times of danger and persecution, shall be no less assuredly excluded from the heavenly Jerusalem, than unbelievers themselves (Rev 21:8)” (John Owen).
5. The Breadth of her Faith
Very blessed is it to note her further word to the spies: “Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have showed you kindness, that ye will also show kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: and that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death” (Jos 2:12-13).
Some contracted hearts, in which the very milk of human kindness seems to have congealed, would deem Rahab’s request highly presumptuous. Personally, we believe that her soul was so overflowing with gratitude unto the Lord for His saving such an abandoned wretch, that her faith now perceived something of the infinitude of the divine mercy, and believed that such a God would be willing to show grace unto the whole of her family. Nor was she disappointed.
O that the breadth of Rahab’s faith may speak unto our hearts! O that the blessed Holy Spirit may fill us with compassion for our unsaved relatives and friends, and stir us up to wrestle with God in prayer on their behalf. It is right that we should desire God to show mercy unto those who are near and dear to us; not to do so would show we were lacking in natural affection. It only becomes wrong when we ignore God’s sovereignty, and dictate instead of supplicate. It is blessed to observe that He Who hath said, “according unto your faith be it unto you” and “all things are possible unto him that believeth” (Mat 9:29; Mar 9:23), responded to Rahab’s faith and saved her entire household; though they, of course, only found deliverance by sheltering in the same house with her in which hung the scarlet cord—only under the blood [of Christ] is there safety.
6. The Imperfection of her Faith
This appears in the reply that she returned to the king of Jericho (recorded in Joshua 2:3-5), when he sent unto Rahab requesting her to deliver up the two spies. Fearful of their lives, she told lies, pretending she knew not whence the men had come, and affirming they were no longer in her house. Such a procedure on her part can by no means be justified, for her answer was contrary unto the known truth. The course she followed resembled the direction that Rebekah gave to her son Jacob: in the general her intent was the fruit of great faith, for it had respect unto the promise of God (Gen 25:33), but in various details (Gen 27:6-7, etc.) it can in no wise be approved. The Lord, in His tender mercy, is pleased to pass by many of the infirmities of His children, when He sees an upright heart and a desire to accomplish His promises. “If thou, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:3). God bears with much weakness, especially in the lambs of His flock.
“I observe there was a mixture of infirmity in this act, an officious lie, which cannot be excused, though God in mercy pardoned it. This is not for our imitation, yet it is for our instruction; and it shows us this: that faith in the beginning hath many weaknesses. Those that have faith do not altogether act out of faith, but there is somewhat of the flesh mingled with that of the spirit. But this is passed by out of God’s indulgence; He accepts us notwithstanding our sins before faith, and notwithstanding our weaknesses in believing. Before faith she was a harlot; in believing she makes a lie. God doth reward the good of our actions and pardons the evil of them, not to encourage us in the sinning, but to raise our love to Him Who forgives us so great a debt, receives us graciously, and pardons our manifold weaknesses” (Thomas Manton).
It is blessed to see that neither in our text nor in James 2:25 does the Holy Spirit make any reference unto Rahab’s failure; instead, in both places, He mentions that which was praiseworthy and to her credit. It is the very opposite with the malevolent world, which is ever ready to overlook the good and reflect only upon the evil of an action performed by a child of God. It is a gracious spirit that throws the mantle of charity over the deformities and defects in a brother or sister in Christ, as it is honoring to God to dwell upon that which His Holy Spirit has wrought in them. If we were quicker to judge ourselves for our own sad failures, we would not be so ready to blaze abroad the faults of our fellows. Let each of us seek grace to heed that exhortation,
“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phi 4:8).
7. The Reward of her Faith
“By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not.” The historical account of this is to be found in Joshua 6:22-23, “But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as you swore unto her. And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel.”
But not only was Rahab and the whole of her family preserved from the burning of Jericho, which immediately followed, but as Joshua 6:25 tells us, she “dwelt in Israel.” Thus, from being the slave of Satan she was adopted into the family of God; from being a citizen of heathen Jericho she was given a place in the congregation of the Lord. Nor was that all; later, she became the honored wife of a prince in Judah, the mother of Boaz, and one of the grandmothers of David! Her name is inscribed upon the imperishable scroll of sacred history; it is recorded in Matthew 1 among the ancestresses of the Savior—she was one of the mothers of Jesus! From what depths of sin and shame did sovereign grace deliver this poor woman; to what a height of honor and dignity did sovereign grace elevate her. Truly, the rewards of faith are most excellent and glorious.