On Rahab

Many Christians have come to interact with the Bible as if it were nuggets of timeless truth concealed and tangled up in irrelevant or unrelated details of narrative.

We therefore try to extract the abstract nuggets of truth from the story in much the same way we eat an orange, peeling away and discarding the baggage and getting to the good stuff. But this is a mistake. “Truth,” Douglas Wilson says, “is always incarnational.” In other words, Truth is always adorned in narrative, and therefore is able to be imitated and lived out. He continues, “Abstractions can be true and can be affirmed, but they cannot be imitated.”

Disciples who learn biblical abstractions may be able to regurgitate information, but they do not live the truths because they have seen nothing to imitate. They have seen nothing to put into practice. Imitation comes by what is seen, not by what is heard.

The purpose of this whole series through Hebrews 11 is for us to see, in the stories of these faithful Christians, lives and faith worthy of imitation. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

So we are going to start by reading at length the story of Joshua and Jericho and Rahab.

Read: Joshua 2, 6:1-25

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.- Hebrews 11:30-31

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart form the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. – James 2:24-26

The writer of Hebrews starts this chapter by listing off highly regarded patriarchs and teaches us that every good and worthy thing they did was by faith alone. Enter now Rahab. She is not even an Israelite, but a Canaanite. In terms of her morality and righteousness according to works, she is bankrupt. She is a prostitute. But by faith, she is adopted into the Church. This faith-filling is not according to works, lest any one should boast, it is a gift of God.

Side Note: Rahab’s faith produced works (what Paul calls fruit), summarize Rahab’s works of faith.

Rahab was not only adopted into the Church, she was not just tucked away into some obscure corner of history, like we probably will be, but she was called and chosen to be apart of the blood line of the Messiah. Faithful Rahab was in God’s mind as a part of the ancient promise that the seed of the women would crush the head of the dragon. Rahab is one of the five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ.

A deceptive, Canaanite prostitute, by faith, became King David’s great great grandmother, and the ancestor of Jesus, the sinless Son of God—her Messiah.

Look: Matthew 1

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. First, Tamar, who pretends to be a foreign prostitute, then you have Rahab, who was a foreign prostitute. Tamar, becomes pregnant with twins and the one twin, Perez, makes the first breach and gets a hand out. They tie a scarlet thread (sound familiar?) around his hand, but then it ends up that the other twin actually is born first. Guess which one is in the line of Christ? The younger brother with the crimson cord.

This story is not just baggage that contain the nuggets of truth, the story is meaningful. The story matters. Therefore, how the story is told matters. So lets look closer at a few of the details of the story.

  1. The word “cord.”
  2. The word “messengers.”
  3. The phrase “lived in Israel to this day.”

1. Cord

In the story of Perez, the word for the scarlet thread that was tied on him is not the same that is used here in Joshua.

Then there is another hebrew word that is sometimes translated “cord” used in Numbers 15 that refers to the tassels, that were always blue, on the corners of jewish men’s garments. In the story of the woman with the issue of blood, we say she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and we think of a modern hem, like the bottom of my shirt, but she almost certainly touched one of these blue tassels. That word, is a word that is translated as lace, bracelet, wire, ribband, bound, thread, line, cord, etc.

The word that the author of Joshua uses is tiqvah, and it is used 34 times and out of those 34 times only twice is it translated “line” or “cord”. Both times are in this story. Lets read some of the other passages that this word occurs…

Hope. Expectation. The thing that I long for. It is a word that literally means cord or line but that actually speaks to our hope.

Skip Moen writes:

[T]iqvah has a different meaning in every one of its additional… occurrences.  The fact that it isn’t translated in the normal way in this verse isn’t an accident. It’s an intentional word-play… Put this background into the story of Rahab and you will come away with a much deeper understanding of this event. The spies whom Rahab saves tell her to put a scarlet “cord” in her window. What does that cord mean? It means hope, the very same word.

Moen goes on to write about when Naomi uses tiqvah in Ruth 1:12, he says:

When Naomi uses this word, she doesn’t have the projection of future desires in mind.  She is thinking about the color scarlet.  What does scarlet have to do with hope? [Tiqvah] Frymer-Kensky points out that tiqvah is the Hebrew word meaning “thread” in the story of Rahab.  “The imagery in this idiom suggests that our life is spun out like a cord, and hope arises from the strength of that cord, representing the prospect of a viable future.”  She goes on to show that hope in Hebrew thought is intimately connected with life here and now.  To have a future is to not be cut off. To have a future is to see the continuation of your name in the lives of your offspring… It is all about having a legacy on earth. It’s about a scarlet cord that can’t be cut.

This should make sense to us especially because tiqvah is also the word used in Jeremiah 29:11 where God promises to give His people a future and a hope. That hope is Christ. Rahab’s hope was Christ who became for her an actual descendant. This should help us to understand that Christian hope is not just ethereal, but very much terrestrial and eternal. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth!” It is all about having a legacy on earth. It’s about a scarlet cord that can’t be cut, that spans eternity, in heaven and on earth, world without end. The ultimate point is Christ who fills all in all.

This crimson cord that Rahab faithfully displays on her house, is also an allusion to the Passover, when the children of Israel were to paint the blood of a lamb on the door post of their house. In Rahab’s passover, just as with Israel’s, every one inside the house marked with crimson was protected by the destroyer outside. Rahab’s act of faith was salvation to her entire household.

Rahab became a traitor to her countrymen in order to bring salvation to God’s people. Sound familiar? Jesus became a traitor to His countrymen in order to bring salvation to God’s people. A hero is one who lays down their life for the good guys, but Jesus laid down His life for His enemies, in order to make us friends. Jesus was a faithful traitor just like Rahab.

2. Messengers

In Joshua 2 the men are sent to spy out the land. The word spy is the same word used to call them spies (6:23) and it is a word that means exactly what we assume it means. However, in Joshua 6:17, the two men are called “messengers”. Why would the narrator of this story refer to them as messengers? In what way were these men messengers?

Rahab and the people there already knew of God and of His power. Israel had been commissioned by God not to go into the land and preach repentance and give these Canaanites a chance to turn or burn, but to destroy and conquer and take dominion. In fact, in the story, it is Rahab who initiates the dialog about God and is essentially begging and pleading for mercy. And what did she receive from these messengers? A promise of salvation! A promise that her hope would not disappoint!

3. Lives in Israel to this day.

The author of Joshua brings the story of Rahab to a close by making a point of the fact that she dwells in Israel even unto that day. Probably Rahab was not still alive when the book of Joshua was finally completed, however, if we start by focusing on lives in Israel instead of “to this day” perhaps we will discover a greater meaning regardless of whether or not Rahab was still living or not.

Joshua 6:25, says that Rahab dwells in Israel.

Rahab was not just saved from something, she was saved into something. This gentile was not only brought out of slavery, she was brought into life. She was not only freed from death and hopelessness, she was brought into the promise of a future and hope. Rahab is every gentile that has been adopted and brought in to the nearest part, the center, the heart–into Christ. Rahab is you and me. We have become partakers of Christ. We have received the promise, by the same faith that was given to Able and Enoch and Abraham and Moses and Rahab.

Songs We Sing (11/2/14)

We will be learning a new song this week, O God of Earth and Altar. This hymn was written by G.K. Chesterton in 1906 for The English Hymnal as a prayer for the nation. Although written in a different century about a different nation, it is very much relevant for Christians in America today. Listen and learn and listen again. Get it down in your heart. Let it be a prayer indeed. (If you like this particular version of it, you can download the song free of charge here.)

Here are our songs for this Lord’s Day:

  1. God Be Merciful To Me
  2. Come Let Us Return
  3. O God of Earth and Altar
  4. How Deep The Father’s Love For Us

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