The God of Prostitutes
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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 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. - Joshua 2:12-13
Joshua 2 speaks of God's love for sinners. In Jesus' day, the Pharisees considered themselves to be righteous, and they hated publicans and prostitutes, regarding them as sinners to be avoided at all cost. Such "righteous" people have no need of Jesus. But Jesus came as a friend of sinners. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. The truth is, according to God's word we are all publicans and prostitutes, for we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Only in Jesus can we become truly righteous and children of the heavenly Father. Joshua 2 tells the story of God's love for wicked sinners as seen in the life of Rahab the prostitute.
The Divine Purpose
After the death of Moses, Joshua began preparations to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. In Joshua 2:1 we read, "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 named Rahab and stayed there."
Why did Joshua send these secret agents to Jericho? Surely it was not to obtain new intelligence, for God had already revealed that the Canaanites would be afraid of the Israelites and that God would deliver the land over to his people (Exodus 15:15-16; Numbers 14:8-9). In fact, the great wall of Jericho would soon fall without a fight under God's own power.
Why, then, did Joshua send the spies to Jericho? For a divine purpose: God had determined to save a wicked sinner, a leading prostitute of that wicked city, and her entire extended family from destruction. By the time the people of Israel reached the border of Canaan, the iniquity of the Canaanites was full to overflowing. The entire population was under the wrath of God. Yet the first act of God in Canaan was not one of destruction, but of salvation-the salvation of a prostitute in Jericho.
You may wonder why these godly Israelites went to the house of a prostitute. They may have gone there to gather intelligence from other visitors. But it is my view that the Lord led them to Rahab's house so that she would be saved. Rahab was one of God's elect, chosen from all eternity to be holy and blameless in his Son, Jesus Christ. In time, through these secret agents, she was effectually called and justified.
Rahab was not merely an innkeeper, as some would say, although the Hebrew word can have that meaning; she was also a prostitute, as we read in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 where she is called pornÝ¬, prostitute. So we should not sanitize her. Rahab was an idol-worshiping Amorite woman who was as full of iniquity as all the other citizens of Jericho, and, thus, deserved the same total destruction that they experienced. They were killed by the sword, and the whole city burned up, we are told. But the Bible declares, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20 KJV), and Rahab received God's grace.
In 1 Timothy 1:13-15 Paul speaks about God's attitude toward wicked sinners and the grace God shows to them: "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst."
So from Shittim, which means "acacia groves," Joshua sent spies to Jericho, a well-fortified city located five miles west of the Jordan River. Supplied by a number of strong springs, the oasis of Jericho was also known as the City of Palms. Archaeological studies show that it has been continually occupied from 7000 B.C. In Joshua's time it was inhabited by a people whose iniquity had reached its fullness, meriting their complete destruction. The citizens of Jericho had heard of the God who powerfully delivered Israel out of Egypt, this Yahweh, the "I AM THAT I AM," who had dried up the Red Sea so that Israel could pass through on dry ground. They heard how this God had recently destroyed the kingdoms of the Amorite kings Sihon and Og. They knew very well the power of the God of Israel.
Yet in spite of all this historical proof of the great power of God, everyone in Jericho except Rahab the prostitute opposed the God of Israel and his people. They refused to repent and believe in the God of Israel and sue for peace. They would rather fight than surrender and be saved.
Rahab's Steps of Faith:
Rahab did not join the vast majority of the people in Jericho in their enmity and unbelief toward the God of Israel. She had heard of the great redemptive acts of Israel's God from people who visited her brothel. Such illicit sexual activity was normal in the pagan culture, and those who came to Rahab's house brought news of what God had done. It is amazing how God uses even people of ill-repute to declare the gospel, that his elect people may be saved.
We cannot be saved unless somebody is sent to proclaim the good news to us. We have to hear the gospel first, for faith comes by hearing. As Paul says in Romans 10:14, "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" So Rahab heard the gospel, and when the spies came, she told them, "We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea 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. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed" (Joshua 2:10-11).
Not only did Rahab hear, but she also believed. Hebrews 11:31 says of her, "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace" (KJV). As we said, many others had heard the gospel too. But they did not believe; therefore, they perished. In Numbers 13 we read that Moses sent out twelve spies to explore the land of Canaan. Ten came back and said, "We cannot defeat them. They are more powerful than we are," and influenced the entire assembly to agree with them. In other words, the vast majority of Israel did not believe in God's mighty power. Yet this Amorite prostitute believed, for she says in verse 9, "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." May God help us to so believe his word, that we may experience God's saving power.
After hearing and believing the good news, Rahab confessed what every child of God must confess: "For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below" (v. 11b). God expects his people to make such a confession. In Deuteronomy 4:39 the Israelites were commanded to make such a declaration: "Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below." We find a the same idea in the New Testament: "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
Out of the mouth of a prostitute, God brought the true confession that the God of Israel is the God of heaven and of earth. Rahab was acknowledging that the God of Israel is the true and only God and all other gods are false. In doing so, she was confessing her own sin.
Correct confession is not enough for salvation. Anyone can make a correct profession of faith, but orthodoxy never saves anyone. The final step is praying to God for salvation. Rahab did just that in verses 12 and 13: "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 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."
As people of the Reformed faith, we know that sometime between hearing about God and the visit of spies, Rahab must have experienced regeneration, for a person cannot repent, believe, confess, and pray for salvation unless God gives that person new birth. Regeneration is the great, miraculous act of God, without which no one will truly believe, confess, pray and be saved.
The Holy Spirit had worked in this prostitute's heart. She was regenerated, so she prayed, "Save us from death." Hers was an effectual prayer, for Romans 10:13 gives us this promise: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." As Rahab called upon the name of the Lord, she was saved, spiritually as well as temporally.
Faith That Works
We know that Rahab had saving faith because her faith was demonstrated in her deeds. If people say they believe, but exhibit no obedience and love for God, then their faith is phony. But Rahab's faith was saving faith, as James testifies under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did"-that is, by her works of faith-"when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:25).
Yes, we believe salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. But as John Calvin said, saving faith is not dead faith. Faith alone justifies, but faith that justifies is not alone at any time. This is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
So if someone says he is a Christian but will not love God and keep his commandments, he is a phony and his faith is empty. There is no difference between his faith and that of the devil. This is hard preaching for modern Christians to accept, because they want to be considered "true Christians" even though they will not love God or keep his commandments. Saving faith works good works. So, for example, if you are a child who claims to be a Christian, then you will obey your parents, and you will do so immediately, exactly, and with joy.
The Works of Rahab's Faith
Let us then examine the faith of Rahab and the works it produced. When the spies came, Rahab welcomed them, hid them from the authorities, and sent them away to safety. These were dangerous actions on her part, for ancient laws such as the Code of Hammurabi dictated that if enemies such as these spies came to an innkeeper, that person must turn them over to the king, or be executed. Rahab risked her life in saving the Hebrew spies.
But Rahab also had to fulfill three conditions for temporal deliverance. First, she was told to keep the Israelites' plans a secret (v. 14). Then the spies told her, "[Tie] this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down" (v. 18). Third, she had to gather her family and bring them all into her house and keep them inside until the army of Israel came. (PGM) As a prostitute, Rahab was not married and had no children. But we can deduce from this passage that she prayed for her salvation as well as the salvation of her father and mother and brothers and sisters and all the people who belonged to them. What a great faith!
Rahab kept all three conditions. When the king's officials questioned her, she did not reveal the whereabouts of the spies. We may ask, "Didn't she lie?" and there are differing opinions among Christians about that. Professor John Murray would say, "No, she should have told the truth," but others would argue that this was a war situation in which deception was necessary as a tactic of war. Since Rahab considered herself to be a believer in the God of Israel and therefore an Israelite, she looked upon Jericho and the people of Jericho as enemies. In such a situation, the king of Jericho was not entitled to hear the truth.
When the spies left, Rahab immediately tied the scarlet cord in the window, as we read in verse 21. It may be that the scarlet cord points to the blood of Jesus Christ, for in Exodus 12 the Hebrews were required to kill the Passover lamb and apply its blood on the doorpost and the lintel so that the angel of death may pass over that house. It is possible the cord was given to Rahab by the spies themselves for, as we said before, it was God's purpose to save her. So they gave her a scarlet cord and told her to tie it in the window so that they could deliver her and her family from destruction.
What else did Rahab do? She immediately went to all her relatives and said, "This land is given to the Israelites by their God, in whom I believe. Jericho is going to be destroyed immediately, but I have pleaded with this God, and he has agreed to save every one of you as long as you come to my place and stay there." Notice the amazing mercy of God to Rahab and her family. The Bible tells us they all came and were saved. In Joshua 6:22-23 we read, "Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, 'Go into the prostitute's house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.' So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel." In other words, Rahab's family believed and were saved. The house of Rahab is a picture of the church-a place of safety for a people called out from the world.
But contrast the story of Rahab with that of Lot in Genesis 19. The angel came from heaven and told Lot, "God is going to wipe this place out and burn it because of its wickedness." Lot went and spoke to his sons-in-law, but what did they say? "No deal. You are joking." They did not believe. Not only that, his own wife did not believe and became a pillar of salt. But in Jericho, Rahab spoke, and all her family believed and were saved.
In Luke 16 we read about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man did not begin to think about his salvation or that of his family until he died and was in hell, but by then it was too late. Let me tell you, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. Now is the day we must call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Now is the time we must pray for our family, just as Rahab did, in faith.
How many of us have a hard time believing God will save even our own children! Yet here Rahab, a Gentile, sought not only her own salvation, but the salvation of her entire extended family. She believed in the salvation of her father and mother, her brothers and sisters, and all who were connected to them. Her faith was great.
Let me tell you again: God's covenant extends to you and to your family, even to your extended family. The promise is unto you and your children, from generation to generation. If Rahab exercised that faith, we must also do so and seek the salvation of our family. Even an aged person can come to faith in Christ before he passes away.
Exodus 12 speaks about this idea of whole-family salvation. In verses 1-3 we read, "The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 'This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family. . . .'" So we see that God includes our family in his plan of salvation. Joshua 24 speaks of the same idea. Here Joshua gives a choice to the Israelites, telling them, in essence, "If you want to worship idols, that is up to you. If you want to turn away from God, that is up to you. If you want to worship other gods, that is up to you. You can do whatever you want." But look at what he says in verse 15: "But as for me and my household"-I am sure this included his servants as well-"we will serve the Lord." Likewise, in Acts 16:30 the Philippian jailer cried out, "What must I do to be saved?" And the answer came, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved-you and your household" (v. 31).
In sad contrast to the examples of Rahab, Joshua, and the Philippian jailer, we find the story of Achan in Joshua 7. Notice, although Rahab was an Amorite prostitute, she was saved along with her entire family because of her faith. But Achan, though he was an Israelite from the tribe of Judah, was burned up and destroyed, along with his entire family. Why? Achan did not believe.
From Prostitute to Princess
Rahab's story does not end in Joshua 2. When God saves us, he saves us from our sins; in other words, we do not remain prostitutes and publicans. Rahab and her entire family were saved and became citizens of Israel, as we are told in Joshua 6:25. And if we study the history of Rahab, we find that she married a prince of the tribe of Judah by the name of Salmon (Matthew 1:5). Before, as a prostitute, she had no husband or children. But God transformed her, causing her to become a true Israelite, and Salmon took one look and said, "I want to marry that person." The Bible tells us Rahab became the mother of Boaz, who married another Gentile, Ruth. Ruth became the mother of Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of David, the ancestor of Jesus, who was called the Son of David. Thus Rahab the prostitute became an ancestress of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Savior of the world, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
The truth is, brothers and sisters, by nature we are all Rahabs. But God so loves Rahabs that he sent his Son to die in their place, that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life. Recall how Paul said that when he was a Pharisee, he considered himself perfect concerning the righteousness of the law (Philippians 3:6). But God opened his eyes, and in Titus 3:3-7 he declares his true state, and ours: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."
Consider also the story told in Luke 7:36-50, where Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his house. Suddenly a sinful woman, perhaps the city prostitute, walked in and began to weep. As her tears fell on Jesus' feet, she dried his feet with her hair. Of course the Pharisee murmured at this, saying, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner." But Jesus said, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher." "Two men owed money to a certain money lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. . . [H]e canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him the more?" And Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." That is always the truth. When we have a very low view of sin, then our love toward God is very low, but when we realize the magnitude of our sin, our love for God is great.
Let me say it again: We all are Rahabs, and our sin was infinite, for we sinned against the infinite God. But God in Christ has forgiven our sins; therefore, we love him more. Remember the adulterous woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and brought to Jesus (John 8:2-11)? "We saw her doing it!" the people were telling Jesus. "Well then, go ahead and stone her to death," Jesus said, in essence. "But the one without sin should do so first." All the people began to go away, one by one, until the only One without sin remained. Jesus looked at the woman and said, "Neither do I condemn you; go now and leave your life of sin."
In John 4 we find another story demonstrating this amazing salvation of God. John 4:4 says Jesus "had to go through Samaria." Why this divine necessity, when one could reach Galilee by other paths? When we read that chapter, we discover the purpose. There was a sinful woman in Samaria who was an elect. Jesus went that way to save her.
We all were Rahabs. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God has chosen us in Christ to be saved. Through the gospel God made us alive with Christ. Somebody spoke to us, we heard it, and believed, for faith comes by hearing. We confessed Christ and called upon the name of the Lord, and he saved us, telling us, "Go and sin no more." God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms, and he is changing us from glory to glory. We have been transformed from prostitute to princess. We are his bride, whom he is making holy, blameless, and radiant. Yes, God loved us when we were prostitutes. But we did not remain prostitutes. He has made us princesses of great glory. Rahab married the prince Salmon. But we are marrying the King of kings and the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
Revelation 19:5-7 proclaims this glorious truth:
Then a voice came from the throne, saying: "Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!" Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
What About You?
Have you heard the message of the cross-that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification? Have you believed that message and trusted in Jesus Christ, the only Savior, for your salvation? Have you confessed with your mouth "Jesus is Lord" and believed in your heart that God raised him from the dead? Like Rahab, have you called upon the name of the Lord to save you from the wrath of God about to be poured upon sinners? If you have, then you can know that God has chosen you from before the foundation of the world and has regenerated you and granted you the gift of repentance and faith that you may trust in him alone and be saved.
What if you say, "I have not called upon God"? Take heart-the promise of salvation still stands. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. If he can save a prostitute like Rahab, or an arrogant, self-righteous Saul of Tarsus, he can save you. Yes, God saves only sinners, so we must acknowledge that we have sinned. But I urge you to call out to him, "Have mercy upon me, a sinner," that he may save you and your family.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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