Lately I’ve been reading through the New Testament a little faster than I usually do. Consequently, I discovered a reference to Rahab in both Hebrews 11 and James 2. Two chapters on seemingly opposite subjects. I’d never caught the significance before.
But before I get into that, let’s review who Rahab was and what she did.
In Joshua chapter 2, we meet Rahab living in a house built into the city wall of Jericho. Apparently, she kept an inn of some kind, and the Bible calls her a harlot. (There are lots of theories as to how she came by that title, some of which propose that it may not have been her choice. Nevertheless, that’s what she’s called.)
The city of Jericho is the first stronghold which the Israelites must conquer to win the land which God has promised to give them. So the Israelite leader Joshua sends two spies to search out the city and the surrounding land. These two men come to Jericho and secure lodgings with Rahab.
It seems that Jericho has a spy system of its own because someone spots the Israelites. Pretty soon soldiers are knocking on Rahab’s door, demanding that she bring out the spies. But Rahab takes the spies to the roof of her house and hides them under the flax stalks that she has drying on the rooftop.
Then she lies to the soldiers: “Yes, they came, but right before the time to shut the gate, they went out, and I don’t know where they went. Hurry and try to catch them.”
After the soldiers leave, she goes to talk to the spies. She tells them, “I know that the LORD has given you this land. We have heard how He dried up the Red Sea for you, and how you utterly destroyed the Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan. The whole land is terrified because of you, because your God is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
“Now since I have shown kindness to you, show kindness to me and my father’s house, and deliver us from death when you conquer this city.”
And the spies, not being stupid, say, “If you’ll keep our secret, we’ll save your lives. But you have to stay in this house, and you have to hang a red cord from your window so we know where you are.”
Then Rahab lets them down by a rope through the window of her house, outside the city. “Hide in the mountains,” she says, “until they give up looking for you.”
So the spies follow her advice and return safely to Joshua. When the Israelites eventually conquer Jericho, the spies personally rescue Rahab and her family, and she “dwells in Israel to this day,” says Joshua 6:25.
Now let’s see what the writer of Hebrews says about Rahab:
By faith Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
-Hebrews 11:31 (NKJV)
And James writes of Rahab:
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
-James 2:25 (NKJV)
What kind of a contradiction is that?
Ah, none at all, but an exciting (well, to me, anyway) glimpse of God’s infinite wisdom and knowledge. Dig in with me.
Hebrews says Rahab was saved by faith. James says she was saved by her works. But taking the context of James’s statement, he is talking about how your faith is lived out in your works.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
-James 2:18, 20
If Rahab’s faith had not led her to act on behalf of the Israelite spies, Joshua would never have known of her faith and she would have perished with the others.
On the other hand, if she had not had the strong faith, she would never have dared to defy her king and side with the Israelites.
So she had the faith first. But until it moved her to action, it was useless.
Always, always the faith comes first. It is the root, as the writer of Hebrews shows.
But if your faith isn’t moving you to work, it’s a dead faith, as James calls it. And a dead comrade isn’t much help when it comes to battle.
Christians need a faith that lives. A faith that works.