Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 3: God Works in Imperfect Faith

Ever heard that saying, “Ignorance is bliss”? It’s such a true saying. When your ignorant of something, life is easier. Growing up, I was ignorant of a lot of things, and I know there are still things I’m ignorant about today. But growing up, I was ignorant of being ignorant. I didn’t even know that there were things I did know. Sure I had an idea that there were things I didn’t know, but a lot of the time I assumed I knew about something even when I definitely didn’t. I don’t know if you did this, you probably didn’t because you weren’t ignorant like I was, but when my friends would talk about a show that I’d never watched, I’d acted like I did. I was completely ignorant of what I was talking about, but I tried to glean enough that I could act like I knew what they were talking about. And after a while of doing that, people started to catch on. 
I remember a couple of times, when my friends and I would talk about some show, and I would speak in my ignorance, and then get called out on it. And after a few of those moments, people begin to notice my ignorance, and they started to point it out to me, and everyone else.

And it’s this idea of being ignorant of something that brings us to the second chapter in the book of Joshua. Where’ we’re going to cover the whole second chapter in one week. It took us two weeks to go through chapter one, and it will take only one week to go through chapter 2. And as we get into Joshua chapter two starting in verse 1, let’s bring ourselves up to speed on what we’ve covered in the last two weeks.

In the first week we talked about who Joshua was. Who was this man that a whole book of the Bible is named after. We talked about two of his characteristics, and how it was these types of characteristics that led Joshua to be used by God. But even though he was a godly guy and a great warrior, he, like us, needed encouragement, and so God encouraged him three times to be courageous. 
Then last week we talked about how that encouragement was well needed, because Joshua’s first act as leader of the whole nation, was to deal with a situation that could have caused a rift within the tribes of Israel. We talked about how two and half tribes had received their allotment of land, but the other nine and half tribes didn’t. It was with this reality that Joshua reminded those that had their allotment, that there was still those that did not, and now as one nation, they were going to secure the other allotments. It was at this point that we talked about how we two can fall into a feeling that we have our allotment from God and we’re done with our work. But the reality is, God isn’t done with us, until he calls us home, and we need to live in the reality that we still have work to do

That brings us to Joshua chapter 2 starting in verse 1. Now as we go through this chapter, we’re not going to read every word of it. Instead we’re going to focus on a few key verses. So your homework this week is to read the entire chapter. It’s only 24 verses long, so it’ll take you about 5 to 10 minutes to read. 

Let’s begin starting in verse 1. 

Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim (shi-teem). “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

Let’s stop there, because there’s a lot going on in this one verse, that we need to talk about. First, let’s talk about the spies. Joshua calls two men to be spies for him in the land of Canaan. This is traveled territory for Joshua; several decades earlier, Joshua was sent as a spy himself into the land. Except this time Joshua is approaching it a little differently. Before it was twelve spies, and ten of them returned with a report that made the Israelite nation decided not to follow God’s command to take the land. This time, Joshua is sending in only two spies, but without the knowledge of the Israelite people. Maybe he’s doing this because if they have a bad report, he doesn’t want to spend another 40 years in the desert. Who knows.
But these two spies take off from the Israelite camp and make to Jericho, which Joshua specifically wanted to know about. Why was Jericho so important? Because it was the stronghold for the entire southeastern area of Canaan. So it was extremely important to conquer while the people were in good spirits and at full strength.

Then it says, “So they went and entered the house of a prostitute…” Which, obviously is the place you go to when you’re on a secret fact finding mission right? Well, actually it is. Think about it. First, this would be a place of promiscuity, men enter and exit the house all the time. So it would be a perfect place for a couple of outsiders to go, where they would have less of a chance to be found out. Second, as the old saying goes, “loose lips, sink ships.” People are more free with their speech when their carousing. So for the spies to enter into a prostitute’s house in this place, would be the perfect cover, and intel gathering location. 

But, their cover gets blown somehow. The king of the city sends men to capture the spies and bring them to him. But Rehab hides the spies, and then says this in verse 4 to the men who have come for them, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.”

Now, let’s point out the obvious, this is a straight up lie. She’s lying to the men about the spies. And we know that it’s not okay for her to do this, this is a sin. She is sinning by telling a lie. This is condemned in Deuteronomy 20:16, which is usually translated as not to bear false witness or you shall not lie; and it literally translates to “not be a dishonest witness to people”.  And in Genesis 22, we see an interaction between Abraham and Issac, that shows us that there are ways to answer someone without lying to them (v.7-8). 
So let’s not beat around the bush here, Rehab is lying and it is a sin. But let’s go on ahead and deal with this in a moment, because it is a very important thing for us to understand.

So the deception works, the men of Jericho leave, and she goes to meet with the spies. It’s in verse 9 that we learn about why she’s doing all this. She says, “I know that the Lord has given you this land 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. 10 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. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

Rehab has hidden the spies, because she believes that their God has given them the land of Canaan. Her reaction is the fulfillment of God’s words in Deuteronomy 2:25, “This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”

And then Rehab proceeds to make a deal with the spies. For her help, she wants her whole family to be taken care of. She doesn’t want them to be killed, or harmed in anyway. And the spies agree to this. But there’s a problem with them making this deal. God tells the nation of Israel in two places in the book of Deuteronomy that they are not to make these types of deals. First in Deuteronomy chapter 7, and then again in chapter 20. Listen to the forceful words that are used in these two passages. First chapter 7 verse 2, “and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.”
Then in chapter 20 verse 16, “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.”

Yet, we have the spies make this deal. And on top of that, if we fast forward ahead, Joshua himself agrees with this deal. In chapter 6 verse 22 Joshua says, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out there the women and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.”

So are they all just deciding to buck the commands of God? Well, let’s take a moment and look at what we know of Rehab. First, there’s no denying she’s a prostitute. The Hebrew word used of her is Zanah (Zaw-naw), which is someone who commits fornication, or extramarital sex. Second, she’s also some sort of weaver of linen, because she hides the spies in stalks of flax, which is used to weave. Third, she’s also a lier, I think we’ve already established that. Fourth, she believes so strongly that the Israelite God is giving the land to the Israelite people, that she is willing to risk her life and her families lives, by betraying her people and helping these spies. But then, and I think this is the most important part of who Rehab is, she speaks like this about God in verse 11. “…for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” In Hebrew she says, “In heaven Elohim (God), is Elohekem (your God), Yahweh...”

She is saying that the God who is above all gods is your God, and then she uses the name God gives specifically to his people, Yahweh. This means that, not only has she turned her back on her people, but also on her gods. She has come to a saving faith in Yahweh the God of Israel. This is why later in the book of James chapter 2 verse 25, he says this about Rehab, “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” 
And the writer of the book of Hebrews said this about Rehab in chapter 11 verse 31, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”

The reality is, though she was not a descendent of Israel the man, she was an adopted member into God’s family, because she put her faith in the only that could save, and that’s the God of the Israelites. 

This adoption is best seen in the sign that the spies told her to show out her window. In verse 17 they say this, “…This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down…”

So after the spies left, what does she do? In verse 21 it says, “…And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.”

I have no doubt in my mind that when these Israelite spies told Rehab to tie the scarlet chord in the window, that God in how he works, was connecting this action to how he had the people sacrifice a lamb to paint their homes in Egypt with it’s blood, so that the wrath of God would passover them. A couple of thousand years later after Jesus’ resurrection and the first disciples’ deaths, a church father named Clement of Rome penned theses words, “And they proceeded to give her a sign, that she should hang out a scarlet thread from her house, foreshadowing that all who believe and hope on God shall have redemption through the blood of the Lord. You see beloved, that the woman is an instance not only of faith but also of prophecy.”

This lying prostitute, was being saved through her faith in the God of the Israelites. In all of the city, the spies found refuge in the unlikeliest place. And not only did they find refuge, but someone whom God was going to save for his purposes. Nowhere is her lying or prostitution commended, but she is held as someone who trusted in God for her salvation. 
And not only does God save her, he uses her to be the ancestor in the line of Jesus. This, to me, brings front and center Paul the Apostle’s words in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
God worked through Rehab’s sinfulness to bring about, not only the destruction of Jericho and the conquering of the land of Canaan, but also the salvation that is offered through Jesus. Rehab is one of those figures, that we can say, if God can use someone who seems so far from him for his work, then all of us can be used. 

And that should give us hope. That even in our ignorance of sin, God can still save and uses us. Rehab, though she had faith that the Israelite God was real and going to save her, she thought lying was the best way to bring about her salvation. She was ignorant that God didn’t want her to lie, but God took her small imperfect faith, and did great things through it. That should tell us, that even in our ignorance and imperfect faith, God can still do great things. 

My challenge for us this week, is to go before God and admit you have imperfect faith. Admit where you know you fall far short, and ask God to reveal those things that you are ignorant of that makes your faith imperfect. And then thank him, that he uses people like Rehab, like you and me for his purposes. People who are ignorant of what he desires for us, and have imperfect faith.

And we can thank God, that he uses our imperfect faith, to work out his purposes, because it’s at that crossroads of where we recognize our imperfect faith and his greatness, that we experience God’s glory, and we can say as Rehab did, “In heaven Elohim, is Elohekem, Yahweh…” In heaven God is our God, the Lord. Amen.

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