As the story of Rahab and the spies in Joshua 2 continues, we get a deeper look at what faith is… perhaps gaining a perspective that isn’t celebrated as much as it should be.
The story continues and indicates that faith is obedience. In a world where belief and obedience can be two very separate entities, the Scriptures indicated belief without obedience is simply folly. We see faith play out as obedience for the spies and Rahab both.
For the spies:
Going into the land would have been a pointedly obedient act—they would have had knowledge of the last time an expedition had been made into the land and would recall the resulting report—
Num 13 (TNIV)
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
Entering into the land was an act of obedience—allowing their belief that the land was theirs from God and He was indeed leading them to play out in action, even though that meant life might get messy.
Most of us will only believe/obey someone or something if we have a well-rounded understanding of who is directing us or what it is that we will be obeying in. The spies had that—they had been travelling in the desert where they had been recipients of supernatural food, of leadership in the form of fire pillars and clouds, and had been directed by the very prominent human leader of their people.
But Rahab didn’t have any of this well-rounded understanding of what it meant to obey. Her obedience comes from an incomplete picture… and this, I believe, is part of why she is seen as a woman of great faith:
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “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. 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.
12 “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 13 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.”
There’s no indication here that Rahab has ‘converted’ (for more on this, see The IVP Bible Background Commentary, which is one of my very favorite resources). Simply put, she has found someone stronger than her deities, someone that she knows she should be afraid of… and she asks for help.
In the passage, note how she asks the spies to swear by the LORD. “LORD” in capitals means the Hebrew word there is YHWH; the sacred name of God. Get this: all Rahab knew was God’s name and that he is strong. Rahab risks her life for the lives of the spies… and would be obedient in what they later instruct her to do even though she only knows a little part of what is going on.
There are times when we can relate very well to Rahab: we find our heart ‘melting in fear’ because of what we’re facing. And in those situations we think, ‘I don’t have faith enough.’ In those times, it is especially important to remember that all we really need to know is his name (he invites us to call him ‘Father’) and to recognize his strength, allowing this knowledge to fuel our belief and obedience.
But here’s something even more incredible: Rahab’s great faith points to Jesus by pointing us to his redemptive activity. We do not celebrate Rahab because of Rahab or because of her obedience, but because of the testimony her life is of God’s activity and hope. In the same way, our ‘great faith’ isn’t about us but about the Giver of faith—the one to whom all obedience is due.
Great faith is seen in obedience even when we don’t understand. It’s seen in obedience even when ‘obedience’ means doing something messy. But I am comforted to know ‘great faith’ can mean calling out for help even as my heart melts in fear. My prayer is that I would be a man of great faith both when I understand and when I don’t; that I would be a man of great faith when I am facing the impossible; that I would be obedient in the ‘big’ things and in those that seem insignificant.
Today, I am facing the impossible. Today, my heart wants to melt in fear. Today, it seems that tomorrow will never come. Today, I don’t know what my obedience will mean.
But I know His Name and that He is strong. And, today, that is enough.