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God’s Word for You

Hebrews 11:31

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, December 27, 2014

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

Rahab is the last person in our list of heroes of faith to be singled out for a particular act. Rahab, a Canaanite woman, was a prostitute. Although the Hebrew term for her, zonah (זוֹנָה), might mean “innkeeper,” it’s far more usual to understand a zonah as a prostitute (Deuteronomy 23:18). It would have been ludicrous for Simeon and Levi to have murdered a whole tribe of Hivites because one of them treated their sister “like an innkeeper” (Genesis 34:31). Also, the Greek word in New Testament references to Rahab is pórnē (πόρνη), “prostitute” (here and in James 2:25).

Rahab was terrified of the destruction that was coming, and she put her life in danger by betraying her own people in order to save her family by siding with the Israelites. She hid the spies, and then told them to hide in the hills while the men of Jericho searched the Jordan valley for them.

There is an echo of the Passover story in Rahab’s rescue. Red blood on the doors in Egypt was the mark of a family within that believed in God and would be spared (Exodus 12:22a). So the spies told Rahab to put something red (a red cord, not blood) where they would see it—outside her window, which was part of the city wall. As long as the family stayed inside, they would be spared. However, the spies warned her: “If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible” (Joshua 2:19). This also reflected God’s warning in Egypt: “Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning” (Exodus 12:22b).

The ‘plague’ of the Israelites was already known to the people of Jericho. The account of the parting of the Red Sea and the defeat of Sihon and Og were well-known, and Rahab said that “our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you” (Joshua 2:10). The beginning of her turn to faith was based on fear, but it also grasped what she thought was only a dangling thread of gospel: If she trusted in Israel’s men, she might live. She did not yet realize that this gift she seized upon was a much more valuable treasure. Whether she understood everything or not, she was actually trusting in Israel’s God—not just in Israel’s spies or Israel’s army—and by trusting in God, she would be saved; truly saved.

How many believers do not really understand everything about God’s greatness, or do not comprehend the ineffable reality of the Trinity, or have not truly plumbed the vast depths of God’s grace in sending us his Son Jesus to atone for our sins? No one understands everything perfectly that God offers us in his holy word. That’s because our understanding is limited and distracted and marred by sin. But that doesn’t mean no one is saved. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved (Mark 16:16), whether they understand Jesus with the trust of a baptized infant or the trust of one of the great Doctors of the Church. But truly, what is different about the faith of the one as opposed to the faith of the other? Any amount faith in Jesus saves, whether the newly dripping faith of the baptized or the dusty trust of the old scholar who still prays “Now I lay me down to sleep” when he rests his head each night.

The grace of God reached out to Rahab in ways she never would have expected, even long after she joined the blessed ranks of the tribe of Judah. She married a man named Salmon, and together they became ancestors of King David and of Jesus himself (Matthew 1:5,6). So a prostitute, treacherous to her former people, was forgiven. She entered into the ancestry of the Savior. But more important than being part of his ancestry was that she became part of his spiritual family, and by faith she was given everlasting life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.