Message: Knowing is Believing| Scripture: Joshua 2:8-14 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
There’s a saying that we’re all probably familiar with that finds particular force in Rahab’s story, and it goes something like this, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” To illustrate exactly what is meant when we use this phrase, think back with me to 2016 when the Golden State Warriors had assembled the best regular season team of all time. They were a team that lost only 9 games during the 82-game season, and somehow, in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, we saw them down three games to one—on the brink of elimination—facing a motivated tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And, as history would have us witness twice in those playoffs, the Warriors rediscovered their winning ways, and they ended up victors in the series besting OKC 4 games to 3.
That summer, after the playoffs were finished, Kevin Durant became a free agent. Disgruntled and desperate, he ended up signing not just with the best regular-season team in NBA history, but with the team that had just humiliated him out of contending for the title. And the world, hearing of this news, torched him for his decision—including myself. How could a person go and join the team that had just beaten him? Does Durant have any sense of pride? Does he not feel the need to avenge his own humiliation?
Then it dawned on me, while I—to this day—hate what Durant did, I understood what was taking place. To these NBA players where money is no longer an issue, and who are placed upon the highest of pedestals to win at any cost, a championship is equivalent to life. To lose was to die. To win was to live. Durant didn’t make his decision based on his pride of needing to prove himself, he made his decision to join the unbeatable team because he had no real choice—there was the option of death at the hands of Golden State again or life as one who was doing the winning. And, in all honesty, while I hate the choice, I can’t fault him for it.
It’s a decision that we can only understand and evaluate if we were put in the same situation. If we were given the option, would we choose death or life? I’m fairly certain that almost 100% of every person in this room would choose life, especially when a pointless death can be avoided. Why die when life is being freely offered—in Kevin Durant’s case, it wasn’t just a free offer of life—it was an offer of life to the tune of over $41 million per year. He didn’t just receive the offer to avoid death, he received the offer of an abundant, rich life. So, I ask you, which option would you have chosen? I think it’s kind of a no-brainer, and it’s this exact question that faces our heroine from last week, Rahab, as she confronts the fate of her nation. What will I seek, life or death? It’s this decision that I want to unpack with you this morning. So, let’s read from Joshua 2:8-14 together now. TWoL.
Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land, we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”
Life and death are on the line for Rahab, and she either has to acquiesce to her circumstances and the coming doom of Canaan, or she has to ask for mercy. The problem is, how can she, a Gentile, woman, prostitute ask a God who she does not know, who does not know her, and who does not belong to her or her people—how can she ask him to save her? Why would she receive his pity, mercy, and grace? Well we get our answer in the text, and it’s also our proposition this morning: Let What You Know About God Determine What You Ask Confidently from God. The reason why she can ask for mercy—the reason why she can seek out the God of Israel—is because she knows his character, and she lets this knowledge drive her conversation, her request, and her belief that God will do this for her and her family. When death comes knocking on Rahab door, she seeks out the only thing that can assure her of life, and it’s our task this morning to do this same thing. So, let’s take a look, now, at our first point:
1) Ruminate on What You Know About God
When it comes to life or death choices, it’s not always obvious which choice will lead to life and which will lead to death. How can any person know whether or not their decision will save them or destroy them? How do you know that your choices aren’t just leading you down another path that will lead towards death? Well, any tactician will tell you, that the first step to survival is to know the one who stands in your way. The best way to survive is to know your enemy. This is exactly how Kevin Durant made his decision—he looked at what stood in his way between glory and defeat, and he chose glory. This, as it turns out, is also what Rahab does in her own situation.
She knows the truth: the Israelites have come. The judgment of the Canaanites is dawning, and two of the people who belong to the nation that’s about to wipeout my countrymen currently sit atop my roof. What’s more is that I’ve just decided to help them rather than to turn them in. And we have to be thinking, why would she do this? Why didn’t she just make the easy choice to tell the guards that she’s got two men hiding under a bushel of flax with nowhere to go. Remember the facts of the story with me—there is literally no place for these spies to turn. If Rahab turns them in, they’re dead. And we know by this point that even though Rahab has played the dumb, ignorant prostitute, she is far from such a characterization. She shows that she’s a masterfully brilliant thinker. She knows her enemy. She knows how these soldiers think. She knows what they think of her. She knows exactly what to say to turn them and their attention away from where the spies might actually be. So, it would not be a stretch to also say that she knows, tactically and strategically speaking, that if she turns in these spies, the chances of Canaan’s victory over Israel substantially increase.
It’s based upon what we know about Rahab that we are forced to ask, “why does Rahab do what she does?” Why does she forsake the comfort and protection of her own people? Why does she willingly betray everything and everyone she’s ever known? And the answer ought to be as surprising to us as it is reassuring. She does what she does because all that she knows in her current life is no match for what she’s come to know in the God of Israel.
Just look with me at verses 9 -11. In these three verses, Rahab makes two astounding statements as she approaches these spies who are completely at her mercy. Remember, she doesn’t owe these spies anything. She can still turn them in. They have nowhere to go, which makes the circumstances of this conversation that much more incredible—she makes two statements. The first is that she knows the fate of her people is sealed. She knows it as surely as she knows that these spies are sitting right in front of her. She knows it in her mind, and she knows it in her heart because she, along with the rest of her people, are afraid of what is coming. They don’t know how it’s coming. They don’t know what the details are of their demise, but there’s this unsettled ripple in all of Canaan that things are not how they’re supposed to be.
And why is it that the Canaanites are so unsettled? Rahab tells us in verse 10, “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.” If you were to read this passage and deduce from it that Rahab is simply describing the might and power of God as the basis for her fear, you would be right, but your deduction would be incomplete. Because what Rahab is doing here isn’t just telling these spies that she knows God is Almighty, she’s telling them that she knows the breadth of his almightiness. Notice, the two time stamps that she uses to describe the Lord’s actions. She could have picked any of the miracles displayed by the Lord during Israel’s wandering. She could have picked the waters at Maara that turned from bitter to sweet. She could have discussed the manna from the sky. She could have brought up the water pouring fourth from the rock. But the two events she picks out are the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of Sihon and Og.
What is the significance of these two events other than the fact that they were incredible? They happen to be the two events that bookend Israel’s time in the wilderness. The Red Sea is what brings them into the wilderness, and the battle of Sihon and Og are the battles that bring them right up to the edge of the Jordan before reaching Jericho. In other words, Rahab isn’t just rehashing for these spies that she knows that God is omnipotent in power and without equal in all the universe, she’s telling them that the Canaanites have been following every step of the Israelite episode intently, and they know that God has been faithful to sustain them through it all. And not only has he sustained them, but they know that he’s been sustaining them in order to prepare them for something that is still to come. They’ve heard about every step. They’ve heard of them at their absolute worse when all of them should have just died off and ceased to exist, and yet, these people persist—and miraculously so. Rahab and the rest of Canaan are witnesses to the breadth of God’s preserving power for his people, and it is a terrible thing to behold for anyone who cannot call themselves an Israelite. This is the first statement she makes.
The second statement she makes is even more daunting. Not only is this God all powerful, but he is wholly incomparable. The realization that the God of Israel has sustained his people in all of these miraculous events leads to one other inference and that is that other nations might worship other gods, but there is only one God who reigns above heaven and earth—there is only one God who has total sovereignty and authority in the cosmos. Here, on full display to two Israelite men who were called to go into the land to scope it out and find their tactical advantage, sits a pagan, prostitute woman who has just confessed a truth about their God that even they have time-and-time again failed to comprehend. She has told them that she knows the breadth of his omnipotency along with the unreachable heights and depths of his sovereignty. In other words, she’s telling them to their faces that they might be trapped upon her roof in Jericho, but she knows that she’s the one who’s trapped and unable to escape the will of a relentless God.
Why is it that Rahab does what she does? It’s because she knows based on what she has heard about Israel that there is nothing she can do to frustrate their God. He is not flustered when Israel, his own people, fall short. And because of what she’s heard, she knows that he, for sure, will not be flustered when Canaan, those who are not his people, try to stand in his way. Her conviction about this God is resolute—she and Canaan cannot defeat him.
Imagine, with me, that you are in the position of these spies, listening to what this woman has to say. Would your ears not ring of majesty? Would your eyes not flow with tears of utter assurance and joy? All these years—nearly 500 of them languishing—and we never saw what was right in front of us with the faith that this pagan, prostitute woman displays through what she’s heard. And notice the verb she uses—she uses the word “heard,” not seen or discovered. She heard it, and she believed. There is no wonder why she is blessed in the kingdom of God. It was to people like her that Christ spoke directly after his resurrection standing before doubting Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Brothers and sisters, Rahab exemplifies for us a fundamental principle about our faith: a proper fear of God cannot be devoid of a convictional knowledge of God. She shows for us that knowledge about God does not leave us complacent or apathetic. What we know about God drives the way we feel, it controls the way we react, it even causes us to do the most inexplicable things in the eyes of the world, such as saving two spies who represent nothing to us but treason, sorrow, and death.
For Rahab, seeing these men evokes an unshakable fear because she stands before them as one condemned and judged. She understands in her soul what it means to be a sinner in the hands of a just, jealous, and resolute God. Do you see what’s happening here? The narrative masterfully reverses its course. Where the spies were at the mercy of Rahab and her deliverance of them in verses 1-7, Rahab now stands as the one who, in her mind and heart, is at the mercy of these spies not because they are anything special in themselves—we’ve learned that they’re anything but—rather she stands before them at their mercy because of who stands for them.
Last week, I asked you to identify with the foolish and stupid spies because we are all foolish and stupid in our sinfulness and rebellion unable to escape the grasp of our enemy on our own. But this week, I’m asking you to identify with the lowly, desperate, and fearful Rahab as those who cannot escape the coming wrath and judgment of God on our own—the spies’ disposition was bad, but Rahab’s disposition is worse. We are called, in this text, to remember and think often, as Rahab does, what it meant for us to be without hope and to lack any assurance of mercy or grace. We are called, in this text, to remember the depths of our sin and the judgment of an almighty God who is coming to wipe away from the face of the earth all those who stand opposed to him. We are called, in this text, to be genuinely sorry for our sin, to hate it with an increasing hatred as the day of the Lord draws near, and to flee from it with every seriousness and urgency. True, unbridled knowledge of our God is a terrible thing for those who find themselves outside of his favour and mercy, and we are to remember, and remember deeply, that we were once a part of these people.
We were once like Rahab who stands at the fork in a road having to make a decision about which path to choose knowing that one leads to death and the other to life. How might we know which one to choose? We know which one to choose because one of those paths has been lit with the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, just as the knowledge of God’s omnipotent deliverance and unquestioned authority stands before Rahab in these two spies. How was Rahab able to do what she did? She was able to do it because there really was no decision. She chose life, she chose to know and remember the God who controls all and stands above all, and we see this choice brought to its pinnacle in our next two verses:
2) Ask in Light of What You Know About God
Look at what this Gentile, prostitute woman says in verses 12 and 13: “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”
These verses begin with the words, “now then, please,” or said another way, “as a result of what I’ve just told you—as a result of all this that I know of your God, I’m begging you, honour my request.” Here is a woman desperate for her life. Here is a woman who knows she’s at the mercy of an unstoppable God—one whose authority spans the breadth of the Earth. And what is her request? Well, we know that she can’t simply ask to escape the coming wrath. What her statement, especially in verse 11, reveals to us is that she knows that it is impossible to flee. She cannot ask these spies to let her leave the city and run to another part of Canaan because she won’t be safe there either. To run away is simply to delay the inevitable—God has given Israel all the land.
So, you see, there’s only one thing that she can ask for from these men: she asks if she and her family might be spared. In fact, she asks them for something unheard of: she asks them for a covenant that will bind them to their word that she shall not perish. What is the significance of this? Well, on its face, it’s the first ever request from a Gentile for a covenant with an Israelite, and more precisely, it’s the first ever request from a Gentile for a covenant with the God of Israel. This is what she means when she says, “swear to me by the Lord.” She means not only to bind these men in their conscience, but to constrain God himself to do what these men say.
It’s at this point in the story that we have to stop and ask ourselves, “how does Rahab know to do this?” How does Rahab have the wherewithal to make a request with this level of sophistication and audacity? Who is she to think that she can ask for this? And I hope you see it; the answer is in her confession. She has heard of God’s faithfulness to Israel from the Red Sea, where they escape being drowned, and their journey from there all the way to the banks of the Jordan, where most nations would have fallen to the sword of Sihon and Og. She also knows that God is incomparable in authority throughout the cosmos, and when these two attributes are combined—the intimacy of God’s steadfast faithfulness with the boundless quality of his sovereignty, there is only one natural conclusion that can be made: God desires to demonstrate his glorious character by saving the unsavable.
Just look at Israel. In and of themselves, Israelites are not a particularly special people. They aren’t particularly gifted and they’re terrible at doing what is right. In fact, she’s witnessed it with her own eyes in these spies—they can’t even do the things they’re told to do! So, she knows that inherent to the might and majesty of God is the sense that he wants to lavish these qualities on those who need him. Inherent in his character is the desire to save, and Rahab knows this and seeks to take full advantage of it. This is the basis for Rahab’s request. She knows who this God is, and she knows that this God wants to display his character in saving those who call out to him in their desperation. It is not these spies whom she can trust but their God who has proven his matchless faithfulness to them without compromise.
It is what Rahab knows about God that determines what she asks from God. No other god could do what she is asking. No other god would take a foreigner who deserves punishment, save her from her own destruction, take her into his camp, and make provision for her. No other god would pay any attention to an outsider who has nothing to truly offer his people. And yet, we also have to realize that what Rahab is asking for isn’t easy either. Consider with me that national identity at this time means everything. Willing displacement from one’s people group meant something worse than death—it meant being completely ostracized, being seen as someone lower than a dog, and thought of as a traitor to their own kind. These people deserved nothing, let alone kindness, faithfulness, and salvation. She’s not only taking a risk saving these spies, she’s taking the risk of seeking out the welcome of those she once called her enemy. And her only respite—her only hope that she will not be dealt with as she deserves—is the thought of this God and her conviction that he is as faithful to himself, his promises, and his people as the stories say he is. In other words, Rahab has realized apart from her upbringing, apart from her profession, and apart from her paganism that if the God of the universe is for her, if God has promised himself to her, then God is all she needs. She knows that if she only seeks him out, he will take care of the rest. In his hands, her life will be preserved. In his hands, he will hold her fast.
What drives this woman to ask what she asks for is her knowledge that this God desires with his whole being to give it to her. What drives her to make such an audacious request is the fact that what she wants, ultimately, is the rest and protection of God himself, which characterizes the entire mission of God in creation! She desires what God desires. And this leads us into our third point:
3) Believe According to What You Know About God
It’s one thing for Rahab to ask this crazy thing, but how do we know that what she asks for will be given to her? How do we know she won’t just be laughed out of the room, so-to-speak? Well, we know that she’ll receive what she requests because she gives no choice to these spies or to God to do anything else.
Just look with me at her words, “as I have dealt kindly with you, please also deal kindly with me.” In other words, she’s saying, “because I have shown mercy to others, I’m begging you, O God over all, to show me mercy.” Let me say this another way, this Gentile, prostitute woman is seeking out the God who is above all other gods, and she is telling him, “I get who you are—I get who you are to the extent that I seek to display your character in all that I do, so I am asking you to be faithful to me. As I have shown my understanding of your character—as I have followed your example, show me that you are who you say you are!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Rahab has not backed God into a corner in such a way that he is subservient to her. We cannot make God submit to us. No, Rahab does something more astounding, she appeals to the fact that God cannot be anything other than the God of his Word. He says he is mighty to save. He says he is faithful without fault. He says he is merciful to the desperate—well here is someone who needs saving, here is someone who needs faultless faithfulness, here is someone desperate for mercy, “Please, show me that you are who you say you are because I have banked everything and everyone I have on it!” Her belief that God is trustworthy—that he has actually done these things for Israel—assures both her and us that she will not be put to shame and that God shall satisfy her request.
And how is it that the spies reply to the greatness of faith displayed before them? They say, “Our life for yours even to death!” What an incredible statement. It’s incredible on the one hand because remember last week when I said that God uses our mistakes to fulfill his glorious purposes? Well, that statement is as true this week as it was last week, because these spies do something that they’re not supposed to do. They go against Moses’ explicit command in Deuteronomy 7:2 not to make any covenants with the Canaanites when they go into the land, and what do these spies do? They make a covenant with a Canaanite by promising their own blood as collateral and by affirming to her that the Lord, YHWH, has made this not only a probable outcome but a certain one.
On the other hand, this statement, “our life for yours even to death,” is incredible because these spies willingly show mercy to someone who has no right either by blood or by promise to receive it. Rahab, as I’ve mentioned already, is an outsider—someone who is not privy to the meritless favour of God. She deserves his judgment. Her fate ought to be tied to the rest of Canaan, and yet, these spies, seeing the depths of her faith, are compelled in their hearts, in their bones, and in their mouths to affirm her, make promises to her, and to seal that promise with the implication of their own lives. How much more significant, then, is our story where while we were still sinners—while we were still faithless and without any claim or understanding of God’s mercy, standing on the outside of his covenant promises, blind to all the ways he displays his character in the world—while we still carried the guilt of our transgressions, Christ died for us.
For Rahab, her deeds and understanding of God’s mercy preceded the promise that she received—she displayed her faith before the promise of blood and assurance came, but for us, the promise precedes the understanding. Where Rahab displayed her faith before the promise was fulfilled, the blood of Christ has been poured out on our behalf before we ever believed. If Rahab, a Gentile, prostitute woman displayed this kind of faith prior to and without having any promise of her salvation, how much greater ought our faith to be? You see, Christ takes this statement, “my life for yours even to death,” and seeing that we were jeopardizing our own deliverance in our own sinfulness—seeing that we, unlike Rahab, were willing to ignore the character of God and choose the path that leads to death, he dies on our behalf. Where Rahab rightly chooses life in order to avoid certain death, Christ chooses death so that we might have an abundant life—a life in which we know and are known by our God. And our knowledge of him is not from afar like Rahab’s was. No, in his Scripture, he has revealed the intimacy of his character. In Christ, he has drawn near to dwell with us. In his Holy Spirit, we possess his very presence both in and among us. In every possible way, he has brought us into his holy presence so that we might not have any doubt. Instead of our asking, he has pre-emptively sworn to deal kindly with us and to save us alive by delivering us from eternal death through the gift of the cross. Surely, we can exclaim with Rahab, “God is all we need.” Let what you know about God determine what you ask confidently from God. Let what you know about God determine how your life might be a reflection of his mercy. Let what you know about God determine the depth of your faith—a faith that is assured in his character that he desires to save you and to hold you fast until you see him in glory.