Going Against the Current

Sometimes people surprise you.

  • The quiet neighbor who is arrested for a heinous crime
  • The poor high school student who goes to college and excels
  • The young person everyone thought was lazy who becomes a corporate millionaire.
  • The “perfect couple” who get a divorce
  • The timid person who becomes a hero
  • The spiritual leader who steps down because of their immoral behavior.

People surprise us all the time.  In Joshua 2 we read about a woman who surprises us.  Her story is recorded in between God’s command to Joshua to move into the Promised Land and the actual military advance.


At the end of Joshua 1, Joshua and the people were ready to move forward into the land that God had given them to possess.  Chapter two begins with the account of Joshua sending two spies to check out the land, “especially Jericho”.  We are told, “they went [to Jericho] and entered the house of a prostitute by the name of Rahab and stayed there.”

There are a couple of surprising things in this text.  First, we are a little surprised that Joshua sent spies into the land.  The last time spies went into the land (Numbers 13) the result was a 40 year detour in the desert!  Some commentators believe that Joshua was acting outside of the Will of God.  I don’t think so.

Joshua was one of those original spies.  He was well aware of the risk. Joshua sent only two spies (and those were most likely carefully selected) and sent them secretly.  I believe he sent the spies even without the knowledge of the Israelites.  Joshua was sending the spies for reconnaissance purposes.  It would be like sending in Navy Seals in to find out the weaknesses of the enemy.

The second thing that strikes us as strange is that the spies took up temporary residence at the house of a prostitute named, Rahab.  We find that inappropriate and perhaps even offensive.  However, staying with Rahab was really a wise thing to do. Lots of visitors were in and out of Rahab’s house so people didn’t pay much attention to who was coming and going.  Her home would also be a place where the spies could more easily blend in.  Rahab was probably an outcast in society, so she could be a little more easily trusted.

We aren’t told that God directed Joshua to send the spies to Jericho, but I believe He did.  The spies went to Jericho not only to gain military information but also so Rahab could come to faith!

When we first read the story, Rahab seems like a surprising choice to be used by God.  First, Rahab was a Canaanite and not a Jew.  Today it would be like the Jewish community embracing a Muslim. Rahab was part of the community that Israel was to destroy fully.  The Canaanites had a reputation as being some of the most godless people of the day.

Second, Rahab was a woman.  Even though the Bible records many notable women throughout Scripture, women did not have as prominent a place in society as they have today.  They were viewed by many as second class people.

Third, she was a Prostitute The “women of the evening” in Old Testament days may have been a little more common than today but I doubt they were accepted by society. Most of these women sold their bodies because they had no other source of income and it was their only way to pay off family debts. Some suggest Rahab might have been a temple prostitute (making her job a little more honorable).  However the word used for a temple prostitute is different from the word used here.

Why is all of this significant? It is because Rahab reminds us that many people seem like unlikely followers of Christ.  Like it or not, we have a tendency to look at some people and only see their scars.  God sees beyond those limits.  Perhaps you are one of those people who are dismissed or treated as second class by others because of your background. Perhaps you are a person who even feels like you unacceptable before God.

  • You never attended church and don’t really know the stuff others know
  • You had a child out of wedlock
  • You have a criminal record
  • You’ve been divorced
  • You have a physical limitation
  • You are on a limited income
  • You were raised in another religion

One of the things we should learn from Rahab is that, “Flawed people can still know God’s life and love.”  The truth of the matter is this: we are ALL flawed people.  Just because our society finds some flaws more acceptable than others does not mean that we are not flawed.


Rahab, even though she was a Canaanite, possesses an uncommon faith. Notice some things about her.  First, she was open to the truth of God.  We are told,

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 and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

Rahab told the spies that she had heard about what God was doing for Israel.  Where did she get this information?  She probably got it from the various people who came and visited her home.  Many foreigners would have entered her home and told stories of the news around them. Rahab was listening.

Specifically, Rahab had heard about the crossing of the Red Sea (which would have been 40 years earlier).  She had also heard about Sihon, the King of the Amorites.  We read about this story in Numbers 21.  Israel asked for permission to travel through Sihon’s country.  They promised they would take nothing, and would harm nothing.  Instead of showing graciousness and courtesy, Sihon assembled his army to come out to fight Israel.  Israel soundly defeated him and his army.  In Numbers 21 we read the story of Og.  Og was the king of Bashan (bay-shuhn).  He also came out to fight against the Israelites.  He too was defeated.

Word was spreading about this nomadic people and their God.  Rahab could have dismissed these comments.  She could have concluded that the Israelites were wicked people and she could have had the spies arrested.  However, because she was open to the work of the Lord and showed this when she said, “I know the Lord has given this land to you.”  That’s quite a testimony when you are the one who is currently living in the land!

Rahab was open to the truth.  She listened, she reflected, and she believed.  I wonder how much better our life could be better if we were more open to the truth!  It is easy to get so filled up with notions of what we think is true, that we stop listening to others.  The minute we close our minds we end up in trouble.

Now when I say this, it is important not to confuse openness to the truth, with gullibility.  Gullibility is thinking that everyone who tells you on the phone, “Congratulations! I have good news for you” really wants to give you something for nothing.  Gullibility believes someone is telling the truth simply because they say, “God told me”. I received an e-mail just this week from a person who announced that he was the Psalmist David who had been raised from the dead and we all needed to use the name Jehovah more often!  His e-mail was counting on the gullibility of people. The person who is open to the truth is one who hears what others have to say and they weigh it honestly by the Word of God.  They are open to correction and instruction from the Lord wherever it comes from,

  • a child
  • a person of a different background
  • a person with a stained past
  • a new believer
  • an editorial in the newspaper
  • an unknown author
  • a scientist
  • a television show

The person open to the truth of God is tender and receptive to the things of God and is ready for Him to teach them in any area of life.

But there is a second thing. Rahab had the courage to act on the truth.  This is what really sets her apart.  Apparently Rahab had her home in the wall of the city.  Most people believe Jericho actually had two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall.  It was common practice to build homes between these two walls.  This is surely where her home was located. Rahab hid the slaves, got them safely out of the city (lowering them down the wall), and she bet her life (and the life of her family) on the promise of the two spies.

Apparently, someone noticed the Hebrews who came into the city. The king was informed that spies might have come into the city.  The King sent soldiers to Rahab and she was faced with a dilemma.  Does she tell the soldiers where the spies are or does she protect the spies and risk being executed for treason if they are found?

Suppose you were living in the time of World War II.  Because of your compassion for the Jews, you have hidden a Jewish family in your home.  German soldiers come to your door and tell you that they have learned that Jews have been given refuge in your home. What do you do?  Do you hand over the people you were hiding?   Do you risk your own imprisonment and tell a lie?  Do you invite the soldiers in and pray that God will protect the family? It’s a difficult ethical dilemma.

Certainly, lying is always a sin.  We should be truth-tellers because God is the God of truth not deception. We must guard against anything which would make us feel justified in excusing our lies of convenience.  We can never say that a lie is good.  Maybe . . . just maybe a lie is sometimes the lesser of two sins.  In Hebrews 11 Rahab is commended for her faith which was evidenced by the way she welcomed the spies.  Don’t miss that point.  True faith is more than right knowledge . . . it also requires action.

Hebrews 11 is filled with the stories of people who honored God in the actions of their lives.  They did what God told them to do even though it was unpopular and at times something contrary to what their sense dictated.  They obeyed, not because it was convenient or easy, but because they relied on God’s command.

We are called to do likewise,

  • To honor God’s directions on sexual morality even though society calls us prudes
  • To honor God with our worship even if it conflicts with other activities.
  • To honor God with our tithe even though there are lots of things we’d like to do with that money
  • To honor God by telling the truth – even if we have to humble ourselves to do so.
  • To honor God by reporting our income and other facts honestly, even if everyone else is being deceptive
  • To honor God by taking responsibility for our mistakes even if no one else will do so.
  • To honor God by forgiving someone even if we don’t want to do so
  • To honor God by holding to the truth of Scripture, even if public opinion (or law) tells us we cannot


First, Faithfulness comes with a pricetag. If being faithful to God was easy, everyone would be faithful.   Rahab had to decide whether she would put her trust in the people around her, or in the God she had heard about.  She had to risk the possibilities of being discovered or being betrayed by the spies she was protecting.  Faith always carries a risk.  To use the title of John Ortberg’s book: “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.”

Sometimes being faithful means,

  • Risking rejection from friends
  • Being overlooked for a promotion because you won’t engage in deceptive practices
  • Beginning a new adventure and trusting God to provide for your needs
  • Letting go of what (or who) you want to control or even protect (even when it comes to our children)
  • Facing arrest because you won’t deny your faith

In Alan Paton’s historical novel, Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful, he portrays the human tragedies of apartheid, the official doctrine of the separation of the races by which South Africa was ruled.

Robert Mansfield was a white school headmaster and former South Africa cricket hero. Mansfield has resigned his headmastership because he could no longer support apartheid. Emmanuel Nene had come to see him to express his respect and support, and by the end of the visit, an obvious bond had been formed. Nene had made it clear to Mansfield that there were indeed wounds and suffering ahead for them both: “Mr. Nene rose, and looked cheerfully around him. ’I don’t worry about the wounds. When I go up there, which is my intention, the Big Judge will say to me, “Where are your wounds?” and if I say I haven’t any, he will say, “Was there nothing to fight for?” I couldn’t face that question.’”[1]

Second, True faith requires action.  Let me be very careful here.  Faith requires action but action does not necessarily indicate faith.

Let’s say there are two people who go to visit someone who is dying in the hospital.  Both people come in and talk with the family and talk to the one who is dying.  It seems that both are making the same visit.  However, suppose the first person has come because they are hoping to be included in the will of the one who is dying, or because they want to see what is going on, or because they want everyone to know how thoughtful they really are. But suppose the other person made the visit simply because they loved the one who was dying.  They wanted to give support to a dying friend.  Both visits look the same, but are they?

The true believer is the one who does good things for the right reasons.  A person with genuine faith not only believes the right information but that information also changes the way they daily live their lives.  Their decisions, ethics, morality, business practices and even their friendships are changed because of their faith.

Third, God can and will use anyone who is willing to be used. We won’t read the end of Rahab’s story for a couple of chapters . . .in fact, we don’t really read the end until we get into the New Testament written hundreds of years later.  We’ll see that Rahab did put that scarlet cord in her window as instructed and the spies made sure that she and her family was spared.  She and her family became part of the Israelite community and Rahab eventually married a good Jewish man.  She and her husband, Salmon, had a son named Boaz.  Boaz married a young woman by the name of Ruth (of the book of Ruth).  Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed.  Obed had a son named Jesse, and Jesse had a son named David.  If you continue that genealogy you see that Jesus was descendent of Rahab!

God, in His grace will use anyone who is willing to be used.  And he will use them in ways that will surprise us.  Rahab didn’t know that her great-great-great grandson would be the King of Israel or that it would be through her line that the Messiah would come.  These were things she didn’t know until she arrived in Heaven.

You may feel that God can’t/won’t do anything through your life.  The truth is: you have no idea what God can, will, and is doing through you right now.  He may be planting seeds that will not come to harvest for a couple of generations.  You may be that faithful ancestor your great-great-grandchildren report on in school.  You may be that person used by God to bring the light of the gospel into the life of the person who will influence the next Billy Graham or the next President of the United States. You may be the next Rahab; a simple person with an undistinguished past, who is used by God to advance the work of His Kingdom.

God may use you to influence a life, to impact a community, or to reveal Himself to a lost society.  God has a plan, and you can be part of that plan.  All it takes is a little faith and a willingness to go against the current.

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