“Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?”
Likewise also Rahab, likewise as Abraham—yet, how different! Is not Abraham the father of believers, who reveals the power of faith? And Rahab is, we read here, a harlot. Why does James choose the example of Rahab? His choice of Abraham is easily understandable. But why Rahab? However, he is speaking of justification. And justification presupposes sin. Hence, the choice of Rahab emphasizes that she was justified. And her sin is mentioned here to emphasize the need and also the blesses power of justification.
Likewise also Rahab—as far as James’ line of reasoning is concerned, the cases of Abraham and Rahab are exact parallels. Fact is, both exhibited anactive faith. Their faith was not merely intellectual. The devils also believe, and they shudder. The faith of Abraham and Rahab was real, spiritual—it produced works. Besides, let us never forget: both, Abraham and Rahab, were justified, not by works, but out of works, works of faith.
Rahab—who is she?
She was a citizen of Jericho. Jericho, from a natural point of view may be called the gateway into Canaan. It was an impregnable stronghold. Moreover, Jericho was a worldly city, and it represents, symbolizes the world in the account of Joshua. Sin held complete sway in it. Its king and inhabitants had heard of Jehovah, Israel’s God, and His exploits. Yet, we read that “now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel”. In other words, Jericho was fully determined to resist Israel, maintain itself over against Israel and Israel’s God, present a united front over against them. Jericho lived the life of this world, of sin and darkness, and would vainly attempt to resist and frustrate the advance of the Lord of hosts.
Rahab was a citizen of this Jericho.
It is important that this be noted. Fact is, she was justified out of works. Through her works she escaped the judgment of God upon the wicked city. Jericho was damned, cast into hell. But to escape this judgment she must be justified, justified according to the righteousness of God, redeemed from sin and become an heir of eternal life.
This is emphasized in the text when we read that she is a harlot. We must not minimize this expression. Some have attempted to spiritualize it. However, she was a harlot; Scripture never “soft-pedals” things. Think of Scripture’s mention of the sins of the elect: Noah, Abraham, David, Asa, Hezekiah. This does not necessarily mean that she was still a harlot at the time of her deliverance. But she had been a harlot. She had been a woman who had given her body for the filthy and adulterous seeking of the flesh, a vile and filthy heathen. James mentions this purposely. We read that she was justified. And justification implies forgiveness. This was her sin.
Rahab believed—she believed what?
Rahab must choose between the host of Israel and Jericho. She must choose between Israel, the people of the Lord, and Jericho, the kingdom of darkness and of this world. Humanly speaking, she will surely choose Jericho. First, is not Jericho impregnable? How can Israel ever take this mighty stronghold? Secondly, does not Rahab belong to the city? She is a harlot. She therefore lived the life of this city. She loved Jericho and the life of Jericho. How can she choose for Jehovah Whom she hates and over against Jericho which she loves? Besides, what right does she have to this escape? What right can she have to the inheritance of Israel? She is darkness and by nature wholly condemnable. Yet, Rahab chooses against Jericho and for Israel, the kingdom of Jehovah. We read in Hebrews 11:31 that “by faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not.” By faith, therefore, she believed in God, in the forgiveness of sin, in the fact that she was righteous before God and that, therefore, God would save her when unbelieving Jericho perished by the wrath of God. And by faith she forsook her ways of sin.
How is this possible?
We are all acquainted with Joshua’s sending of the two spies to spy out the land secretly. These spies, however, must also visit Rahab and learn from her that the Lord had already begun to fight for Israel. Rahab received them, that is, received them as her guests, and, according to Hebrews 11, received them in peace, that is, not as their enemy but as their friend. And then we should note the remarkable words in Joshua 2:9-13.
What does this mean? Notice what she tells these spies in Joshua 2. What had happened? These messengers of Israel had found refuge underneath her roof, had proclaimed to her the truth of Israel and of Israel’s God, had instructed her in her own sin and had proclaimed to her the word of salvation. They had told her of Israel’s priority among the nations, of Israel’s God, that He is the Lord, Jehovah, holy and good and righteous, Who will never acquit the guilty or free the ungodly. And they had also told her of what would befall Jericho, of the significance of that destruction, and that none would be saved but all would perish everlastingly.
And Rahab had believed their gospel of salvation. And now we also understand the token she requests and receives, the token of the scarlet thread or cord which must be suspended out of her window. Rahab understood this token. It had been explained to her. It was red, it spoke of her own sin, but also of the blood that should come, the blood in which she placed all her hope and confidence.
Rahab’s faith was active.
This receives the emphasis throughout this context in James 2. James is not contrasting faith and good works. But he is contrasting a dead faith and a living faith. Faith, a living faith, always manifests itself in works.
Faith always assumes a definite, antithetical stand over against the world. Of course! Faith is the living, spiritual bond which unites us with God in Christ Jesus. To believe means to live out of Christ, to trust in God through Christ alone, to trust that all our life and expectation is from Him. Then we trust in the invisible God, also invisible in the sense that He does things which He alone can do and which are humanly impossible. Then we will and shall take our stand over against the world which is always hostile toward God and His Christ. In God, then, we trust. From Him alone we expect all our help. In His way we will walk. Faith means that we live out of Christ and, therefore, demands an antithetical walk in the midst of the world.
First of all, she believed in that which was only divinely possible and humanly impossible. She believed that Jericho, impregnable, would fall. She believed in God. She believed in the God Who raises the dead. Notice how, subsequently, her faith was tested. Notice what happened after the messengers left her and Jericho finally falls. Probably a few weeks elapsed. However, Rahab believed, believed that she was righteous, and suspended the scarlet cord from her window, placed her trust in God alone, that her deliverance would come only from God, the Jehovah of Israel.
Secondly, Rahab’s faith was such that it placed her in grave peril in the city of Jericho. On the one hand, she was a marked woman. She had been a harlot, and she lived upon the wall. Rahab was, therefore, well known. Her house had been accessible to many. And now she was no longer a harlot. What a change had come over her! She had become, spiritually, a stranger in that wicked city, had turned her back upon it. But in so doing she had surely become a marked woman, one who already was well known because of her previous conduct and now because of what she had become. Principally she had already become a traitor to Jericho’s cause and had already cast her lot with hated Israel. On the other hand, Rahab’s position was all the more dangerous because Israel even now lay outside the gates. The king had commanded that none might leave the city. That her house was closely watched is evident from the fact that her admittance of the two spies was known to the king. Rahab lied to the messengers of the king. Was this wrong? Scripture, however, does not mention this incident again, does not condemn it, and has enrolled Rahab among the heroes of faith of Hebrews 11. In the meantime she was not afraid of the king. She had chosen against Jericho and for Israel. She shall indeed defend these messengers of Joshua and seek their safe return to the Captain of Israel’s host. Do not minimize this action of Rahab. Do not say that she after all sought herself, to save herself in the way of lying and deceit. She is a heroine of faith. And although the city of Jericho is filled with fear, she will show sympathy to anyone who shows sympathy for Israel’s cause. Rahab, from the viewpoint of Jericho, was a traitor. Yet, she walked in faith.
What does this say to us? No man can serve two masters. We cannot serve God and Mammon, Christ and Belial. It is either-or. Of course! By nature we are citizens, legally and spiritually, of Jericho, of the world. Let us not compromise here. Let us not attempt to straddle the fence between Israel and Jericho, between Jerusalem and Athens, between heaven and the world. Let us not deceive ourselves so that we believe we can have one foot in. Jericho and the other in Israel. By faith, however, we are united with God in Christ. Now we live out of Christ. And the activity of this faith is always antithetical. God’s cause will be our cause; His people will be our people. Believing in God and in Christ means that we shall walk out of that faith. Our position may appear to be hopeless. The world is stronger than we. All we have is God and His Word. Indeed, we may be courting disaster. However, nothing may deter us; faith is a living power; it demands complete obedience.
Rahab was justified.
Indeed, she was not justified by works. She was justified only because of the blood of Christ. She was justified out of works. She was justified through faith as the means through which the righteousness of God in Christ was imputed to her, and in the way of works, because works are the fruit of faith and in the way of works is faith made perfect and complete.
Hence, she was justified out of works. What would have happened had she not believed unto the end, had she not repented of her evil walk, had she not cast in her lot with Israel, had chosen to remain with the destiny of Jericho? She would have been destroyed. So is it not plain that in the way of works Rahab received the blessedness of justification? By faith she received the spies and befriended them. By faith she hid them and was instructed by them, suspended the scarlet cord from her window, escaped the destruction of Jericho, became a part of Israel, partook of Israel’s life and sacrifices. In fact, she is incorporated into the royal line and becomes a mother of the Christ.
We, too, must walk in faith, live out of the life of Christ. And we, too, will experience the blessedness of justification, because faith is the fruit of the grace of God within us, and therefore, the evidence that Christ died also for us.
This assurance we will taste already in this life.
And we will also taste the assurance of our eternal justification.