I've been thinking lately on the meaning of faith. I think it all started when I received for Christmas a lovely metal wall hanging of the word 'faith' carved in a swirly font. Every time since then when my mind has drifted toward the meaning of faith, a certain Biblical character has made an appearance in my imagination.
Now I have considered this particular female character a friend for several years--ever since writing a seminary paper on her heroic deeds. The woman to which I am referring? Rahab. Brave and faithful Rahab, whose story appears at the beginning of the book of Joshua.
If you are not familiar with this major female character of the Old Testament, let me give you a condensed version of her story of bravery and faith.
Rahab, a prostitute living in Jericho, enters the story of the invasion--conquest--entrance--of the Israelites into the Promised Land of Canaan, when Joshua (who has taken over from Moses as leader of the Israelites) sends a couple of spies to scope out the city of Jericho. Rahab, who lives with her children and relatives in an apartment located in the city wall, takes in the spies, and protects them from the king of Jericho's army. Because of Rahab's courage in protecting the spies, the Israelites are successful in invading and conquering the city of Jericho. (If you want to delve into the story of Rahab, read chapters 2 and 6 of the book of Joshua. Rahab also appears in the New Testament: Matthew 1: 5 (Jesus' geneology), Hebrews 11:31, and James 2:25)
So what's so special about Rahab, and what does she have to do with faith?
First of all, Rahab is an unlikely biblical character, for she is a woman and a prostitute.
Second, Rahab is not a Hebrew, meaning that she is considered an outsider. Even an enemy.
Third, because of Rahab's choice in helping the spies, her actions play a major role in the success of the Israelites; not only does she offer aid to the spies, she tells them that the people of Jericho have heard tales of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt and are terrified of them, thus empowering the Israelites to invade Jericho.
And finally, as a Canaanite, a culture that worships a foreign gods, Rahab has faith in the God of the Israelites. Because of her faith in God, she acts on her faith, in spite of the danger of being revealed as a traitor to her city.
Rahab appears in the New Testament as an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). Her character also serves in Hebrews and James as an excellent representation from the Old Testament of faith lived out in action:
"By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace." (Hebrews 11:29-31)
"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body with the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead."
I thank Rahab, brave and faithful Rahab, for reminding me of two things concerning faith: