Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rahab's Baggage

The fam and I are down at Village Creek Bible Camp this week, participating in "Family 4."  This is the first Family Camp I've been to in probably the last twenty years or so.  It's been a very fun week so far, and we're thinking about making a family camp experience a regular part of our summers.

The camp pastor for the week (sorry, can't remember his name!) has been doing a series a character studies from Hebrews 11.  They've been very interesting so far, and I've appreciated his messages quite a bit.

Today's message was on Rahab, a character that has always confounded me a bit.  I'm not so much confounded over her profession (lady of the evening), or even that God used Rahab in the lineage of Christ.  I'm certainly enough of a sinner myself to know what God can do with dirty things, so the fact that God is able to use a prostitute for his purposes does not come as much of a surprise.  After all, that's what God does!

What has troubled me is the way Rahab lied about the spies being hidden on her roof.  Why did she do that?  Was it OK for her to lie in that instance, or did the lie betray her confidence in God's power?  She is mentioned not only in Hebrews 11 (the "Hall of Faith") but is also commended by James as an example of how someone demonstrates the existence of faith through works (she believed God, thus she hid the spies).  So how are we to handle the fact that Rahab used deception - an action that is clearly prohibited in scripture?  Does she come out of her situation squeaky clean?  The story of Rahab is something that Bible scholars and theologians have wrestled with for many years, and I probably won't add anything new to the conversation, but nevertheless, here's my take.

It's interesting to note that Rahab is motivated to help the spies because of what she has already seen and heard about the God of the Israelites.  News of their success has reached the city of Jericho, and Rahab wisely realizes that her city is next on the chopping block.  But her willingness to hide the spies is not born out of a desire to live (although that certainly is part of it), rather she has heard about the One True God, and she has come to fear him through faith.  Therefore, instead of fighting against God, she wants to join his side, as it were.  Through faith, she comes to believe in the God of the Israelites, and is therefore motivated to help them in their cause.

The king gets word that Israel has dispatched spies into his land and sends men to question Rahab.  When asked, she lies and says that they were never there, when in fact they were hiding on her roof at her own insistence.  So why did Rahab lie?  Obviously, she feared for her life, as she would have been condemned a traitor and perhaps even executed on the spot.  One positive outcome from this lie is that the Israelite spies were not discovered and were able to report back to Joshua, and the Israelites eventually took the city as a result of the "Battle of Jericho."

So what do we do with someone who lies on account of wanting to "help God?"  What do we do with lying?  Is it OK to lie to evil people (as the Jerichoites certainly were)? The answer to both questions is "No."  God is a God of truth, and he values all truth and wants his people to be like him, and to always speak the truth.  So here's what I think happened.

Although Rahab had heard of the deeds of the Lord through the Israelites, causing her to come to faith in the One True God, her knowledge, for whatever reason, was not applied to her own situation.  Yes, she had heard how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, conquered their foes, and so on and so forth, but for whatever reason, she was not able to believe that that same God could come through for her in the matter of hiding spies.  God parted the Red Sea, for crying out loud - I think he'd be able to help her hide some spies in a way that kept her from lying.  Although she knew what God was capable of, she failed to believe that he could affect her situation.  This led her to put her trust in herself - her own strengths and abilities.  And trusting in herself led her to lying about the situation with the spies.

What would have happened if Rahab had told the truth and said, "Yes, I have seen some Israelite spies.  In fact, they're up on my roof as we speak"?  I don't know, but I know God would have taken care of it.  He would have made the spies invisible, or blinded the guards, or whatever.  Or maybe he would have delivered Rahab and the spies over to be executed, bringing them home to eternal glory.  Then he'd have to find another way to get Jericho into Israel's hands.  The point is, God always knows what he's doing, and God never wants people to lie.  Never.  Nor is it good or morally permissible to lie.  Ever.  Remember, Rahab is commended in Hebrews 11 and James 2 for believing God, not for hiding spies with lies.

So then how do we work around the fact that someone who doubted God long enough to tell a lie is commended in scripture for faith?  That's easy: she was a human being.  Nobody's perfect, and everybody comes to faith with their own set of baggage.  God doesn't save good and perfect people - he saves bad people who come with a lot of issues.  That was Rahab, and that's me, and it's you too.

Think about it: how many times have I heard about the glorious deeds of the Lord (in scripture and through my own life experiences) yet fail to trust in him to do great and powerful things in my life?  All the time.  This is not a commendable trait, to be sure.  It's part of my baggage that God is working on in me.  But God can and still does use me despite my baggage.  He can work with my baggage.  He certainly worked with Rahab's baggage.

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