Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Rahab's Deception and God's Providence

The passage of the sermon that I will post this coming Sunday is one of the many difficult passages in the books of Joshua and Judges. If you have read the book of Joshua (and Judges), you know there are several difficult stories that present ethical behavior that is challenging (at best) or completely appalling (at worst). I am going to try to address these difficulties in Joshua as we move through this book, but even as I do, we need to remember that almost all of them are secondary issues at best, so I do not plan to bring them up in the sermons. But, I also cannot just leave them unaddressed, so I will try to address them in these posts.

This first thorny issue surrounds Rahab's method of protecting the spies in her house in Jos. 2. She deceives the king of Jericho, telling him that the spies had left, when she was really hiding them on her roof. So, the question that has been debated a lot throughout the history of the Church is: What do we do with that? The NT praises Rahab for her protection of the spies, so how do we reconcile that with her deception here?

First, let me say again, this is not the point of the story at all. This is actually quite a minor detail in the story as a whole, and even the structure of the passage shows us that. The author uses a common Hebrew literary technique called a "chiasm," which looks like this:

     A: Opening information to set up the story
          B: Secondary detail
               C: The point of the passage
          B': Matching secondary detail to parallel the first
     A': Closing information to parallel and close out the opening

There can be more layers in the middle of parallel information, but the point is that the center of a chiasm is the important part of the story--the point of the story, and this literary technique was a way Hebrew authors highlight the most important part of their story. This chapter follows that pattern like this:

     A: V. 1a -- Opening detail telling us Joshua's assignment to the spies
          B: Vv. 2-7 -- Secondary details of how they entered Jericho and were protected
               C: Vv. 8-14 -- Rahab's confession of faith: the point of the story
          B': Vv. 15-21 -- Secondary details of how they left Jericho and escaped
     A: Vv. 22-24 -- Closing detail telling us how the spies report back to Joshua

The beginning and ending hold the passage together, so they are pretty important, but the passage is primarily about Rahab's confession of faith; not her deception. The section that contains her deception is actually the most minor of the passage. So many people get hung up on Rahab's deception and miss her glorious truth that she confesses, and we do not need to get hung up on it.

In fact, I had thought about showing the ways Christians have tried to reconcile the ethics of this passage, but that still gets us distracted from the point even of her actions themselves. If we narrow in on her deception, there is still a bigger and more important theological point: God's providence.

Church family, for Rahab's confession of faith to be genuine and for her actions to be something God uses for good, it is not crucial that we justify her deception. She was a sinner like us. In fact, she was a new believer from a pagan, Canaanite city, so, of course, we should not expect that she have all her ethics straight in her first act of faith. When we do things for God out of faith, we have mixed motives or mixed actions that often, if not always, mix some sin in with the good works we try to do for God. Does that mean God cannot use them? Not at all. Sinful or not, God can use our actions anyway, and Rahab's protection of the spies shows us this. He uses the actions of sinful men and women to bring about His glorious plans (cf. e.g. Ge. 50:20 Ac. 2:23). In fact, since all He has to work with in humanity is sinful men and women, He must be able to use all our actions for His sovereign plan--sinful or not.

Certainly, we cannot use that as an excuse for sinning (cf. Ro. 6:1-2), and certainly we need to think through difficult ethical issues and try to do what is faithful to God's Word. But, the amazing grace and providence of God reminds us that even if we do that and fail, we cannot mess up God's plan; even if we do that and fail, the blood of Christ covers those sins too. So, while we should think through ethical issues and attempt to be faithful to God's Word in the decisions we make, we also can rest in the fact Christ catches us when we fall. This is basically what John says in 1 Jn. 2:1, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

In the sermon from the church service that I will post on Sunday, my congregation confessed together what true faith is from the Heidelberg Catechism, which is a 450-year-old reformed set of questions and answers. Well, that catechism also has a very good question and answer about God's providence--Question 27:
Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which He upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand.
Friends, we can talk about Rahab's deception and debate whether it was sinful or not (and if you want to talk about it, feel free to ask), but ultimately, what we should see in it is God's providence. He is "God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath" as Rahab confessed, which means He so rules all things that He can use our and Rahab's actions whether sinful or not. He is also the God who grants mercy, as Rahab saw, and He covers all our sins by the blood of Christ when we put our faith in Him. We can rest in that. We can try to live a faithful life and fight the battles of this Christian life as best we can resting in that truth.

But, one might respond and ask as the Heidelberg asks in question 64:
Q. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?
A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.
As we will see in Rahab on Sunday, when God works true faith in our hearts, we will want to serve Him, we will want to live for Him out of gratitude. But, we will also fail in that. When we do, We have His promises in places like 1 Jn. 2:1, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

By His Grace,

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