Biblical Faith, Part 9

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By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  (Hebrews 11:29  NIV)

When we think about the ancient Israelites, the word “faith” usually doesn’t pop into our minds.  “Rebellious,” “contentious,” “grumblers,” and very often “idolaters” are the words we attach to the Israelites.  But here in Hebrews 11, these very people are listed among those in the great Hall of Heroes simply because they got it right once.  They manifested the tiniest bit of faith – and courage – in their obedience to the word of the Lord they were given by their leader, Moses.  The writer to the Hebrews wants us to notice that their faith and not just their courage was important because the Egyptian army that was following the Israelites was just as courageous as they were.  They, after all, attempted to cross the Red Sea just as God’s people had.  But they had no word from the Lord to go on; they didn’t have faith, only presumption, and the result was disastrous.  Regardless of the doubts the Israelites had and in spite of the fact that many of them had to be dragged kicking and screaming into obedience, the fact the whole nation survived shows that the faith of Moses was real and the obedience of the people, albeit grudging obedience, is equated with that faith.  And that should be a comfort to us all.  What we think is important, but what we do is more important.  Your mind will always want to rebel against God’s will.  Your mind will tell you that God’s way doesn’t make sense.  Your mind will almost always give way to doubt.  That’s why knowing God’s will is so vital and obedience to it so essential.  The big lesson in verse 29 is simply that if you want to be victorious in life, do what God wants you to do because He wants you to do it. Don’t give into your doubts.  Your mind will betray you, but God’s will is always dependable and sticking to it will always get you where you need to be.

One more time around the wall

The writer to the Hebrews, in the very next verse, writes this:

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  (Hebrews 11:30  NIV)

These are not the same Israelites that crossed the Red Sea in the previous verse.  It’s the next generation.  The 40 years of desert wandering is bypassed.  The faithless generation, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, has passed away – dead and buried in the desert.  Nothing good can be said about the people who were led out of Egypt beyond their obedience to the Lord’s word through Moses.  These people, once on the other side of the Red Sea, were completely devoid of faith and they died in their disobedience.

But this new, young and energetic generation is marked as being one with faith.  They had learned from the moral and spiritual failures of their fathers.  The Jordan River had been crossed, as the Red Sea, in miraculous fashion.  The only thing between the people of God and the Promised Land was a den of iniquity known as Jericho.  Taking that city was key to the land God had given Israel.

Moses by now is dead.  The people can no longer depend on his faith. But they had Joshua, Moses’ successor, and a man of faith.  Who else, besides a  man of faith could give orders like these:

So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.”  And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”  (Joshua 6:6  NIV)

But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!”  (Joshua 6:10  NIV)

The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”  (Joshua 6:16  NIV)

If these verses teach us anything it’s that sometimes God wants us to do crazy things in order for His glory to be seen.  To their great credit, the people of Israel obeyed the Word of the Lord through Joshua and, once again, the Lord came through.

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.  (Joshua 6:20  NIV)

The crumbling of the walls around Jericho is ascribed to faith.  It wasn’t the vibration of the Israelites’ feet as they marched around and around the walls.  It wasn’t the volume of their shouting.  You won’t find a natural reason for this miracle.  It was faith.  All the histrionics that preceded it were just window dressing.  The key to understanding what happened at Jericho this day is expressed in the New Testament:

Faith without works is dead.  (James 2:26  KJV)

But “works,” those of the Israelites, yours and mine, must be dictated by God, not by man.  That’s the key.  Doing what you think is right will be wrong.  Joshua’s instructions to his people sound ridiculous to us.  Do you think they made any sense to the Israelites?  These were not stupid people.  They could think and reason.  I’m sure many of them had their doubts.  But they obeyed.  They did the “works” God and Joshua wanted them to do.  Faith achieves its goal mediately, not immediately, through two things:  our obedience combined with the power of God.  We as Christians should take a lesson from this incident.  We would be unstoppable if we could just learn how to obey and let God work His wonders.

Rahab

And here’s why so many of us struggle with faith:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.  (Hebrews 11:31  NIV)

She is well-known as the prostitute who had faith.  She’s also listed in the genealogy of our Lord.  But it seems almost incredible that she would be listed among the heroes of the faith.  Consider these things;  Rahab was a pagan; she was a Canaanite; she was a prostitute; she was a woman.  And all this teaches us one extraordinary truth about faith:  It knows NO barriers.  While all her fellow citizens were killed, Rahab and her extended family lived  because she placed her faith in Israel’s God.

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.  (Joshua 6:25  NIV)

Once again, her actions – helping Israel – has been equated to faith.  God didn’t condone her sinful lifestyle – He granted her grace and salvation.  And although traditionally in Israel it was always the man, not the woman, who was heir to the promises of God, when it comes to faith and salvation all distinctions vanish.

But let’s take a closer look at Rahab.  She and her people knew all about the recent history of Israelites.  We might say the reputation of Israelites preceded them.  They knew about the spies and they were scared to death of God’s people.  Here’s what she said:

“I know that the Lord has given you this land 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.  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.  When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”  (Joshua 6:8 – 11  NIV)

So do we equate fear with faith?  Or was there something hidden deep in her fear that transformed it into faith?  Consider:

  • Somehow this pagan woman was able to perceive the plan of God.  This is truly astounding when you stop and consider the number of Christians who live an entire lifetime gloriously unaware that God even has a plan!
  • She accepted God’s plan and adjusted her life around it.  Again, many Christians are experts at finding ways around God’s plan.
  • She acted in faith even at the risk of her life.  Rahab didn’t “play it safe.”  She didn’t measure her actions or her words.
  • She gathered her family and hung out the scarlet thread; an act of faith if ever there was one.

James wrote about faith, too.  And he used some of the same examples the writer to the Hebrews did.  Here’s what he wrote about Rahab:

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  (James 2:25  NIV)

“In the same way” are words that point us back to Abraham, whom James had just written about.  They both had faith and that’s just about the only thing Abraham and Rahab had in common.  Rahab was a complete pagan.  She was a prostitute.  Abraham was a mature man of faith, having believed the Word of the Lord for some three decades, whereas this pagan woman had only recently come to faith when the Israelites were surrounding Jericho and sent their spies into the city.

As different as these two people were, they had this in common:  By God’s own declaration, both were declared to be righteous.

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6  NIV)

…was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did …  (James 2:25  NIV)

By a decision and pronouncement of God, Abraham and Rahab were declared to be righteous.  Abraham was like a pioneer in living a life of faith.  Rahab was so young; so immature in her faith, yet both did what they had to do – both believed God and their actions followed their beliefs.  Their lives measured up to the faith they had.

Throughout this great chapter of Hebrews, each person’s faith is manifested by his works.  The writer spends a lot of time on Abraham’s works, for example.  Like Hebrews 11:31, James does not speak of Rahab’s justification in the sense of saving her soul; technically her faith saved her from perishing “with the disobedient.” By God’s verdict she was not condemned to die as were the rest of the disobedient in Jericho.  But the fact that she is an earthly ancestor of Jesus Christ shows us that she had a faith that was alive with works.  Or, as we could observe, God didn’t save her life for no reason!

 

 

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